OPINION: Yesterday Today with Alan McRae

This week’s photo shows the site of Chifley Dam with the workmen’s camp and workshops towards the top and major construction works underway lower down. Water had been a foremost problem from the formation of the first Municipal Council which was elected in 1863. The decision to build a perminate and adequate water storage dam to try to end Bathurst’s woeful water problems was much debated and often loudly. Despite the varying arguments, they all had to agree ‘something had to be done’.  

Initially an earlier project, the Winburndale Dam, proved an inadequate size for the increasing Bathurst population, though even to this day it is still used to water sports fields. Finally, the Bathurst City Council resolved to build a new bigger dam for the city’s water supply however World War Two intervened and the money wasn’t available. Despite this, preliminary designs were drawn up for a proposed dam to be constructed on the Campbell’s River, though it was initially known as the Campbell River Dam scheme. Contractors embarked on the work in 1948 on what was the largest project carried out in the Bathurst district to date. The project was financed 50/50 with the Bathurst City Council and the New South Wales Government. The dam was designed to hold 10,000,000,000 gallons and involved the moving of tons of soil and rock. The maximum height was 90 feet and the greatest width was 500 feet. Later the dam was renamed the Ben Chifley Dam in honour of the late Prime Minister and local, Ben Chifley.

November 10 in 1956, after the dam’s Official Opening there was an impressive display of aquatic sports by the Bathurst, Orange and Cootamundra Water Sports Clubs. The Bathurst Water Sports Club had been involved in clearing sections of the waterline as well an area for a boat-shed. The club held several working bees to carry out the project. At 3pm in inclement weather the Mayor, Alan Morse, welcomed some 2,000 people who had driven out to see the new dam. The Official Opening was carried out by Mr. J.J. Cahill, M.L.A., and Premier of New South Wales before unveiling a plaque near the spillway to mark the occasion. 2BS radio station was on hand at the occasion to record the event to be broadcast later. There had been calls by residents from as early as 1869 for their new council to improve the water situation. Drinking water came from wells, ships’ tanks and the Macquarie River and was often contaminated due to citizens’ inadequate knowledge at that time. Everything had their associated problems and the Bathurst Municipal Council was forced to have notices published warning against the dumping of night soil and dead animals within the Municipality, especially in the Macquarie River. 

In January 1877, the issue was raised again after a report was read in the N.S.W. Legislative Assembly. Mr. W. Clark, a hydraulic engineer, reported on a plan for a supply of water to Bathurst which he had laid on the table. Mr. Clark commented on the impurity of the wells, upon which people were dependant for their supply. He then discussed schemes proposed by Alderman Hunks and Mr. Denny, mechanical engineer, and then preceded to describe the arrangements which he would recommend for the adoption for Bathurst which he stated contained 6,000 persons, living in 1186 homes. His plan was to use water from the Macquarie River about three quarters of a mile above the railway bridge, along with pumping engines, reticulation system and reservoirs. His budget included an engine house, with two 27-h.p. engines effective, boilers, two settling tanks, two filter tanks, connecting pipes and pumps, complete at £11,412; 2½ miles of main pipe ten inches diameter, with bonds and junctions at £4,732; with two covered service reservoirs at £1,600 then with the associated land, compensation, fencing and houses for workmen at £1,050 which came to a total of £18,794. He envisaged that water could be sold at 1 shilling per 1,000 gallons and sold by water-meter. 

Beginnings: This week’s photo shows the site of Chifley Dam with the workmen’s camp and workshops towards the top and major construction works underway lower down

Beginnings: This week’s photo shows the site of Chifley Dam with the workmen’s camp and workshops towards the top and major construction works underway lower down