Abandoned

The Mount Cameron Water Race was the lifeblood of mining and agricultural industry for more than a century. The main historic section of the water race is 53 km long, beginning at an intake on the Great Musselroe River and finishing at the Empress Dam (above).

The story of the water race begins in 1881 when the Mount Cameron Hydraulic Tin Mining Company, which held mining leases at Gladstone in the north-east of the state, set out to cut a race to support its mining operations.

The success of the small tin mines in the Gladstone district were reliant on a permanent supply of water for ore separation and power generation. However the Company almost exhausted its finance before completing the race, potentially jeopardising its future.

With mining in the area becoming a significant employer, the state government acted to stabilize the industry. Legislation was passed in 1887 enabling the government to acquire the water race, complete the work and extend the system. This action was not without controversy. Detractors of the system could point to the Briseis Tin Mining Company, also in the north-east, which successfully used its own funds to create a water race system that was the lifeblood of its successful production. Even with the government subsidising delivery of water, all the Mount Cameron mines together did not produce nearly as much ore as the Briseis Tin Mining Company.

Remains of the Chum flume

The success of the tin mining industry in the region can be mapped through branch races to abandoned mines closing and new branches opening to new tin-bearing ground, along with abandoned keepers’ cottages along the race system.

 

Abandoned keeper's cottage, 'Chum Cottage'

Tin mining in the north-east declined rapidly after World War Two and by the 1960s the only active mines were in the Mount Cameron district. However this was a lucrative period for pastoralists, and in the 1980s when tin mining finished, Bert Farquhar, owner of extensive grazing land in the area, saw a new opportunity in the old water race system.

Farquhar was granted the entire water flow of the system in exchange for all maintenance and repair costs. He built an additional 108km of races, creating what was probably the largest private farming irrigation system in the state.

Today the only parts of the system that remain in use today are those portions installed by Farquhar. After being the lifeblood of industry for more than a century, the Mount Cameron Water Race has been abandoned.

The Tasmanian Heritage Register entry for the Mount Cameron Water Race is one of several that have been updated in the past month to provide more details on the history of place and its significance to Tasmania.

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