Dumaresq Dam History

Kerrie took a drive into Armidale today while I stayed home to get a few things done.

I had the pleasure of the company of two of the residents of the little nomad community,
Norm and Roscoe.

Both of these interesting blokes are long term travellers with Roscoe living in his caravan and Norm in a motor home. We had a great chin wag for a couple of hours and it turns out that Norm who sports a huge long white beard is a old commercial fisherman and also shares my deep and longstanding mistrust of the mainstream news media.

He gave me a photo he took of the dam wall last year when he came through here. It is such a contrast to the wall as it appears today I thought I’d include this shot.

The Dumaresq Dam wall as it looks at the moment

The Dumaresq Dam wall as it looks at the moment

The Dumaresq Dam wall at this time last year - 2010

The Dumaresq Dam wall at this time last year – 2010

There’s almost no history about the Dumaresq Dam on the internet so I’ve decided to write a little about the dam here. Fortunately there’s a notice on the wall of a picnic block at the dam with the story of its beginning. This piece is taken from that notice and was compiled by Maria Hitchcock of the Dumaresq Progress Association/LAG Inc. Armidale Dumaresq Council. The photographs are also copied from the board and are courtesy of Ian Forrester, whose grandfather, Robert William Borland Snr was the engineer in charge of construction.

Following settlement in the Armidale district in the early 1830s and establishment of the town of Armidale in 1848, the area attracted more and more settlers. Townspeople relied on water extracted from private wells and from the Dumaresq Creek but this was in short supply, especially during long dry spells. In 1883 the construction of the railway line led to a huge increase in water consumption. It soon became clear that the town needed to plan for a secure water supply for the future. A suggestion to dam Sam’s Swamp on Duval Creek and transport water by pipe to several reservoirs in town was recommended then later rejected by a Parliamentary Committee which met in Armidale in October 1892.

A view of the inside of the Dumaresq Dam wall

A view of the inside of the Dumaresq Dam wall

Council subsequently called for the erection of ten 1000 gallon tanks and stands the
next month and Public Works took over the temporary supply of water in February 1893.

In January the following year a well was dug at the gasworks. It was 36 ft deep and 9 ft wide but it was emptied in 2 hours during dry weather. At the same time a partially cased 10ft deep well with a timbered pipe was dug in the creek for fire fighting.

Things were getting desperate.

Another view of the inside of the Dumaresq Dam wall

Another view of the inside of the Dumaresq Dam wall

The following year in 1894, the Chief Engineer of Harbours and Rivers visited Armidale and as a result Public Works recommended the construction of a dam on Dumaresq Creek. Council insisted that local labour be used to prevent an influx of unemployed from other towns and this was confirmed a year later.

The stone crusher and engine at the Dumaresq Dam

The stone crusher and engine at the Dumaresq Dam

Things moved fairly quickly at first. In March 1895, tenders were called to clear 42 acres for the reservoir. Two months later, Mr Davis, Supervising Engineer of Harbours and Rivers visited Armidale and called for tenders to lay a pipeline from the dam to a service reservoir.

Dumaresq Dam wall under construction - The Ghostlike image is a reflection of me taking the photo from the notice board.

Dumaresq Dam wall under construction – The Ghostlike image is a reflection of me taking the photo from the notice board.

Then the construction struck a few problems. New tenders had to be called in November to clear and fence the dam site and the following April (1896) the contractor Mr Wilson abandoned the project. Council asked if the new contractor could use the engine and stone crusher left behind. This was agreed to and Major Wigan met with Public Works to discuss the construction. He suggested that it be completed using day labour. By August 1897, the dam was completed. It was 62 feet long buy 36 feet high and held 102 million gallons when full.

A timber pipeline was laid to a service reservoir near the town. Residents quickly connected to the town water supply in response to them now being rated for water.

Construction of the wall at Dumaresq Dam

Construction of the wall at Dumaresq Dam

All did not go smoothly at first. The rotting vegetation in the dam caused the water to be undrinkable for some time. The railway asked for 10 million gallons annually and the Council came into conflict with the Government departments which claimed exemption from water rates resulting in a large loss of revenue which was needed to pay supply accounts. By 193, the original timber pipeline which fed the dam suffered severe white ant damage and was partially replaced with metal pipe. By 1960 it was entirely metal.

A caretaker’s cottage was built on site and some foundations and remnants of the garden can still be seen at the entrance to the reserve.

The caretaker was responsible for agisting stock, repairing fences, looking after the boat and boatsheds and scouring the pipes. In 1946 a new cottage was built and Mr Handebo, the caretaker, would walk the length of the pipeline into town to inspect it for leaks. He died accidently a year later and the cottage was moved to the filtration plant in Armidale.

The caretakers cottage at Dumaresq Dam

The caretakers cottage at Dumaresq Dam

Other dams were built in the district to supplement water supplies. Puddledock Dam was constructed in 1928 and Gara Dam in 1954. The severe drought of 1964 – 1965 stretched all these supplies and serious steps were taken to ensure a secure water supply for Armidale.

The huge Malpas Dam near Black Mountain was completed in 1968. Dumaresq Dam was gazetted as a recreation reserve in 1972 and the public picnic shelter was constructed in 1978.

2 replies
  1. misteree
    misteree says:

    As a local Armidale resident I found your information very interesting. Thought you might like to know that there is an article in tomorrow’s Armidale Express about the possibility of having to demolish the dam as it may not withstand a major weather event. It would cost approximately $1 million to repair.
    Regards
    Paul

    • Jonesy
      Jonesy says:

      I didn’t know that Paul.
      What a great shame it would be to lose such a beautiful spot.
      We were contemplating returning to the dam during the Christmas period this year.
      Thank you for pointing out the article in the Express, I look forward to reading it.
      All the best
      Chris

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