Teacher background information
The gold rush – the need for a new water source
The discovery of gold in Coolgardie 1892 and in Kalgoorlie in 1893 not only brought wealth to Western Australia (WA), it brought gold-seekers from the eastern colonies of Australia.
In 1891, before gold was discovered in the area, the population of WA was just under 50,000. Within the first year of gold being found, 1,000 men had moved to the Goldfields. By 1901 the population of WA had grown to nearly 200,000. As a result of the rapid increase in populations, the water sources in the area proved to be insufficient.
In 1895, WA’s Engineer-in-Chief, C.Y. O’Connor, was asked by Premier Sir John Forrest to produce a practical plan for pumping water to the Goldfields. O’Connor designed a plan that involved storing water in the Darling Ranges and pumping it, through a series of eight pump stations, to Coolgardie. The construction of the pipeline took five years, spanning from 1898 to 1903. People from all over the world came to work on the ambitious project, many bringing their families with them.
During the construction of the pipeline, local newspapers suggested the plan was too great and would never work, and that O’Connor (and some of his staff) had used their positions to make money. This lead to questions being asked in parliament. O’Connor was deeply affected by the unproven criticism, and this, combined with the pressure of stress and overwork, led to his suicide on 10 March 1902.
Goldfields Water Supply Scheme
This scheme was at the time the biggest and most ambitious engineering project of its kind in the world. It saved thousands from disease and drought and allowed mining for gold to continue.
Five weeks after O'Connor's death, water from the Mundaring Weir began to be pumped along the pipeline. On 22 December, 1902, water reached Coolgardie, and on 16 January, 1903 it reached Kalgoorlie. Official opening celebrations were held at Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie on 24 January, 1903.
Key dates of C.Y. O’ Connor's life:
- Charles Yelverton O’Connor was born in Ireland in 1843.
- By the age of 17 he was working as an assistant engineer with Irish Railways.
- In 1864 he sailed to New Zealand to take up a position with a government survey team.
- In 1891 O’Connor accepted an offer from WA Premier Sir John Forrest to become Engineer-in-Chief of all public works for the colony. He became known as ‘The Chief’.