West Northam tanks to Northam
Northam lines the banks of the Avon River and in this 8 km section you’ll learn a bit about the waterway including its importance to the goldfields prior to the pipeline.
Could the Avon have been the source of water for the pipeline? It certainly was a source of water before the pipeline. Learn more about the natural river and the river of steel besides which you’ll be travelling. [more]
The trail head for the start / end of Kep Track is situated at the west end of Northam. The town’s railway station and railyards were originally in the West End. [more]
Northam owes its very existence to the Avon River. Early settlers were attracted by the deep pools that remained in the riverbed during the most extreme of summer droughts. [more]
Could the Avon have been the source of water for the pipeline? It certainly was a source of water before the pipeline. Learn more about the natural river and the river of steel besides which you’ll be travelling.
Real river predates steel river
In the 1890s water was supplied to the goldfields from the Avon River at Northam. The river was the nearest permanent source of freshwater and in times of severe drought all other traffic on the line was halted to allow special trains to rush life-saving water to the goldfields.
Don’t take the water to the ore, bring the ore to the water
Italian-born entrepreneur, Eugenio Vanzetti, head of a syndicate that owned mines in Southern Cross, built a battery and plant near a pool on one of the Avon’s tributaries to sluice and wash crushed ore. Railway carts that brought the ore to Northam backloaded water to the goldfields. The scheme only lasted two years thanks to methods devised for using less water in extracting gold.
Origin of the idea for the pipeline?
A letter in the West Australian on 8 March 1894, signed with the initials “JST”, suggested the Avon as the source for a pumping scheme.
'… A pumping station at some suitable locality near Northam, a water tower to furnish the necessary elevation, and a pipeline along the railway, would be all that is required…’
Source of inspiration?
In 1896, Engineer in Chief CY O’Connor, who never took credit for coming up with the idea of pumping water from the higher rainfall areas outside Perth, recommended a pumping scheme to the government as the only practical way to supply the arid goldfields with freshwater.
Avon River crossing
The pipeline has been duplicated between West Northam tanks and the town of Northam to carry more water with the advantage that one ‘leg’ can be shut down in an emergency. Kep Track follows the northern leg- slightly longer than the other – but the original route of the single pipeline.
Tank at West Northam
The original tank at West Northam not only reduced the extreme possible pressure on the pipes in the Avon Valley by 30m, but it also permitted the regulation of flow in the pipeline in such a manner as to keep the pressures at a minimum in regular working.
The pipeline was reconstructed above ground in the 1930s and the lead joints between the pipe lengths were replaced thanks to improved welding techniques. The Goldfields Water Supply district engineer at Northam, Norm Fernie, pioneered the technique of rigidly welding the joints. Reinforced concrete anchor blocks were built over the pipe at regular intervals to prevent movement of the so-formed “continuously welded pipeline”.
The trail head for the start / end of Kep Track is situated at the west end of Northam. The town’s railway station and railyards were originally in the West End
Coincidentally CY O’Connor was surveying the proposed railway route to Southern Cross and staying in Southern Cross on the night of 16 September 1892 when Arthur Bayley arrived to register the first claim at what was to become Coolgardie. The sight of his large pile of gold nuggets triggered Australia’s greatest gold rush and the planned rail route had to be extended even further east.
Northam gets over the line
Northam and York competed for the title of being the best place from which to start for the goldfields, each claiming the best line of road. Such recognition resulted in economic benefits because prospectors would stock up on equipment and supplies in the town. York won the road battle but Northam won the railway route, making it the most important town in the Avon valley.
Northam railway reservoir
Trains needed vast quantities of good quality water for steam engines. In September 1893 CY O’Connor sent assistant engineer William Shields to look for possible sources along the railway line then being extended to Southern Cross. When the railway was started estimated traffic was one train in each direction per week – thanks to the gold rush on average 20 engines had to be watered daily. Shields found a spot, now inside the Northam Army camp, for a 50 million litre reservoir to feed these trains.
Northam owes its very existence to the Avon River. Early settlers were attracted by the deep pools that remained in the riverbed during the most extreme of summer droughts.
Agricultural development in the Avon Valley dates back to shortly after European settlement because the Swan River Colony did not prove to be as fertile as hoped. The 1871 flour mill at Northam adjacent to the Avon Bridge is a symbol of the importance of agriculture to the development of the town.
The Toodyay (Newcastle), York and Northam areas were opened up at about the same time but Northam was for many years the smallest settlement. Today Northam is the largest of the Avon valley towns, thanks largely to the impetus of the Gold Rush which resulted in it becoming the gateway to the east.
Northam became something of a haven for prospectors. They would buy up big at what was known as the “Big Store” on equipment and supplies before setting off. Then in times of drought or sickness they would retreat from the goldfields to Northam with its permanent pools of water and hospital.
Northam benefited greatly from the 1890s Rush. The colony’s population burgeoned and the Northam farmers rallied to help feed the new mouths - human and horse. Businesses also flourished supplying diggers with equipment and foodstuffs on their way to the fields. Some enterprising Northamites acquired horses or camels and wagons to cart goods to Coolgardie.