There was great excitement when Union Oil discovered “black gold” at Moonie, west of Toowoomba in 1961. It marked a major milestone.
Australia was to have its first commercial oilfield, and would no longer rely on imported fuel.
In June 1963 an American company began laying the 190-mile (305km) pipeline to transport the oil efficiently to Brisbane from Moonie in the Surat Basin west of Toowoomba.
It would be the first major oil or gas pipeline to be built in Australia and was given Queensland pipeline licence No. 1.
Scores of cars lined the Warwick road and onlookers watched in amazement as an 80ft (25m) section was expertly placed under the road.
An excellent account in The Australian Pipeliner newsletter revealed: Such was the interest that one worker commented that he didn’t mind them looking, but sometimes they got in the way.
“We’d like them to stand back and give us plenty of elbow room,” he requested.
The work was tough and the terrain unforgiving.
Key construction crews came from the US and Australians were hired to do the grunt work starting as “shovel hands and water carriers”.
But the Aussies proved more than capable, adapted quickly to the new technology, and were soon promoted into more senior positions.
In turn, the Aussies were happy with their American bosses. The Pipeliner quoted a welding hand as saying: “The Yanks are good to work for. There’s plenty of money in this and the work is fairly easy. Some of the Australians are making up to £50 ($100) a week including overtime.”
Even the Aussie farmers, whose land the pipeline crossed, received praise from the Americans.
“They’re better here than back home. Some of them there have been known to bar the way armed with a loaded shotgun. Here they’re more likely to be armed with a cup of tea.”
In October 1963, the pipeline was completed, two months ahead of schedule, with the official opening to follow six months later.
That year Queen Elizabeth II unveiled a plaque in the reclaimed mangrove swamps of Bulwer Island to commemorate the important discovery and the building of the pipeline.
The inscription reads: “Her Majesty Queensland Elizabeth II unveiled this stone to commemorate the discovery of oil in commercial quantities in Australia and the construction of a pipeline from the Moonie field to the port of Brisbane, 6th March, 1963.”
Her over-optimistic speech revealed she’d been told that the oil discovery was “more important to the nation than the goldrush decade of the 1880s.”
There was such excitement at the time that a 14-year-old Sydney schoolgirl was captured in a Royal Historical Society of Queensland archival photograph gazing at oil flowing into a barrel.
The first discovery well at Moonie flowed at a daily rate of 1765 barrels in December 1961 and the “big oil companies of the world have moved in from USA, Canada, Germany, France and the UK.”
Despite the hype, Moonie oil prices were just too high and world oversupply of crude oil meant Middle East imports were far cheaper.
Moonie oil production reached its peak in 1966, then declined.
The pipeline was shut down in 2007 following two major oil leaks and operator Santos said it would cost too much to reopen.
Lynda Scott is a volunteer at the Royal Historical Society of Queensland. Visit queenslandhistory.org