|Life before and after the discovery of oil|
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The worldwide depression of the 1920’s took its toll on Bahrain’s pearl exports as demand fell substantially. Further the Japanese cultured pearl, although certainly a far inferior product, had further captured a sector of the market.
It had long been believed by an Englishman, Frank Holmes that there was oil in the Gulf, causing him to remark in 1918, “I personally believe that there will be developed an immense oilfield running from Kuwait right down the mainland coast”. When it was discovered in December 1932, close to Jebel Dukham, not only was Holmes ecstatic but it marked what would become a whole new phase of development for Bahrain and its residents. Charles Belgrave had arrived in Bahrain in 1926 to act as adviser to Sheikh Hamad who wanted to encourage change, his British approach to organization combined with oil revenues allowed Bahrain to modernize at an accelerated rate.
It could be said that oil arrived at just the right time. It offered alternative regular employment to those who had formerly gone to sea, as well as paying a higher salary. The typical salary for a pearl diver would have been 15 rupees a month. Saleh al Tarradah went to work for Bapco in 1939 “I was paid 1 rupee a day which was enough to support me and my growing family”. He would camp in Barasti huts in Awali during the week and at weekends make the 21/2 hour journey back to Manama along rough track through palm groves. A journey back to Muharraq, made by many, would have been 6 hours. This is almost inconceivable now, as highway links make the journey a maximum of 30 minutes to either area.
The discovery of oil bought with it many skilled foreign workers, necessitating the construction of a whole new town to house the workers and their families. The establishment of Awali heralded another first for Bahrain; a purpose built compound, with air conditioned housing and leisure facilities plus hot and cold running water. Luxury American household items and food began to appear bringing a standard of living, hitherto, unknown to the island.