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23 June 1866 Oil drilling on the Coorong

 23 June 1866   Oil drilling on the Coorong

On 23 June 1866 a first attempt at finding oil in South Australia was undertaken on the Coorong. This was prompted by the discovery of what appeared to be oily, bitumen-like material on the beach. About a ton of the material, called Coorongite, was scooped up and sent to Scotland for analysis. The report came back that 130 gallons (545 litres) of crude oil had been extracted. As a result several companies and private operators leased land from the government and began drilling. However, no oil was found and although exploration continued it was always disappointing.

In 1892 a well was drilled at Salt Creek - it was dry. Further holes were drilled there in 1924 and again in 1932, while other areas in the south-east were also tried, including Robe, Tantanoola, Beachport and Kingston. Eventually it was proved that the oily material was a form of algae which appears rubbery when it dries out. But the search went on: in 1931 a 1400 foot bore was sunk under the Maitland Showground, while on Kangaroo Island a 1000 foot bore was soon abandoned. The only trace of oil was found at Leigh Creek. In the 100 years from 1850 some 20 different companies and syndicates had searched for oil all over the settled areas of the state. It was not until the gas finds in the Cooper Basin in 1963 that South Australia had a viable industry.

'Fools Oil', Petroleum Gazette , June 1974, pp. 58-63.
Australia's Petroleum Story, AIP Ltd.
The Advertiser, 1 April 1953, Newspaper Cuttings Book, Volume 3, p. 54. SLSA.

Tags: Coorong, Oil drilling