Goulburn Weir, Australia’s oldest major irrigation structure and heralded as an engineering marvel of its time, has been awarded international heritage status.
The structure was completed in 1891 and, under the management of Goulburn-Murray Water (GMW), continues to supply properties in the Shepparton and Central Goulburn Irrigation Districts as well as filling the Waranga Basin water storage and forming Lake Nagambie.
Its sterling service will be recognised much further afield this month in Mexico City, where delegates to the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID) will gather for its triennial conference from October 8 to 14.
The ICID was established in 1950 and is a professional network of experts in irrigation, drainage and flood management. Its main mission is to exchange knowledge and technology to promote water security, sustainable rural development and increased crop yields to feed the world.
In 2012, the ICID resolved to formally recognise significant irrigation and drainage structures that have contributed to these goals.
“The dams, weirs and other man-made works that are selected to be listed by the ICID as official Heritage Irrigation Structures also have to be more than 100 years old,” GMW Managing Director Pat Lennon said.
“So Goulburn Weir will take its place alongside structures as famous as the Aswan Dam in Egypt – bigger than anything the world had ever seen when initially completed in 1901 – to weirs and canals in China that have served civilisations for a thousand years or more.”
Much more than concrete and cast iron, Goulburn Weir quickly proved critical to the prosperity of central Victorian communities and incorporated one of the first hydro-electric turbines in the southern hemisphere. The weir was considered very advanced engineering, even appearing on the Australian half-sovereign and 10-shilling banknotes in the early 20th century.
Visitors from across Victoria came to admire the weir’s steady, bright electric light and floodlit water spray when the gates were open at night, also making it popular for social events.
“A feature of Heritage Irrigation Structure listing is that, unlike some world heritage honours, the ICID recognises these are working structures that not only deserve preservation but also require upgrading and maintenance to continue to serve communities,” Mr Lennon said.
“So when Goulburn Weir was refurbished in 1988 with new steel gates and other improvements, experts ensured some of its original features were retained and won an Engineering Excellence Award for this attention to its history and charm.”
Mr Lennon said GMW, which has a permanent storage office at Goulburn Weir, would continue to protect the structure’s heritage and keep it in peak operating condition.
“Goulburn Weir’s selection as a Heritage Irrigation Structure by ICID experts is an important reminder of its value, not only to Victorians and Australia but now the wider world.”
Goulburn Weir fast facts
- Built between 1887 and 1891, the Goulburn Weir is located on the Goulburn River, about 8km north of Nagambie in central Victoria.
- It was the first major diversion structure built for irrigation in Australia.
- The weir’s embankment is 127m long and 15m high.
- Nine steel gates are used to supply irrigation water while the weir incorporates two replicas of its original gates and lifting gear.
- Goulburn Weir has a capacity of 25,500 ML and covers a submerged area of 1,130ha when full.
- The Goulburn Weir and its associated recreation area is recognised by the National Trust of Australia and Heritage Victoria as a place of high significance.
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