Background To The Goldfields Pipeline

goldfields pipeline, c y o'connor, western australiaThe year was 1891 and Western Australia had just become an independent self-governing State and John Forrest had been elected the W.A.’s first Premier. Forrest’s vision for the State was enormous. He wanted to turn the colony into a strong, prosperous and independent one (quickly). To achieve this goal a great deal of money was needed to be spent on the infrastructure of the State, beginning with Public Works sector. Western Australia needed better roads, railways, harbours and bridges. To build such an infrastructure, Forrest knew he had to employ the best engineer he could find. His eye was on H.S. Mais, the former Engineer-in-Chief of South Australia, to fill the role. H.S.Mais kindly refused the offer, when he was informed of the salary. Goldfields Pipeline, Coolgardie, Western AustraliaMeanwhile, in New Zealand, an unhappy engineer by the name of C.Y. O’Connor was told of the position. Following correspondences with Forrest and debate over the salary situation, O’Connor finally accepted the position. Forrest had raised a million-pound loan (the highest ever undertaken in Australia at the time) from London to begin building up the State.

C.Y.O’Connor’s first role as Chief-Engineer was to build the Fremantle Harbour, at the mouth of the Swan River, followed by a network of railway systems to service the regional area of the State. At around the same time prospectors were roaming the State in search of gold. The eastern States had already experienced the gold rushes during the 1850s and was now experiencing an economic depression. Banks closed and the unemployment rate plummeted. But a lucky strike in the W.A.’s eastern goldfields was about to change the State’s future forever. The first of the big strikes happened near the outback town of Coolgardie at a place known as Yilgarn in 1887. This was followed by larger strikes at Coolgardie and then Kalgoorlie.

Liquid Gold

Goldfields pipeline, Mundaring Weir, Western AustraliaWith word of the gold discoveries spreading fast throughout an economically depressed country, a mass movement of people (especially from the Eastern States) moved to the eastern goldfields of W.A. This desolate and dry part of Western Australia was not ready to cope with people, let alone a large influx of people. Infrastructures had to be put in place, with the most important being freshwater. Not only was water necessary for drinking and washing but the trains and mines required water. The Government was quick to realize the rush was placing pressure on the already limited supply of water. In fact, water was soon to become just as precious as the gold they were finding.

Water Solution

Goldfields pipeline, Mundaring Weir, Western AustraliaThe solution to the water crisis rested solely on the shoulders of C.Y.O’Connor. His response to the problem was to build a reservoir in the hills of Perth (Mundaring Weir) and then pump water over 500km inland to Coolgardie & Kalgoorlie. Construction of the Mundaring Weir began in 1898 and was completed in 1903. Cement was imported from England and Germany to construct the 32m high weir wall. Pump Stations 1 & 2 were also constructed at the same time.

Footnotes: The weir wall was raised another 10m in 1946. Today, two-thirds of Perth’s water is supplied by the many water catchments, including the Mundaring Weir, in the Darling Range.

Building the Pipeline

Goldfields pipeline, pumping station, Western AustraliaThe Falkirk Siding was constructed in 1899 for Mephan Ferguson who had been awarded the contract to supply half the seamless pipes for C.Y. O’Connor’s Goldfields Water Supply Scheme. Ferguson bought land along the railway line and built a highly mechanized foundry, employing over 50 workers. He named the area “Falkirk Siding” after his hometown in Scotland. However, when the new railway station was approved by W.A.G.R. in 1899 it was given the name Maylands Railway Station to avoid confusion with the Falkirk yard. The Maylands Station House was designed by PWD (Public Works Department) and built by A. Davenport. The original plans were issued under the authority of the Chief Civil Engineer of Western Australian Railways, C.Y.O’Connor.

Mephan Ferguson

Goldfields pipeline, bridge, Northam, Western AustraliaIn 1897 Mephan Ferguson, who was initially living and working in Melbourne as a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, patented a rivet-less locking-bar water pipe. The following year he designed the equipment for its manufacture on a commercial scale. The pipes were cheaper and simpler to produce than fabricated ones which also required riveting. C.Y.O’Connor traveled to Adelaide to view Ferguson’s pipes being laid in South Australia and was impressed by their low frictional resistance to water and their lack of leaks. An impressed O’Connor recommended the use of Ferguson pipes for the Goldfields Water Scheme to the Western Australian Government in 1898. The Government accepted the recommendation and the contract was eventually divided between Ferguson and the Hoskins company who already had a foundry at Midland Junction. Ever the businessman, Ferguson bought land along the railway line and built a highly mechanised foundry, employing initially over 50 workers. At the peak of pipe production there were over 180 people working at the foundry. Ferguson completed the contract in 1903 well ahead of schedule and left Australia soon after to open a pipe manufacturing plant in Birmingham, England.