Watering the Wimmera
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
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.
Picture: KELLY LAIRD