Goldfields Water Supply Scheme

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Mundaring Weir nearing completion in about 1901

The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme[1] is a pipeline and dam project which delivers potable water to communities in Western Australia's Eastern Goldfields, particularly Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. The project was commissioned in 1896 and was completed in 1903.

The pipeline continues to operate today, supplying water to over 100,000 people in over 33,000 households as well as mines, farms and other enterprises.

Water scarcity[edit]

During the early 1890s, thousands of settlers had travelled into the barren and dry desert centre of Western Australia in search of gold, but the existing infrastructure for the supply of water was non-existent and an urgent need arose.

Prior to the scheme water condensors,[2] reliance on irregular rain, and water trains[3] were part of the range of sources. Railway dams were essential for water to supply locomotives to travel to the goldfields[4]

Origins of the scheme[edit]

Throughout the 1890s, water availability issues in Coolgardie and in the Kalgoorlie – Boulder region were causing concern to the population. On 16 July 1896, the Premier of Western Australia, Sir John Forrest introduced to Western Australian Parliament a bill to authorise the raising of a loan of £2.5 million to construct the scheme: the pipeline would cart 23,000 kilolitres (5,100,000 imp gal) of water per day to the Goldfields from a dam on the Helena River near Mundaring Weir in Perth.[5][6]

The scheme consisted of three key elements – the Mundaring Weir, which was fed with water from the Helena River in the Darling Scarp; a 760 millimetres (30 in) diameter steel pipe which ran from the dam to Kalgoorlie 530 kilometres (330 mi) away; and a series of eight pumping stations and two small holding dams to control pressures and to lift the water over the Darling Scarp ridge.

Construction and criticism[edit]

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.[7]

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.

Sunday Times editor Frederick Vosper – who was also a politician, ran a personal attack on O'Connor's integrity and ability through the paper. Timing was critical, Forrest as a supporter had moved into Federal politics,[8] and the new Premier George Leake had long been an opponent of the scheme.[9]

O'Connor committed suicide in March 1902 less than 12 months before the final commissioning of the pipeline.[10]

Lady Forrest officially started the pumping machinery at Pumping Station Number One (Mundaring) on 22 January,[11] and on 24 January 1903 water flowed into the Mount Charlotte Reservoir at Kalgoorlie.[12][13] O'Connors' engineer-in-chief, C. S. R. Palmer took over the project after his death, seeing it through to its successful completion.[14][15]

The government conducted an inquiry into the scheme[16][17] and found no basis for the press accusations of corruption or misdemeanours on the part of O'Connor.

Pipeline[edit]

A section of the pipeline

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.[18] Hoskins Engineering established a factory near Midland Junction (now known simply as Midland) to produce the other half.

When built, the pipeline was the longest fresh-water pipeline in the world.[19]

The choice of route for the Eastern Railway through Northam, rather than York, is indicative of political patronage, as well as the avoidance of some other early routes to the goldfields.[citation needed]

However, there is evidence that the explorer of the 1860s Charles Cooke Hunt had access to wells and tracks that were utilised in the 1890s. These subsequently affected the routes of telegraph, railway and the water scheme. The wells were made in conjunction with the local knowledge of aboriginals, and also utilised land at the edge of granite outcrops.

The pipeline ran alongside the route of the earlier route of the Eastern Railway and the Eastern Goldfields Railways for parts of its route, so that the railway service and the pipeline had an interdependence through the sparsely populated region between Southern Cross and Kalgoorlie.

The scheme required significant infrastructure in power generation to support the pumping stations. Communities oriented to the maintenace of the pipeline and pumping stations 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 people required to live along or close to the line.

Dam[edit]

Mundaring Weir today
Main article: Mundaring Weir

Construction of the dam started in 1898. When completed in 1902 it was claimed to be the highest overflow dam in the world.

Shortly after World War II, raising the wall was proposed[20] and by 1951 the height of the dam wall was increased by 9.7 metres (32 ft).[21]

Mundaring Weir Branch Railway[edit]

The Public Works Department originally constructed and ran the railway from the Mundaring railway station for the purpose of delivering materials to the construction site.[22]

The Western Australian Government Railways took over the railway operation. It ceased operation in 1952, and the connecting railway line at Mundaring closed in 1954.[23]

Design challenges[edit]

  • The sudden Darling Range height rise between Mundaring and Northam required the location of Pumping Station number two to be close to number one
  • The Avon River in Northam required the construction of the Poole Street Bridge after failure of river bed pipes in 1917

The distance was compounded by the height the water had to be lifted. To rise the almost 400 metres (1,300 ft) in altitude, issues with friction meant that the 'head' of 800 metres (2,600 ft) had to be achieved. O'Connor had eight pumping stations which pumped the water to the next of the receiving tanks in his plans.

Leakages were noted early[24] by the early 1930s, 1,700,000 kilolitres (370,000,000 imp gal) of water per year – a quarter of the total volume of water being pumped from Mundaring Weir – was leaking from the pipeline.

Pumping stations[edit]

Original pumping station at Mundaring Weir.

With most of the original stations being steam-driven, a ready supply of timber was needed to fire the boilers. The pipeline route was therefore closely aligned with the Eastern Railway. To enhance the reliability of the system, each pumping station was designed and constructed with a spare pumping unit. Due to pressure requirements related to the slope of the pipeline, stations one to four required two pumping units to be in operation. Stations five to eight only required one operating pump, due to a lower rise in height between those stations.

James Simpson and Co[25] supplied 3,500 tonnes of equipment in 5,000 separate boxes for the construction of the pumping sets.[citation needed]

Original pumping stations[edit]

All original pumping stations were powered by steam[26]

  • Number One – below Mundaring Weir (now a National Trust administered museum)
  • Number Two – above Mundaring Weir (demolished in 1960s)
  • Number Three – Cunderdin (now Cunderdin Museum)
  • Number Four – Merredin (location of three generations of pump station)
  • Number Five – Yerbillon
  • Number Six – Ghouli
  • Number Seven – Gilgai
  • Number Eight – Dedari

Current pumping stations[edit]

  1. Mundaring
  2. Chidlow
  3. Wundowie
  4. Grass Valley
  5. Meckering
  6. Cunderdin
  7. Kellerberrin
  8. Baandee
  9. Merredin
  10. Walgoolan
  11. Yerbillon
  12. Nulla Nulla
  13. Southern Cross
  14. Ghooli
  15. Karalee
  16. Koorarawalyee
  17. Boondi
  18. Dedari
  19. Bullabulling
  20. Kalgoorlie

Branch mains – or extensions were started as early as 1907.

Water from the pipeline was utilised for a number of country towns adjacent to its route, and also into the Great Southern region. The Public Works Department started this project in the 1950s following the raising of the weir wall in the early 1950s and it completed this work in 1961.

Centenary[edit]

The scheme was 'interpreted' by the National Trust of Australia (WA) in its Golden Pipeline Project which created guide books, web sites, and tourist trails along the scheme pipeline and tracing the older Power Station locations and communities that serviced the scheme. The Trust achieved the responsibility in an agreement with the Water Corporation in 1998. Most of the material was developed between 2001 and 2003.

Pipe Dreams[edit]

The history of the construction of the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme was detailed in the 2007 documentary Pipe Dreams.[27]

Lower Helena Dam[edit]

Lower Helena Pumpback dam is now also used to supply water to the Goldfields region. Water from the dam is currently pumped back into Mundaring Weir.[28][29]

Helena pumpstation is proposed to supply water directly into the goldfields pipeline without the need to pump into Mundaring Weir.[citation needed]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Also known as the Coolgardie Water Scheme in early documents and news reports
  2. ^ http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/34047/20070808-1028/www.thelearningfederation.edu.au/tlf2/sitefiles/los/r5515/description.html
  3. ^ "NORTHAM.". Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 17 December 1897. p. 24. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  4. ^ http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/23604/20040615-0000/www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/media/media.nsf/a941388a2e8b4ed648256dbe0025d27/ecff2cc3f64c4c1948256d51000c99e502ec.html
  5. ^ Forrest, John Sir; Western Australia. Parliament. Legislative Assembly (1896), Speech in the Legislative Assembly by The Hon. Sir John Forrest ... on moving the second reading of the Coolgardie Goldfields Water Supply Loan Bill, on Tuesday, 21st July, 1896, Richard Pether, retrieved 15 November 2012 
  6. ^ "Statement by the Premier.". Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 22 July 1898. p. 36. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  7. ^ "HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY.". Kalgoorlie Western Argus (WA : 1896 – 1916) (WA: National Library of Australia). 8 September 1898. p. 15. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  8. ^ When the Commonwealth of Australia was inaugurated, Forrest was elected unopposed for the electorate of Swan in the House of Representatives in http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/forrest-sir-john-6211
  9. ^ "HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY.". Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) (WA: National Library of Australia). 27 July 1898. p. 5. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  10. ^ "The late MR C. Y. O'CONNOR, C.M.G.". Bunbury Herald (WA : 1892 – 1919) (WA: National Library of Australia). 13 March 1902. p. 2. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  11. ^ "THE GOLDFIELDS WATER SCHEME.". The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 23 January 1903. p. 5. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  12. ^ "The Water Scheme Opening.". Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 31 January 1903. p. 32. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  13. ^ Chamber of Mines of Western Australia (1903), Goldfields water scheme : a souvenir of the official opening and visit to the mines of the "Golden mile", Kalgoorlie, 24th and 26th January, 1903, Chamber of Mines of Western Australia, retrieved 16 November 2012 
  14. ^ "New Engineer-in-chief.". Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954) (Perth, WA). 14 June 1902. p. 15. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  15. ^ "The COOLGARDIE WATER SCHEME.". The West Australian (Perth, WA : 1879 – 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 3 October 1902. p. 5. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  16. ^ "TELEGRAPHIC.". Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) (WA: National Library of Australia). 20 February 1902. p. 5. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  17. ^ Western Australia. Public Works Dept; O'Connor, Charles Yelverton, 1843–1902; Western Australia. Royal Commission Appointed to Inquire into and Report upon the Conduct and Completion of the Coolgardie Water Scheme (1902), Coolgardie water supply plan and longitudinal profile of the pipe line shewing location of pumping stations, tanks, & reservoirs, Public Works Dept, retrieved 16 November 2012 
  18. ^ Completed pipes for the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme at Mephan Ferguson's pipewords in Falkirk, 1900, retrieved 16 November 2012 
  19. ^ The Forrest family Dynasties, ABC. Retrieved 17 September 2006.
  20. ^ "POST-WAR WATER SUPPLIES.". Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 – 1954) (Perth, WA: National Library of Australia). 17 May 1945. p. 22. Retrieved 16 November 2012. 
  21. ^ Illustrations Ltd; HRRC (1950), Construction of the raising of the Mundaring Weir wall [picture], retrieved 16 November 2012 
  22. ^ http://pandora.nla.gov.au/pan/105263/20090910-1331/wastations.i8.com/mundaring+weir.html
  23. ^ Mundaring Primary School (W.A.) (2007), Down memory line : a history of the Mundaring to Mundaring Weir spurline, 1898–1952, Mundaring Primary School, retrieved 16 November 2012 
  24. ^ "THE GOLDFIELDS WATER SCHEME.". Kalgoorlie Miner (WA : 1895 – 1950) (WA: National Library of Australia). 19 August 1902. p. 2. Retrieved 15 November 2012. 
  25. ^ James Simpson & Co (1890), History of the goldfields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie water supply scheme, James Simpson & Co. ; Sydney : Simpson Brothers, Bemrose & Sons, printers), retrieved 17 November 2012 
  26. ^ Goldfields water supply scheme : ceremony to commemorate the completion of the phasing out of the original eight steam pumping stations commissioned in 1903, 3rd April, 1970, Government Printer, 1970, retrieved 16 November 2012 
  27. ^ Stitson, Roger (2007). "Pipe Dreams" (PDF). Constructing Australia–Teachers notes. Film Australia. Retrieved 6 February 2012. 
  28. ^ http://www.watercorporation.com.au/D/dams_storagedetail.cfm?id=18379 Lower Helena Pumpback
  29. ^ http://www.cwr.uwa.edu.au/services/casestudies.php?id=3

References[edit]

Note – the material on the scheme is in its entirety a significant collection, and although the Water Authority might hold a comprehensive bibliography, it has not been published.

Primary sources
  • Articles in The Golden Age relating to the water supply at Coolgardie] 1894–1898. J S Battye Library
  • Coolgardie Goldfields Water Supply : a new method of dealing with granite rocks.1894. West Australian, 10 Feb 1894.
  • The Agricultural areas, Great Southern towns and Goldfields water supply scheme : constructed by the Public Works Department, Western Australia, completed November 1961 : form of proceedings at the function to commemorate the completion of the project, held at Mundaring Weir, on 24 November 1961 [Perth, W.A.] : Govt. Printer, 1961.
Secondary sources
  • Hartley, Richard G. (2007) River of steel : a history of the Western Australian Goldfields and Agricultural Water Supply 1895–2003 Bassendean, W.A. : Access Press. ISBN 978-0-86445-196-5 (pbk.)
  • National Trust (WA) (2002). The golden pipeline heritage trail guide: a time capsule of water, gold and Western Australia. West Perth, W.A.: The Trust. ISBN 1-876507-25-X. 
Pamphlets
  • The Politics of the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme, The Golden Pipeline Information Sheet Number 1. National Trust of Australia (Western Australia) No Date.
Further reading
  • Le Page, J. S. H. (1986) Building a state : the story of the Public Works Department of Western Australia 1829–1985 Leederville,W.A: Water Authority of Western Australia. ISBN 0-7244-6862-5

External links[edit]