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.
Original wall of the Goulburn Weir
Its sterling service was recognised much further afield this month in Mexico City, where delegates to the International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage (ICID) gathered 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.”
The modern day weir
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.”