‘Water water everywhere’: Attempts at drought-proofing properties using surface water infrastructure in central western Queensland in the early 1880s

01st June 2012

There is a long and continuing history in Australia of private enterprise and governments attempting to ‘drought-proof’ businesses and communities. In this paper we explore the strategies employed for this purpose in the late nineteenth century on the massive Wellshot Station, jewel in the crown of the Australian wool industry, in central western Queensland. We describe some of the technology used and its archaeological footprint. Questions reviewed include the purpose and operation of the water management facility, as well as when it was built and who constructed it. We consider the overall efficacy of this, and subsequent technologies, in sustaining the huge sheep flocks depastured on this property. We demonstrate that the highest rates of stocking on the property were achieved during the period when surface water, rather than groundwater, was harvested. We then turn our attention to the broader implications of this success, noting that the use of this technology on Wellshot, and throughout the region, resulted in massive profits being made by the pastoralists during the last few decades of the nineteenth century. These pastoralists deployed these financial resources for larger economic and industrial purposes, which in turn triggered unexpected responses that have had political ramifications through to the present day.

Luke Godwin and Scott L’Oste-Brown
‘Water water everywhere’: Attempts at drought-proofing properties using surface water infrastructure in central western Queensland in the early 1880s
2012
74
55-70
Article
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