Golden Pipeline

National Trust of WA

Explore The Golden Pipeline Heritage Trail

A self-guided drive trail between the Perth Hills and Western Australia’s Eastern Goldfields. Go with the Flow. Follow the water to discover more about the audacious goldfields water supply scheme and Engineer CY O’Connor.

Discover The people and the Scheme

“Future generations, I am quite certain will think of us and bless us for our far seeing patriotism, and it will be said of us, as Isaiah said of old, ‘They made a way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert” – Sir John Forrest

The Scheme Pipes

Caulking machine

When work started on laying the pipeline at the turn of the 20th century, welding as we know it today was in its infancy and the joints between pipe lengths were caulked or made waterproof by hand. Machinery came into the picture later and not without controversy.

The joints were made water tight by the use of lead. A pipe would be lowered into the trench in which the pipeline was buried and butted up to the last pipe laid to which a ‘joint ring’ had been pushed into place. The ring was half an inch larger internally than the pipe externally to allow for lead filling. Molten lead would be poured into the gap and hammered in by hand at the start. To complete one of these sleeve joints handcaulkers were working in difficult conditions.

The men who excavated the trench for the pipeline excavated manholes at distances that corresponded with the eight-foot length of each pipe. The handcaulker would be able to stand in this manhole to hammer in the lead on the upper side of the pipe but would have to work upside down on the lower half of the pipe.

The fact that the whole length of the main was of uniform diameter made the use of a machine possible. Trials showed that a machine could produce a more watertight joint, since it could apply pressure uniformly on both sides of the joint ring.

Its introduction was not without controversy. There was animosity between handcaulkers and machine caulkers, largely due to fear that men would lose their jobs. Before they became proficient with the equipment machine caulkers were not as fast as desired and handcaulkers were still required to finish off a joint since the machine could not hammer lead in around the locking bars.

In his novel The Drowner, in which a young English engineer comes to work on the scheme, WA author Robert Drewe builds on the animosity between the two groups of caulkers and writes a fictional account of a fight between them as they are laying the pipes at Merredin.

The caulking machine is also controversial because of the relationship between one of its developers and CY O’Connor’s second in command, Thomas Hodgson.

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