29 March, 2015

Branching out - Chinaman's Lagoon

The little town of Teesdale is situated on Native Hut Creek - a tributary of the Barwon - and was mentioned in one of my previous posts. The history of the area dates back 40,000 years to a time when the progenitors of the Wathaurong clan lived along the creek, harvesting root vegetables and catching fish from the creek.
In 1837, things changed forever when European settlement in the form of Thomas and Somerville Learmonth arrived in the district. Under the auspices of the Derwent company, they established three squatting runs along Native Hut Creek, each named for the creek and numbered 1, 2 and 3 respectively. Rough maps showing modern roads overlaid with the extent of the various squatting runs indicate that what became the town of Teesdale was located on Native Hut Creek No. 2 run which later became known as the Woolbrook Estate.

The gate to Woolbrook today
The Learmonths did not remain long in the district and the estate soon passed to Joseph Tolson. He was followed by Francis Ormond in 1848, Jeremiah Ware in that same year and then only a few years later in 1851, Peter Sharp took up the lease and the following year applied for the pre-emptive right to 640 acres of the property, paying 20 shillings per acre.
By 1854, the property was in the hands of a consortium of three squatters but by 1856 John Bell was the sole owner of the freehold. The following year, he built a three-roomed bluestone house on the property for his brother James, who lived there with his family until 1900.
Woolbrook homestead, early 1900s. Photo held by the State Library of Victoria
As the squatters opened up the land in the district to grazing, other settlers followed in their wake and townships began to spring up. One such on the Native Hut Creek No. 2 run was surveyed in September, 1851 and given the name Teesdale.
Of course, one of the primary concerns for any new establishment is a water supply and Teesdale was no different in this respect. Initially settlers took water directly from the creek which is fed by a series of natural springs. Water was also taken from a small lagoon just to the west of what is now Turtle Bend. Today, this is a small dam which is currently empty, however at that time, it was more extensive than today, extending across where the road now runs and towards Turtle Bend. It was also fed by an underground spring.
The currently dry lagoon near Turtle Bend
In those early days, a pump and a standpipe were placed at the lagoon to provide water for the residents and the local women would do their weekly washing in the freshwater springs nearby. During dry periods however the water would become brackish and eventually, by the 1870s salinity was a permanent problem. A new water supply was required.
Initially, it was envisaged that Teesdale would take its water from a dam built at Black Gully in 1874, located between Teesdale and Inverleigh and would share supply with that town. (It should be noted that the shire engineer for that project was one C.A.C. Wilson of Leigh Grand Junction Bridge fame.) However, significant flooding in 1880 - the largest recorded in the state at that time - damaged the dam wall and it was deemed too expensive to repair. In the meantime, a second dam was being built at Todd's Gully, closer to town. The land had been reserved for the purpose of supplying water in June, 1878 and construction was soon underway.

Building Chinaman's Lagoon c1878-1879. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
However, whilst the land was suitable, the site of the dam was somewhat removed from the township and access was via a council road which had been fenced in by a settler (Alex Munro) as part of his selection. In the end, it was decided that the easiest solution was to lay a pipe from the dam to the Mechanic's Institute in town where a standpipe would provide water to the town's population as well as servicing passing travellers - many of whom were headed to the Ballarat Goldfields.
Chinaman's Lagoon today
In February, 1883, three contracts were entered into. A quote of £99 was accepted from one Quin Yung for 7.5 chains (approximately 150m) of tunnel, a second for £79.10.0 from D. Munro for digging trenches and laying 32 chains (approximately 640m) of pipe and the final was for John Danks to supply 2112 feet (about 640m) of galvanised iron pipe at a cost of £96.15.0. The work was completed in a matter of weeks and by April, 1883 water from the dam was flowing through the newly-installed pipe to the town.
That same month, it was moved at a council meeting that a trough should be installed at the standpipe, however I am unsure whether this plan came to pass.
Original well built by Quin Yung beside Chinaman's Lagoon

Whilst the names of the contractors may have been forgotten over the years, the fact that one was Chinese was not and today the dam is known as Chinaman's Lagoon. Whilst no longer providing Teesdale's water, the lagoon still provides a habitat for native flora and fauna and is accessible to the public via walking tracks in the area.
The dam did however continue to served the population of Teesdale until 1974. At this time, the She Oaks Diversion Weir and the Moorabool Water Treatment Plant were completed - as described in my post Branching out - a diverting lesson, bringing to fruition a project begun two years earlier in 1972, with the completion of the Bungal Dam on the Moorabool River at Lal Lal. During construction of the dam, the Bannockburn and District Waterworks Trust contributed financially to its building and as a result was entitled to a  91Ml share of water annually for the towns of Bannockburn, Inverleigh, Shelford, Teesdale, Lethbridge and Meredith. It is this allocation of water which today flows via the She Oaks Diversion Weir before being piped to Teesdale and the other towns mentioned, providing mains water for the community.
More details of Teesdale's water supply across the years can be found in Dianne Hughes' 2011 publication "From Native Creek to Teesdale: 1837-1900" (ISBN: 9780980715989) as well as "Living By Water: a history of Barwon Water and its predecessors" (Leigh Edmonds, 2005; ISBN: 0959491953).


  1. Hello - Is Chinamans Lagoon publically accessible ?
    In doing some family history study: it is likely that it was William Quing YOUNG that built this well. He was naturalised in Teesdale in 1882. How long he stayed in Teesdale I do not know; but by the 1890’s he was in Sydney. Any further information would be most apreciated. Andrew Young

  2. Hi Andrew,
    Yes, the lagoon is accessible to the public and from memory (it was a while ago) there is a shelter of some sort and some explanatory signage including one saying "original well built by Quinn Yung".
    If you can't get there for a look yourself, I also have a photo of the larger sign which gives brief details of the scheme. If you let me know your email address I can send copies of the 2 signs.

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  3. All very lovely places. I hear Woolbrook and Shelburn homesteads is what started up the development of Teesdale to become an actual town, as you can tell by its unusual set up having no proper main street of shops or pubs, bbut nowdays Teesdale houses about over 2000 people.