Allan Newham

In our continuing series on the Legends of the Pipeline industry, The Australian Pipeliner spoke to Allan Newham.

Allan has been involved in the industry from the mid-1960s and was awarded life membership of APIA for his contribution to the industry. We asked Allan about the origins of his company and his involvement with pipelines over the years.

“The Newham group of companies was founded by my father Eric Charles Newham who was born in Cowra in 1908. He left school at an early age and worked on his father’s property before commencing his own contracting business He started using a horse and dray and worked very long hours seven days a week. It was on this basis that a very successful business was launched,” Allan said.

“I was eight or nine years old when the company constructed its first pipeline during the Second World War. The 10″ steel water pipeline ran from Oberon to Glen Davis. The company was later involved in the construction of the shale oil line from Glen Davis to the railhead. The company constructed a 30″ pre-stressed concrete pipeline in 1957 from Oberon Dam to Wallerawang to service the Wallerawang power station, which was one of the earliest concrete pipelines built in the country.”

Allan recalls how his company first got into natural gas pipelines.

“AGL’s Bill Pettingell, who later became Sir William Pettingell, and the Gas & Fuel CEO Gordon Leckie suggested to us, my father and I, that we get into the pipeline business. We were supplying coal to both companies and they recommended that with the Bass Strait gas discoveries we should start getting into something to do with natural gas. Gordon Leckie said, “˜Well, why not pipelines?’ And that’s when we first kicked off.

“The company’s first natural gas pipeline was an 18″ ring main around Melbourne, built in 1967 for the Gas & Fuel Corporation (GFC). This project caused many headaches for us, the biggest of them being the volume of rock encountered. The Dandenong to West Melbourne 30″ gas pipeline for GFC followed. It was a very good job for the most part. The project included a Yarra River crossing. Ken Crane was the project manager and the pipe was pre-weight coated in concrete. It was floated across on pontoons but the rigging failed, and the pipe sank and kinked in the riser. We had to do it all over again; there were some very nervous people during the successful installation of the second crossing.

“We then went on to successfully complete sections three and four of the WAG oil pipeline. These sections were through the old established areas of Moorabin, Brighton, Elwood and St Kilda. Tom Hoffman was in charge with Dick Findlay on welding and Bernie Newcombe as construction foreman. Denis Karnatz and Chris Savos, who was still with us when he sadly passed away last year, were among many well known pipeliners on that job. We were also very involved in the early days of the Australian Pipeline Contractors Association (APCA- now APIA) and are still members to this day. Tom Hoffman was our company representative to the Association and I can remember enjoying many of the early famous pipeline conventions. (Editor’s note – it is probably not commonly known but when the Association fell on hard times in the early 80s Allan personally guaranteed the finances of the organisation until such time as it was on its feet again.)

“I recall the Convention at Terrigal here, everybody enjoyed themselves, particularly Joe Ashton who was very happy after a big win and finished up in the swimming pool with all his gear on. I also remember another convention – I think it was Adelaide – I had a stock whip cracking cigarettes out of Tom Baker’s mouth. There was a rather large American there and Tom said see if you can crack it right behind his backside – unfortunately my judgment was a bit off and caught him right on his rump. He was not impressed.

“Another event of note that I remember well was the trip organised by Fitzy (Keith Fitzgerald) when he led an expedition of 21 intrepid pipeliners to the USA for 16 days and 32 nights. A great time was had by all.

“We went on to be involved in many of the major pipeline projects through the 70s and 80s. In 1975 we built a section of the original 34″ Moomba – Sydney pipeline and the same year we built GFC’s 30″ Keon Park to Wollert gas pipeline through extremely rocky country with bluestone boulders the size of houses. I think that Graham Witty still has the photograph of the blasting mats our shot firer managed to place on top of the power transmission wires some distance away from the centre line.

“Some of the other pipelines of note were through Sydney in 1978 where we laid three lines 8″, 14″ and 20″ in a common ditch. The replacement of the blown out section of the Moomba – Sydney pipeline at Moomba threw up a few welding challenges and just as we about to start digging the rain came and turned the desert into a gigantic lake.

“A section of the Darwin to Alice Springs 12″ pipeline in 1985-6 was our last major pipeline job in joint venture with the Kukje Corporation, a Korean-based company. There were many of the old pipeline faces on this job, our project manager was Ross Whitfield; also on site were Ross Kelly, Bernie Newcombe and John Lott.”

Allan Newham now runs a very successful Sydney based waste management company. Ross Kelly – a well known pipeline identity – works in the company. Allan’s son Gary Newham was also involved in many of the pipeline projects, making the third generation of Newham pipeliners. Allan has fond memories of and still maintains his association with the pipeline industry.

“How could you forget the wonderful characters in the pipeline industry?” Allan said. “I could go on and on about the many friends and associations I’ve formed over the years but you would run out of space to print everything.”

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