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Glenmaggie Weir has resulted from
the damming of the Macalister River, a few kilometers below its junction with
Glenmaggie Creek. The now flooded shallow valley once comprised rich alluvial
flats dotted with farms and the small settlement of Glenmaggie.
Blocks in the township first went on sale in August
1877. A map shows that most of the buildings were clustered around what is now
the southern end of the road bridge leading to Licola. As most of these
buildings were set into, or were sited below, the embankment here which now
forms part of the lake edge, they along with the farms were gradually drowned as
the waters rose in the 1920s.
The idea of creating an irrigation supply in this part of central
Gippsland was not new. As far back as 1886 the Shire Engineer had suggested that
the Macalister could be dammed but it was not until small farms were created as
a result of the Closer Settlement Act early this century that real demand for
concentrated water supplies became insistent.
It is probably fair to say that the greatest demand for irrigation
water came from the closer settlement farmers in the Boisdale district after
1912. One clause in their farm contracts stipulated that they supply the
government owned Maffra Beet Sugar Factory with a minimum of ten acres worth of
beet (later reduced to five acres). To achieve this they needed more water than
came from the natural rainfall.
A disastrous drought in 1914, when dust was said to be six inches
deep in Boisdale’s main street, made the plight of these farmers worse. Those
who survived joined together as the Boisdale Beetgrowers Progress Association
and it was this body which engaged in a vigorous negotiation with the State
Rivers and Water Supply Commission which resulted in an agreement in 1919 to
establish an irrigation district comprising some 12,000 acres. Two sites were
considered for a dam. The first was on the Avon River at Valencia
Creek but this was eventually rejected in favour of the Glenmaggie valley on the
Macalister. The Avon’s flow, though dramatic in flood time, is less regular over
time; as well it was realised that the Macalister site would provide a larger
basin covering nearly 4,900 acres.
Once the decision was finalised, work commenced almost straight
away. Although not large by modern standards, the wall construction presented a
major challenge as only human and horse power were really available. It has been
claimed that at peak times 400 horses were being used. The huge quantities of
cement, for example, had to be carted in from the Heyfield railway station by
the Drew family, using three teams.
The concrete at least was mixed
in a giant steam driven mixer, but half a dozen men were employed just to supply
the engine with sufficient wood to keep it running and it required human energy
to direct the stream of concrete down the great flumes to wherever it was
While work was undertaken on the river bed, the flow was diverted
through a new course, which required labour to cut. Later the river ran through
the pipes in the wall which were to become the outlets for the two major
channels of the scheme.
increased a small village, officially named "Glenmaggie Dam", sprang up beside
the construction site. Most homes were of a temporary nature. Some families
lived in tents but others made more ‘substantial’ dwellings from tin, bark and
bags. Toilets were communal affairs. There was a post office and a school (with
up to eighty students) held in the hall which also served as picture theatre,
church, dance hall and town meeting place. The settlement had its own cricket
and football teams. Many residents had gardens, plentifully supplied with
fertilizer from the horse teams.
The farmers whose properties were to be
inundated did not have an easy time of it.
Though there was general acceptance of the need for the dam, there was also a
feeling that the landholders were being unjustly sacrificed, without genuine
compensation, for the good of others. For a start they were given no set date by
which they could expect to have to leave, which meant that forward planning was
difficult. Then there were many arguments about compensation. The government
authorities did their best to undervalue the properties, even at one point
claiming that some farmland were of lesser value because it was subject to
However by the
end of 1925 the inevitable had been faced and all farms vacated. Some farmers
chose this opportunity to retire; others bought into properties elsewhere.
Buildings were offered for sale and removal; several were taken to Maffra where
they became the residences of SRWSC employees.
The last building to close in the old Glenmaggie township was the
hotel. When the slowly rising water finally reached the bar a last round was
consumed and that was it. The township did continue for some years as a smaller entity several
hundred metres higher up the bank, where a number of buildings had been
The first water to be
delivered from the weir arrived on the Boisdale flats in 1925. The water level
in the weir was
raised in 1947 with the addition of floodgates attached to the top of the wall.
This was to create an additional supply for the new Soldier Settlement districts
of Nambrok and Denison. Later works have included the strengthening of the wall
by anchoring it more firmly to the base rock and the building of a small
hydro-electric power generating station.
The school closure and destruction by fire of the general store virtually ensured the demise of the
original township. However, residential areas have developed north of the Licola bridge at Glenmaggie itself and at Coongulla, on the northern shore. A
number of caravan parks, ‘hobby farms’ and holiday resorts have appeared along
the southern shore.
For a full description of life at Glenmaggie see Barraclough & Higgins, A
valley of glens (Bairnsdale, 1986)
Big Flood: Thursday 28th June 2007
These pictures were taken a week after the actual day (it was
impossible to reach the weir except by helicopter at the time). Four
flood gates were still open; debris washed down from the Macalister Valley
formed what appeared to be a solid mass behind the wall.
Details of photographs
- top left downwards
refers to Maffra Sugar Beet Museum archives
View from wall site back up the
Glenmaggie Valley just before the commencement of building, 1919 [MSBM]
works to stop flow of Macalister River [MSBM]
wall; flying fox towers clearly visible [MSBM]
Glenmaggie Dam "township" [MSBM]
village nearly completely under water [MSBM]
Preparing the outlet
channels using horse-drawn scoops [MSBM]
(x 2) A week after
the major flood of 28/06/2007 [Jeremy Hales]
Page modified 25/01/2011