Lessons from the Past

Anne Brake

Keywords: Heritage, water, CY O’Connor

Download Full Paper (pdf)

The issues of sustainability will feature as a key element in the 2007 federal election. With a newly developed portfolio of water resources, the Howard Government has recognised not only the provision of but also the management of this vital resource as central to the future of Australia.

In Western Australia, CY O’Connor’s historic Goldfields Water Supply Scheme’s innovation and significance was recognised with presentation of Engineers Australia’s prestigious Landmark Heritage Award. Carrying water from the hills to the east of Perth over 500 kms into the arid goldfields over 100 years ago, the scheme allowed for the development of not only one of the world’s richest mineral areas but also the agricultural areas of the Wheatbelt thanks to extensions 45 years later. It is now celebrated in the National Trust’s Golden Pipeline project which uses a range of interpretation techniques to bring this fascinating story to the public.

But can the success and legacy of past achievements such as the Goldfields Water Supply Scheme been translated to contemporary issues? Such is the tension and emotion that focuses on the critical issue of water that elections can be won and lost on proposed solutions. Colin Barnett’s canal lost him the election but not three years later, a pipeline to bring water from the state’s north is again being discussed. It is inevitable that CY O’Connor’s pipeline is looked to as a precedent.

This paper seeks to explore the role of museums and heritage sites as key players in engaging the general public in major issues of public interest in ways that are not possible through the more traditional media. Opportunities exist to explore complex issues, rather than the over simplification of past achievements, which can assist in making better decisions for the future. Projects like the Golden Pipeline can become key players in helping the public better understand the issues that surround this debate.

REFERENCE: Brake, A. 2007 Lessons from the Past.  Fourteenth National Engineering Heritage Conference Perth, Australia, 18 September - 21 September 2007.  The Institution of Engineers Australia: Conference Papers.