Sunday History Photo / WA

Submitted: Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 03:26
ThreadID: 98412 Views:4191 Replies:6 FollowUps:2
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During the early 1890s, thousands of settlers had swarmed into the barren and dry desert centre of Western Australia in search of gold, but existing infrastructure for the supply of water was non-existent and an urgent need arose.
The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme is a pipeline and dam project to deliver water to communities in Western Australia's Eastern Goldfields, particularly Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. The project was commissioned in 1896 and was completed in 1903.

Mundaring Weir was constructed to dam the Helena River and provide the water for the Coolgardie Water Supply Scheme.Construction commenced in 1898 and was completed three years later. For one year of that period construction work was conducted around the clock under electric light. The 32 m high Weir contained 77,508 casks of cement which had been imported from Germany and England.

The scheme enabled the benefits of the gold discovery to be realised and brought immense wealth into the previously struggling economy. Abundant water became available at a cost of three shillings and sixpence per thousand gallons, compared to water which had previously been carted by rail to Coolgardie at the rate of over £3 per thousand gallons. The position was even worse at Kalgoorlie.

The scheme was devised by C. Y. O'Connor who oversaw its design and most of the construction project. Although supported by Premier Forrest, O'Connor had to deal with widespread criticism and derision from members of the Western Australian Parliament as well as the local press based on a belief that scope of the engineering task was too great and that it would never work. There was also a concern that the gold discoveries would soon dry up and the state would be left with a significant debt to repay but little or no commerce to support it.

O'Connor committed suicide in March 1902 less than 12 months before the final commissioning of the pipeline. Lady Forrest officially started the pumping machinery at Pumping Station number one on the 22 January, and on 24 January 1903 water flowed into the Mount Charlotte Reservoir at Kalgoorlie. O'Connors' engineer-in-chief, C. S. R. Palmer took over the project after his death, seeing it through to its successful completion.

The pipes were manufactured locally from flat steel sheets imported from Germany and the United States. Mephan Ferguson was awarded the first manufacturing contract and built a fabrication plant at Falkirk (now known as the Perth suburb of Maylands) to produce half of the 60,000 pipes required. Hoskins Engineering established a factory near Midland Junction to produce the other half.

When built, the pipeline was the longest fresh-water pipeline in the world.
The pipeline ran alongside the route of the earlier route of the Eastern Railway and the Eastern Goldfields Railway's for parts of its route, so that the railway service and the pipeline had an interdependence through the sparsely populated wilderness.

The scheme required significant infrastructure in power generation to support the pumping stations. Communities oriented to its management grew up along the route. However, with improved power supplies and modern machinery and automation, the scheme now has more unattended pumping stations operated by fewer personnel.

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Reply By: Member - John - Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 07:41

Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 07:41
Thanks Doug, very informative as usual.
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Reply By: rocco2010 - Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 08:25

Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 08:25
Thank you Doug.

There is an excellent museum devoted to the goldfields pipeline in cunderdin, inside the original pumping station. Travellers on the Great Eastern highway with an hour or two to spare could do much worse than drop in and take a look. You can't miss it, just look for the brick chimney.


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Reply By: Navigator 1 (NSW) - Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 10:30

Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 10:30
Thank you Doug,
This is an excellent article.
The outback calls

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Reply By: Gone Bush (WA) - Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 12:18

Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 12:18
This article of Doug's will inevitably raise the age old subject of a pipeline carrying water from Lake Argyle to Perth, and quite rightly so.

So I will raise it.

We did a tour down the Ord last year and one of the stats mentioned was that during the big wet they had just prior to our visit, there was enough water being released from the Lake each day (!) to supply Perth for a year. This water went into the ocean, wasted.

A couple of years ago we stood on the viewing platform at Moomba gas fields. It explained that 3 different products are sent, in a separate pipeline each, to Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney. I reckon if the lengths of those pipelines were all added up it would be the same distance as Argyle to Perth.

And a couple of years ago when there was a really bad water crisis in the east, the pollies OVER THERE were talking about a pipeline from Argyle to feed into the Murray Darling basin. So if it gets bad in the east it seems a pipeline is feasible, otherwise it's scoffed at.

And look at the construction methods in the photos in Doug's post. If they can do that way back then, surely a pipeline down the Canning Stock Route, watering and rejuvenating land along the way, is worthwhile pursuing with modern techniques.

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AnswerID: 496259

Follow Up By: get outmore - Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 04:33

Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 04:33
the construction was just a scaled up version of kookynie dam
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Follow Up By: Pushy - Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 09:32

Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 09:32
Gone Bush,

You have got to be careful when you say that all that water flowing into the ocean is wasted. The local ecology has developed over millions of years based upon the flows of water from the rivers. We only have to look at recent reports on the damage to the Barrier Reef to see what damage humans can do when we alter the environment.

Yes we may be able to safely harvest some of this water but based upon past experience greed usually takes over and we go too far and wreck. The Murray River is a prime example, too much water has been allocated for irrigation and there is now great hardship being unleashed due to the need to increase flows in both the Murray and Snowy.

I am no greenie but we need to be careful when making huge changes to what nature has developed.
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Reply By: Member - Boeing (PER) - Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 16:25

Sunday, Oct 07, 2012 at 16:25
Doug, Thanks for this, very interesting and oddly they now call workers camps "eco resorts"
7 years to complete in those days is remarkable.


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Reply By: get outmore - Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 04:29

Tuesday, Oct 09, 2012 at 04:29
worth noting there is a book to accompany the guide trail which will take you past every significant point of this pipline beteen mundaring and Kal
AnswerID: 496338

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