Video Pipe dreams, 2007: O'Connor's dream for water

TLF ID M008348

This clip is an excerpt from the 2007 film 'Pipe dreams' (55 min), the second episode of a three-part series entitled 'Constructing Australia'. Over black-and-white photographs and dramatised video of the key players, a narrator describes the significant challenges of supplying water to the WA goldfields in the late 19th century. CY O'Connor was recruited to work as chief engineer on a proposed pipeline, and the narrator identifies the three main parts of the project: construction of a dam (the highest in Australia at that time); construction of the longest pipeline in the world at the time; and transportation of equipment.




Educational details

Educational value
  • This clip indicates the importance of water on the WA goldfields. The discovery of gold in Coolgardie in 1892 and Kalgoorlie in 1893 had brought not only wealth to WA, but also gold-seekers from the eastern colonies. However, the goldfields were isolated, and there was not enough water to support the new population. John Forrest, WA's first premier and leading explorer, had a vision to take water across the desert to the goldfields. Chief engineer Charles Yelverton O'Connor would turn his grand plan into reality.
  • O'Connor was born in Ireland. His family were landed gentry, but he broke with family tradition to take up the new profession of engineering. At 21 he migrated to New Zealand to work surveying for roads and railways, and by 1883 he was appointed New Zealand's under-secretary for public works. In 1890, O'Connor was recruited to work as chief engineer in the newly self-governing colony of WA, where he formed a dynamic partnership with John Forrest.
  • O'Connor extended the railways, and transformed Fremantle Harbour into a major international port. However, he is best remembered for his work on the goldfields: the Coolgardie Water Supply Scheme, the system of pipelines that made the gold centres of Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie habitable. Moving water uphill in the longest pipeline in the world at that time was a work of engineering genius.
  • O'Connor was imaginative, meticulous, witty, good company and a devoted family man. Being scrupulously honest and fair-minded himself, he was easily wounded by the malice of others. This sensitivity, combined with the stress and exhaustion of managing the pipeline scheme, is believed to have led to O'Connor's suicide in 1902. At the opening of the Coolgardie Water Supply Scheme in 1903, John Forrest said: 'I pay tribute to the memory of O'Connor, the great builder of this work. I am greatly saddened that he did not live to receive the honour so justly due to him'.
Year level

6; 7; 8; 9; 10

Learning area
  • English
  • Enterprise
  • History
  • Studies of society and environment

Other details

Contributors
  • Contributor
  • Name: National Film and Sound Archive
  • Organization: National Film and Sound Archive
  • Description: content provider
  • Address: ACT, AUSTRALIA
  • URL: http://www.nfsa.gov.au
  • Publisher
  • Name: National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA)
  • Organization: National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA)
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: ACT, AUSTRALIA
  • URL: http://www.nfsa.gov.au
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL: www.esa.edu.au
Access profile
  • Generic
Learning Resource Type
  • Video
Rights
  • © Education Services Australia Ltd and National Film and Sound Archive, 2010 (except where otherwise indicated). You may view, display, print out and copy this material for non-commercial educational purposes provided you retain all acknowledgements associated with the material.