CY O’Connor’s Golden Pipeline celebrates 120 years of service

  • 120 years of continuous operation for one of Australia’s greatest engineering achievements
  • Officially opened at Mount Charlotte, Kalgoorlie, on 24 January 1903, then the longest freshwater pipeline in the world
  • State heritage listing for 22 sites on the Golden Pipeline, including original steam pump stations
  • Extensive plans to preserve iconic CY O’Connor pipeline’s heritage and tourism value 

The Goldfields Water Supply Scheme pipeline is marking its 120th anniversary today, underlining its significant contribution to the development of Western Australia.

The heritage listed scheme, commonly known as the Golden or Goldfields Pipeline, was officially opened at Mount Charlotte, Kalgoorlie, on 24 January 1903, pumping fresh water 566km east from Mundaring Weir to the Eastern Goldfields.

The brainchild of WA’s first Engineer-in-Chief CY O’Connor, the pipeline had a focus on delivering a reliable water supply to the arid Goldfields. It is considered one of Australia’s greatest engineering achievements and was the world’s longest overland pipeline at completion.

The 60,000 pipes used in its construction were produced from flat steel sheets formed into semicircles and joined using innovative H-shaped locking-bars along the length of the pipes. More than 39 per cent of the original locking bar pipeline from the early 1900s remains in use.

The original pumps at the eight steam pumping stations could deliver more than eight billion litres of water per year, and the upgraded scheme now supplies 24.3 billion litres per year, servicing more than 100,000 people across the Goldfields, Central Wheatbelt and parts of the Upper Great Southern.

To secure the regions’ safe and reliable water supply into the future, Water Corporation will be progressively replacing old sections of above-ground pipe with modern below-ground pipe over the next 50 years, enabling more efficient and cost-effective operation and maintenance. Extensive lengths of the retired sections will be retained for heritage, tourism and operational purposes, following planned community consultation.

To learn more about the pipeline, the Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail offers a unique visitor experience, and the National Trust CY O’Connor Lecture Series on 10 March 2023 – the anniversary of O’Connor’s death – will celebrate the 120th anniversary.

As stated by Water Minister Simone McGurk:

“I am so pleased to be celebrating the 120th anniversary of CY O’Connor’s Golden Pipeline. This iconic pipeline is the only reason people in the Goldfields get fresh water every day and how Kalgoorlie-Boulder and Coolgardie survived as towns through the gold rush and beyond.

“The fact that more than a third of the original locking bar pipeline remains in service 120 years later is a wonderful testament to the ingenuity of CY O’Connor – with generations of employees at Water Corporation carefully ensuring its continuous operation.

“The scheme will evolve over the next 50 years, as sections of the above-ground pipework reach the end of their service life, to improve the reliability of the scheme, while also supporting population and economic growth well into the future.”

As stated by Heritage Minister David Templeman:

“Despite public cynicism, CY O’Connor built the longest freshwater pipeline in the world, a story of engineering tenacity and ambition, which underpinned the development of our great State.

“The amount of steel used in the pipeline’s construction was greater than that of any other steel structure used elsewhere in the world. It put WA on the global map – never had water been pumped so far or lifted so high.

“Now, 120 years later, I was delighted to accept a collection of 22 sites along the pipeline, including steam pump stations, reservoirs, tank sites and other equipment, into the State Register of Heritage Places.”

As stated by Kalgoorlie MLA Ali Kent:

“The Golden Pipeline is a unique and exceptional technical achievement that began to provide water to the Goldfields at the turn of the century.

“I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the Water Corporation team in the region who not only operate and maintain the scheme but also encourage people to visit the Goldfields and the popular Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail in this 120th anniversary year.”

Goldfields Water Supply Scheme ‘Golden Pipeline’ fact file

  • Designed and built under the supervision of WA’s first Engineer-in-Chief, Charles Yelverton (CY) O’Connor, to supply fresh water to the arid Goldfields.
  • Constructed between 1898 and 1903 to pump fresh water 566km east from Mundaring Weir to Mount Charlotte Reservoir, Kalgoorlie.
  • Designed over eight separate sections to overcome the difficulty of pumping water uphill (390m) across long distances. It included two main reservoirs, the main conduit of the pipeline, eight pumping stations, holding tanks and regulating tanks.
  • Original pipes were made of 30-inch diameter steel and connected using a locking bar system instead of rivets. A coating of tar and bitumen protected the steel from corrosion.
  • The 28 feet (8.5m) long pipes were manufactured in Perth from American and German steel with locking bars and joint rings shipped from England.
  • Pipeline was built, where possible, alongside the route of the railway line to enable the pipes to be easily transported. The 60,000 pipes were laid underground to avoid temperature-related expansion and contraction issues.
  • Officially opened at Mount Charlotte, Kalgoorlie, on 24 January 1903, then the longest freshwater pipeline in the world.
  • In the 1930s, due to corrosion and leakage, the pipes were lined with concrete and re-laid above ground on concrete blocks. Due to political pressure amid the Great Depression, 64km of steel sections were replaced with karri wood pipes to support the timber industry and save costs but all were replaced by 1971 due to leakage, termite damage and dry rot.
  • Original pumps at the eight pumping stations could deliver 5 million gallons (22.73 million litres) of water per day.
  • The pipeline is one of the elements of the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme that was included on the National Heritage List in 2011.
  • In December 2022, 22 sites – including steam pump stations, reservoirs, tank sites and other equipment – were included in the State Register of Heritage Places.
  • In 2009, the scheme was recognised internationally by the American Society of Civil Engineers as an international Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. 

Source: Extracts taken from the National Trust of Western Australia ‘The Golden Pipeline’ information sheets:

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