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The life and achievements of C.Y. O'Connor

About this lesson

Students recount, research and reflect on the life and significant events of Charles Yelverton O'Connor through the creation of a timeline.

Year level: 5, 6

Theme: Water supply

Learning objectives

Students can:
  • recount and sequence the main events in the life of C. Y. O’Connor
  • create a timeline of events
  • identify that some events in a timeline are more significant than others
  • conduct research into a famous person’s life. 

Curriculum links

Humanities and social sciences (history)

  • The impact of a significant development or event on an Australian colony ACHASSK108
  • The role that a significant individual or group played in shaping a colony ACHASSK110
  • The contribution of individuals and groups to the development of Australian society since Federation ACHASSK137

Things you will need

Lesson description


  • Ask students if they have been to the docks in Fremantle and seen the statue in front of the harbour building? Do they know who it is?
    • Show them a photograph of the statue and explain that it is of C. Y. O'Connor.
    • Ask why they think we put up statues of people in our parks and streets? Who would they make a statue of and why? Allow discussion with a partner then share ideas with the class.
  • Ask what the students know about C. Y. O'Connor and for suggestions on how to find out more. Would finding information about him be different to researching a famous person from today? How?
  • Explain why the statue was erected.


  • Discuss the life of C.Y. O’ Connor with students or ask them to briefly research his life, independently or in groups.
  • Ask students to work in pairs to create a timeline of C.Y. O’Connor’s life using the activity sheet. (Activity answers: 7,5,1,11,8,12,2,15,14,6,9,10,3,13).

Reflect & summarise

  • Discuss why C.Y. O’Connor is remembered.
  • Ask students what his main achievements were. 
  • Ask the students to organise the events of C.Y. O’Connors life in order of most important to least important. 
  • Do students agree on which events are the most important and which are not? Explain that the writers of history books often encounter difference of opinion; therefore, it is important for historians to refer to more than one source for information, keeping in mind that particular sources could be biased depending on the times in which they were written.

Extension activities

  • Divide students into small groups to investigate different parts of C. Y. O'Connor's life. Allocate a time frame for each group to research. Ask students to share the information with the class.
  • What did they find out about C. Y. O'Connor that hasn't already been covered in the lesson?
  • Students can complete The golden pipeline e-Learning activity.
  • Book your class into a Mundaring Weir - No. 1 pump station excursion.

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.

Goldfields pipeline

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’.


Did you know?

At the time of its completion, the Goldfields pipeline was the longest in the world.

Key vocabulary

  • Biography: An account of someone's life written by someone else
  • Colony: A country or area, occupied by settlers from a different country that is under full or partial political control by those settlers
  • Engineer: A person with scientific training who designs and builds complicated products, machines, systems and structures
  • Goldfields: An area of land in which gold is found and mined
  • Historian: An expert on history
  • Pipeline: A long pipe used to convey resources such as water over a long distance
  • Timeline: A visual way for displaying a list of events in chronological order