Oil Down Under (3,600 Ft. Under)
“Good Oil” Struck In Australia’s Exmouth Gulf (1953)

Arash Norouzi
The Mossadegh Project | December 13, 2018                               

Oil Discovered In Western Australia's Exmouth Gulf (Dec. 1953)

As a non oil-producing country, Australia had always had to import all of her oil. None of the attempts over the years to find commercial grade crude at home were successful.

That all changed in late 1953. On December 4th, it was announced that at long last, oil was discovered in Western Australia’s Exmouth Gulf. The oil had been struck weeks earlier by West Australian Petroleum Pty Ltd. (WAPET), a partnership of Ampol Exploration Ltd. and two U.S. oil companies.

Prime Minister Robert Menzies hailed the news as “possibly the greatest development in Australia’s history.” Stock prices jumped as local brokers rushed to buy shares.

“We have long realized that the discovery of oil in Australia in large quantities would have a tremendous influence both upon our internal economy and our international financial position”, said Menzies.

Yet Australians would not be the sole beneficiaries of this newfound resource. American firms — Standard Oil Co. of California (later Chevron) and California Texas Oil Company (later Texaco) — owned 80% of the WAPET stock, compared to Ampol’s 20% stake. And when Australian workers went on strike over the wage disparity compared to Americans, they were flatly rebuffed.

“The oil of Australia belongs to our people. Oil won from Australian soil should be used to improve the living standards of the people and the economy of the country, instead of being drawn off in profits to foreign interests.” — Clyde Cameron (Labor Party MP), Dec. 1953
Mindful of overseas prospectors and global competition in the oil market, it was an open question as to just how much the discovery would benefit the country. As Robert Cosgrove, Tasmanian Premier, remarked, “Many Australians feel sorry the Western Australia oil strike was largely an American enterprise.”

One editorial pondered the future guardedly:

“Unlike Dr. Mossadeq’s Persia, Western Australia would honour its obligations [to foreign investors], but it does not follow that, outside its present commitments, the Government would be morally precluded, if necessary, from amending the [Petroleum] Act to ensure that the State—and Australia—received a fair deal in all respects.”1
Local oil may be on market within two years | The Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Dec. 6, 1953 Some advocated federal control of the oil, but it was feared that nationalization, too, could backfire badly by driving away foreign investment. Sir Arthur Fadden, Canberra Treasurer, warned, “Dr. Evatt [Opposition Leader H. V. Evatt] and Australians who are elated by the oil discovery in Western Australia should remember Persia and Dr. Mossadegh.”

Incidentally, the foreman who supervised the first exploratory drilling at Exmouth Gulf’s Rough Range area in 1951, A. C. Maddigan, had been a trainee driller for the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC) in 1948-1949, where he helped unearth oil in Aghajari, Iran.2

The Advocate newspaper published the following letter in their “PUBLIC OPINION” section. It made repeated references to Iran and its deposed Premier, Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh, who had nationalized the British-owned and operated AIOC oil facilities in 1951, spawning an Anglo-American coup in 1953.

As Mossadegh was being tried in military court for treason, a group of mostly American oil companies — including Texaco and Chevron — negotiated a consortium agreement to de-nationalize Iranian oil.

1 Oil Expectations | lead editorial in The West Australian, Dec. 9, 1953
2 HE SWITCHED OVER FROM OIL TO JAM | The Herald, Dec. 7, 1953
• Photo: First flow of oil from Rough Range, 1953 (Source: State Library of Western Australia)

The Advocate (Northwestern and Western Tasmania, Australia)

The Advocate
December 26, 1953 (Letter to the Editor)


The finding of a little oil at Exmouth Gulf after years of search and the expenditure of millions of pounds by oil companies followed by the pronouncements by heads of governments demonstrates that all the Mossadeqs are not confined to Persia. Oil is where you find it. While it is underground it is of no value to anyone. It took millions of outside capital to find oil and lay pipe lines in Persia and hundreds of millions of pounds to build refineries and towns in Persia which benefited the Persians more than anyone else. But “Mossie” wanted the lot; result, the oil company lost many millions, the Persians lost many more millions, and outside capital, except that of Communist Russia, will be shy of putting any more in there. Only large companies, which have made large profits out of oil, can afford to spend millions in searching for oil. Why should not our bit of the earth’s crust contain oil? We have coal and shale deposits. The major oil companies have spent millions in the search for oil in Australia and territories. Instead of scaring them off with threats of nationalisation or confiscation in the Mossadeq tradition, the wise course would be to cash in on the present oil fever and offer the companies all the oil they can find in Tasmania. The only stipulation should be that if oil is found it be refined in the State by Australians under our wages and conditions. The Derwent or Tamar would be pond sites for an oil refinery.

Letter to the Editor of The Sydney Morning Herald, March 28, 1951, a month before Iran nationalized her oil, and 2½ years prior to the discovery of oil in Australia.
Oil Search

Divvying Up the Loot: The Iran Oil Consortium Agreement of 1954
Divvying Up the Loot: The Iran Oil Consortium Agreement of 

Search MohammadMossadegh.com

Related links:

Persia Is Adamant | The Advocate (Tasmania), Sept. 27, 1951

Abadan And Australia | The Sydney Morning Herald (Oct. 8, 1951 letter)

Persian Oil | The West Australian (Perth), July 21, 1954

MOSSADEGH t-shirts — “If I sit silently, I have sinned”

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