Royal Reels: Gambling


The blue ‘THREE PENCE’ King George V stamp has a socked-on the-nose cancellation of No7 PUMPING STATION/ 10 OC 31/ WESTERN AUSTRALIA. This was located at Gilgai, Western Australia (Figure 1).

The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme was designed and built under the supervision of C.Y. O’Connor between 1898 and 1903 to pump fresh water from the Darling Range near Perth 560 km east to the arid Goldfields. The scheme was designed with eight separate sections to overcome the difficulty of pumping water uphill over such a great distance. The main components of the scheme were a dam, the pumpline and eight pump stations. A picture of Charles Yelverton O’Connor is seen in Figure 2.

These are the facts and figures of the original scheme: Cost of scheme – £2,655,220; Number of pipes: 60,000; Amount of water pumped daily: Up to 4.7 million gallons (25.5 million kilolitres). A dam known as the Mundaring Weir, was built on the Helena River to store water to be pumped to the Goldfields. O’Connor’s assistant, T.C. Hodgson considered 17 sites before choosing this one. In 1898, during the excavation of the weir foundations, a huge boulder was revealed. When it was removed a deep fault in the bedrock was found, and overcoming these problems delayed construction for one year. The concrete wall was completed in June 1902. A construction camp on the site was the home to ca. 300 workers and their families during the building of the weir. The pipe-laying across the Darling Range is seen in ca. 1900 (Figure 3).

The pipes were made of steel plates imported flat from Germany and America. The two steel plates were bent to form semi-circles and joined the innovative locking bar system invented by Mephan Ferguson*. The locking bar replaced the practice of riveting the plates together. This system minimized the risk of leakage as no holes were drilled into the pipes and it also reduced internal friction as there were no rivet heads to slow the flow of water inside the pipes. Where possible the pipeline was built alongside the route of the existing railway line to enable the pipes to be easily transported. The length of the train carriages determined the length of the pipes (28 feet or 8.5 metres). The pipes were laid in trenches to reduce the expansion-contraction caused by temperatures extremes. Over 60,000 joints were required as they were laid, provided bu lead calking, first by hand until a calking machine that produced consistent results, and which saved time (designed by James Couston in 1901).

Eight pump stations were built along the length of the pipeline. The water had to be pushed up and over the height of the Darling Range and then to the Goldfields, a total lift of 340 metres and a distance of 560km. No. 1 pumping station drew water from the Mundaring Weir and No. 3 used an existing railway dam. The other six stations had a large concrete receiving/suction tank to hold water which flowed from the previous pump station and was then pumped to the next station.

The approximate distances involved from the No. 1 pump are as follows: No. 1 Mundaring Weir; No. 2 O’Connor 2 km; No. 3 Cunderdin 120 km; No. 4 Merredin; No. 5 Yerbillon 270 km; No. 6 Gbooli 345 km; No. 7 Gilgai 395 km; No. 8 465 km. The actual staff in 1936 at the No. 7 Pumping Station in Gilgai is seen in Figure 4.

The pipeline has been upgraded and the scheme extended since 1903. The pipes were reconditioned or replaced during the 1930s and 1940s to overcome corrosion problems. Several sections of the pipe, totaling 64 km were temporarily replaced with wood-stave pipes made of karri, which were used for 30 years. The original Goldfields Water Supply Scheme became the basis of the northern section of the Comprehensive Water Supply Scheme, completed in 1973. As part of this scheme the storage capacity of the Mundaring Weir was trebled when the weir wall was raised 10 metres in 1951. Between 1954 and 1969, the first seven original pump stations were replaced by electric pump stations. No. 8 Pump Station was replaced by a diesel station in 1970 and converted to electric power in 1984.

To-day water takes 5-11 days to reach Kalgoorlie. An average of 90 million litres of water is pumped daily, and the pipe network holds 300 million litres of water.


A paper on Mephan Ferguson, Foundry Owner, Bridge and Pipe Builder is on this website in the Category: Business.

There is an entry for Charles Yelverton O’Connor in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

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