Drives: Golden Pipeline Trail

Follow one of the great engineering feats of a century ago – a water pipeline from outside Perth all the way to Kalgoorlie 500 km away. The Trail passes through the historic towns of Toodyay and York in the Avon Valley, the vast open spaces of The Wheatbelt and the towns of the Eastern Goldfields.

Day 1: Perth – Merredin

(260 kilometres/3.5 hours)

The Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail begins in the town of Mundaring in the Perth Hills and follows the route of the Golden Pipeline – built more than 100 years ago it is still the longest fresh water pipeline on Earth. Mundaring Weir in the Darling range to the east of Perth, is the dam built to capture the water which is then pumped to Kalgroorlie. Beside the weir, in the original No. 1 pumping station building, is a museum that tells the story of the pipeline. it is the perfect starting point to the journey.

From the weir, drive to Mundaring, taking Great Easten Highway to Northam and beyond. Take in the rolling farm scapes, explore historic water pump stations, enjoy scenic nature trails and cross the Meckering Earthquake faultline on the journey to Merredin.

Accommodation options: Motels, caravan park, camping, backpackers

Merredin Pumping Station

Day 2: Merredin – Kalgoorlie

(340 kilometres/3.5 hours)

Head east to the Goldfields, stopping at Southern Cross where gold was first discovered in the late 1800s. Along the way to Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie you’ll see gold rush ruins, interpretive displays and stunning spring wildflowers. Spend the night or a few days in Kalgoorlie, the hub of Western Australia’s gold mining industry with plenty of historic tales, magnificent architecture and lively nightlife.

Accommodation options: Hotels, motels, outback pubs, apartments, caravan parks, camping, backpackers

Cunderdin Museum (Pumping Station)

Day 3: Kalgoorlie – Perth

(600 kilometres/6 hours)

Return to Perth along the Great Eastern Highway, or perhaps travel down to Norseman and take the Granite and Woodlands Discovery Trail back to Perth, via Wave Rock.

To ensure you enjoy a safe and well-planned journey, take a look at Travel times and distances, Road safety and Important travel tips.If you have your camping gear or caravan in tow, check out the range of caravan parks and camping sites available in Australia’s Golden Outback.

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Eastern Goldfields Water Supply

In 1903, after more than five years of planning and construction, 22,700 cubic metres of water was pumped for the first time from Perth to Kalgoorlie through 557km of steel pipeline. At the time, the Coolgardie Water Supply Scheme represented one of the greatest hydraulic engineering feats the world had ever seen. It required the construction of a 21 million cubic metre storage weir at Mundaring in the Darling Range, and a series of eight steam-powered pumping stations, which forced water up to a vertical height of 393m. The pipeline was the brainchild of Charles Yelverton O'Connor, a remarkable engineer whose vision and initiative was largely responsible for the triumphs of the Western Australian gold mining industry. He was also noted for his involvement in a range of agricultural pursuits in the remote wheat belt districts of central Western Australia.

Born in the Irish town of Gravelmount in Castletown, Charles Yelverton O'Connor studied engineering at Dublin University before migrating to New Zealand shortly after gold had been discovered there. When O'Connor accepted an offer to become Western Australia's Engineer-in-Chief in 1891, he arrived at a small colony with massive engineering problems. His first task was to build an adequate harbour for the state's capital, Perth - the most geographically isolated city in the world. This he did with considerable success. But it wasn't until Bayley and Ford's gold discovery at Coolgardie in 1892 that the full spectrum of his engineering vision and prowess was called upon.

By 1893, gold rushes at Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie were in full swing, and thousands of prospectors from all corners of the globe were flocking to the fields to claim their fortune. Living conditions at the gold fields were appalling. Miners were forced to live in hessian huts, or in rudimentary structures that offered them only scant protection from the searing heat. On top of this, diseases like scurvy, dysentery and typhoid were a constant menace.

The biggest problem, however, was water, a rare commodity that was becoming increasingly more precious than gold. Water was transported 500km each day by rail, a system which was slow, expensive and unreliable. Hundreds of desperate prospectors had lost their lives drinking stagnant water from the Coolgardie Gorge during periods of drought. A new water initiative had to be developed.

In 1895, O'Connor was commissioned to produce a practical plan for pumping water directly into the Coolgardie goldfields. For two years, financial hold-ups delayed construction. During that time, O'Connor continued to develop his plan. Having discarded short-term alternatives such as deep boring and local surface storage, O'Connor embarked upon an audacious plan to pipe water into the goldfields from a coastal water supply. Not surprisingly, O'Connor's vision was widely ridiculed by a vicious press and unsympathetic political opponents who considered his ideas to be a flagrant waste of public funds.

Despite widespread public disapproval, work on O'Connor's pipeline began in 1898, and by 1902, the Mundaring Reservoir was near completion. From the beginning, however, O'Connor's project was hamstrung by delays and difficulties, mainly because most of the necessary engineering supplies had to be imported by sea from Europe and the USA. Ultimately, the strain of unyielding public criticism proved too much for O'Connor. He committed suicide at South Fremantle on 10th March, 1902, after leaving detailed instructions for the completion of his project in a final note. On16th January, 1903, less than five years after the start of its construction, O'Connor's pipeline was ready to supply water to the people of Kalgoorlie.

In the 90 years since his dramatic death, O'Connor's incredible vision has been vindicated. Not only has his pipeline fulfilled the water needs of a burgeoning mining community, it has been instrumental in enabling the development of remote wheat belt regions and continues to support rural populations today. The Scheme, O'Connor's greatest work, was internationally acclaimed in its day and remains one of the most ambitious successful engineering and infrastructure schemes of the late nineteenth century. The Water Corporation and its predecessor, the Public Works Department, have operated and maintained the pipeline over its 100 year history.

Since 1903, the pumping capacity of the goldfields scheme has been increased sixfold, and lateral pipelines now provide water to some 2.7 million hectares of agricultural land and country towns in schemes to the north and south of the pipeline. The Mundaring Weir was raised by 10 metres in the 1950s, which trebled its capacity.

Many components of the scheme remain and are subject to heritage classification. These include the pipe, 6 of the 8 pumping stations, tanks, and much other infrastructure.

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