A general consistency in the sequential order of petroleum hydrocarbon reduction in previous biodegradation studies has led to the proposal of several molecularly based biodegradation scales. Few studies have investigated the biodegradation susceptibility of petroleum hydrocarbon products in soil media, however, and metabolic preferences can change with habitat type. A laboratory based study comprising gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC–MS) analysis of extracts of oil-treated soil samples incubated for up to 161 days was conducted to investigate the biodegradation of crude oil exposed to sandy soils of Barrow Island, home to both a Class ‘‘A” nature reserve and Australia’s largest on-shore oil field. Biodegradation trends of the hydrocarbon-treated soils were largely consistent with previous reports but some unusual behaviour was recognised both between and within hydrocarbon classes. For example, the n-alkanes persisted at trace levels from day 86 to 161 following the removal of typically more stable dimethyl naphthalenes and methyl phenanthrenes. The relative susceptibility to biodegradation of different di- tri- and tetramethylnaphthalene isomers also showed several features distinct from previous reports. The unique biodegradation behaviour of Barrow Is. soil likely reflects difference in microbial functioning with physiochemical variation in the environment. Correlation of molecular parameters, reduction rates of selected alkyl naphthalene isomers and CO2 respiration values with a delayed (61 d) oil-treated soil identified a slowing of biodegradation with microcosm incubation; a reduced function or population of incubated soil flora might also influence the biodegradation patterns observed.