Jan 112013
 

Did anyone catch the fascinating history of Australian gold on last night’s episode of Dirty Business: How Mining Made Australia (sbs TV)? If so, you’ll have seen the incredible Goldfields Water Supply Pipeline snaking its way across Western Australia.

A decade ago The Perth Mint was heavily involved in celebrations marking the centenary of the pipeline, one of the most significant infrastructure projects ever undertaken in Australia.

Our 1oz Golden Pipeline 1903 – 2003 silver coin, mintage 5,000, was hailed an enormous success after selling out remarkably quickly.

Originally issued for $60, we spotted an example on eBay recently which sold for $159.99. Interested in the fact that the coin still attracts interest, we jumped at the chance to recall details of the famous pipeline and the remarkable man who built it.

Traversing 560 kilometres between the Perth hills and Kalgoorlie, the ‘Golden Pipeline’ delivered freshwater to the thousands of settlers who lived in the often arid conditions surrounding the site of Western Australia’s greatest gold discovery.

Perhaps the world’s longest water main, it facilitated the successful exploitation of this gold and other minerals, in turn driving the State’s economic development, and to this day continues to support households, mines, farms and other enterprises in the Goldfields.

An incredible accomplishment for the time, it was able to be completed thanks to the brilliance of Charles Yelverton O’Connor, “a legendary figure in early colonial civil engineering” (A.G. Evans, C.Y. O’Connor – His Life and Legacy). But what should have been a great triumph for the man turned to personal tragedy before construction was completed.

Confronted by bitter personal attacks on his integrity in the press and in parliament from those who refused to believe the pipeline would work, and suffering from nervous exhaustion, O’Connor committed suicide on a lonely Fremantle beach early in the morning of 10 March 1902.

Charles Yelverton O’Connor (1843-1902)

At the grand ceremonial opening less than a year later, Sir John Forrest, the former State Premier and then Federal cabinet minister, expressed his sadness that the great and fully vindicated engineer “had not lived to receive the honour so justly due to him”.

For this and other outstanding engineering achievements, biographer Tony Evans believes O’Connor deserves to be recognised as one of the great historical figures in Australia as a whole, as do, presumably, those that continue to show interest in the anniversary coin.

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