> A slide show history of Coliban Water

Photographs and content supplied by Historian, Geoff Russell

Slide 81

The original syphon pipes were removed (at great cost and delay), and replaced with purpose-built cast-iron pipes.

The foot of the syphon was encased in a concrete ‘tunnel’, allowing the Back Creek to continue flowing over the Coliban water passing beneath.


Slide 82

Some of the largest cuttings involved the removal of enormous amounts of earth.

The alternative was to drive more tunnels: an even more expensive proposition.


Slide 83

Some sections of the channel’s journey required the construction of elaborate stonework, to artificially form a new contour.

Slide 84

Shallow gullies were crossed by building an enclosed channel, raised on timber trestles.

Some of these works have long fallen into disrepair, and have been progressively replaced with modern concrete structures.


Slide 85

Yet at many of these sites you can still see the original stonework that held the wooden supports encasing the channel.


Slide 86

The various tunnels along the Main Channel were formed by drilling and blasting by experienced former goldminers.

Several men died during this construction work, usually from terrible blasting accidents.

Locals have enjoyed these features as curiosities for decades.


Slide 87

The significance of these historic structures has led to their inclusion on the Victorian Heritage Register.

This offers some degree of protection for a working water system, that still operates largely as it was designed, over 140 years later.


Slide 88

We can get an idea of the scope of work involved in excavating just one tunnel by looking at the amount of mullock piled up at one work site.

All of this material was removed by hand in dobbin carts (two-wheeled barrows), then carted by horse and dray to the dump site.


Slide 89

Near some of these work sites you can still see evidence of small stone chimneys and hearths.

Several hundred labourers would have lived in these (then) remote areas around Mount Alexander for over a year, excavating the various tunnels, cuttings and channel route.


Slide 90

Hardwood to construct the trestle towers was sourced from as far away as the Barmah Forest along the Murray River.

Sadly, much of this construction was then lost in the bushfires that ravaged Victoria during the drought of 1938–39.


Slide 91

Today along the Coliban Main Channel, you can still see the stone footings that once supported the timber trestles.

The channel has been diverted further around some of these gullies, encased in concrete.


Slide 92

The sluice gates at the ‘18-mile peg’ are a significant feature of the Coliban Scheme, and sit exactly 18 miles from Malmsbury Reservoir’s outlet.

Here the channel branches in two – one channel continues to Bendigo, the other takes water to Castlemaine (which received Coliban water in 1874, three years ahead of Bendigo).

At these gates in November 1877, Sandhurst MP Angus Mackay first ‘turned on’ the water to Bendigo.


Slide 93

During the 1930s and 1940s the State Rivers & Water Supply Commission embarked on works to reduce the dramatic losses that occurred along the channel.

Much of this work involved lining the channel with concrete.


Slide 94

Piping the channel would be the obvious solution to preventing water losses from the system.


This solution was first considered by Brady as early as 1862, but soon dismissed because of the enormous cost.

However, as water becomes even more precious in our environment, local water authorities may be forced to seriously reconsider the piping-in of the channel.

Slide 95

One of the most spectacular ‘drops’ along the entire Coliban Main Channel was built in Sedgewick, at the end of Springs Road.

The work here was supervised by engineers JB Henderson and Joseph Brady, and completed in 1866–67.


Slide 96

The large dissipater at the bottom of this drop helps to ebb the enormous water energy, allowing the flow to more peacefully turn a corner at the bottom, and resume its journey along the lower channel to Bendigo.

Brady had included ten mill-sites along the channel to take advantage of this hydro-energy, but none were ever built.

The potential remains however for small-scale power generation at sites such as the Springs Road dissipater.


Slide 97

Once Coliban Water flowed to Castlemaine from 1874, local authorities and mining parties cut a web of tiny channels across the Mount Alexander diggings to flow water to their workings.

Throughout the historic Castlemaine Diggings today you can still discover channels like this, hewn through rock.


Slide 98

Coliban Water soon powered enormous water wheels, the most famous being Garfield’s Wheel near Chewton.

This wheel turned a line of crushing machines within the nearby shed, and the waste water was also captured for use in washing the crushed ore through the stamps.


Slide 99

Coliban Water also helped power smaller crushing mills on the Bendigo field.

This wheel was at Diamond Hill, in the field’s south-east sector.


Slide 100

Coliban water was most dramatically put to use in a relatively new gold-recovery practice called sluicing.

This involved directing a high-pressure stream of water against a cliff-face, to wash the alluvium into slurry ponds that were then pumped over a Wifely Table.

This table then trapped the fine particles of gold sinking to the bottom of the passing slurry.


Slide 101

Today at Chewton you can still see evidence of sluicing.

The Chewton community has established an excellent display of hose and nozzle technology, allowing 21st century visitors to wonder at the environmentally destructive nature of this gold-recovery process


Slide 102

The site is built around an old slurry pond.


Slide 103

And the nearby cliff-faces show how effective – yet destructive – sluicing was in removing the valuable top three metres of alluvium, ready for washing.


Slide 104

The arrival of Coliban water to Bendigo from late 1877 allowed the field’s mines to plunge even deeper in pursuit of quartz reef gold.

Ample, reliable water provided steam for the engines that powered the winders, used to haul miners and ore up and down the shafts.

Water was also used for washing crushed ore through the stamps, and for driving pumps to help de-water the workings.


Slide 105

And steam produced from clean Coliban water allowed the use of water-driven pneumatic drills.

This advanced technology allowed miners to more easily plunder the rich quartz veins below Bendigo, and help stave-off the rising costs of mining at such great depths.


Slide 106

Above ground, ‘Quartzopolis’ (as Bendigo was dubbed) prospered from the amazing amounts of gold wrestled from her giddying depths.

By the turn of the 19th century Bendigo was renowned as Australia’s richest goldfield – a title it would soon lose to Kalgoorlie, in remote Western Australia.


Slide 107

Even today, Bendigo retains the honour of being Australia’s second richest goldfield, producing an amazing 22 million ounces of gold.


Slide 108

And though most people usually associate gold with Ballarat – largely thanks to its Eureka Uprising of 1854 – Bendigo produced far more gold than its rival.

A quarter of that gold came from the alluvial deposits yielded during the field’s first few years; the remainder came from the quartz reefs that still lie largely unexploited beneath the city.


Slide 109

And though gold production waned across Bendigo during the 20th century – ending in 1954 – drought remained an ever-present threat.

The region experienced crippling drought events around Federation in 1901, then in 1938–39, then in 1982.

State water authorities generally reacted by building more storages, to increase the overall capacity of the Coliban Scheme.


Slide 110

The first addition was the Upper Coliban Reservoir, completed in 1903.

Brady had originally included this second higher storage in his plans of 1862, but it took 40 years before the government could afford such an addition.


Slide 111

Apart from greatly enhancing the system’s capacity, Upper Coliban is also noted for its inclusion of ‘Monier Arch’ bridges, designed by noted Australian engineer Sir John Monash.

Monash was a First World War officer of high regard, and later became head of the State Electricity Commission.


Slide 112

Upper Coliban Reservoir is not drought-proof however, and several additions have been made to its embankment and spillways to add to its capacity.


This photo, taken in 2006, shows the storage at 13 % full.

By February 2007 the storage had completely emptied.

Slide 113

The next enhancements to the Coliban Scheme came as a result of the drought of 1938–39.

Water planners then considered several options, and decided on installing an emergency pipeline to draw water from the Waranga Western Channel, down to supplement the dwindling Bendigo urban supply.


Slide 114

The Victorian Government of Premier Albert Dunstan also commenced construction of a third storage on the Coliban River, in between Malmsbury and Upper Coliban.


Slide 115

The resulting Lauriston Reservoir was built in record time, using a revolutionary ‘new’ technique of stressed concrete poured ‘in situ’ – the same technology as used barely a decade earlier on the massive Hoover Dam in the USA.


Slide 116

At the heart of the dam’s construction were these large curved buttresses.

These added great strength to the storage’s retaining wall, yet were comparatively lightweight and easy to erect, using a ‘flying fox’ to deliver concrete to the pour area.


Slide 117

When the storage was completed in 1941, it resulted in the deepest of the three reservoirs now trapping the waters of the Coliban.

The greater depth meant less evaporation, so that even today the water authority Coliban Water will hold back most of its water in this reservoir, while draining the other two completely.

Slide 118

Subsequent drought episodes also forced Victoria’s water authority to enhance Malmsbury’s storage capacity too.

This involved erecting new steel sluice gates across the bye-washes, and raising the earthen embankment.

A new valve tower was also added around 1895, to replace the original that was damaged by an inflow of timber to its valve mechanism.


Slide 119

The Main Channel itself has had numerous, almost constant enhancements over the past 140 years.

Much of this work has aimed to reduce the severe water losses still encountered by the system.


Slide 120

The most significant addition to the Coliban Scheme came with the construction in 1961 of Eppalock Dam.

Though this work was built across the Campaspe River, about 32 kilometres east of Bendigo, it was nevertheless intended to provide significant flows of water to Bendigo.



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