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Shelley Hansen - Lady of Lines

C.Y. O'Connor - Australian Engineer

Water! So much of this vast country of Australia has none. When the goldfields of Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie in Western Australian opened up in the late 1800's, water was their biggest challenge.

The ambitious dream of piping water 530 km from Perth's Mundaring Weir to Kalgoorlie was achieved against impossible odds by Irish-born Engineer Charles Yelverton O'Connor (1843-1902). He gave the ultimate answer to widespread scepticism by succeeding in a project many thought was impossible. The Kalgoorlie Pipeline was opened in 1903 and today, a hundred years later, continues to deliver lifegiving water to the rain-starved towns.

But at what personal cost to C.Y. O'Connor? Read on ...

The Legacy of C.Y. O'Connor

The man who built the pipeline to Kalgoorlie in the West
to bring sustaining water down from Perth,
Charles Yelverton O'Connor - though he gave his very best -
received no recognition of its worth.
An Irishman, a great surveyor and an engineer,
his projects in New Zealand had their start.
In road and rail and land work he established his career,
and surveyed Alpine roads for horse and cart.

Experienced in harbours, building bridges and the like,
he came to West Australia for a post
as Engineer-in-Chief of "everything", that he might strike
a partnership more challenging than most ...
John Forrest was the Premier - a visionary man -
a harbour at Fremantle was his goal,
accessible to largest ships ... O'Connor said "we can" -
succeeding with a willing heart and soul.

Fresh water to the goldfield sites had never been achieved
O'Connor's plans - to say the least - were bold.
The people said "it can't be done" - but Forrest still believed,
convincing Parliament to break the mould
and build a pipeline from the Darling Ranges in the west
across the plateau to Coolgardie town.
The greatest undertaking of its kind - a mammoth test
of engineering brilliance and renown.

Alas! The project stalled with manufacturing delays -
not all could see the bigger picture view;
and people came to criticise O'Connor's plans and ways
while slander was the weapon of a few.
Then Forrest, his old champion, made "Federal" his scene,
and with the project quickly he lost touch.
With work at such a crucial stage, and Parliament not keen -
O'Connor's only crime ... he cared too much.

Intuitive and sensitive, believing in his dream
he drove himself to labour night and day.
And then a vicious news report made reputation seem
defamed, until - he saw no other way -
one morning on Fremantle beach in early light of dawn
he left behind his children and his wife,
and rode his horse into the surf where, hopeless and forlorn,
with one revolver shot he took his life.

On budget and on time, in nine months more the work was done,
John Forrest came too late to see his friend.
He praised the man whose engineering skills were next to none,
whose loss of hope had been his tragic end.
Now for a hundred years and more the pipeline has supplied
life-giving water where there is no rain.
An everlasting legacy - which proves that, though he died,
C.Y. O'Connor did not live in vain.

(c) Shelley Hansen 2012

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