Tuesday 21 April 2020

The horse survived, I hope

Happy sigh. I wasn't going mad after all - and here's the proof. This is a statue that's in the ocean at North Coogee, south of Fremantle, about 20 metres offshore. It's an unusual and striking sight, and the story that goes with it is even stranger.

Charles Yelverton O'Connor was an Irish-born engineer who was responsible for some of West Australia's most useful construction projects - road, rail, harbours - most notably Fremantle Harbour, and the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme that piped drinkable water huge distances from Perth out into the desert for the miners busily digging the dirt around Coolgardie and Kalgoorlie. It's the longest water main in the world, still in use today, and has earned its keep over and over since O'Connor was responsible for its design and construction - but there was criticism at the time about the expense, as well as unfounded personal slander. Feeling unappreciated, in 1902 O'Connor rode his horse into the waves, and shot himself.

Shocking, eh? And so sad, because the pipeline was completed the following year, and was, and remains, a resounding success. I was reminded of it when watching 'Great Australian Railway Journeys' last night, when the multi-coloured presenter (and failed politician) Michael Portillo took the Indian Pacific from Adelaide to Kalgoorlie. He mentioned O'Connor there, praising the pipeline, and rang a bell for me that wasn't easy to identify since I saw the statue in 2008, and this blog (rapidly becoming my substitute memory) began in 2009. 

I took the Indian Pacific myself, back in 1977, when it was a lot less luxurious than it appeared in Portillo's travelogue. That's a long time ago, and mostly what I remember now is deciding that the Nullabor Straight - 146 kilometres without a single deviation - has to be the world's most boring record; and that waking up in the dark at 7am just before arriving in Perth, and rushing to be first to the shower turns out, when dressed and finally strapping on my watch only to realise that it had been 1.30am when I'd woken, to be a mistake it's impossible to rectify.

Other connections? Turns out O'Connor first came to New Zealand, where as assistant engineer for Canterbury province (I'm a Cantabrian) he constructed the Otira Gorge section of the Arthur's Pass road - again, to service gold miners. That's a pretty challenging section of road through the mountains, with a long tunnel and, since 1999, an impressive viaduct. O'Connor would have loved it. 


the queen said...

I was thinking there must be a feature film about this, but all I could see is a project that’s been in development for nine years. However, I did see that the pipeline brings water to Coolgardie, and I just saw the grim documentary Hotel Coolgardie, so there’s a connection. Have you seen that? It is grim.

TravelSkite said...

No! Hadn't heard of it, but will definitely seek it out. All too believable, that it's grim. Aussie Outback life can be the worst.

TravelSkite said...

Finally remembered to watch Hotel Coolgardie (on Amazon - look it up). Grim isn’t the word, truly. But fascinating.


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