The history of the Maroondah System

The history of the Maroondah Water Supply System is inextricably linked to the expansion and development of Melbourne. However, the history of these waterways reaches back even further. 

 

Wurundjeri People have a deeply significant connection to the all of the rivers and streams that now make up the Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay. The effects of colonisation were devastating to Aboriginal people around Australia. This area was no exception. Despite this, the connection of local communities is ongoing, and remains a crucial aspect in understanding our past. 

European settlement

The first major European development in the Port Phillip area began with an attempted settlement in 1803, however, it was not until the Batman Settlement in 1835 that the local water supply began to be significantly influenced by Europeans.

Once the Melbourne settlement was established, the majority of the water for the fledgling colony was collected from the Yarra River near Queens Bridge. As the colony grew, water began to be sourced from further upstream. However, many complained that the price-tag of up to ten shillings per barrel was far too high.

Increasing pressure

After gold was discovered in Victoria the early 1850s, the population of Melbourne dramatically increased turning Melbourne into a global city.

The subsequent boom in commercial industry coupled with the rise in demand, put unsustainable pressure on the water supply. There were also growing concerns about the quality of water being sourced from the Yarra.

A possible solution was identified in a proposal by engineer James Blackburn to develop a large scale supply system to be drawn from a reservoir near Whittlesea to the north of Melbourne.

The proposal was eventually approved, and the first sod of the Yan Yean System was turned by Governor Charles La Trobe in 1853. On its completion in 1858, the system was hailed as a great success for the colony.

The image shows the inside of one of the aqueduct pipes that make up the Maroondah system. Wooden joists and sand bags hold up the tunnel walls that make up the pipeline.
Construction of one of the pipes making up the Maroondah System, Picture from Melbourne Water archives 

Continued development

As the population of Melbourne continued to increase during the 1870s and 1880s, demand for water again became a concern.

To help supplement the Yan Yean system, the development of the Watts River Scheme commenced with the construction of a weir at Watts River.

The project was completed in 1891 and renamed ‛Maroondah’ on the false assumption that ‛Maroondah’ was the Indigenous name for the area.

Establishing the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works

Coinciding with completion of the original Watts River Scheme in February 1891 was the creation of the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) on 18 March 1891.

Although mandated to build a much needed sewerage system for Melbourne, which at the time was in the grips of a typhoid and cholera epidemic, the functions of the MMBW were soon expanded to include management of Melbourne's water supply system.

The first water supply project undertaken by the MMBW was construction of the Maroondah dam completed in June 1927. The dam was built downstream of the original Watts River weir and thereafter, the Watts River Scheme system became known as the Maroondah Water Supply System.

Establishing the Coranderrk system 

Into the early 1900s, the MMBW continued work around the Maroondah system with the construction of a weir at Badger Creek. This weir was then connected by pipeline to the Grace Burn-Maroondah aqueduct siphon, and at the systems completion in 1909 was named ‛Coranderrk’ after the nearby reserve established by the Wurundjuri people. The Coranderrk Aqueduct was added to the system in 1931. 

During the early 1920s, construction of the large-scale Maroondah Reservoir commenced. The dam and reservoir were intended to respond to the increased concerns about the quality and pressure of water in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

With its completion in 1927, the dam stood over 40 metres high and close to 300 metres in length. Along with impressive structure of the dam, the MMBW developed manicured gardens and picturesque structures at the site.

Image shows the construction of the Maroondah Dam wall in its early stages of being built
Construction of the Maroondah Dam wall, Picture from Melbourne Water archives 

An expanding system

Throughout the 1920s and 30s, further developments were made by the MMBW, with the construction of O'Shannassy Reservoir and Silvan Reservoir increasing the capacity of Melbourne's water storage from 30,000 mega litres to 104,500 mega litres.

Further development of Melbourne's water system continued into the second half of the twentieth century, with major the developments of Upper Yarra Reservoir, Thompson Reservoir and Sugarloaf Reservoir, along with various catchments, tunnels and pumping stations.

This extensive system means that Melbourne now boasts some of the highest quality drinking water in the world, supplied to the residents of Melbourne daily.