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C.Y. O'Connor and the pipeline

About this lesson

Through learning about C.Y. O’Connor, students will create a physical timeline to gain an understanding of time order and how to distinguish between the past, present and future.

Year level: 1, 2

Theme: Water supply

Learning objectives

Students can:
  • investigate photographs of C. Y. O’Connor and the pipeline and discuss what these reveal about the past
  • use terms to denote the passing of time
  • form a physical timeline in time order
  • distinguish between past, present and future in speech.

Curriculum links

Humanities and social sciences (history)

  • How the present, past and future are signified by terms indicating time (e.g. 'a long time ago'; 'then and now'; 'now and then'; 'old and new'; 'tomorrow') as well as by dates and changes that may have personal significance (e.g. birthdays, holidays, celebrations, seasons) ACHASSK029.
  • The influence of accessibility to services and facilities on the liveability of places ACHASSK044.

Things you will need

Lesson description


  • View the photograph of C. Y. O’Connor and talk about this life. Include how he was the engineer who designed the pipeline that would take water from Perth to the people in the goldfields; a journey of over 560kms. Use the fact sheet if necessary.
  • What do you notice about the photograph? View the photograph of the pipeline and discuss what it tells us about the past.


  • Talk through the significant dates listed under teacher background information.
  • Show the relevant date card and hand it to a student to hold.
  • Nominate a student/s to write on one card each for the following dates:
    • the month and year they were born
    • the year the school was opened or the teacher’s year of birth
    • the current month and year (to represent ‘present’)
    • the month and year it will be when a student will be 20 years old (to represent ‘future’.). You should have 14 date cards in total.
  • Explain what a timeline is and nominate a side of the room for the oldest date, and the opposite side for the date in the future.
  • Explain to students who are holding a card, to silently stand up and form a physical timeline from oldest to future.
  • Help students without a card to silently arrange students with dates into the right time order.
  • Explain the order to students and discuss which dates are in the past, in the present or in the future.

Reflect & summarise

Discuss the significance of the pipeline and the important role that C. Y. O'Connor played in establishing drinking water supplies along the 560km stretch to Kalgoorlie.

Extension activities

  • Run a hot seat activity with a student being C. Y. O’Connor and the rest of the class asking him questions about his life and the building of the pipeline – provide a prop to help the student get into character (e.g. a waistcoat, hat or fob watch).
  • Organise an excursion to the No. 1 Pump Station at Mundaring Weir.
  • Teacher rel="noopener noreferrer" to present the Golden pipeline e-learning activity to the class.

Teacher background information

Significant dates

  • 1843 – C Y O’Connor is born in Ireland
  • 1864 – C Y O’Connor sails from Ireland to New Zealand to work (aged 21)
  • 1891 – O’Connor becomes WA’s Engineer-in-Chief. He became known as ‘The Chief’
  • 1892 – Discovery of gold in Coolgardie
  • 1895 – First plans for a pipeline are prepared
  • 1898 – Construction of the 560 km pipeline commences
  • 10 March 1902 – C Y O’Connor commits suicide (use with discretion)
  • 22 December 1902 – Water reaches Coolgardie
  • 16 January 1903 – Water reaches Kalgoorlie and construction is completed
  • 24 January 1903 – Official opening ceremonies are held.

Information about the photograph of C Y O’Connor

This is a black-and-white photograph of Charles Yelverton O'Connor, originally taken in 1897. The photograph shows O'Connor in a posed position wearing his everyday working clothes and one of the hats that he commonly wore. He wears a black frock or morning coat (with tails), high-necked shirt and tie, with a black vest (waistcoat) and light-coloured trousers. A fob watch chain is tied through a waistcoat buttonhole and leads into the waistcoat pocket where the watch sits.

Point out that it shows the Engineer-in-Chief in his working clothes, a waistcoat and coat tails were expected in the formal times of the Victorian era.

Information about the photograph showing the laying of the pipes. c1902

This photograph shows the main steps involved in building the pipeline, which were laying the pipes, joining the pipe lengths and waterproofing the joints.

  • Workers are seen lowering the next length of pipe into the pipeline trench.
  • The cylindrical lead machine is following four or five pipe-lengths behind, pouring molten lead into the rings placed around the pipe joins.
  • The caulking machine with its coiled cable then waterproofs the joints.
  • In the foreground two men are finishing off a new machine-caulked joint by hand before the joint inspector gives approval for the pipe to be buried.

Large numbers of people were engaged in the Scheme and this photograph shows dozens of men, mostly labourers, with a few foremen. Judging from their more formal clothes, the four men gathered front left are probably supervisors, or inspectors who checked the quality of the joints.


Related lessons

  • The gold rush – panning for gold
  • Water is a gift

Did you know?

The lake created by Mundaring Weir is now known as Lake O'Connor.

Key vocabulary

  • Caulking: the process where lead is poured, driven or forced into a joint to make it leak-proof
  • Engineer: a person with scientific training who designs and builds complicated products, machines, systems and structures
  • Labourer: a person who does hard, physical work for money
  • Pipeline: a long pipe used to convey resources such as water over a long distance
  • Victorian: a person living during Queen Victoria's reign (1837–1901); especially a representative figure of that time
  • Weir: a low wall or dam built across a stream or river to raise the level of the water