02 June, 2016

Let it flow, let it flow, let it flow!

As I was searching through TROVE hunting for maps suitable for my last blog post, I came across an interesting map which I had not seen before. It was dated 1st September, 1857 and showed the course of the Barwon including surrounding subdivisions and the holdings of major land owners/squatters in the area to a point several kilometres south of Winchelsea. This in itself was of interest, however, what caught my attention was the depiction of a "reservoir and aqueduct for supplying Geelong with water".
What had I found?
I should have remembered as I have read about it before, but had not seen it in map form.  This was one of several options put forward to supply the town of Geelong with a clean, reliable water supply - something which was desperately needed by the 1850s.
A full description of the woes of Geelong's early water supplies would require a significant amount of time and blog space and in any case, the whole story of Geelong's aqueous history is addressed in Leigh Edmonds' book Living by Water: a History of Barwon Water and its Predecessors, 2005 which can be downloaded from the above link. Here however, I will look briefly at not only what happened, but what might have happened.
As I have mentioned in the past, the first step in securing a water supply for Geelong was the breakwater built by Captain Foster Fyans with the aid of convict labour in 1841. This stopped the flow of salt water back upriver from Barwon Heads and dammed the flow of the river, resulting in higher water levels between Breakwater and Buckley Falls.
For several years, this was the extent of Geelong's water supply. The water from the river was either collected directly (free of charge) by the local citizens or was pumped from the river and distributed by private contractors. Joseph Griffen installed a pump near Moorabool St in 1841 and a little later, William Jewell erected a tank on the riverbank near Yarra St from where water-carriers could fill their casks.
William Jewell's pump by the Barwon River. Image taken from Sand, Fireworks
and Boxthorn: the History of Breakwater and Area
(William Smith, )
In 1850, William Gray erected a reticulated system which pumped water from the river through metal pipes to the Market Square and to the Waterfront via a holding tank located near the north west corner of Moorabool and McKillop Streets. The system was not without its problems which were further complicated by wrangling with the council and a rapid population increase following the outbreak of the Victorian gold rush in 1851.
In 1852, the council established the Geelong Water Company whose brief was to secure a water supply for Geelong from some point above Buckley Falls. The engineer hired to undertake the study recommended a 4 foot high dam, located above the falls, however public subscription for the scheme was lacking and the company quietly folded.
Illustration of the Market Square by S.T. Gill (1857), clearly showing Gray's tank
and a water cart waiting to fill up. Image held by the State Library of Victoria
At about the same time, another public company - described in The Argus of 10th February, 1853 as the Geelong Junction Water Company - entered the arena. Backed by none other than William Gray, it was claimed that by October that year, the company would be ready to supply water from above Buckley Falls to the suburbs of Ashby, Kildare, Chilwell, Little Scotland and New Town (sic). The water, it was stated would be pumped from a reservoir on the hill "immediately over Levien's Punt", however by 1854 the scheme was still not up and running and council held concerns that the company would provide a virtual private monopoly over water supply in the town for Gray and a small number of associates. Once again, the plan was abandoned.
In 1852, the colonial government had allocated £800,000 for the construction of water supply schemes for Melbourne and Geelong. £600,000 was to be spent on a dam at Yan Yean to supply Melbourne, with the remainder to be spent on Geelong.  In 1855 it established the Geelong Water Commission to look into the state of the town's water and to recommend a more extensive supply scheme.
In his report submitted to the Commission in February, 1857, engineer Henry Millar came to the conclusion that water taken from below Inverleigh was unsuitable as sediment from mining activities along the Yarrowee/Leigh River near Ballarat had so polluted the water that it rendered the lower reaches of the Barwon unusable. Instead, his favoured option was the construction of a reservoir on Wormbete Creek - a tributary of the Barwon running through 'Wormbete Estate', established by Henry Hopkins in 1837. It was the map of this proposal which I had discovered on TROVE.
What could have been. An 1857 map showing a proposed reservoir located
on Wormbete Creek, designed to supply Geelong with water.
Image held by the National Library of Australia
This scheme which the Commission presented to the government was estimated to cost £362,430 and would run from the reservoir through pipes to Geelong, supplying a potential population of 50,000 with 190 (50 gallons) of water per day. The government however, immediately made it known that this expense was unacceptable and advised the Commission to consider a cheaper option. It was revealed not long after, that the £200,000 allocated for Geelong's water scheme had been spent instead on Yan Yean.
Reluctantly, the Commission suggested that water pumped from above Buckley Falls to a holding basin could be implemented for £64,848, but reinforced the unacceptable quality of the water. Next, claiming that the Commission had failed to act, the government appointed a select committee to again investigate Geelong's water woes. The Commissioners promptly resigned en masse.
In June, 1858, the select committee unsurprisingly recommended that a supply should be secured from above Buckley Falls, indicating that the Wormbete Creek option was too expensive. An alternative suggestion that Geelong be connected to the Yan Yean scheme was also rejected. And there things sat.
At the beginning of 1859 two government experts were sent to report on the findings of the Select Committee. Rather than support one of the existing alternatives however, they suggested a fourth option - a reservoir collecting water from the springs and creeks around Mt Buninyong and Mt Warrenheip, which would supply both Geelong and Ballarat. Water from the reservoir could be piped to Geelong along the same line as the Geelong-Ballarat Railway which was under construction at that time.
Again, nothing was done. As the colonial government floundered under pressure from the rapidly increasing population, Geelong council took matters into their own hands and established yet another committee to look into the water issue. In addition to considering the options recommended by the select committee and the government experts, they considered a fourth option; one which would see water collected, not from the Barwon catchment, but from the watershed above Stony Creek in the Brisbane Ranges - a tributary of the Little River.
The scheme would see a reservoir built north of Anakie which would store up to 1,000 million gallons (3,785 megalitres) behind an earthen wall. Water would then be carried via an open channel and a series of pipes to a reservoir at Anakie before being piped to a distribution reservoir at Lovely Banks from where it would be distributed to Geelong residents.
What might have been. An 1867 map outlining plans for the Stony Creek
reservoir, pipes and channel. Note also, the intended channel from Wallace's
Swamp as well as a proposal to divert water from the Werribee River into
the system and a proposed pipe to carry water to Steiglitz. Image held
by the National Library of Australia
Finally, after 14 years of wrangling, the £42,572 contract to build Geelong's water supply was signed in May, 1866 and work got under way. Before construction was even completed however, there were problems; first with money and then with design. Concerns that the capacity of the dam may not be adequate in 1870 saw work begin on a channel draining water from Wallace's Swamp north of the dam, however this work was later abandoned. Then, in 1871, the dam wall began to subside and it was discovered that the foundations upon which the wall had been built were unstable. Various measures were considered and it was decided to lower the dam wall and reinforce it.
This had the effect of reducing the capacity of the dam to a mere 168 million gallons. To compensate for this, a second reservoir was built further down the creek. The Lower Stony Creek Reservoir as it was known, was constructed in the space of 18 months between 1873 and 1874. This new reservoir had a capacity of 120 million gallons, however, with a larger catchment area, its annual capacity was estimated as closer to 232 million gallons. It cost £17,000 to build but because of differences in elevation, could not use the original channel and pipes. As a result, it therefore required a separate pipe costing a further £12,000 to carry its water to the basin at Anakie.
The dam wall of the Lower Stony Creek Reservoir, built 1873-1874 from a
combination of cement, sand and rock it was the first cement dam in Australia and
only the third of its type in the world
 Plagued by delays, cost blowouts and technical problems due to poor workmanship, corner cutting and the use of substandard materials, the system was not without its problems. In addition to the subsidence of the main dam wall, a tunnel under the embankment also leaked, there were fears that the spillway - built on soft clay - would erode as well as issues with leakage from the aqueduct and tunnels carrying water to Anakie which required remedial work. Then, as the system was at last ready to come on line and the service basin at Lovely Banks filled up, poor brickwork caused one of its embankments to develop leaks, requiring it to be drained in order to fix the problem.
Eventually however, despite all the setbacks and delays, on 11th September, 1873 the first water flowed to the Geelong Infirmary and Benevolent Society, with the rest of the town progressively coming on line in the following months. After more than twenty years of political wrangling, Geelong finally had its first reliable, reticulated water supply.
Today, the Stony Creek Reservoir - along with two additional reservoirs built in 1914 and 1918 - still form part of the Barwon Water supply system, also receiving water from the upper reaches of the East Moorabool River. The Lower Stony Creek Reservoir was decommissioned in 2001, with the water from the East Moorabool and the upper reservoirs instead channelled via a new pipe to the Sheoaks Diversion Weir.


  1. In regard to the information about Lower Stony Creek Reservoir, may i ask from what source did you get the information? I am working on a research project about this reservoir as a engineering heritage. It would be a great help.

    1. Hi Minh,
      The sources I used have all as far as I remember been cited either in the text or captions of the post itself, but include: Edmonds, 2005 Living by Water: a History of Barwon Water and its Predecessors; Smith, 2009, Sand, Fireworks
      and Boxthorn: the History of Breakwater and Area. Other sources were accessed online via TROVE and should be easily located via the search function.

    2. Thanks a lot for your help