PESA History

A short account of the origins of PESA, by P Cooney.

The Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia (PESA) began as the Professional Division of the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association (APEA now APPEA) and was founded by Earl Abbott in 1967. Earl was the first Federal President (1968-69) and Dick Dumbrell was the inaugural president of the NSW Branch, the first branch formed. No other officers were appointed to the NSW Branch. There was no constitution, indeed its formulation became Dick’s major task the following year (1969-70) when he took over from Earl Abbott as Federal President.

The South Australian and Victoria/Tasmania Branches were formed in 1969 and the Western Australian Branch a year later. The prior existence of the Queensland Petroleum Exploration Society (QUPEX) delayed the establishment of the Professional Division of the Australian Petroleum Exploration Association (to which it was opposed) for some years and ultimately PESA’s fore-runner was initially accepted as a subunit within QUPEX. The youngest branch, the ACT, was formed only in the 1990’s previously having been part of the NSW/ACT branch.

As APEA’s headquarters were in Sydney, with Ken Horler as the organisation’s Executive Director, Dick used Ken and his staff to foster recruitment, and to compile membership records. The technical meetings were held randomly, as visiting experts and industry notables made themselves available. These meetings were organised, usually, at short notice and generally after office hours in an offshoot room at one of the Sydney group’s ‘watering holes’. By 1970, however, the typical lunch and talk format had become established.

With virtually no financial resources, the major objective was to keep members interested and supportive. One important social event in achieving this was the establishment of the NSW Branch’s still continuing annual golf tournament in 1969.

While the NSW Branch of the APEA Professional Division may have been short of funds and officers in 1968-69, it nevertheless received great support from its members. Some of the people who were always ready to assist included: Ken Horler and John Clear (APEA), Wal Fife (NSW Minister of Mines), Norm Martison (Burmah), Doug Guest, Dick Relph, Len Hall, Alan Prince, Professor Alan Voisey (Macquarie University) and, of course, Earl Abbott himself.

Ken Horler, with his most efficient secretary Brig Abels, did stirling work for APEA and PESA right up until 1977 when the baton passed to the newly formed APEA office in Sydney. During this time they provided secretarial and administrative support, as well as doing much of the work toward preparation of the APEA Journal. It can be seen that in our early years there was considerable co-operation and even overlap in the activities of APEA and its Professional Division.

In the years 1972 to 1975 relations between APEA which was increasingly being seen as an industry lobby group and the then Federal Labor government became very strained and the position of those members of the Professional Division who worked for Federal or State governments became very difficult. Accordingly it was resolved to cut our formal ties with APEA and become the independent Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia (PESA). In 1983 PESA was formally incorporated to become the Petroleum Exploration Society of Australia Pty Ltd. The driving force behind incorporation was the legal opinion that the society members as individuals might be liable should an accident occur or somebody take exception to something said at our meetings.

Regional symposia had already been held in Brisbane, Sydney Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth but, among many other considerations, a concern in PESA that the APEA conference was becoming less technical and more political prompted the organisation of PESA’s own regular technical conferences, WABS (West Australian Basins Symposium) starting in Perth in 1994, EABS (East Australian Basins Symposium) starting in Melbourne in 2001 and finally CABS (Central Australian Basins Symposium) in Alice Springs in 2002. PESA has also cooperated with the Australian Society of Exploration Geophysicists (ASEG) to stage joint ASEG-PESA conferences in all states.

In 2006 a very successful joint American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and PESA (WABS) International Conference and Exhibition was held in Perth.  A second such conference combining AAPG, SEG and PESA was held in Melbourne in 2015.

The establishment of the PESA Visiting Lecturer and PESA Australian Lecturer (also often referred to as the PESA Overseas and Australian Distinguished Lecturers) scheme was largely the work of Bevan Devine during his time on the PESA Federal Executive from 1979 to 1983. Bevan continued to convene the series of Distinguished Lecturers until 1985.

A scientific journal, the PESA Journal was published on a semi-regular basis from 1982 up until No 29 published in 2002. Bill Fairburn was the editor of the original issue before the editorial duties were contracted out on a part time basis to Hervey Bagot.  The PESA Journal began specifically as “not just another technical journal.  Its purpose [was]to act as a unifying agent and bring the PESA Members a feeling of belonging to an important community in Australian Society and in Australian industry”. (No.1 page 2).  In 1992 the PESA Journal became a technical journal with the members’ newsletter function being hived off and expanded as PESA News. Dr David Gravestock was asked by the PESA Federal Committee to become Honorary Technical Editor for the new PESA Journal and served PESA in this capacity for 5 years.  During 1997-2002 it was published once a year.  The increasing difficulty in finding corporate support, editorial volunteers for peer reviews, and a sense that perhaps Australia already had enough good technical journals in the geosciences led to the discontinuance of the PESA Journal in 2002.

The magazine/newsletter PESA News was first published in 1992 and is now (2016) in its 24th year. To some extent a revamped PESA News took over from the PESA Journal.  While the original PESA Journal was very much a SA initiative, the “new” PESA News was largely the work of the WA Branch. PESA News was published from its start in Dec. 1992 until Feb/Mar 2014 by RESolutions Resource & Energy Services. Adrian Williams was the first editor of PESA News and continued as the editor for over twenty years.  In 2013 a new publisher was contracted for PESA News. Professional Public Relations Pty. Ltd (PPR) started publishing PESA News with issue No. 129 Apr/May 2014. From April/May 2016 PESA has contracted Sweetspot Media to publish the  magazine with their first edition being No. 141.

The PESA website ( was set up in Brisbane in 1997/98. During the early years each branch appeared to have its own website – and there wasn’t any cohesion between them! PESA commissioned RESolutions Resource & Energy Services to take over the maintenance – design and content management in late 1998 as well as to build a national Membership Database and the Events Database The website and data base were finally operational in 2003.

In August 2014, PPR were also awarded the contract for developing the new PESA website which came on line in January 2015.

Note: The author (P Cooney) is well aware of the incomplete nature of this very brief history of PESA and welcomes any corrections or contributions the readers might have. He can be contacted on

P Cooney

Past PESA Federal Past Presidents

1967 to 1969 E. O. (Earl) Abbott NSW
1969 to 1970 D. (Dick) Dumbrell NSW
1970 to 1971 P.L. (Peter) Wall WA
1971 to 1973 R.J. Forster
1973 to 1974 K.H. Roberts
1974 to 1975 R.G.C. Jessop
1975 to 1977 D. (Daryl) Johnstone
1977 to 1979 J.J.K. (Jaap) Poll Vic/Tas
1979 to 1981 P.N. (Peter) Jamieson NSW
1981 to 1983 S.B. (Bevan) Devine SA/NT
1983 to 1985 I.D. (Ian) Whiteley WA
1985 to 1987 R.J. (Dick) Paten QLD
1987 to 1989 Colin Glazebrook Vic/Tas
1989 to 1991 A.J. (Andy) Rigg NSW
1991 to 1993 Bob Laws SA/NT
1993 to 1995 D. (Dave) Falvey ACT
1995 to 1997 Jim Durrant WA
1997 to 1999 Wal Muir QLD
1999 to 2001 Ahmad Tabassi V/T
2001 to 2003 John Carmody NSW
2003 to 2005 Barry Goldstein SA/NT
2005 to 2007 David Cliff WA
2007 to 2009 Tom Loutit ACT
2009 to 2011 Shalene McClure QLD
2011 to 2013 Gordon Wakelin-King Vic/Tas
2013 to 2015 Max Williamson NSW
2015 to present Steve Mackie SA/NT