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How Electricity Came to Melbourne



THE Centenary of Melbourne   corresponds almost exactly     with the centenary of the use-    

fulness of electricity. On     January 29, 1835, Michael     Faraday read to the Royal     Society in London his famous     paper "On the influence by Induction of the Electrical Current Upon Itself." In

it were announced the first theoretical principles upon which almost every modem electrical device depends. On May 29 of the same year John Batman entered Port Phillip Heads In his little 15-ton schooner the Rebecca.  

Imagine the shades of Batman and   faraday returning, hand in hand, to look on the progress of the last 100 years. They sail up the Yarra, perhaps, in a phan-   tom Rebecca, Huge steel -lattice towers,   200ft. high, guard the river entrance to  

Melbourne, carrying 22,000 volts of elec- tricity - Faraday's electricity - across the stream that Batman had named after himself. Someone -perhaps the phan-

tom boatman - whispers to Faraday that the Melbourne of 1934 uses 800,000,000 horse-power-hours of electricity every year but Faraday does not understand; surely the whole of Victoria could not contain sufficient electric batteries to generate such energy! The dynamo was   unknown In Faraday's day. Meanwhile Batman blinks at a city bathed in light against an evening sky; a city of 1,000,000 people its towering buildings busy with commerce. Can this be Batmannia, the village of which he wrote prophetically in his diary of Monday, June 8?

The Rebecca sails through Spencer .ireet Bridge-she is a phantom ship ind Batman remarks, "They said they toutd name this bridge after me," but Faraday is too busy to notice. He is purged by the wires; wires everywhere, above ground and below. Trains touch them, and speed past the river; trams touch them, and propel Melbourne's mil- lion through the city. Glass bulbs touch them, and there is light. Instruments new to Faraday touch them, and people conversa In the city and across the world, cr listen in their homes to distant con cirts-by electricity, Faraday's electricity, pcre Is a century's progress for youl

Electrical development in Victoria and the development of the metropolis have been mutually dependent. Only the pre lencä of such a city as Melbourne made posjlblc the economical introduction of ttxf large-scale projects as the electricity luiply from Yallourn and from the fas cltatlng hydro-electric Installation at, the Sidon Weir. Conversely, the presence iCalmost unlimited electrical power for (¿plication to Industry has contributed ouch to Melbourne's recent growth. Bat- aan and Faraday still walk hnnd in fand.

Three Arc Lamps - The Debut  

Melbourne celebrated the marriage of the Prince of Wales (King Edward VII.) in 1863 with electrical illuminations - three arc lamps, one outside the General Post-office in Elizabeth street, one out-

side the telegraph office, and a third at Parliament House. People carne from

far and wide to see, for it was the debut of electric lighting In Victoria. For those days it was a truly prodigal display. Dynamos were unknown, and the current it was derived from hundreds of expensive

chemical batteries installed close to each


The public was amazed, 24 years later,   to see what progress electricity had made,

for in 1887 the Postal department and the Railways department vied with each other in electrical Illuminations to cele- brate Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Public lighting was still in its infancy, and do- mestic electric light was unheard of. The Post-office was decorated with a huge

crown and the words "God Bless Our       Queen," picked out in incandescent elec- tric lamps. The railways concentrated on a larger crown surmounting the Spencer street station. The weather gave the new system of lighting a good advertisement. for squalls and rain played sad havoc with the bare gas jet illuminations in other parts of the city but the electric light shone through it all, undimmed.

The late Mr Byron Moore pioneer of the Victorian telephone system In Vic- toria was the business manager of the first electric supply company, which was formed in 1881 at the instance of Mr R. E. Joseph. By trade Mr Joseph was a watchmaker, with premises in Swan- ston street opposite the Town Hall, but at heart he was a scientist. His under- taking the Australian Electric Company Ltd w as the progenitor of the Melbourne Electric Supply Co, which supplied the metropolis with electricity until it became merged in the State Electricity Commis- sion comparatively few years ago. The premises were in Russell place. In the same year another company operated a   small factory at Heffernan lane, off Lons- dale street where the City Council Elec- tricity Supply now has a sub-station. Three years later two other small companies began and almost immediately disappeared the one into oblivion and the other by amalgamation with the pio-

neer company.

The year 1886 was momentous in the electrical development of Victoria. In that   year Mr A. U. Alcock began the under- taking which was to form the most im- portant component of the Melbourne Electric Supply Company. Beginning in Corr's lane, Mr Alcock established a   second station in South Melbourne in the same year, and in 1889 the undertaking was formed into a company with Mr W. J. Mountain, later secretary of the   Melbourne Electric Supply Co, as one of its directors. It was not possible in those days to transmit electricity over long dis- tances and the principal activity of these early companies was to manufacture small self-contained lighting sets for sale.

How these early companies grew, some falling by the wayside, some gathering strength as the years passed, is a story which is in essence the same as that of the growth of any large industry Sta- bility was attained when the surviving private companies merged into the Mel- bourne Electric Supply Company, which nos associated with the Brush Electrical Engincei ing Company, London The new company was in complete woiklng order in January, 1901, with Mr F W Cle- ment- as general manoger-the same F W Clements who was chosen at the denlh of General Sir John Monash, to be chah man of the State Electricity Commission and still occupies that post

Mr Clements was one of many men brought from London at that time who have since guided wisely the electrical destinies of the State Mr H R Harper was another He was appointed to take chnige of the generating station at Green street Richmond, but he did not remain there for long. Since 1894 the City Council had operated its own power station first for street lighting and then for general supply within the city area, and early in the century Mr Harper was selected to succeed Mr A J Arnott as city electrical engineer. This post he filled ably until 1918, when he, too, was claimed by the State Electricity Commis- sion, which had been formed In that year. Since then he has been the commission's chief engineer. Mr J E Donoghue, who succeeded Mr Harper at Green street, is now the managing director of the Electric Light and Power Corporation of New South Wales For almost a quarter of a

century the Melbourne Electric Supply Co. and the City Council Electricity Supply produced Melbourne's electricity, while each country centre had its own small undertaking.

Enter Monash

Dramatic changes came in 1924. No normal course of development now, but a vast enterprise springing mushroom-llkc in a few years to dwarf even the most ex- tensive electric supply undertakings of the past, under the direction of that master of organisers, General Sir John Monash. The State Electricity Commission was appointed in 1918; In 1920 Sir John Mon- ash became chairman; on June 15, 1924, the results of six years' work were re- vealed to the State. Yallourn closed its switches for the first time, to supply almost the whole of Victoria with electri- cal energy.

A large part of Gippsland is built on a foundation of lignite, which Is coal in the making. Desultory efforts to employ the substance as household fuel were unsuc- cessful because, as mined, it contained 70 per cent, of water. Germany had been i using similar material as a low-grade

fuel for the manufacture of briquettes and for the generation of electricity. The State Electricity Commission's survey showed that the brown coal deposits of the Latrobe Valley covered about 800 square miles, and contained sufficient fuel for all Victoria's requirements for thousands of years. There was a huge marsh in this region, perhaps 20,000,000 years ago. The rivers of the Miocene agc, when the first marsupials roamed the country, carried leaves and twigs and uprooted trees down into the valley. It Is this, the wood or 20,000,000 years ago, that Is now being burnt in the furnaces of Yallourn, or dried and compressed into briquettes for 20th century industry.

The Yallourn area under the control of the commission covers 20 square miles of the Latrobe Valley, in which the coal bed is 200ft. thick, with only 50 feet of soil and clay above It. In this area alone there are 6,000,000,000 tons of lignite waiting to be won-sufficient to make all the briquettes that may be required, and in addition to generate 1,000,000-horse power of electrical energy a day for 400


Yallourn to-day is a wonder of the mechanical age. Steel jaws that take 10 tons of earth at a mouthful have eaten away the earth above the coal, making a hugo open cut in which electric dredgers work, scooping the lignite greedily at the rate of 8,850 tons a day to feed the fur- naces and the briquetting presses. The sun's energy stored in those plants of icons ago Is liberated through the switches in 160 Victorian cities and towns.

Fire and Water Join Forces

The recent rearrangement of port- folios in the Victorian Cabinet has em- phasised another phase of the State Electricity Commission's work. The port- folios of Minister for Water Supply and Minister in Charge of Electrical Under- takings have been combined, fire and water-electricity and irrigation-have joined forces. In the mountains near Alexandra Is one of Victoria's largest Ir- rigation reservoirs, the Eildon. In the summer Its 83,115,108,000 gallons of stored water arc used to irrigate the North Eastern district of the State. The energy of the water issuing from the reservoir under pressure is converted into electri- cal energy by two huge turbines and al- ternators, aggregating 18,700-horse power, In the power station that nestles at the foot of the huge dam wall.

No irrigation water is required in the winter, and the outflow from the reser- voir is stopped to permit refilling from

the Goulburn River.- As if Nature had set out to further man's efforts beside.the reservoir there are two swift mountain streams, the Rubicon and the Royston, which flow more strongly In winter than at any other season. Four generating stations, aggregating 17,450-horse power, are established at intervals along these mountain torrents, and they provide the maximum power at the time when no water is available from the reservoir. The two systems are thus complementary, providing between them a steady supply of electrical energy throughout the year. The Rubicon system is automatic. If any- thing untoward happens a light shows on the switchboard at the reservoir station, and by an electrical system of remote con- trol, one engineer is able to control the generators and equipment miles up the


The commission Is seeking more sources of hydro-electric power. High in the snow clad mountains of the Kiewa district an engineer lives alone, making observations and tabulating records of snowfall, rain, and stream flow. Some day there may bo another chain of generating stations in that lonely place, but before that it is likely that the waters of the great Hume dam, on the Murray River between Vic- toria and New South Wales, will be simi- larly harnessed.

Mutton Broth and Irrigation

The Eildon weir and the Hume dam (which is four times as large as the Eildon, and will be larger still) are the end-point of a movement which began with the pouring away of thousands of gallons of unwanted mutton broth from a boiling-down works. In the early days an engineer from India, Mr. Cotton, visited the Learmonths of Buninyong and Burrumbeet, who owned a large works for rendering sheep carcases for tallow. The waste mutton broth was an embarrass- ment, and Cotton suggested that it should be employed to irrigate the grassy plains around. This was done with some suc- cess. It was the first Victorian attempt at any irrigation more extensive than the watering of a homestead garden.

The large reservoir on the hill over- looking the Yarra bridge at Heidelberg Is a memorial to the second attempt at irri- gation. ' Mr. Riccardo, a member of the Victorian Parliament, built it in 1859 in conjunction with a pumping plant to raise water from the Yarra, but the expensive venture failed. Other private ventures fol- lowed-those of Elms and Bladler at Ade- laide Vale, Pearce at Bacchus Marsh, Vince, at Bridgewater, Patchell at Kerang, Mllbourn at Keilor, and Garden at Cohuna. Benjamin Hawkins Dods and Hugh Mccoll tried from 1871 to 1877 to float the Grand Victorian North-Western Canal Company, to irrigate 15,000,000 acres in Northern Victoria. The company was to receive a grant of 3,000,000 acres of land In return for its services to the State, but the drought of 1877-81 killed the ven-


The day of permanent irrigation dawned with Alfred Deakin's Irrigation Act of 1886. The Victorian Water Supply department was formed, with Stuart Mur- ray at its head, to administer the water supplies of Geelong and the Coliban and a few goldfields reservoirs. Ratepayers' trusts were formed to construct and con- trol other district irrigation works. The Government built the Goulburn weir, the Laanecoorie weir, and the Kow Swamp works. Finance was a stumbling-block. In 1895 the cost of the State's waterworks -other than those of Melbourne, which

have always been under separate control was almost £5,000,000, and attempts to compel local authorities to collect an ade- quate revenue wero in vain. Hence the Relief Act of 1899, which wiped off 75 per cent, of the liabilities of the trusts. 'In 1905 Mr. George Swinburne put the Water Act on the statute-book, and formed the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, which now administers State Irrigation.

The commission began its caicer by taking over works on which there was an accumulated debt of £G,000,000; now Its liabilities amount to about £25,000,000, but its revenue produces a reasonable re- turn on all loan expenditure other than that for headworks. In addition to paying administrative expenses.

What Irrigation Has Achieved

What has irrigation done for Victoria? In many parts of Victoria cultivation without irrigation is impracticable. By happy coincidence, the combined flow of the rivers is almost exactly equivalent to the irrigation requirements of the total area of Irrigable land. Without suitable storage, though, this water is not avail- able at the time It Is most needed-hence the failure of the earlier systems which depended upon nntural stream flow. In dry months, when Irrigation water was in demand, the livers almost ceased to flow, and the trusts had no water to sell. In the good seasons, when they had plenty of water, no one wanted to buy it. No wonder the trusts failed. At the time of the groat drought of 1902, the total storage avallablo was only 172,000 acre feet. [An acre foot is that amount of water which would cover one acre lo a depth of one foot.]

Now the irrigation areas arc almost independent of current 6trcam flow. The total Victorian storage is 2,543,820 acre feet, equivalent to 690,947,300,700 gallons -a goodly buffer between the farmer and droughtl It is sufficient to inundate all the land at present under irrigation to a depth of five feet, and the commission distributes it through 5,000 miles of arti- ficial channels. With the completion of projected works the storages will be in- creased to 3,367,520 acre feet.

The result may be seen by comparing adjacent irrigated and "dry" arcas. The population In the Tungamah and Numur- kah shires is less than eight persons to a square mile; in the adjoining Irrigated! Shire of Rodney the density is 23 persons a square mile. In the drought of 1919 Riverina lost 30 per cent, of its sheep; Rodney increased Its flocks by 36 per cent. in the same period. Seventeen years ago Red Cliffs, with no Irrigation, carried 500 sheep and no men or women. Now, under irrigation, it supports 670 fruitgrowers and their families and an urban population of about 1,000 in addition. Twenty-five years ago the canneries produced £11,000 worth of canned fruit; now their annual output Is 36,000,000 tins, 75 per cent, of the total Australian production, valued at almost £1.000,000. The water has brought agri- cultural prosperity, and light and power i to booti ' ,