Lifelines, Services and Supplies
Lifelines, services and supplies
In the early years of the gold rush, roads, water supply and sanitation were poor. Food and supplies were expensive too.
But within a few years, important service and supply lifelines spread out across Victoria. These were often large and expensive projects funded by the Government through gold wealth.
Bloody boggy roads!
For the first few years of the gold rushes, poor roads throughout the colony caused much discontent.
Attempts to find firm ground meant that roads extended wider and wider - in some places becoming mile-wide dust bowls, littered with abandoned carts and bodies of bullocks and horses.
In 1853, the government began the work of road building, with most of the initial effort going into the Melbourne to Murray River road, via the central gold fields. The projects had their fair share of financial difficulties, and so toll-bars were established throughout Victoria.
One of the oldest surviving metal truss bridges in Victoria is the Mia Mia bridge in Heathecote. It was imported from Britain and used to bridge a particularly difficult and deep river crossing in 1867-68.
Rail lines and the hiss of steam
The first railway in Melbourne was completed in 1854. But the most ambitious proposals for the young colony were the railway lines from Melbourne to Echuca via Bendigo (for the Murray River trade) and from Geelong to Ballarat. The government bought out the Melbourne, Mount Alexander and Murray River Railway Company and embraced a public railway system.
In 1857, the government borrowed £8 million for the projects - a symbol of Victoria's newly found wealth and confidence.
The engineering of the railway from Melbourne to Echuca was equal to the best in England. Built between 1859 and 1864, it used a labour force of over 6,000 men.
Melbourne and the regional centres needed a constant supply of water. In Melbourne, the water supply improved in 1857 with the completion of the Yan Yean Reservoir system.
In a hot climate, water was precious and a good water supply was essential on the gold fields. Mining was a water-intensive industry and local creeks were often polluted by mining activity.
The water supply for the gold fields of Bendigo and Castlemaine was completed in 1877. The Coliban Water Supply System now includes over 20 reservoirs, 500 km of open channels and still supplies water to Bendigo, Castlemaine and many surrounding towns.
News from home
The many thousands of new arrivals had an insatiable demand for news from home, while people overseas eagerly awaited information about gold finds.
With the numbers of letters increasing by 400% from 1851 to 1853, the Victorian Post Office Department faced a massive task. New post offices were opened in all significant new towns and the mail steamer service between Victoria and Britain was improved.
Electric telegraph also spread out across Victoria. The gold field towns of Ballarat and Bendigo were the first to receive these new services, connecting them to Geelong and Melbourne.
The Castlemaine Post Office was designed by Public Works architect J.J. Clark and constructed in 1874-75, the building was used as the post and telegraph office, water-supply office and survey office, as well as providing a residence for the postmaster.