The year was 1924 when an undercover American geologist managed to weed his way onto an Australian oil drilling project on the outskirts of Roma with the intention of leaking information back to the United States.
The year prior, The Lander Oil Company had landed on the scene and had set up the first search for oil outside of the Roma exclusion zone at ‘Tiger Scrub’ Orallo (50 km north of the town).
Along with a new rotary rig, the Australian company also employed a number of skilled American diggers and an American geologist.
Diggers, Clarence Evans and John Machado were employed as the heads of operations. A geologist named R.E. Allen was also brought in and was given the additional authority to countersign cheques with the bookkeeper.
Shortly after his recruitment, R.E Allen began to act strangely, said Roma based historian and researcher Peter Keegan.
“He had convinced everyone he was in charge of the rig. Allen then started making very crook decisions in terms of spending money,” he said.
“Machado and Evans found it very odd and so they travelled to Sydney to complain to the head of the company.”
In the meantime a telegram addressed to Allen arrived in Orallo from the directors in Sydney.
The message congratulated Allen on his progress and pointed out that Machado and Evans were on probation and that Allen had the authority to get rid of them whenever he saw fit.
The original telegram was tracked to the post office in Sydney and it was found to be a fake that Allen had had a friend in Sydney write and send, said Mr Keegan.
“The directors searched Allen’s office and they found proof that he was reporting the progress to the standard oil company in America. He was a set up,” he said.
“So they sacked him and didn’t prosecute on the provision that he left Australia and didn’t return.”
Machado and Evans continued drilling two more holes and in 1927 the rig and the crew were moved into Roma and another company was formed called the Roma Oil Corporation.
Between 1927 and 1931 about 20 companies drilled for oil in the Oralla district.
None of them found any significant oil fields.