Marked Change From ‘Smellbourne’ to Melbourne

The vital Melbourne sewerage system, which was key to the city overcoming its unsanitary reputation, will be awarded an Engineering Heritage National Marker at a ceremony this Thursday.

“What is today one of the most liveable cities in the world, was known in the 1800s as ‘Marvellous Smellbourne’ due to the raw sewerage lying in drains and cesspits around the city, posing a significant threat to public health,” says Mr Owen Peake, Chair of Engineers Australia’s Victorian Heritage Committee.

“Engineer-in-chief William Thwaites set to replace the night cart, developing an extensive sewerage system in metropolitan Melbourne which his team built in a single mammoth effort. The system began operation in 1897; only five years after initial plans were produced.

“The system’s £3.5m price tag represented the largest single infrastructure project in Victoria at the time. The cost of the project today would be well into the billions, but the value of the system is immeasurable both for the comfort and health of the city’s inhabitants and for the local economy.

“The system consisted of 3840km of underground sewers, a large steam powered pumping station, a 25.6km gravitational main outfall sewer and the Werribee Sewage Farm, today known as the Western Treatment Plant.

“The Western Treatment Plant remains one of the key facilities of the Melbourne sewerage system treating 50 per cent of the city’s sewage 117 years after the initial scheme was started.

“Melbourne’s sewerage scheme was one of Victoria’s most important engineering achievements of the century from all points-of-view, and shows a high level of surveying skill and accuracy.

“A sewerage system is not something we tend to give much thought to until it stops working, but it is a truly essential service. It’s impressive that over 100 years after this system was built it is still servicing our city,” said Mr Peake.


Melbourne Sewerage System Engineering Heritage Recognition Ceremony

  • When: 10.30am, Thursday 11 September 2014
  • Where: Melbourne Water Discovery Centre, Geelong Road, Werribee, Victoria




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