Ron Black

Ron was born in 1927 on a grape farm in Griffith, New South Wales and spent most of his early life in the country. After starting a wool-classing course, he decided to join the Army.

“I was discharged in 1947, finished a reconstruction scheme welding course and started my own business in 1960 as a pipeline contractor. My company carried out work for AGL on pipelines around Sydney. In 1973, I was approached by Williams Brothers to work on the Moomba – Sydney pipeline. Dale Fetter was in charge of the project together with a chap called Jake Cheeves, they both built pipelines all over the world.

“They put me in charge of all the pipes from the wharves and on rail out to the six stockpile sites in New South Wales and South Australia and then the double jointing and internal coating out at Mingary. After finishing the internal coating and double jointing work I went onto the construction of the pipeline. I ended up running the ship for the last 100 km. So that was the start of my pipeline career.

“Then I had a couple of years as an adviser to the crown solicitor sorting out the claims. It was interesting work and I certainly got an education working with twelve lawyers!”

Ron then moved on to the Sydney – Newcastle dual pipeline. Ron said he was extremely disappointed with the owners’ refusal to accept any industrial relations advice and it was only after major industrial problems that they finally agreed with his initial recommendations.

After finishing some oil lines for Santos Ron went to work on the Dampier – Perth pipeline for ICC. Ron remembers the huge part CRC’s automatic welding equipment played on that job; saying it was one of their greatest successes.

“We broke a lot of records – we completed 244 welds on that 26 in. line in one day setting a world record for automatic welding. And we laid 17.2 km of pipe in one day backfilled and all.”

“Not long after we finished there we started on the Alice Springs to Darwin gas pipeline. We had three spreads on that and I was looking after inspection on all three. I was involved with Allan Newham on the first spread. That job had one of the best project managers I have come across, a Canadian called Bob Perry.

“Then Andy Lucas got me for the Zap-lok job from Bathurst to Oberon. From there I went to the Wallumbilla to Gladstone gas pipeline where I was managing the two spreads.

“Next was Papua New Guinea on the Kutubu job which was an amazing job. It was incredible how the contractor got a line down there; it was such rugged mountainous country. The survey crews were just fantastic. The country they went through was mindboggling.”

Not long after, Ron’s experience with dangerous jungles came in handy when he headed to Thailand to complete surveying on a pipeline near the border with Burma.

“We took a few armed guards with machine guns because of the unrest. We ran into a border patrol of the Burmese army and it was a pretty tense situation. However when I mentioned that my brother-in-law died on the Burma railway the whole situation changed they put down their guns. It was amazing the effect that had.”

After a few more jobs overseas, Ron returned back to Australia and worked on many more pipelines before retiring.

Asked about changes in the pipeline industry Ron said “The biggest change I saw when I was leaving the industry was the problem of a lack of infield knowledge and the absence of those engineers who worked out in the field and really understood how things work. That’s why the Moomba – Sydney project for me was a great job since I got about 25 years experience in about four years because just about everything that could go wrong went wrong and I was able to learn a fantastic amount.”

Reflecting on the legacy of pipeliners, Ron finished by saying “I would hate to think that young up and coming pipeliners when they read these stories think that pipelining is all beer and skittles, here are a couple of things that came my way.

“I survived electrocution with 22 kV while helping to install a radio transmitter, although I did suffer from severe burns. I also survived a helicopter crash on the Goldfields pipeline and a light aircraft crash at Cootamundra. Unfortunately a lot of other pipeliners I know were not so lucky during my time, seventeen died, mainly in car accidents.”

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