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Abstract

Before becoming a science, an art or a form of investment, oil prospecting needed the mental vision of the discoverers of new oil fields in unexplored areas. According to Pratt, the minds of such men made the discovery of new wells possible, mostly in terrains that were not considered favourable such as in Australia. This paper is the initial outcome of an investigation into the first oil explorations in the SW of Australia in the early twentieth century. Following a review of the relevant literature, the paper provides an overview of the early global development of the oil industry, exploring expectations of oil resources in Australia in the context of international oil developments. This provides the background to an analysis of early oil exploration in Western Australia (WA), based on analysis of contemporary geological literature, unpublished government documents and newspaper reports. The result is not the tale of an epic quest for oil in Australia, but rather a story of sceptical scientists, visionary investors and a government that saw oil as an asset that would speed up Australia’s transition from a British colony into an independent political and economic power.

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