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What I know about pipelines

Bob Gration, NDT Specialist, 61 years in the pipeline industry.

I grew up in the western Melbourne suburb of Footscray in the 1950s. During the Second World War, Footscray became what Birmingham became in England, with the large-scale construction of explosives and ammunition factories during the war. However, it was a lovely place to grow up – plenty of open spaces, sporting grounds, and everybody was patriotic toward the local football team, the Footscray Football Club.

I played a lot of sport when I was younger, and was a big supporter of the Western Bulldogs. I am thrilled, but also very surprised, about how well the club has gone in 2015, particularly after having such a difficult time in the last few years. I also played a lot of park cricket when I was younger. I love the game – I must have 600-700 books at home in the library on cricket. Some go back to 1896! I played up until I was 58, that’s how thoroughly I enjoyed it.

My first pipeline industry job was with the Defence Standards Laboratories (DSL) was in 1954. This was a great introduction to the pipeline industry firstly because I was studying metallurgy at the time, but also because it was DSL who started industrial radiography within Australia, both in Melbourne and in Sydney. I was fortunate enough to be in the Melbourne laboratories when they were using radioactive isotopes and x-ray machines, and doing a lot of the commercial work.

My favourite pipeline to work on was the Kiewa No. 1 Penstock in the Bogong High Plains in 1957. It was an 8-11 foot diameter penstock water pipeline, which brought power to the State Electricity Commission. It had a lot of highlights, but also some near misses, including occupational hazards such as crowbars tumbling down the pipe! X-ray Engineering Company was employed to do x-ray and inspection, and while we weren’t on the pipeline all the time, we worked on it over a period of three years, from around 1957 to 1959, until it was finally finished.

The most challenging pipeline I worked on was Gas & Fuel Corp’s Longford to Dandenong gas pipeline. At the time I was working for ETRS, and it was the first time that an internal x-ray crawler was used in Australia. We discovered extensive cracking in the Japanese pipe – they eventually came out and finally believed us. That all had to be repaired out in Dandenong in the stack piles. There was also small union problems, but nothing too major that affected the construction.

It was fascinating to be involved in the development of Victoria’s pipeline network in the 1950s. At the time we were doing a lot of minor pipelines, however it was during this period that we started work on larger pipelines. I was involved with Gas & Fuel Corp’s Lurgi plant in Morwell, which supplied gas to Melbourne through the Lurgi gas pipeline. That was interesting, because before that I was only involved in four and six inch pipelines in Victoria. It was particularly interesting from a metallurgical perspective, because we were still using metallurgical handbooks dating from 1933!

I have been involved in the pipeline industry’s association since it was born in 1968. The Association has gone through many changes over the years – but all of them have been good!

The people I most admire in the pipeline industry go way back. These include people like Stuart McDonald, who helped start McConnell Dowell and was an Association president for several years. I also highly respect David Curry, an ex-BHP man, who was President for a couple of years. David brought something to the Association that was very professional. Others I admired were Grahame Campbell, who was President for three years, Gas & Fuel’s Graham Witty, who served on the executive committee for 16 years and then 13 years as Treasurer, along with Bruce Andrews and Ashley Kellett. Jim McDonald also certainly stood out as an excellent President. These people were all very good to look up to.

I am very proud to have three sons, all of whom have worked in the industry at some stage. Dale has worked for Esso, Woodside, INPEX, and early on at ETRS with me. He now works in Trinidad for an Atlantic LNG company. Steven was a gopher but, it must have assisted him to gain his PhD in Philosophy and a black belt in karate. As a 17-year-old, Robert learnt how to drive on an early Esso pipeline. He is now an environmental engineer.

The thing I most enjoy about working in the pipeline industry has been the people. They are a marvellous group of people who you establish great relationships and camaraderie whenever or where ever you meet. The industry is also very varied, and it has led me from the technical side of the industry to the marketing side, and finally getting involved in the Association.

One piece of advice I would tell to young people is that it’s a remarkable industry. It has so many variances of work scopes that you can get involved in, and there are still a lot more pipelines to be built in Australia, so it’s a great industry to get involved with and stay in.

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