In the early 1890s the discovery of large alluvial gold deposits in Coolgardie (1892) and Kalgoorlie (1893) lead to a population boom in Western Australia. The discovery of gold made the region more attractive to miners, immigrants and new settlers.
Gold seekers faced the problem of a lack of an adequate water supply on the eastern goldfields.
An adequate water supply
The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme was designed to overcome the shortage of water in the inhospitable interior, and provide a reliable source of water for the goldfields. The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme is a late 19th century/early 20th century inter-basin transfer water system which extends from Mundaring Weir (Dam) in the west to Mount Charlotte Reservoir at Kalgoorlie in the east. The Scheme included two main reservoirs, the main conduit of the pipeline, eight pump stations, holding tanks and regulating tanks.
Work started in 1898 and took five years to complete, the driving force for the innovation being Charles Yelverton O'Connor, Engineer-in Chief of the Western Australian Public Works Department from 1891 to his death in March 1902 and Western Australia's first premier, Sir John Forrest.
Work was completed in early 1903 with 560 km of pipeline laid. Pipes were made of 30-inch (0.76m) diameter steel and the original pumps at the eight pumping stations were capable of delivering 5 million gallons (22.73 million litres) of water per day.
An engineering feat
At the time of its opening the scheme was regarded internationally as being the largest engineering undertaking of its time. The amount of steel used in construction was greater than any steel structure elsewhere in the world. In 2009, the scheme was recognised internationally by the American Society of Civil Engineers as an international Historic Civil Engineering Landmark.
Water from the pipeline became available just as the production of gold in the state's eastern goldfields was starting to decline. However regular water supplies meant agriculture could prosper.
Today the Western Australian wheatfields are the most productive in Australia, accounting for 42 per cent of the nation's wheat crop and coming mainly from the areas serviced by the goldfields pipeline and its extensions.
The pipeline was re-laid in 1930s and was a state project initiated to create employment during the Depression. The original wood fired steam pumps remained in commission until the 1950s and 1960s when they were replaced by electric powered pumps.
The pipeline continues to service domestic and agricultural needs of the communities between Mundaring and Kalgoorlie.
Today it is operated by the WA Water Corporation. It is the Corporation's largest asset and the basis for generating billions of dollars of annual economic activity.
Approximately 10,000 services are provided within the agricultural area and the eastern goldfields through 8,000km of pipelines and over 40 pumping stations. Around 60 per cent of the original fabric of the pipeline remains.
The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme was added to the National Heritage List on 23 June 2011.
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