Wa­ter­ing the Wim­mera

LifeStyle Wimmera - - INSIDE -

With wa­ter re­turn­ing to reser­voirs af­ter heavy rain across the re­gion and an over­flow spilling from Lake War­took in the Grampians, re­gional his­to­rian and for­mer Wim­mera Mallee Wa­ter em­ployee Bob Mcil­vena pro­vides a snapshot of how pi­o­neers tapped into the most pre­cious of re­sources.

In 1886 the Wim­mera’s first wa­ter engi­neer John Dick­son Derry de­signed and en­gi­neered the con­struc­tion of Lake War­took in the Grampians, the first ir­ri­ga­tion wa­ter stor­age in the colony.

He was also in charge of de­vel­op­ing Tay­lors Lake near Hor­sham and the first chan­nels of what was to be­come the largest open chan­nel sys­tem in the world.

Derry en­vi­sioned the fu­ture by the stor­age of wa­ter dur­ing wet pe­ri­ods, the con­struc­tion of reser­voirs and to know there would be suf­fi­cient wa­ter to main­tain flows in nat­u­ral wa­ter cour­ses and chan­nels dur­ing dry pe­ri­ods.

And so Derry’s dream con­tin­ues as we re­ceive above-av­er­age rain to sus­tain us and en­hance our fu­ture prospects.

Derry’s dream was to pro­vide enough wa­ter for do­mes­tic and stock pur­poses and the con­struc­tion of weirs would al­low the di­ver­sion of wa­ter to ir­ri­gate ar­eas of crops, pas­ture, or­chards and veg­etable gar­dens.

The main in­ten­tion for the stored wa­ter in Lake War­took was for ir­ri­ga­tion. This first oc­curred along the nat­u­ral wa­ter cour­ses of Macken­zie, Bun­galally, Nor­ton, Burnt and Dar­ragon creeks.

Wa­ter was also re­leased dur­ing the dev­as­tat­ing wa­ter famines, or droughts, of the late 1800s to sup­ply the Hor­sham ur­ban town­ship.

Wa­ter flowed via Macken­zie and Burnt creeks to the Wim­mera where it was con­tained by a tim­ber weir con­structed in 1875.

The rem­nants of the old weir re­main in the river bed close to the pad­dle-boat shed be­hind Hor­sham Car­a­van Park.

A pump­ing sta­tion at the east­ern end of Bail­lie Street pumped wa­ter to a tower on land op­po­site what is now Hor­sham Re­gional Li­brary, be­fore it was re­leased into the town’s retic­u­la­tions sys­tem.

The first of the Wim­mera ir­ri­ga­tion colonies was es­tab­lished by Thomas Young on land east of Dooen Road.

A pipe­line and chan­nel from a steam­pow­ered pump at the end of Bail­lie Street sup­plied wa­ter from the Wim­mera River.

In the late 1880s, Young also es­tab­lished an ir­ri­ga­tion colony at Dooen.

Wa­ter sup­ply was from the Wim­mera River via a pump­ing sta­tion, es­tab­lished in 1884 on the north­ern end of Dooen swamp.

Young also presided over one of the largest stock and sta­tion agen­cies in

Aus­tralia and was later taken over by

Den­nys Las­celles.

Fol­low­ing the suc­cess of Young’s ir­ri­ga­tion ar­eas, other early colonies de­vel­oped, ini­tially sup­plied with wa­ter from Lake War­took via nat­u­ral wa­ter cour­ses.

Quan­tong Colony was sup­plied via Macken­zie Creek, Burn­lea Colony from Burnt Creek, River­side Colony via Burnt Creek and Arapiles Colony via Macken­zie Creek and chan­nel.

Later in the 1950s ir­ri­ga­tion ar­eas known as Sol­dier Set­tle­ments were es­tab­lished at Drung and Mur­toa for for­mer sol­diers from the Sec­ond World War.

One of the first ir­ri­ga­tion trusts in Aus­tralia was in the Wim­mera, with its head­quar­ters in Hor­sham.

The in­au­gu­ral meet­ing of the Western Wim­mera Ir­ri­ga­tion and Wa­ter Sup­ply Trust was in Jan­uary, 1889 with com­mis­sion­ers Body, Car­rol, Keyte, Grant, Carter, Young, Sleater, Koenig, Nat­trass, Bushby, Cur­ran and Bell.

Act­ing sec­re­tary was Stu­art B. Bolton on a salary of 20 pounds per an­num.

It was at this meet­ing that the con­struc­tion of a wall across the Vic­to­ria Val­ley to form a huge reser­voir to im­pound the wa­ter of the Glenelg River was dis­cussed. But the project never even­tu­ated.

What Derry could not have en­vis­aged was the ever-in­creas­ing pop­u­la­tion, orig­i­nally drawn to the Wim­mera by a glow­ing re­port from ex­plorer Ma­jor Thomas Liv­ing­stone Mitchell fol­low­ing his ex­pe­di­tion through the area in 1836, in which he de­scribed the coun­try as ‘Aus­tralia Felix’. Aus­tralia Felix in Latin means for­tu­nate land.

Most of the 17,500 kilo­me­tres of the Wim­mera Mallee Chan­nel sys­tem have gone and been re­placed with the 8800 kilo­me­tres of pipes of the Wim­mera Mallee Pipe­line.

The pipe­line is one of the largest ru­ral and ur­ban piped wa­ter-sup­ply sys­tems in the world.

Bob Mcil­vena is pic­tured with a Hor­sham Ru­ral City Coun­cil mu­ral at Haven which is ded­i­cated to the re­gion’s ir­ri­ga­tion his­tory.


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