A geologist and diviners argue about dowsing

The Western Mail articles on the claims advanced for divining as a means of finding oil in this State have created a great deal of interest. Out of a pot-pourri of diverse news about the respective merits of divining and theory as a means of locating water and oil, the following three letters embody some of the most interesting ideas. The first is from Miss E. M. Penrose, the Master Diviner whose story launched this series of articles.


Some amusement

She writes:
I read the criticism of divining in the Western Mail last week with some amusement, because it appears that Mr. G. M. Cunningham, an eminent geologist, knows less about divining than he claims diviners know about oil.

[Mr. Cunningham, a noted geologist and president of American Overseas Petroleum, is a director of West Australian Petroleum Pty. Ltd.]

He (Miss Penrose writes of Mr. Cunningham) apparently does not know that large international societies of dowsers (diviners) have been formed in England, France, Germany, Itaty and recently in Holland where the society is headed by an eminent Dutch geologist by the name of Tromp.

The British society of dowsers includes scientists, geologists, engineers and a large number of the landed gentry as well as professional diviners, many of whom make a good living through their successful work. A still larger society exists in France where the Ministry of War takes divining so seriously that it inaugurated a school of divining for engineer officers after the first world war.

Much the same thing was done in England before the last war. I personally tested a number of engineer officers in 1934 on Salisbury Plain where I had been summoned to find water for the troops.

Divining was extensively used in both wars, not only to find water for troops and animals, but to recover buried bombs and shells.

In divining, like every other profession, the only criterion of proficiency is success. I cannot help feeling that the citizens of Australia would prefer to have 12 yielding wells out of 13 wildcats, no matter how unorthodox the method of locating them might be, than one yielding but unsatisfactory well and a number of dry holes. It is indeed unfortunate that there are so few really qualified and proved oil diviners, and still fewer who are able and willing to undertake the exhausting work of map-divining with its years of experimenting and hard work, without which no degree of efficiency can be obtained.

These few, having more work offered to them than they can possibly undertake, would never dream of hawking their talent and their highly paid services around to different oilfields or becoming the pathetic exhibitionists which appear to be the only sort of diviners that my critic has encountered.

No greater sceptic

Mr Ralph Stoddart, well known Perth solicitor and a director of Westralian Oils Pty. Ltd., wrote:
I have read the article on Miss Penrose in the Western Mail and have found it most interesting. I have also had the pleasure of meeting Miss Penrose who is much travelled, very intelligent and whose conversation embraces many subjects other than divining.

Up to January, 1954, you could not have, found a greater sceptic about water divining than myself. A member of our party at Frenchman's Bay near Albany claimed some prowess with the art, and we all requested a demonstration. When the green twig bent downwards for him, I thought I would be able to prevent it. However, much to my surprise it behaved in the same manner with me, even when I walked over the spot with my eyes closed. No-one had sufficient faith in my powers to obtain a shovel and start digging, so the demonstration lacks proof.

Mr. Rayburn (an American, oil man who says Miss Penrose located 12 productive wells for him) is obviously very happy with the advice given by Miss Penrose, but he is an independent operator and can choose the methods he will adopt without being answerable to many thousands of shareholders.

Miss Penrose when she first heard of map divining classed it as absurd, ridiculous, and a stunt. No doubt I will be forgiven if I say that having just heard of map divining for oil my reactions are identical with those of Miss Penrose. Time will alone tell whether I will change my opinion. The Petroleum Act in any case insists that orthodox methods must be used.

Water divining is such an ancient art and it has amongst its believers, so many who are dependent on water, and who have found it an effective method of obtaining adequate supplies that it must be accepted.

Fresh water or die

So much for the opinion of one to whom divining is, at this stage, purely a subject of interest as a textbook argument. When water divining first occupied the thoughts of ex-Digger J. H. Crump, of Kenwick, he was a thirsty member of Britain's Mediterranean Expeditionary Forces in Gallipoli.

The Turks had poisoned the surface water, making it necessary to find fresh water or die. Mr. Crump says he was able, by divining with a forked green twig, to find three underground springs.

Now a service pensioner, he is still keenly interested in all forms of divining and even in hot and dusty Belmont-road, Kenwick, he has been able, he says, to locate ample supplies of pure water for his neighbours and their breeding ducks.

Reading about Miss Penrose's claim success with maps, he began experimenting and was so pleased with results that he penned the following letter:
I can't resist the temptation to write a few lines in regret that Mr. Cunningham has no faith in rod divining, I have been divining on the Goldfields and in the metropolitan area with excellent results. I am not looking for publicity, but I wish to back up Miss Penrose's claim that divining for water or oil is no dream, but a reality that should be cultivated.

I would rather depend on my divining rod for a drink of water than on Mr. Cunningham's theory. Good diviners don't rely on the forked sticks, which break too easily. I find a steel rod more sensitive and more reliable. There are four bores in the vicinity of my property, all producing crystal clear water in quantity up to 4,000 gallons an hour, all got with the divining rod. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. My map divining also shows good results and I am willing to demonstrate to anyone interested.

Western Mail, 25 November 1954