Sunday, 23 March 2014


Found this little snippet about the first Computers and Genealogy Conference in October 1997 whilst looking at material for a piece on VicGUM's upcoming 30th Anniversary in July.  You can also check out the pictures Tom took with his SLR, pre-digital camera days.


One hundred and twenty eight tired prisoners were released on good behaviour bonds following their incarceration at VicGUM's first Computers and Genealogy Conference held at Old Castlemaine Gaol in October.

To ensure that there was not a gaol breakout the prisoners were well fed, if not over fed, and in most cells ladders were not provided to assist in getting over the walls, let alone into the top bunk!!!  The thought of a soft mattress however did not deter the less agile from bedding down. 

A tour of the Gaol introduced most of the prisoners to what they could expect for a long stretch and to their plot six foot under if they overstayed their welcome.

A busy schedule during the daylight hours kept the prisoners from entertaining escape plans, though many were seen lurking in the hallways during the breaks - no doubt planning their name in print under various disguises or discussing how to finance their next project.

Hitches were thankfully few and far between and hopefully disguised.  Starting the day without a microphone to keep the prisoners in line was quickly rectified and improvements to further incarcerations have been noted.  The Prison Warder was able to keep even the most unruly prisoners in line for the duration of the conference.

The on-line Internet searching promised to be very popular, particularly with the available telephone line being barred to outside calls and Telstra offering a 5 day callout wait, despite being offered bribes.   The longest cable to be found in Castlemaine proved that you too can be connected no matter what the distance!!  Setting up the Internet connection was not without a few hiccups and our free connection for the weekend was with the compliments of Castlemaine Internet who can be found at / 

The prospect of being captured on digital camera however did not deter the attendance of any prospective bank robbers and most prisoners were seen to be plotting how to scan and even print money to pay for their planned excesses in family history.

Mini workshops proved to be very hectic, both in choosing the workshop to attend and finding the location.  Choosing your workshop within the confines of the hallway proved to be, even for those agile of mind, an intriguing contest. The tight time frame meant that the Prison Warder was again very active in ensuring the constant movement between workshops by the inmates.  When several refused to move on he was noted to be most unfriendly threatening further incarceration for bad behaviour.  Such was his influence with the threat of further incarceration, he even managed to obtain the services of several inmates (at short notice) to assist in demonstrating the virtues of their favoured family history program - no broken arms or legs were to be seen!!!

Night time reading was well catered for with the Genealogical Society of Victoria and Gould Books of SA providing the opportunity for good bedside reading material for those on long term sentences.

Lack of contact with the outside world was certainly impressed upon with the production of a newsletter, if only to make arrangements for the inmates planning their escape to contact relatives outside the Gaol walls!

The weekend interment was extremely successful with many prisoners willing to be incarcerated again!

I would like to personally thank:

Speakers (in order of appearance):
Ken McInnes      Introduction to Computers and Genealogy (VicGUM)
Irene Fullarton    How to Research our Family History on the Internet (VicGUM)
Clive Nixon         Captured....(Michael's Camera and Video)
Allan Phillips      Getting it into Print...(Gould Books)
Tim Dolby          BDM's on CD Rom - Now and the Future (Informit, RMIT Publishing)
Kathy Baulch      So You Want to Write a Family Newsletter (VicGUM)
and for the unscheduled, but extremely relevant talk, on how to look after our bodies whilst indulging in Computers and Genealogy by Peter Richardson, Physiotherapist, Acupuncturist and Masseur (Castlemaine Holistic Therapies).

Workshops speakers - Meg Bate, John Nathan, Irene Fullarton, Ken McInnes, and Carl Miller, who together with unsolicited but most welcomed, fellow inmates - Bruce Tweedley, Tom Luke, and Peter Beckett, who obviously had hoped for early release and had planned for their early escape by arriving with laptops, all happily elicited their experiences and expertise to encourage the inmates to get it down in print and shorten their sentences.

Conference Papers which were prepared by:  Irene Fullarton, Kathy Baulch, Alexander Romanov-Hughes, and Ken McInnes, and printed by Bookaburra Press.

Conference Sub-Committee of: Heather Hardwick and Bruce Fullarton for their support - both of whom were unable to attend due to family commitments.  Bruce's and wife Anne's excuse for not wishing to be incarcerated was the imminent birth of their daughter, Tessa, who arrived on the Wednesday following the Conference!!  Not sure what the Gaol authorities would have made of a birth in custody.

My thanks, must also go to the rest of the VicGUM committee who conceived the idea of a VicGUM Computers and Genealogy Conference and who over the last two years have included:  Bill Gunther, Ken McInnes, Graeme Simpson, Bruce Fullarton, Penny Mercer, Merv Leeding, John Nathan, Colin Lewis, and Irene Fullarton, without whom VicGUM's first Computer and Genealogy Conference would not have been as enriching to all who were incarcerated!

Andrew and Kaye Duncan of the Old Castlemaine Gaol must also be congratulated on the ideal venue for our first Conference, who together with their friendly staff made the enforced stay most enjoyable, and it was a pleasure to be in their company.

Finally, I must also thank my husband, Tom, for his support over the past 18 months whilst I have been otherwise occupied with VicGUM, and have left the our two young daughters in his capable hands on a regular basis!

Robyn Fisher
President VicGUM Inc

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Quite a gloom was cast over Ballan

The untimely death of John Raven Fisher on the evening of Monday 1 November 1909 amidst construction of Pyke's Creek Reservoir was reported in The Bacchus Marsh Express as follows -

The following appeared in Wednesday's Ballarat Star:-"Quite a gloom was cast over Ballan on Tuesday morning when it was learned that Mr. J. R. Fisher, the contractor for the Pyke's creek water works, had died suddenly in Melbourne on Monday nlght, he having left Ballan in apparent good health and spirits by the last train that evening. The following paragraph, which appeared in Tuesday's Age, caused much regret: - "The body of a man, which is supposed to be that of Mr. J. R. Fisher, was found on Monday night on the pavement, at the corner of King and Francis streets. Constable Thompson passed the spot at 10.55 p.m., and on returning twenty minutes later he saw the body on the footpath. He rang up the ambulance, and the body was removed to the Melbourne hospital, where it was found that life was extinct. Deceased, a man of about 15 stone, was well dressed, and was wearing a heavy gold watch and chain, and a sovereign purse. The sum of 10/6 in money was found on him, and also a half yearly first class railway ticket from Ballan to Middle Park. Beyond the ticket there was nothing in his pockets to establish his identity. Deceased had a cut over the eye, which was probably caused when he fell on the pavement. It is believed that death was due to natural causes. "At an early hour this morning deceased was identified by Constable Cobbledick as J. R. Fisher, a;contractor, residing at Middle Park." 

No further particulars have been published, except that a medical certificate was given of death from natural causes, and no inquiry was held. Mr. Fisher was carrying out the contract for Pyke's creek reservoir. That work, and all similar work, should not be carried out by contract but by Government engineers, employing the best skill, and using the best methods. 

The late Mr. Fisher looked to be 56 instead of 46. He was W.M. of the Freemasons Lodge at Middle. Park, and was well spoken of by all who knew him. He was present at the installation of W.M. J. G. Wells at the Duke of Abercorn Lodge, Bacchus Marsh; and also at the installation of W.M. R. Shankland, at Ballan. The latter ceremony being probably the last Masonic meeting he attended.

Pykes Creek Reservoir and the Fisher family

John Raven Fisher and later his son Thomas Fisher, following his father's untimely death, constructed Pykes Creek Reservoir (1908-1913) at Ballan, Victoria.

A postcard album put together by Tom's fiancĂ© Ivy Sweetland is an interesting documentation of the construction works during this time.  A Fisher family collection of newspaper cuttings, pasted onto A3 sized paper sheets, in no particular order, and regrettably not always dated nor the publication indicated, has been another source of information about the Pykes Creek Reservoir construction.
In late 2007 I came across this information relating to Pykes Reservoir detailing the construction but sadly the web pages have disappeared....
Moorabool Communities online -

As luck would have it,  I copied the text (below) for future research and feel whilst it is not my work, it would be sad to think the information has disappeared into the ether.   The web article also helped me find the events mentioned in the Fisher newspaper cuttings collection, to date some of them and enable me find the actual article in the publication.   Trove Digitised Newspapers has expanded the newspapers available significantly and I hope to find more about specific cuttings.

I hope that others can benefit from the research in the web article as I have.  Unfortunately from my research notes, I do not know who compiled the original information.

Pykes Creek ran into Pykes Flat from the northwest. This creek was known also as Doctors Creek and on some maps is called Kojamnunip Creek. Dales Creek came into the area almost from the north and the Korobeit Creek came in from the east. This is also called Stoneyhut Creek on early maps and local residents know it as German Creek. Myers Creek came from the southwest and was just a spring fed stream until the water was diverted via the tunnel from the Werribee River.
Pykes Creek and its tributaries continued through the flats and joined the Werribee River, about 2 miles southeast of the reservoir.
Pykes Flat was home to a number of people. The Thompson’s, Fowlers and Shanahan's owned land on the northern edges of the area taken up by the reservoir. Hacketts owned Land at the top end of the weir and when the weir was built, had only 50 acres left and sold it to T.W. Fagg. It is believed that Hornes lived on the eastern banks of the flat and Myers' house and outbuildings were situated, south of the bridge, over Pykes Creek. The house and outbuildings were shifted halfway up the hill, on the Ballan side, beside the new road, in 1910.
In a family letter dated 7/3/1909, Mr. James Myers says, "I am still in my old home because the Government will not settle with me and other things are still in an unsettled state". Just over 85 acres of Mr. Myers land was taken for the reservoir.
Mr. Elwood Mead, for the Victorian Government, approved the scheme for the construction of Pykes Creek Reservoir in 1908 and the contract was let to well known Melbourne Contractor, Mr. John Fisher for £42,000 (Weekly Times 7/1/1911). Some reports gave the cost as £76,840, including land purchase and construction costs.
Mr. James Swan was the engineer for the contractor, Mr. J. R. Fisher Mr. E. Corliss was the resident engineer for the State Rivers Commission, Mr. E. Manchester was visiting and designing engineer for the Commission and Mr. J. Dethbridge was second in command to Mr. Elwood Mead, Chef Engineer.
The Bacchus Marsh Express of 6/11/1909 reported that the contractor Mr. J. R. Fisher was found dead on a Monday night on the pavement at the corner of King and Francis Streets, Melbourne. He was a man weighing approximately 15 stone, well dressed and wearing a heavy gold chain and watch and a sovereign purse. The sum of 10s.6d. in money was found on him and also a half yearly 1st class rail ticket from Ballan to Middle Park. Mr. Fisher was 46 years old at the time of his death; he was W.M. of the Freemasons Lodge of Middle Park and was well spoken of by all who knew him. His son carried on the contract for building Pykes Creek Reservoir.
The water surface was to be about 2 miles long by a quarter mile in average width, the depth was to be 100 feet to 12 feet but most of it 80 feet deep.
The storage capacity of this inland lake was said to be 14,000 acre feet or 609,840,000 cubic feet, which would contain 3,811,500,000 gallons. (Weekly Times 7/1/1911)
The catchment area of Pykes was to be 100 square miles, 50 square miles of that by the tunnel from the Werribee River (Bacchus Marsh Historical Society 22/3/1993). The land area taken up by the water was to be approximately 500 acres.
Bacchus Marsh Express March 1907 - reported that survey work at Pykes Creek is going on, but, oh, so feebly!
The reservoir construction involved building an outlet tunnel so water could be released from the reservoir, a concrete tower over the outlet shaft with two water-gates in the bottom regulated by a hand ratchet, an embankment which would carry a substituted road over the crest, a by-wash to carry the discharged flood water into the creek clear of the embankment and a suitable bridge (Bacchus Marsh Express 13/7/1907).
About 200 men were employed, with a large number of drays, horses, scoops and other equipment. (Bacchus Historical Society notes 22/3/1993).
Bacchus Marsh Express 8/1/1910 article, describes the works as presenting a busy scene, covering more than a mile in diameter, in several directions, although at the time of our visit, the full strength of gangs were not at work. Earth scoops, drays, horses and men were working at full speed. Mining trucks of the familiar, let down full and pull up empty "rakes", were running at various points. There were trap doors for holding up a truckload, until a dray could run underneath in gallery ways, to receive it. Gangs of men were carting puddled clay to both sides of the concrete core wall, which may be regarded as the axis of the whole structure, although some engineers think it is only of a 'please the patient’ character as the real strength lies in consolidating the earth mass of the dam in rigged layers of cleavages, for reason of which a good deal of stone will alternate with selected earth materials, so that the pyramid will not slide - avalanche fashion - when the reservoir water is held back by the earthen stone faced wall.
The Weekly Times of 7/1/1911 reported that the work as a whole was indicative of strength and stability.
The embankment was 1,350 feet long, of which 300 feet was by-wash. It was eight chains wide at the bottom and tapered to 26 feet, upon which a road of 18 feet in the clear, ran. In the bed of Pykes Creek, a concrete wall, some 30 feet high and 3 and a half feet thick was built. This formed the centrepiece of the whole embankment and was set 12 feet into solid rock below the creek bed. On either side of this wall, "pug" clay was being rammed. It was brought in railway trucks from Mr. Myers' paddock, some two miles. It was well watered from overhead iron tanks filled by an engine and force pump and then tramped or "poached" with horses' feet. On the outer sides of this clay material was selected earth for filling and the final outer facings had to be composed of stone. (Bacchus Marsh Express 13/11/1909).

The material for forming the embankment was conveyed by railway trucks by means of an endless rope – the weight of the filled truck going down pulling the empties back. (All shovelling was done away with.) First the ground was ploughed with an American plough some 10 inches deep, then scooped and tipped into a "shoot" where it fell into empty trucks, thence was conveyed down on the railway line to another tip, where it was received into empty drays and finally deposited by horses where required.
Some of the quantities of materials used were: -
30,000 yards of puddled clay
55,000 yards selected material on top of the clay
135,000 yards of earth
3,000 cubic yards of 3 and a half inch ballast
5,000 square yards of spalls - then on the top 30 feet of spalls,
7,000 square yards of wave line pitchers - each pitcher 10 inches thick
The pug clay came from a site on top of "Clover Hill", on the property now owned by F. W. Fagg (formerly owned by James Myers) and the track of the railway can still be followed around the hill. The route of the railway track encircles the hill, that is, from the pug pit, the track heads west and gradually circles around until it arrives at the reservoir heading in an easterly direction. The route was made alternately of parts of slight incline and almost flat sections, so the trucks did not bolt to the bottom. It was a piece of ingenious engineering to bring pug clay down a steep hill by the "let down full and pull up empty" system using an endless rope or wire.
The back portion of the embankment of a 2 to 1 slope was soiled and grassed. The water face was of a 3 to 1 slope, until near the top, then a 2 to 1 slope. Broken ballast, 9 inches thick was put on the 3 to 1 slope, and then rubble pitchers were put on the 2 to 1 slope. The pitchers weighed 140 pounds each and they extended 20 feet below the water level (Bacchus Marsh Express 13/11/1909).
The concrete tower erected over the shaft which taps the water was to be regulated by raising or lowering two water-gates by means of a hand ratchet. There were two water-gates one 4 and a half feet high by 2 feet wide and the other 2 feet x 2 feet, worked by screws from the tower. The intention appeared to be, to use the little gate usually and the other unusually. These screws were made by Mr. E. Campbell, 106 Victoria Street Carlton. The tower is 80 feet high and has six sides. The sides at the top being 6 and a half feet wide, widening 1 and a half inches every 6 feet to the bottom. There were six grated openings in the tower for light purposes, 3 feet x 2 feet. An iron ladder ran down one side of the tower inside, with rungs 10 inches apart. The water was to rise in the tower to very near the top, when the reservoir was full.

The monumental artificer for the contractor was Mr. W. Humphreys. In 8/1/1910 Christopher Crisp the Bacchus Marsh Express reporter, described Mr. Humphreys (a good imported man from Wales) as having strength, judgement and experience and described his hand work, in building the cement concrete water tower, as a work of art, with its sexangled sides, fine arises and mathematically correct "drawing in" of measurements from base to apex. He called the tower, "Humphreys' Tower" and because he was also the builder of the bridge, Mr. Crisp called the bridge "Humphreys' Bridge".
Bacchus Marsh Express 30/4/1910 reported that Humphreys' Tower was now crowned with the lifting gear, to corkscrew ratchet the water gates up and down. The rod was 20 feet long and 4 inches in diameter. This lifting power was beautifully made and balanced and cased and a boy could work it.
The outlet tunnel was 400 feet long in the solid rock. It was 5 feet in diameter for 100 feet, then 3 and a-half feet at the end. The cast iron pipes in the tunnel weighed 2 tons each and were cased in cement. The outlet tunnel was the first step in the construction of the reservoir, as it was to be under the embankment.
The bridge was 75 feet above the ground, length was 225 feet with 18 feet clear on road surface. It was built on grey box piles (from Omeo), some 40 feet in length, resting on rubble concrete piers, which showed some 35 feet above the surface. Each pile weighed about 3 tons and was sewed to the concrete piers by iron standards, which gripped the latter, by 5 feet and the former by 3 feet. There were seven piers about 32 feet apart and each pier carried 3 piles braced with 40 feet red gum planks from Echuca. The piles received 3 coats of tar. The concrete piers were stiffened by 3/8 inch rods of iron, 5 inches apart and one foot between each set of rods. The decking was supported by 18 x 9 feet planks of jarrah and each plank and pile was lifted into position by a handy crane similar to those seen at railway stations, ingeniously erected on that part of the bridge which was completed. This crane could be shifted with ease by 2 men to where required. When the reservoir was full, only some 10 feet of the bridge would show.

The southeast end of the bridge abutted on the west end of the embankment and road traffic would here experience a sharp curve, for from bridge to embankment the turn is almost at right angles. Old photos show, that there was almost a right angle turn also at the west end of the bridge, where it joined the road to go up the hill, towards Ballan.

The Ballarat metalled road, 18 feet between fences crossed along the top of the dam embankment wall and then across the bridge.

During the building of Pykes Creek Reservoir, a small town sprang up. Besides the huts and tents used by the men, they had a recreation hall 60 feet x 30 feet, with no pillars, two fireplaces, not much furniture and a shop. The reservoir township was on the Ballan side of the reservoir, on the hill, between the new road and the old road. It was reported to be a good repetition of goldfield conditions!
Some reports say that 80 men were engaged and some reported that 200 were employed, as well as Government Inspectors, Engineers etc. Progress was slow at times It was apparent that men were hard to get and would not stay, to work on the project. The Bacchus Express 30/4/1910 states that "nothing less than missionaries will bring them". The newspaper article also said, that “works of this kind should never be let by contract, especially in Victoria where discipline is nil".
Men paid 6d. a fortnight to buy literature. The Ocean Accident Co insured all men against accidents and 3d. in the pound of each man’s wages was deducted to pay the premiums.
The Bacchus Marsh Express of 22/1/1910 reports that a serious accident happened on Tuesday afternoon by a powder explosion at Pykes Creek water scheme by which four men were more or less injured as well as a 50 pound horse getting its leg broken, which necessitated it being shot. A man named John Binge was tamping a drill hole at the foot of the rock-faced hill on the cascade of the by-wash, charged with half a barrel of powder, and between 30 and 40 plugs of gelignite, when one of the plugs got twisted, and with the extra force used to drive it home, it is presumed, it caused one of the caps to explode. Binge's collarbone was broken, and his face and head bruised, leaving him suffering from shock. A man named Jones, belonging to Egerton and suffering from abrasions was also brought into Ballan and treated by Dr. Gregg. The other two injured employees would not leave the camp, although, it was seen that one of them had a badly shattered hand. After Dr. Gregg had done all in his power to alleviate Binge’s suffering he was taken on the ambulance for transmission to the Ballarat hospital. Young Mr. Fisher helped convey Binge into Dr. Greg's surgery, and showed deep sympathy.
A few days previously a horse and dray had rolled over and over down one of the hills that girdled the southern side of the weir. Strange to say the horse, when it landed at the bottom, was released from its bondage, yoked up again in another dray, and walked off in all equine grandeur.
The Werribee River Weir and diversion tunnel here constructed between 1916 and 1918 to divert flows from the Werribee River to Pykes Creek Reservoir via Myers Creek. The weir and tunnel entrance is located on the Werribee River approx. 2km east of Ballan. The tunnel is 1.8m in diameter and 1.5kms long. It opens into Myers Creek on the east side of Monteville Lane and the water then runs along Myers Creek.

The State Library of Victoria has amongst their collection several images including those of Pykes Creek Embankment (1911- ca.1935) showing men working on the wall and a water view of  Pykes Creek Reservoir (ca. 1915-ca. 1940) which may have been taken during and not long after construction.