The Lachlan Valley: Vast conservation scheme [18 April 1931]

[Editor: Published in The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 April 1931. Part two of two articles on the Lachlan Valley (part one was published on 11 April 1931).]

The Lachlan Valley.

Vast conservation scheme.

(By L. Peacock.)


The purposes of the Lachlan River Water conservation scheme as set out by the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission are fourfold, viz., an assured water supply in the main river for riparian holders along 767 miles of frontage and also along many miles of effluent creeks; the provision of water for irrigation; a stock and domestic supply for a large area of crown lands; and hydro-electric generation. The authorities have estimated that the dam will give an assured water supply for stock and domestic needs to about 1,357,000 acres along the river and branch streams, after benefiting up to three miles maximum back from the frontage. This could be done without including the area along Marrowie Creek, below Hillston, which could be similarly benefited by the construction of a diversion weir in the river below the offtake of the creek.

Provision is made under the scheme to benefit a large area of Crown lands in the western division along both sides of Willandra Creek, and along the western bank of the Lachlan from Booberoi to Oxley, comprising an area of 450,000 acres while 240,000 acres will similarly benefit along both banks of Marrowie Creek. An area of 620,000 acres is to be supplied with water for domestic and stock use by gravitation for a considerable distance along both sides of the Broken Hill railroad from Euabalong West to a point beyond Roto; while water for the same purpose will be provided by pumping and conveyed by main channel winding out round about Mount Hope and covering an area of some 234,000 acres. Such a scheme must eventually prove of immense benefit to pastoralists, and also push further back the safety line for mixed farming. It has been estimated that the enhancement of the value of these Crown lands, owing to the provision of a sure water supply from the Lachlan, will be sufficient to cover the entire cost of the Wyangala Dam, £1,352,000.

The present scheme which aims at the complete harnessing of the Lachlan, has really been anticipated, apparently unconsciously, by the various existing works. Six weirs constructed by the State, and the Lake Cudgellico works, built 29 years ago at a cost of £35,000, are the largest. Then there are eight weirs, of which six have been constructed as trust works; ninety licensed pumps, including those for town and railway supplies; eight wells from Forbes to Cudgellico; fifteen earthen dams between Booligal and Oxley; twelve wells on effluent creeks above Condobolin; on Booberoi Creek six dams, eight on Willandra Creek, and nine on Merrowie Creek. At the present time along the whole course of the Lachlan there are between 3000 and 4000 acres irrigated each year by licensed pump holders. This has already resulted in effecting an insurance against losses of valuable stock on big holdings like Jemalong station, and it is quite a common thing in dry seasons to see pressed lucerne being railed from Forbes to drought-stricken country further out. The irrigated area abovementioned is principally under lucerne, and there are large tracts of similar land only waiting to be developed.

A wonderful future

When one visualises a complete system of low weirs along practically the whole course of the Lachlan and its effluent canals, it is not difficult to form some idea of the immense value such a scheme must in time become, not only to this part of the western district, but indirectly to the State itself. Nature has provided a sure antidote to the venom of the inevitable drought, and the scheme under notice is at least one splendid attempt to apply that remedy. It is not proposed to establish any State scheme of irrigation, but judging by what has already been accomplished with a limited source of supply, it seems certain that with the sure backing of Wyangala increasing population will be steadily drawn to this liquid magnet of the Lachlan and held by it.

Hydro-electric generation is also to be provided for in connection with the outlet valves at Wyangala Dam. It is estimated that with a fuel-burning plant supplementing water power, electricity could be profitably supplied for a distance of 100 miles, including Cowra, Grenfell, Orange, Blayney, and all the wheat-growing districts within the influence of the scheme as far as Condobolin.

Following the course of the Lachlan down stream you come to the prosperous town of Cowra, and some twenty odd miles further back on the little Belubula River is Canowindra, known far and wide for the fertility of its lucerne flats. Still lower down is Eugowra, now a railhead, and prettily situated on Mandagery Creek, under the ranges. Not far from the town along what was known as the Gates road is the spot where bushranger Gardiner and his gang of seven or eight carried out the gold escort robbery on June 15, 1862. They leapt from behind some rocks, disarmed the police, and relieved Cobb and Co.’s coach of 5509 ounces of gold won at Forbes, and bank notes to the value of £7490.

Clean and healthy Forbes.

Forbes may be regarded as the chief town on the Lachlan and looks as though its best days are still ahead. Like many an inland settlement, it began as a calico town, and the numerous yellow mounds of earth and stone still speak of men’s feverish and successful quest for gold back in the sixties. In past days Forbes was thought of as a down-at-the-heels town, where most of the people got typhoid fever. But gone are those times and conditions. Public-spirited citizens have taken hold of things; and everywhere one sees evidence of a growing civic pride. Here is a town clean and healthy, where the people are determined to have most of the conveniences of city life. Some of the most persistent agitation for the Wyangala storage and weir system was put up by Forbes men, and it is doubtful whether the scheme would have reached its present stage apart from their advocacy. Close to the town, some miles above and below, the success attending private enterprise in irrigated culture has been one of the strongest arguments for the adoption of the scheme for a properly controlled river over a much wider area.

Condobolin occupies a strategic position, being favoured by the Lachlan River and Goobang Creek, with the railroad breaking in on its way from Sydney to “The Hill.” Round about Euabalong, some forty odd miles west of Condo, the wheat-farmer has made his appearance in recent years, and once the river is made capable of ensuring his domestic and stock supplies of water, it is held by local residents that his tenure and prosperity will be made doubly sure. Further west we have Hillston, and beyond that Booligal, the latter in a setting of extremely flat country. It was probably about here that Oxley saw the result of flooding from the branches of the Lachlan, and concluded that he was on the edge of an inland sea. Someone has bracketed Booligal with hell and another place a bundled miles north-west, but western people can see a joke and take it for what it may be worth. The last township on the Lachlan is Oxley, lying on the right bank of the river a little less than twenty miles from the Murrumbidgee. It is fitting that one centre of population should bear the name of the man whose dogged daring entitles him to a worthy place.

The upper and central portions of the Lachlan district are fairly well served by railways, the river being either touched or crossed at Cowra, Forbes, Condobolin, Lake Cudgellico, and Hillston, by existing lines. But if that portion of the Western Division between Hillston and Oxley is to be fully developed adequate means of transit either by rail or road will have to be seriously considered. Navigation on any part of the Lachlan is, of course, an impossibility.

Sooner than many people think, it may become necessary to fill up the empty spaces of this country, and add considerably to the population of areas already peopled in order to develop and hold it. To an impartial observer the whole of the Lachlan Valley, aided by a properly controlled and wisely utilised water supply, is a region capable of carrying a very large population.

[The former of these two articles appeared last Saturday.]

The Sydney Morning Herald (Sydney, NSW), Saturday 18 April 1931, page 13

Editor’s notes:
riparian = living on, or located on, the bank of a river (or on the bank of another body of water), or pertaining to that situation

[Editor: Corrected “It it fitting” to “It is fitting”.]

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