Services & Utilities

the provision of services, especially communal

The Europeans who first entered the valleys of the Williams, Paterson and Allyn Rivers did so at a level of technology that allowed for very little provision of communal services. The provision of such basic utilities as water, power and the disposal of refuse was largely performed on a household level until the end of the 19th century; an early exception to this being flour mills. With advances in technology new ways of providing these utilities arose that at first continued to be on the household level, but with more efficiency. These advances were soon superseded by the provision of water, power and refuse services on an increasingly communal level.

Flour mills are perhaps the earliest example of a communal service within the Williams River Valley area. While hand grinders existed for individual and household purposes, for the production of flour on any scale it was necessary to bring the grain to a mill. Water power limited mills to specific locations to which growers would take their ‘grist’ to be processed for a set fee. Water power was soon replaced by steam but the general nature of this service remained the same.

With regard to access to water for drinking and other purposes, proximity to rivers and simply carting whatever water was needed to individual households remained for a long time the standard method. The use of tanks spread only gradually as galvanised iron became more readily and cheaply available.[1] At first these tanks were small and gravity fed, but, in the late 19th and the early years of the 20th century, large underground tanks were added to many homes with wind pumps to circulate the water.[2]

Tanks of any kind were gradually replaced by the increasing use of piped water supplies. This began with town water based on electricity driven pumping stations that raised the water into large tanks that then provided the water under pressure. This was achieved at Dungog in 1910 with the building of a weir on the Williams River to enable a pumping station to operate; incidentally creating a long-time popular swimming spot. The provision of town water at Clarence Town came in 1960, and at Paterson, Vacy and Martin’s Creek only in 1980, when a link with the pipeline from the Chichester Dam and the erection of water tanks for each settlement was completed.[3]

Piped water in the smaller settlements and to individual homes, came only gradually as the larger dams at Chichester and Lostock were built, and water supply became the responsibility of bodies with wider and wider jurisdictions, as when Hunter Water took over from Dungog Shire.

In the 1980s, the needs of water for agricultural and domestic uses clashed when the upper Paterson users of water in the Lostock Dam came into conflict with those of the Lower Paterson River where salinity had been creeping further up the river due to drought. The conflict arose over the need to release water from the dam in order to increase river flows. The desire of farmers to maintain this water for agricultural purposes also led to the abandonment, in the 1990s, of a plan to send this water downstream and then pump it to Gostwyck to there join the existing water supply system.[4]

In recent times, as water shortages and environmental concerns about the building of dams and other high impact projects grew, the use of household tanks to supply water needs began to grow once again, including government incentives to install tanks.

While the change in power supply from water to steam had little impact on those using the flour mills, the change from steam to electricity had a much greater effect. At first electricity, like steam power, came from individual generators and so only those businesses or individuals connected were affected. In 1912, for example the newly formed Dungog Electric Lighting Company used its access to this power to establish the first permanent cinema in Dungog and also began providing ice for sale.

It was in the provision of lighting, and, at first, street lighting, that electricity made its first impact with even groups of residents choosing to make use of this new service. In 1919, for example, it was reported that the ‘residents living in the vicinity of Myles & Dowling Street have decided to erect at their own expense a [electric] street light – this will be the second street light in town…’.[5] Dungog Municipal Council began to introduce street lighting on a more systematic basis in the 1920s, while electricity came to Clarence Town, Paterson, and Gresford only in the 1930s and 1940s, and then to remoter areas only gradually in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1930, the citizens of Paterson met at the School of Arts to accept the extension of electricity from Maitland and the installation of eight street lights. Seven years later this was extended up the river to Vacy and Gresford, with a government subsidy keeping the rates comparable to that at Paterson. Summer Hill, Lostock and Eccleston all then requested that electricity be extended to their areas. Though at the same time not all were immediately convinced of the need for this innovation.[6]

The provision of lighting and the supply of electricity was taken over at the municipal council level and then, as with water, was gradually provided by units of larger and larger scope as demand vastly increased along with the growth in electrically driven devices.

Electricity like water has had its impact by being provided on a communal level direct to individual homes. Just as piped water replaced tank water, so too did this electric lighting replace a form of household lighting based on acetylene, referred to as air gas plants.[7]

Like water and power, sewerage and waste removal were also provided on a household level. It was as the towns grew in size that this method first became untenable due to the spread of disease and Dungog suffered many deaths due to cholera, diphtheria and other causes. This was dealt with at first by regulation and the provision of night carts to remove waste in the towns. Only in the 1930s was it proposed that a fully connected sewerage system be installed; a suggestion that caused much political controversy before being implemented by Dungog Municipality. Clarence Town has been provided with a town sewerage system only in recent times, while outside the towns sewerage continues to be a matter of septic tanks – though of an increasingly regulated and monitored kind.

Despite the threat of bushfires, it was only in the 1950s that Bushfire brigades began to be organised, based on volunteers and community fundraising. One of the first was the Paterson-Vacy Brigade, with a separate Vacy Bushfire Brigade set up in the early 1970s. This became the Vacy Rural Fire Service and the aims of the organisation expanded beyond bushfire fighting.[8] At Gresford, the Bush Fire Brigade was under the local police officer, with little community support until the shock of a threat from a major bushfire in 1958 inspired greater input that included the donation of a shed and the acquisition of a fire tender – an ex-army Blitze truck. Fundraising efforts kept this volunteer force effective and it was put to good use in the 1990s against a number of threatening fires.[9]

Rural Fire Services exist at Paterson, Martin’s Creek, Hilldale, Vacy, Gresford and Lostock. Volunteer based, the extension of central control and regulation has greatly affected how these services operate.

Heritage Survivals

  • Sites of flour mills – water and steam

  • Underground tanks

  • Air gas plant connections

  • Steam power remains

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1.  Dungog Chronicle, 9/3/1926.
  2. Examples include Rocky Hill at Fosterton and the Commercial Bank residence in Dungog, see Dungog Chronicle, 8/1/1915 & Williams, Ah, Dungog, p.16.
  3. Clements, Vacy … One Hundred & Eighty Years of History, p.143.
  4. Archer, Social and environmental change as determinants of ecosystem health, pp.160-162.
  5.  Dungog Chronicle, 20/6/1919.
  6. McCormack, Show and tell, p.14 & Clements, Vacy … One Hundred & Eighty Years of History, pp.141-142.
  7. Rocky Hill had this too, as did the new Rectory in 1916, see Dungog Chronicle, 8/1/1915 & 2/2/1912.
  8. Clements, Vacy … One Hundred & Eighty Years of History, pp.145-149.
  9. Collison & Handcock, Gresford 170 years, pp.57-58.