Centenary of the O'Shannassy Water Supply System - 1913 to 2013 - a Pictorial Heritage

1914 - Maintenance and Operations

1803 - Beginnings
1892 - Surrey Hills Reservoirs
1911 - Design and Construction
1911 - The O'Shannassy Weir
1914 - Maintenance and Operations
1923 - Bushfires, Landslips, and Floods
1924 - Modifications and Enlargements
1927 - Silvan Dam
1927 - Mt Evelyn Aqueduct
1928 - The O'Shannassy Reservoir
1929 - Upper Yarra Conduits
1931 - Silvan Inlet Aqueduct
1996 - Decommissioning
2006 - Pigging Project
2007 - O'Shannassy Aqueduct Trail - Overview
O'Shannassy Aqueduct Trail - Parrot Rd to Don Rd
O'Shannassy Aqueduct Trail - Don Road to Dee Rd
O'Shannassy Aqueduct Trail - Dee Rd to Sussex St
O'Shannassy Aqueduct Trail - Sussex St to Yuonga Rd
O'Shannassy Aqueduct Trail - Yuonga Rd to Donna Buang Rd
O'Shannassy Aqueduct Trail - Donna Buang Rd to Cement Creek Rd
O'Shannassy Aqueduct Trail - Cement Creek Rd to the Weir
The Present
The Author's Websites

Big control gate (as it looked in 2006) since removed

1914 - Maintenance and Operations

Management and control of the aqueduct was a complex job. The length of the aqueduct was divided into a number of administrative control sections: 0'Shannassy, Cement Creek, Warburton, Dee, Don, Wandin, Mt Evelyn and Silvan.

Each section had a resident caretaker (in a house provided by the Board) who had an assistant caretaker and a number of other part-time personnel to help undertake the numerous tasks involved (only the O'Shannassy and second (1950's) Dee caretakers residence remain today). Some outbuildings and artifacts of the other residences remain but the houses themselves are gone.

The principal role of the caretakers and their assistants was to manage the day to day operation of the aqueduct and to ensure the aqueduct was kept clean and remained flowing at all times. This was often no easy feat.  The caretakers were always on call 24/7 (one caretaker, Steve Pollard, worked for 13 months straight on call 24 hours a day, due to the lack of support staff). 

They never knew when a problem would arise - a tree falling across or into the channel; animals (deer, wombats, rabbits) falling into the channel; a crack, break or leak in the channel wall; a landslip; flooding of the channel, etc.  On cold and stormy winter nights in particular when the rain (or snow) was pelting down and the wind was blowing a gale and temperatures were hardly above freezing, it was a daunting task for the caretakers to go out in the middle of the night with a lantern or torch to check on the channel, with huge mountain ash trees swaying and groaning menacingly in the dark, sometimes crashing all about them in an unpredictable manner. Many caretakers tell of these terrifying events and freely admit that they have never been so scared. Their job was often dangerous and caretakers regularly put their lives on the line to ensure the aqueduct remained clear and the water always flowed. The roar of the wind in the forests in a big blow and the volume of debris rained down on the aqueduct and access track from trees hundreds of feet high has to be seen to be believed. It was (and still can be) a very scary place to be in a big storm. 

No-one told the caretakers when to go out check the situation - they slept with one ear on the weather and they could "read" the conditions and knew when things might go awry and which section was most likely to be affected. Caretakers were also called upon from time to time to be drivers, mechanics, painters, fire-fighters, first-aiders, tree fellers, fencers, carpenters, welders, cooks, telephone linesmen, lead jointers, plumbers, electricians, road workers, concreters, labourers, clerks, storemen and general "jack of all trades".

A series of smaller section huts (only a few meters square) were built along the aqueduct for caretakers to take shelter in adverse conditions. They were generally a timber framed structure clad with timber or corrugated iron. Some were fitted with fireplaces or old pot belly stoves and old World War 2 army style canvas beds with kapok mattresses (the rats and possums loved these).  Any furnishings like old lounge chairs, tables, etc were scrounged from home leftovers - or the local tip.  It was a tough life.  

Note: One of the huts survives to the present, about 1 km east of the Cement Creek Rd public access point. Another may be inspected just to the west of the Dee Rd crosssing point.

In the early days, caretakers patrolled the aqueduct on foot, carring a hurricane lamp.  Warburton caretaker Bill (Pop) Woods was out one night in the pitch black and his lantern blew out.  He ended up falling in the aqueduct and had a devil of a time getting out.  Later, torches and battery powered lanterns were used.

For many years, bicycles were used to patrol the aqueduct and caretakers received a "bicycle allowance" of seven shillings and six pence (about 75 cents) a week.  Lanterns (later torches) were often tied to the front of the bikes and some caretakers made a container up on the side of the bike to hold their rake, fern hook or shovel.

The "modern day" caretakers (from the 1980's onwards) always reckoned they had it easy compared to their earlier counterparts - they had vehicles, radios, lighting plants, wet weather gear and modern machinery.

Even on routine days, there was much work to do. Chlorine was regularly added to the aqueduct water to help purify it and kill algae and it was the caretaker's job to monitor and manage the chlorine flow to ensure that exactly the right amount was in the aqueduct at all times.  Regular measurements were taken every day to ensure the correct mix was in place. It was especially important that a constant pre-determined rate of water flow was maintained in the aqueduct at all times.  If the rate of flow fell, insufficient water would be delivered at the outlet - if the rate of flow increased too rapidly, the aqueduct could overflow.

Because the majority of the aqueduct flowed through steep, mountainous country the aqueduct intersected many creeks and, particularly in winter, flows in these creeks could reach river proportions.  Every creek or watercourse crossing the aqueduct was actively monitored and managed. Sluice gates (controlled by a manually operated turncock) allowed water to flow into or out of the aqueduct at the intersecting point (there were probably a hundred or more of these along the length of the aqueduct). 

Private residences abutting the aqueduct (generally on the down side of the channel) also often drew water directly from the aqueduct for their own supplies.

Water Flow
The flow rate and water height was methodically checked and recorded in a book every day by each caretaker and they opened and closed sluice gates as required to let water in or out of the aqueduct (24/7) to maintain the correct flow rate.

Another major task of the caretakers was to clean the large steel gratings that were in place to trap debris and keep the channel clear. Large amounts of debris (primarily sticks, branches, leaves and bark but often dead animals also) would accumulate and it was a significant job to regularly clear these gratings. 

To cross from one side of the aqueduct to the other was in itself a simple but hazardous task (it was difficult to get out of the fast-flowing freezing cold water) and the caretakers used simple crossing-boards to achieve the task. If repairs were necessary 'weir boards' could be inserted into slots formed in the concrete wall to stem the flow of water temporarily, or large metal barriers (again manually operated) could be employed in some sections.

The caretakers had to also regularly patrol the aqueduct looking for wombat holes, leaks, cracks or other signs of damage to the channel.  If any damage was found, it was the caretakers job to fix it.  After all of the "official" work was completed, caretakers would spend the rest of the day doing maintenance - mowing, painting, fixing broken equipment, repairing gates and fences, ordering new chlorine supplies, etc. Finally, the caretakers would record the days activities in a diary and note any new work or materials required. They would then ring (later radio) into the Warburton depot at 4.30 pm and knock off at 4.45 pm at the caretakers residence (where they were on call 24/7). 

The caretakers were under the control of a Works Supervisor based at the Warburton Depot.

On Wednesdays and Fridays the caretakers would go to the Warburton Depot and hand in any necessary paperwork, drop off equiment needing major repair, pick up anything needed from the depot store and fill the vehicles with fuel. Caretakers were also allowed on these days to go to the bank, as wages were paid direct to their bank accounts on a fortnightly basis. In earlier days, caretakers were met on the aqueduct track at designated points by a 'pay car' driven by a chauffeur with a plain clothes guard to protect the paypackets which held cash. 

Caretakers were often envied by other workers for their relatively high pay (an 'A' Grade caretakers salary was around $30,000 per year in 1986) but when these other less-skilled workers were occasionally called upon to assist the caretaker in times of emergency, they went home cold, wet and exhausted and reckoned the caretakers were 'nuts' to do what they did! Even whilst on leave caretakers could be called back and may have to return to the job immediately (pursuant to the Emergency Act). 

The caretakers homes were owned and supplied by the Board but the caretakers still had to pay rent (about $60-70 per week in the mid 1980's). 

Caretakers were of necessity very tough, inventive and self-reliant men and came from a diverse range of backgrounds.
 They used their own initiative to solve problems and worked as a team. The men were necessarily resilient, needing to recover quickly from little or no sleep, long days, minor injuries, exposure to the elements and long-suffering wives and families. They, and their families, were committed to their task and the aqueduct could not have operated so effectively for so long without their untiring efforts and dedication. Many times, wives braved treacherous conditions to bring their man a cuppa or a hot meal on a cold night. The caretakers are the true "Heroes of the Aqueduct".


Remains of magneto telephone lines in 2006

MMBW radio transmitter and power supply fcr comms between stations, 2006

Inspecting open channel in 1929

1954 - inspecting channel

1932 - inspecting channel

Outlet pipe 1920s

Penstocks (2006)

Wandin chlorine shed (2006)

Water flow valve (2006)

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