Old Water Tower

Explore History at the Old Water Tower inside a spectacular 4-storey circular structure

History of the Old Water Tower

In 1883 the Wimmera United Waterworks Trust estimated the cost of supplying water to 750 residents of Murtoa and daily use of water to the Railways for steam trains. It took a few years for the Trust and the Railway Department to come to an agreement but by December 1885 the Government approved the building of a water tower in both Murtoa and Warracknabeal. A contract was let to Humble and Nicholson in May 1886 for the amount of £3,943, the full amount was not expended with an amount of over £242 being unspent.

James Richings, a Master Builder from England was engaged to oversee the building of Warracknabeal and Murtoa Water Towers. He lived in Warracknabeal with his wife and children before their return to England.

On 28th October the ‘Dunmunkle Standard’ reported at length that the brickwork of the water tower was complete, and the iron tank lacked but a few of its 28,000 rivets. It took eleven men four weeks to put the tank together in ‘first class style’ under the supervision of Mr H Kinsley’.

On 11th November 1886: ‘Steam was got up and pumping commenced about 8 o’clock on Friday morning in connection with Murtoa water tower and the tank was filled by 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the 40,000 gallons being pumped in excellent time, namely seven hours.’

Water was pumped from Lake Marma via the Steam Pump House, run by Hugh Rogers. It is believed he and his young family lived in the Tower for a period of time. You will find evidence of his children with writings on the inners walls ‘Lucy Rogers was here’.

Subsequent town water towers were built at Lake Marma in 1915 and again in 1985. In these intervening years the Old Water Tower was used to store pipes and castings. The tank continued to do its duty by supplying water to the Railways for the Steam Trains, until the late 1960’s.

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A new beginning for the old water tower

Murtoa & District Historical Society was formed in 1975, following the interest in district history which was engendered by the Centenary Celebrations of 1972. The Society’s aim was and still is to collect and preserve documents, photographs, maps and memorabilia pertaining to Murtoa’s settlement and development.

The old Railway Water Tower was suggested, which captured the imagination of the members. With the phasing out of steam engines in the 1960’s the tower had fallen into disuse. It was found to be in excellent condition structurally and by 1973 it had been placed on the Industrial Register of the National Trust following a submission from Murtoa Water Trust, hence it was in no danger of demolition. The Water Tower Trust readily agreed to allow the use of the tower for a peppercorn rental, with no objection from the Railway Department.

The growing collection was housed on the ground floor, but it soon began to outgrow this area. Items and visitors could not be hauled up the immense ladders which stretched through the three chambers to the fourth floor.

By the end of 1978, the ladder to the first floor was replaced with a metal staircase, built in time for the Railway Centenary. The first floor became the display area for photographs and memorabilia.

Museum openings were not held regularly at this stage, but on request or for special occasions.

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The coming of the birds

James Hill, a local farmer from Kewell, had collected and prepared over 700 birds, reptiles, butterflies and bird eggs for a period of over 50 years from 1875. After his death in 1932, the collection was kept by his daughter Mrs Elsie Newell in Murtoa. It became illegal to privately hold native fauna, so Murtoa Lions Club became its custodian and held the Scientific Licence.

The Historical Society agreed to co operate with a request from the Lions Club to house this collection on the Water Tower ground floor. This meant another staircase had to be built to open up another floor.

Eventually the second floor became the home of the growing collection of household, farm, blacksmith articles and other memorabilia. The taxidermy collection took over most of the ground floor and the display was opened on 28th March 1982.

In 1985 a final staircase was constructed to the top floor, it being used for storage of items awaiting repair before being placed on display.

The full history of the Old Water Tower can be found in the publication:
‘The Romance of the Old Water Tower’ by Jenny Rabl