One of Australia's Greatest Engineering Marvels

The story of the Goldfields Water Scheme was captured in the documentary Constructing Australia: Pipe Dreams (2007). It is a story of personal tragedy, corruption and political rivalry that almost divided Australia at the time of Federation.

Pipe Dreams recounts the construction of what was the longest water pipeline in the world at the time. The Perth to Coolgardie pipeline is still considered to be one of the great human-made achievements in our nation's history. Behind the epic story of this engineering marvel is the relationship between the two men who made the pipeline happen – WA Premier John Forrest and Chief Engineer Charles O'Connor.

Gold fever grips the West

After the discovery of gold in Coolgardie in 1892 the gold rush in Western Australia was on, with 4,000 prospectors moving to town by the end of the year, and 5,000 the following year. As seen in this clip (narrated by Wendy Hughes), WA Premier John Forrest seized on the gold rush as an opportunity to build up WA into a state to rival those in the east:

The Premier's Pipe Dream 

As the population in the goldfields grew, so did the need for water. Desalination plants could not cope with the increased numbers of people and burgeoning industries. 

Forrest and O'Connor shared a vision for opening up the state by pumping water through pipes across the desert. But the undertaking was massive and before the pipeline could even be built, supporting infrastructure needed to be put in place:

The West at War

For five years the construction of the pipeline was clouded in controversy. By the close of the century, as the rest of Australia was preparing to vote for Federation, WA was in turmoil with Forrest and the miners at war with one another:

In January 1903, the pipeline was opened and the dream of water in the goldfields became a reality. The biggest and most ambitious engineering project of its kind in the world saved thousands from disease and drought, unlocked untold riches in gold and allowed the 'Cinderella' state of Western Australia to take its place in Australia's Commonwealth.

PIPELINE TRIVIA:

  • Length of pipeline: 526 kilometres
  • Length of pipe: 8.4 metres
  • Diameter of pipe: 30 centimetres
  • Number of joins: 100,000 (approximately)
  • Diameter of joining sleeve: 20 centimetres
  • Volume of water: 22.7 million litres per day
  • Water pressure: up to 400 pounds per square inch
  • Cost: £2.5 million (equivalent to approximately $380 million in 2018)

Constructing Australia: Pipe Dreams (2007) © NFSA, Prospero Productions, ScreenWest

You can find all three titles from the Constructing Australia series in the NFSA Online Shop

Free Teachers' Notes for Constructing Australia: Pipe Dreams are also available from our Educational Resources page