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The O'Connor Legacy

Charles Yelverton O'Connor is one of WA's heroes. He was appointed Engineer-in-Chief for Western Australia in 1891, a position he held until his death in 1902. His first significant success was the creation of Fremantle Harbour at the mouth of the Swan River. This was against all current advice, which recommended an offshore jetty. O'Connor knew this would be subject to damaging storms, and instead took the option of blasting the rock bar at the river mouth, opening up what is still WA's main port over 100 years later.

The project for which he is justly most famous is the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme. Gold had been discovered in the arid hinterland around Kalgoorlie, where the lack of water was a major problem. O'Connor devised a daring and challenging scheme to build a reservoir near the coast and then pipe the water some 560km (350 miles) inland. It would be one of the world's greatest engineering schemes of the late 19th century, and required new techniques for the construction and laying of the pipes, as well as the building of eight pumping stations in mostly remote, uninhabited locations.

The scheme, and O'Connor, were subjected to massive criticism, which finally wore him down: He committed suicide a year before water finally flowed into Kalgoorlie. The Goldfields Pipeline has celebrated its centenary and has been expanded to now feed some 8,000km (4,970 miles) of pipe throughout the interior.

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