Brian Ayling's Home Page
Between 1939 and 1952 National Oil Proprietary Limited extracted oil from shale at their Glen Davis works in the Capertee Valley approximately 120 miles west of Sydney. The plant was built using much equipment salvaged from the closed Newnes shale oil works nearby. Although regarded as strategic for Australia's wartime oil supply, the venture was plagued by technical, financial and political difficulties, and anticipated production was never fully realised. Viability of the shale mine and oil works were always questionable and they closed after a short and troubled life.
Presented on this page is a series of photos of the abandoned ruins as they were in 2006, along with some 1974 views.
Here is a Glen Davis works map
(92KB compressed TIF file, printable on A4 size, Landscape format at 300 DPI).
Note: If your web browser cannot directly open this TIF file you should save it (right click, "Save Target As..." or "Save Link As...") then open it with a suitable viewer.
The ruins in 2006...
A 2006 overview showing much of the ruins. At lower right are the retorts where shale was heated to extract oil. Although early problems with the retorts were largely overcome, difficulties with supply of shale from the mine saw them rarely operate at full capacity.
...and in 1974
A 1974 view of the ruins. Major structures visible are cooling tower (top left), powerhouse (centre left), and machine shop (centre right). In the foreground (right to left) are the old exhauster house, fan house, reboilers and another cooling tower. Just visible to left of the powerhouse are stands for the refinery and cracking plant.
Entrance to the works from western end. The following series of photos takes us through the works from west to east, roughly in reverse sequence to the oil production process.
Typical of a number of such structures throughout the works, this cooling tower served the ethylising plant. By 2006 much of its timberwork had decayed, leaving only the reinforced concrete frame.
Today only vaults within the main office remain, giving few clues to appearance of the building that once housed administration, drawing, and secure storage rooms.
Cracking and Poly plant
Cracking tower stands (left) and refinery control room (right) in 2006. Petroleum was refined by the Dubs process, and by-products included Cresylic acid, oil coke, butane, pentane and solvents.
Concrete road that runs through the works, with powerhouse boiler room at right. Rubble this side of the powerhouse was a bathroom. (Asahi Pentax Spotmatic II, Fish-eye Takumar 1:4/17mm lens).
Remains of the powerhouse from the eastern side in 1974 (left) and in 2006 (right). Generator room at this end initially housed two turbines relocated from Newnes.
Main workshop and store frames. Overhead cranes ran the length of this building and machinery line-shafts were hung from the columns. (Super-Multi-Coated TAKUMAR 1:3.5/35mm lens).
Fish-eye Takumar lens with near 180-degree view imparts fantastic distortion on the machine shop frames.
Concrete base of naphtha tank in the New Product Plant area. Mountains visible in background lie to the north, across the Capertee River. (Fish-eye Takumar 1:4/17mm lens).
Reboilers seen in 1974 (left) were not evident in 2006 when the old exhauster house remains were photographed (right). Condensing and separating plant as originally built was not entirely satisfactory and much was replaced when the retorts were improved and expanded.
New Product Plant
Built on the site of former ash dumps, the New Product Plant was commissioned in 1945, along with a second bench of modified retorts. Looking east - rack cooler foundations are in foreground, primary cooler is at left, exhauster house at centre, and retorts are just visible behind trees at extreme right.
New Product Plant exhauster and monitoring rooms as they were in 1974 (left), and a similar overgrown view in 2006 (right).
Hot gas product from the retorts was initially liquefied and cooled here. Shale surge bins and crusher are visible on hillside at left. (Super-Takumar 1:3.5/24mm lens).
Brickwork of No.1 Retort bench still stands, but little remains of No.2 Retorts. Shale was fed from above and moved downward through the firebrick tubes as it was heated and burnt. Oil gases were released via side off-take flues, and ash was drawn out the bottom by rotating screws.
Early in the life of Glen Davis works, waste ash from the retorts was railed across the road to dumping grounds on the northern side. When the second bench of retorts was added an aerial ropeway was built to convey ash away to the east, and this view shows the ropeway loading station. After decommissioning at Glen Davis, parts of the cableway were used to build the Katoomba Scenic Skyway.
Remains of the ash disposal system scattered in scrubland across the river from the works site. Motor lorries were also used to move ash to this area.
Foundations of the shale storage bins are visible half way up the slope at right, with surge bins and crusher at the top. Ash loading deck is at lower right, boiler and chimney to the left. Retorts were to the right, out of shot.
Chimney and Boiler
Brick chimney and boiler at eastern end of the site seen in 1974 (left) were still standing in 2006 (right). These structures first served the shale mine here that pre-dates the oil works. Remains of insulated piping suggests they supplied hot water for laundry and bathrooms.
Track hoppers and Weighbridge
After being railed out from the mine, shale was weighed and dumped into surge bins here. It then passed through sorting screens and crushing plant before being conveyed to storage bins, and on to the retorts.
Pit top environs
Ruins near the shale mine in 2006. Bathrooms and laundry were at centre, lamp room and office were to the left. (Fish-eye Takumar 1:4/17mm lens).
View from above the mine portal, looking north, with the electrical workshop at left. Across the valley can be seen one of several ash dumps. Bathrooms, lamp room and other mine buildings are to the right, out of view.
Wreckage of the mine bathrooms in 1974 (left), and in 2006 (right). Former electrical workshop is just visible at far right of the 1974 view. Little remains of the mechanical workshop that was at centre right.
Located just outside the mine entrance was an office and lamp room. Only the ground floor of this two-storey building remains.
Ventilation for the mine was provided by a 72 inch Sirocco fan housed in this building at the eastern extremity of the mine site.
M.P.1 Shale Mine
Portal of the mine in 2006. MP1 prospecting tunnel was first driven in 1888 and later extended by Commonwealth Oil Corporation as part of their Newnes operations. The mine was reconditioned in 1938, to become the main source of torbanite (oil shale) for Glen Davis works.
Back to Home