Monday, June 23rd, 2014

Blue Flames, Black Gold – The story of Santos, by Kristin Weidenbach, is an adventure into the Australian outback in the early 1950s, when searching for oil becomes a quest that ultimately establishes a world class energy source and transforms a state and a fledgling Australian industry. 

Blue Flames, Black Gold is about a company conceived of the oil fervour of the 1950s and the vision of two school chums who took their tiny exploration company into virgin territory at a time when experts said there was nothing to find.

For the first time, Blue Flames, Black Gold brings to life the vision and perseverance of the late John Bonython, the wealthy Adelaide establishment businessman who used his own funds to establish Santos, and his reliance on the expertise of talented geologists such as Reg Sprigg and Heli Wopfner to deliver on a promise to shareholders. 

Told by insiders, it tells of the intrepid wildcatters who venture into Australia’s dead heart to find oil in the 1950s and 1960s and discover an energy resource that not only includes oil but one of the world’s biggest natural gas resources.

As Santos grows, there are boardroom tussles and political wrangles through the 1970s and 1980s with players including Alan Bond and numerous premiers. Through the 1990s, the company is protected from takeover by a unique shareholder cap of 15% and turns its focus to acquisitions and discoveries around Australia and overseas. And, by the turn of the century, it is returning to what it does best, transforming natural resources into energy that can be used by customers in Australia and around the world.

Blue Flames, Black Gold not only tells the story of South Australia’s biggest company, it also tells of the industrial modernisation of a state in desperate need of its own energy source and Australia’s transition to new energy sources of the future.


Blue Flames, Black Gold captures Santos’ 60 years of history and was initiated by Santos Chief Executive Officer David Knox and former senior executive Peter Wasow.

The book required four years of research and numerous interviews with prominent people in Santos’ history including former chairmen, former chief executive officers, the Bonython family, political leaders, senior executives, Alan Bond and the man who was present at the company’s first major gas discovery, Heli Wopfner.

Blue Flames Black Gold is a classic story of guts, determination and a little bit of madness,” said author Kristin Weidenbach.

 “It is about two people who wanted to explore the wild frontiers, based on little more than a whim. They defied the experts. They are quintessential Australian heroes.

“The story encompasses much of the social and political history of South Australia, as well as the evolution of Australia’s energy sector as it transitioned from the old town-gas era to the new energy sources of the future delivered from the remote Australian outback.”

The story of Santos revolves around the work of thousands of employees over many years, led by founding Chairman the late John Bonython, who is survived by his wife Shirley and son Hannibal.

Blue Flames, Black Gold illustrates Mr Bonython’s leadership through years of perseverance with little success and the establishment of Santos as a major player in the Australian energy market. Other leaders in the Santos story who are described in the book include:

  • “Gentlemanly Tim Knights, who came out of Britain’s acquisitive Burmah Oil operation,  to set up the gas business in the 1960s;
  • Beloved John Zehnder who led from the front and shepherded the company through the lean years of the 1970s;
  • Hard-nosed Alex Carmichael who whipped the liquids project through at a cracking pace;
  • Ross Adler, the numbers man, who brought corporate discipline and Board room stability;
  • John Ellice-Flint, the quirky intellectual, who restocked the pantry and ventured into Asia; and
  • The ebullient Scot, David Knox, who brought world class partners, project execution, and a sense of fun and energy.”

 “Through it all ran the spirit of the founding champions – John Bonython, the patriot; Reg Sprigg, the explorer; Hubert Harvey, the fund-raiser,” Ms Weidenbach said.

“The history of Santos is the story of a company growing up. A company born by the vision of school chums Bob Bristowe and John Bonython. It survived the scrapes of childhood and matured through adolescence wearing the cloak of the local underdog.

“Sixty years after the founders formed South Australia Northern Territory Oil Search the company is entering the prime of its life.”

And there is more to come…..

About The Author

Kristin Weidenbach writes creative non-fiction focused on Australian history. She is the author of Rock Star – the story of Reg Sprigg, a biography of one of Australia’s greatest geologists. Her Australian bestseller, Mailman of the Birdsville Track: The Story of Tom Kruse, has sold more than 100,000 copies and has been reprinted 25 times since publication in 2003. Her picture book for children, Tom the Outback Mailman, illustrated by Timothy Ide, won the Eve Pownall award for Information Book of the Year, 2013, from the Children’s Book Council of Australia.

Kristin is a PhD immunologist who switched to a writing career after completing postdoctoral research at Stanford University in California. She is the author of several academic publications and the recipient of an award from the International Association of Forensic Sciences. As a science writer, Kristin has written for Science magazine and for publications from Harvard and Stanford medical schools. Her magazine articles have been awarded prizes from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education and from the Association of American Medical Colleges. She has also written for Outback magazine and Australian Geographic.

File Library

Contact Profile

Richard Sproull

P: 0418585517


Santos, oil, gas, resources, LNG, energy



More Formats

View QR Code