Background To The Goldfields PipelineThe year was 1891 and Western Australia had just become an independent
self governing State and John Forrest had been elected the W.A.'s first Premier. Forrest's vision for the
State was enormous. He wanted to turn the colony into a strong, prosperous and independent one (quickly). To
achieve this goal a great deal of money was needed to be spent on the infrastructure of the State, beginning
with Pubic Works sector. Western Australia needed better roads, railways, harbours and bridges. To build such
an infrastructure, Forrest knew he had to employ the best engineer he could find. His eye was on H.S. Mais,
the former Engineer-in-Chief of South Australia, to fill the role. H.S.Mais kindly refused the offer, when he
was informed of the salary. Meanwhile, in New Zealand, an unhappy engineer by the name of C.Y. O'Connor was told of the position. Following correspondences with Forrest and debate over
the salary situation, O'Connor finally accepted the position. Forrest had raised a million pound loan (the
highest ever undertaken in Australia at the time) from London to begin building up the State.
C.Y.O'Connor's first role as Chief-Engineer was to build the Fremantle Harbour, at the mouth of the
Swan River, followed by a network of railway systems to service the regional area of the State. At around the same
time prospectors were roaming the State in search of gold. The eastern States had already experienced the gold
rushes during the 1850's and was now experiencing an economic depression. Banks closed and the unemployment rate
plummeted. But a lucky strike in the W.A.'s eastern goldfields was about to change the State's future forever. The
first of the big strikes happened near the outback town of Coolgardie at a place known as Yilgarn in 1887.This was followed by larger strikes at Coolgardie
and then Kalgoorlie.
Liquid GoldWith word of the gold discoveries spreading fast throughout an economically
depressed country, a mass movement of people (especially from the Eastern States) moved to the eastern
goldfields of W.A. This desolate and dry part of Western Australia was not ready to cope with people, let
alone a large influx of people. Infrastructures had to be put in place, with the most important being fresh
water. Not only was water necessary for drinking and washing but the trains and mines required water. The
Government was quick to realize the rush was placing pressure on the already limited supply of water. In fact
water was soon to become just as precious as the gold they were finding.
Water SolutionThe solution to the water crisis rested solely on the shoulders of
C.Y.O'Connor. His response to the problem was to build a reservoir in the hills of Perth (Mundaring Weir) and
then pump water over 500km inland to Coolgardie & Kalgoorlie. Construction of the Mundaring Weir began in
1898 and was completed in 1903. Cement was imported from England and Germany to construct the 32m high weir
wall. Pump Stations 1 & 2 were also constructed at the same time.
Footnotes: The weir wall was raised another 10m in 1946. Today, two thirds of Perth's water is
supplied by the many water catchments, including the Mundaring Weir, in the Darling Range.
Building the PipelineThe Falkirk Siding was constructed in 1899 for Mephan Ferguson who had been awarded the contract to supply half the seamless pipes for C.Y.
O'Connor's Goldfields Water Supply Scheme. Ferguson bought land along the railway line and built a highly
mechanized foundry, employing over 50 workers. He named the area "Falkirk Siding" after his hometown in
Scotland. However, when the new railway station was approved by W.A.G.R. in 1899 it was given the name
Maylands Railway Station to avoid confusion with the Falkirk yard. The Maylands Station House was designed by PWD (Public Works Department) and built by A. Davenport.
The original plans were issued under the authority of the Chief Civil Engineer of Western Australian
In 1897 Mephan Ferguson, who was initially living and working in Melbourne
as a manufacturer of agricultural machinery, patented a rivet-less locking-bar water pipe. The following year
he designed the equipment for its manufacture on a commercial scale. The pipes were cheaper and simpler to
produce than fabricated ones which also required riveting. C.Y.O'Connor traveled to Adelaide to view
Ferguson's pipes being laid in South Australia and was impressed by their low frictional resistance to water
and their lack of leaks. An impressed O'Connor recommended the use of Ferguson pipes for the Goldfields Water
Scheme to the Western Australian Government in 1898. The Government accepted the recommendation and the
contract was eventually divided between Ferguson and the Hoskins company who already had a foundry at Midland
Junction. Ever the businessman, Ferguson bought land along the railway line and built a highly mechanised
foundry, employing initially over 50 workers. At the peak of pipe production there were over 180 people
working at the foundry. Ferguson completed the contract in 1903 well ahead of schedule and left Australia soon
after to open a pipe manufacturing plant in Birmingham, England.