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The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme 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.


During the early 1890’s, 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 condensers, reliance on irregular rain, and water trains were part of the range of sources. Railway dams were essential for water to supply locomotives to travel to the goldfields

Goldfields Water Supply Scheme

Engineering Feat - 1896 to 1903

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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.


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.


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. 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, and the new Premier George Leake had long been an opponent of the scheme.


O'Connor committed suicide in March 1902 less than 12 months before the final commissioning of the pipeline. The government conducted an inquiry into the scheme and found no basis for the press accusations of corruption or misdemeanours on the part of O'Connor.


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 (now known simply as Midland) 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 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 maintenance 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.


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 supplied 3,500 tonnes of equipment in 5,000 separate boxes for the construction of the pumping sets.


Original pumping stations - All original pumping stations are powered by steam

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

Mundaring, Chidlow, Wundowie, Grass Valley, Meckering, Cunderdin, Kellerberrin, Baandee, Merredin, Walgoolan, Yerbillon, Nulla Nulla, Southern Cross, Ghooli, Karalee, Koorarawalyee, Boondi, Dedari, Bullabulling, 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.