The History of Brisbane Plumbing

Did you know that indoor toilets and sewerage connections weren’t widespread until the mid-1960s? Here is a brief history of Brisbane plumbing from the time before dams and inside toilets to today’s modern plumbing world.

Brisbane Plumbing: Bigger and Better Dams (1820 – 1880)

A penal colony was established in Moreton Bay in 1824 for hardened criminals and reoffending prisoners. Nearly 2400 men and 145 women lived here under military supervision of nearly 100 soldiers.

The colony stretched from Stradbroke Island to Limestone (now Ipswich). The water supply quickly dried up and the settlement was relocated to a more reliable water source in Brisbane in 1842.

This new water supply was a creek that started at Yorks Hollow, flowed through the city centre and entered the Brisbane River. An earth dam was added to the creek in 1838 to increase its capacity. This served as the city’s only public water supply until 1866.

Unfortunately for the Brisbane settlers, the Brisbane River was too salty to drink. The creek’s water supply was subject to great criticism as well. Its embankments were being washed away and it was open to stray animals.

Enoggera Dam was constructed by the Brisbane Board of Waterworks in 1866 to address the inadequate water supply. This dam served 6,000 people, but with a growing population, it was still not enough. A second dam was constructed in 1885, the Gold Creek Dam to meet growing demand.

The Ipswich Municipal Council was the first council in the state to manage any water supply. This supply drew water from the Brisbane River at Kholo and was manged by Ipswich Council from 1878.

Long-Term Pumping Solutions (1890 – 1900)

The Brisbane Board of Waterworks had a plan to solve the water demand problem, caused by a growing population. The Mount Crosby Pumping Station began construction in 1890 and was pumping water from the Brisbane River in 1892. A new storage reservoir was also constructed here. This became Brisbane’s main water supply. However, the population continued to grow and more water sources had to be found.

The Federation Drought hit Queensland hard in 1901-1903 and highlighted the need for a storage dame on the Brisbane River. The site for this storage dam was Cabbage Tree Creek, upstream of Mount Crosby.

No More Muddy Water (1910 – 1940)

The Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board was replaced by The Brisbane Board of Waterworks in 1910.

Up until 1917, raw and muddy water was pumped directly to consumers from the Brisbane River. Public concerns led to the construction of a sedimentation basin at Mount Crosby.

To further improve water quality, chlorine was added to bulk water supplies in 1925. When added to water, chlorine killed harmful organisms that would otherwise grow.

After just 18 years of service, The Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board was dissolved. Its responsibilities were transferred to Brisbane City Council.

Water quality and sewerage continued to improve in the 1830s. New water supplies were constructed to keep up with demand, and waste from Ipswich’s CBD was directed to a treatment plant.

Modern water treatment and filtration systems were used from 1947. These decreased the area required for water treatment and were built on to the Mount Crosby site which was still the main water supply for Brisbane.

Unsewered to Fully Flushed (1950 – 1960)

Construction of a major dam, which had started in the mid 1930s, had been suspended due to World War II. Work recommenced in 1948 and was completed in 1959. This new dam was built to supply much of Queensland with ample water supply as well as flood mitigation.

Much of Brisbane did not have a sewer connection until the 1960s. Human waste was disposed of in buckets and collected by “night soil men”. In 1965, 45% of Australian homes were not connected to any sewerage systems. These tended to be mostly in the outer suburbs.

When future Prime Minister Gough Whitlam won the seat of Werriwa in 1967, however, this began to change. The late Neville Wran, who was New South Wales Premier from 1976 to 1986, recalled:

It was said of Caesar Augustus that he found Rome brick, and left it marble. It will be said of Gough Whitlam that he found the outer suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane unsewered, and left them fully flushed.

More Dams and Smart Bathrooms (1970 – today)

The Wivenhoe Dam began construction in 1976 and was completed in 1984. It stored more than 1 million megalitres of drinking water and could store an additional 14.5 million megalitres for flood mitigation. This is 2.5 times the volume of Sydney Harbour!

During the 1990s, integrated data and telemetry systems were introduced to control water and sewerage assets by computer. Metropolitan Plumbing was also founded in 1995 and has since expanded to service many cities across Australia, including Brisbane.

Thankfully today we’re less concerned with ensuring adequate sewerage and have graduated to more sophisticated plumbing systems. Now we’re more concerned with installing smart bathrooms and telling people not to flush baby wipes!

Metropolitan Plumbing has a long-standing history of excellent customer service. Our efforts have been recognised with the 2020 Product Review award for the plumbing category across Australia. When you use a Metropolitan plumber Brisbane, they bring 25 years of experience and exceptional customer service with them to every job.

Published: 25 Jun, 2020

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