I acknowledge the Traditional Owners on whose land I walk, I work and I live. I pay my respects to Elders past, present and future.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Ingham's iconic Water Tower

If you follow my blog you undoubtedly follow the two Facebook pages ‘Lost Ingham and District’ and ‘District Archival History’ which are hosted by two other ladies keen on unearthing and sharing Ingham's history. In the last couple of weeks they have been theming floods and cyclones. With so much water everywhere – rivers, creeks, streams, waterfalls and regular floods and annual monsoonal downpours it seems strange to think that a clean, healthy water supply for Ingham and its outlying communities has not always been a given.
Households in early Ingham town had their own private wells, while there was also a town well. But cesspits for human waste contaminated these wells causing sickness and the threat of epidemics. The introduction of a nightsoil service helped lessen the incidence of wells being contaminated by cesspits, but even so the Council was acutely aware that this was not a long term solution. As the town grew there was an increasing number of private homes, public buildings and factories which increased the chances of the town well becoming contaminated with effluent. Two health concerns that persisted well into the twentieth century were typhoid and hookworm and these were only brought under control with an improvement in sanitary conditions.  
The Health Department inspector recommended that a water supply be taken from the Herbert River. As a result C.E. Deshon, an officer of the Department concerned with water supplies, was invited to report to the Council on a suggested scheme. His findings recommended a water tower to supply 45 000 gallons, sufficient for around 1 500 people, which would cost £8 957. At this point the Council did not act despite the disastrous performance of the town well during the 1915 drought. The water level dropped so low that the pump was unable to work, and water had to be carted from the river. The result was, as could be expected, considerable sickness due to contaminated water.
It was twenty years before the town water problems were finally solved. Jack Mulholland, consulting engineer, guided by Irrigation Department's plans, recommended that the Council apply for a loan of £36 750 with a 50% subsidy similar to that granted for other water schemes.  The subsidy would have been £8 000, but it was determined that the Council would pay only a third of the cost while the other two-thirds would be contributed equally by the State and Federal governments. This was a ground breaking offer and the first grant of its kind for a water supply. Work began in May 1937 and proceeded using the unemployed as day labour to lay pipes.
Work  involved  construction of a concrete well at the intake on the Herbert River, a concrete tower 120 feet high in the centre of Ingham, mains between those points and reticulation pipes throughout the supply area with consumer connections being the householders' responsibility.  In July 1938 water began to be supplied with the aid of pressure valves until the tower was ready. The new supply was first available for limited hours, which became more generous as the number of consumers increased. The scheme was finally completed in March 1939 with nearly 500 consumers already connected and extensions being planned soon after.
The introduction did not go without teething problems. Experimental fibrolite pipes leaked, excessive consumption had to be checked because though the source of supply, the river, was boundless, delivery was restricted by the capacity of the power house plant. Water restrictions were imposed during periods of heavy consumption, particularly during the war when electricity generation was reduced. Excessive domestic use was curbed by house to house inspections looking for leaking taps, educating consumers and even prosecuting where flagrant waste occurred.
The water was cleaned by natural filtration through sandbanks in the river bed and generally the quality was good. However the supply was vulnerable to discolouration which occurred when floodwater from the river entered the pump well or if there were dredging operations in the upper Herbert. Rusting of the pipes was caused by significant numbers of bacteria releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide. A chlorinator was installed to treat the water which largely solved the problem.
The supply was received so well by the community that within the year there were requests for extensions from Trebonne, Halifax and Victoria Mill but the looming war put a hold on such plans. The concrete tower itself, a 120 feet high structure, was now however, the highest structure on the skyline and would be clearly visible to enemy warcraft. This caused some consternation in the Council chamber.  There were some councillors who argued that the tower should be camouflaged, but not all agreed.  In the end, shortages of both labour and paint put paid to the idea.
Vidonja Balanzategui, Bianka. The Herbert River Story. Ingham: Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 2011.
Wegner, Janice. “Hinchinbrook: the Hinchinbrook Shire Council, 1879-1979.” MA diss. James Cook University, 1984.
Wegner, Janice. “Hinchinbrook Shire during World War Two,” Lectures on North Queensland History,

Source: State Library of Queensland. 2211512. Large Water Tower, Ingham Queensland, 1953

Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Library Photographic Collection. Herbert Street during 1967 flood 

Source: Hinchinbrook Shire Library Photographic Collection. Aerial photo of Herbert Street 1971

Source: Hnchinbrook Shire Library Photographic Collection, Aerial photograph of Ingham during 1977 flood

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