Yarrowee Creek

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'Sketch of the Ballarat Goldfield, 1851, University of Ballarat Historical Collection.

The Yarrowee River and Channel, Photograph, Dorothy Wickham

The Yarrowee Creek runs was the physical barrier that divided Ballarat West and Ballarat East.

Yarrowee Channel

The Yarrowee Channel is of high scientific significance due to the structure and condition of the extensive site. The Creek and River Channels Precinct is characterised by an important and extensive network of timber, bluestone, brick, and concrete lined channels, along with associated bluestone and brick culverts, associated bridges with wrought iron or steel lattice girder balustrades and bluestone abutments, wing walls, piers and parapets, associated early concrete or steel lattice girder footbridges, and the notable brick ventilation shaft at the intersection of Creswick Road and Doveton Street North. The built form of the channels and associated structures today is the result of extensive engineering works undertaken throughout the mid to late 1800s and into the 1900s, which resulted in the permanent lining of the Yarrowee and its main tributaries (the Canadian Creek, Gnarr Creek, Redan Creek, Specimen Vale Creek and the waterway along Warrenheip Gully) within the Ballarat city area. [1]

Humffray Street Precinct The environmental impact of the mining in this area had major repercussions with sludge, debris that contaminated dams and polluted water, causing havoc with flash flooding down stream. Water Boards were set up early in 1860s to provide safe and secure water supplies, and to reduce the high rates of diseases. Major engineering infrastructure projects were undertaken to control water courses. It included the construction of a vast network of bluestone and brick channels, storm water drains as well as bluestone, kerbs and deep gutters that are a vital part of Ballarat's heritage. The northern section of the Precinct (in the general area now bounded by Princes, Morres and Newman Streets) is historical important as an example of environmentally degraded mining wasteland land that was only reclaimed recently for the construction of Housing Commission houses in the 1950s, while other areas along the Yarrowee River channel remain vacant. The Precinct is also of historical significance for its association with early recreational activities held in Ballarat, particularly at Eastern Oval which became the home of the Ballarat Cricket Club in the mid-1850s, and the headquarters of the Ballarat Bowling Club in the mid-1860s. The Yarrowee Creek that runs around the oval is an important example of early timber lined canalization project in 1860s which was later upgraded with bluestone in 1880s.[2]


David Tulloch, Golden Point, Ballarat, 1851, State Library of Victoria

The first licence to formally prospect for gold at Golden Point (as the spur and flats alongside the Yarrowee where gold was first discovered became known) was issued on 20 September 1850. W.B. Withers, who arrived in the area in November 1852, wrote:

By the time the first week was over there had gathered near 100 diggers at the Point, the riches unearthed there quickly attracting not only all the other prospectors, but setting the colony on fire with excitement from end to end. The quiet Ballarat sheep run, with its grassy slopes and shadowy glades, and its green valley where the Yarrowee poured its limpid waters, became suddenly transformed by the wand of an enchanter. . . . The axe of the digger quickly made inroads upon the forest all round; the green banks of the Yarrowee were lined with tubs and cradles, its clear waters were changed to liquid, yellow as the yellowest Tiber flood, and its banks grew to be long shoals of tailings.[3]

The Yarrowee River and the other creeks that ran into it were of vital importance to the early European settlement of Ballarat. Not only did they provide drinking and cooking water for the thousands who rushed the new goldfield, but they were also essential to the process of gold mining. By day the banks were crowded with men operating cradles, pans, dishes and barrels to wash the dirt brought from their claims in their search for gold. In a matter of months, the pristine water was cloudy and muddied and the banks eroded. Contemporary drawings of Golden Point show intense human activity around the time of the Victorian gold rushes of 1851, with lines of men working shoulder to shoulder, washing their dirt for gold, along the course of the creek.[4]


The Creek and River Channels Precinct is characterised by an important and extensive network of timber, bluestone, brick, and concrete lined channels, along with associated bluestone and brick culverts, associated bridges with wrought iron or steel lattice girder balustrades and bluestone abutments, wing walls, piers and parapets, associated early concrete or steel lattice girder footbridges, and the notable brick ventilation shaft at the intersection of Creswick Road and Doveton Street North. The built form of the channels and associated structures today is the result of extensive engineering works undertaken throughout the mid to late 1800s and into the 1900s, which resulted in the permanent lining of the Yarrowee and its main tributaries (the Canadian Creek, Gnarr Creek, Redan Creek, Specimen Vale Creek and the waterway along Warrenheip Gully) within the Ballarat city area.

The first gold discoveries in the area centred on the Yarrowee and its tributaries. Initially, the formation of timber lined channels was needed to repair the considerable damage done in the early years to the natural drainage lines of the waterways, and also facilitate a flow of water to the gold diggings (and remove the build-up of sludge), as well as to try and decrease the impact of floods to the buildings erected along these watercourses as parts of Ballarat became more than a tent city. The channels were also increasingly used to dispose of stormwater and, for many years, of unsanitary and polluting effluent. Although some channels were lined quite early with bluestone, it was generally not until the still widespread gold mining activities began to wane in the early 20th century, and Ballarat began its process of transformation into a 'modern' city, that the sections of channels that were not yet lined, or only timber lined, were formed with permanent materials such as bluestone, brick and concrete. The channels were also further extended as the city's population grew, and people began to settle permanently in former mining areas.

The precinct boundaries of the Creek and River Channels Precinct comprise the reserve of the Canadian Creek Channel from the south side of the Lal Lal Street Bridge to its junction with the Yarrowee Channel; the reserve of the Gnarr Creek Channel (and its tributary, the Bullock Gully Creek Channel) from their respective positions on the south side of Landsborough Street to the junction of the Gnarr Creek Channel with the Yarrowee Channel; the reserve of the Redan Creek Channel from the south side of Essex Street to the end of the formed channel east of Skipton Street; the reserve of the Warrenheip Gully Channel from its commencement as a formed structure between Rodier and Joseph Streets to its junction with the Canadian Creek Channel; the reserve of the Specimen Vale Creek Channel from the west side of Stawell Street to its junction with the Canadian Creek Channel; and the Yarrowee Channel from its commencement as a partially lined waterway east of Nicholson Street to its conclusion as a fully formed channel some distance to the south of Hill Street. The structures of all these channels are considered to be significant to the precinct, as are the early and associated structures and branch channels identified in the Description section.[5]

John Monash Connection

John Monash Tender for a Proposed Bridge, Grant Street over the channelised Yarrowee Creek

A large amount of information is held concerning the proposed bridge at Grant Street, Ballarat, over the channelised Yarrowee Creek. There is copious correspondence in the various newspapers and council reports. The City of Ballarat and the Township of Ballarat East were engaged in discussions to extend the channelisation of the Yarrowee Creek which included the replacement of the bridge carrying Grant Street over the channel. The cost of the proposed extensions was £25,000, an enormous sum at the turn of the century. Bluestone quarries were well established in the district, as were iron foundries and a brick industry, so that it was natural that the channel would have a bluestone floor and brick walls, and that the bridge would be complementary.

The Ballarat City surveyor at the time (around the 1900s) was Arthur Farrer (also spelt Farrar in the Municipal Directory of Victoria and the entry for Ballarat City's qualified engineers and surveyors). The Ballarat East Township engineer was W. Robertson. The first mention of the bridge is on 3 July 1899 when Farrer supplied a profile of the creek and rainfall data. He indicated that the arch must not restrict the waterway or raise the level of the water. An estimate was needed for the joint sitting of Councils.

Around August 1900 an article on the Monier construction and technique was published in the Ballarat Star. There was resistance from Ballarat East councillors and some engineers re the Monier construction. Bridges of this construction, King's Bridge in Bendigo, had collapsed killing a man, and Wheeler's Bridge (over Birch's Creek) in Creswick had given trouble soon after completion.

Engineer Farrer sent plans to the Public Works Department according to a newspaper cutting 13 December 1900. "As soon as you can give Robertson particulars of Monier walls he will embrace it and then you must get Catani to ask for any plans prepared by the Ballarat East Council. I will see Shoppee (soon as you can give details of cost etc) so that he may bring the matter up in City Council." ...'s coming up on Tuesday is a good idea and should complete and clinch the matter for he can see both Robertson and Farrer. "P.S. I will be in my office on Tuesday and wait for you."

There was still a great deal of concern with the construction methods to be used. On 13 December 1900 Robertson discussed using Monier plates to line the Yarrowee Channel. He questioned the expansion of the channel walls and their curvature. Six days later John Monash received the following correspondence.

"I found that the Ballarat East people are more or less repentant at having given away their right of sharing in the engineering [of] the Yarrowee improvements and Robertson said that the only reason they did so was that they could not refute his hydraulic calculations. I am working to get them to withdraw their consent. It is not an easy task, but Gummow has promised to work the papers, and in this morning's Star he promised to have an article censuring them for undue haste. Davidson has I believe promised to visit the ground, and the probability is that Farrer's scheme will be revised - then comes in the chance of the Ballarat East getting the opportunity to reconsider and withdraw from their position. Meanwhile they have a special meeting to day (since any later would mean a month's delay) - and at the request of Mr Robertson I promised Mr Fraser the town clerk to be present …. from what Taylor assures me, and Gummow's private information I have reluctantly concluded that Farrer's extreme cordiality towards me, is only because after the help I gave him in the past, he cannot decently tell me what he thinks and says about Monier, and yesterday, I called on him and missed seeing him, and he came up out of breath to overtake me at the Station. I told him of my proposal to use Monier training walls and he said that he had got his design approved by the Department - when I told him that Catani said he objected to his Hill Street Bridge crossing - he showed ignorance and I said that his council would not approve of any alteration at that Bridge."

On 20 December 1900 "At Ballarat yesterday I succeeded in getting the Ballarat East Works Committee to pass a resolution recommending the proposal that Monier alternative tenders be called for the Channel Walls. I have all that committee as enthusiastic advocates. But I can see clearly that Farrer has more influence with some of Robertson's Councillors than Robertson has, and consequently that the real trouble will be to get the Ballarat City Council. In [spite of?] this however Gummow professes 'confidence' and promises the most efficient assistance. He got a letter into the Ballarat Star which I doubt not helped us yesterday."

The Ballarat Courier dated 19 March 1901 reported:

"Much discussion has taken place between the City and Town councils, their engineers and the officers of the Public Works Department from time to time in reference to the improvements to be carried out at the Yarrowee Channel ... The distance from the terminal point of the present stonework in Grenville street to the Woollen Factory is 82 chains. (The reference was probably to a chain of 66 feet, i.e. 20.1m.) The work proposed to be done by the councils is to construct the bed with stone-work and the sides with brick, with stone coping similar to the formation south of Bridge street. Inspector-general Davidson, of the Public Works Department, who visited the creek two years ago, urged the doing of the work in concrete - rough concrete rubble for the bed of the creek and concrete walls for the sides. He considered solid bluestone work too expensive, and strongly favored concrete. Subsequently the Monier system - steel plates and rods interlaced with concrete - was brought under the councils' attention. This system is now being largely used for bridge-constructing and for culverts and drains, and is approved by the Public Works and other Government departments. It was considered that if the bottom of the creek was constructed of stonework and the sides of Monier work a good job would have been done, and at a very large reduction in the cost - about £6000. The Public Works Department signified its approval of the Monier walls, but the councils would not entertain the new concrete system."[6]

Articles in the Ballarat Courier and Ballarat Star reported the Yarrowee Creek Improvements and The Grant Street Bridge Project in February 1901.[7] On 28 March 1902 the Ballarat Star reported that the Yarrowee Works Committee was to close the old bridge at Grant Street.[8]

Alternative tenders for the Yarrowee Channel were called for by the councillors in February 1902. When flood waters undermined the arches of the Wade Street bridge in Bendigo it was another strike against the Monier construction. John Monash asked for clarification, but in the meantime went ahead with a design for the bridge. Monash visited Ballarat and met with Farrer to discuss details of his drawings. In June 1902 Monash sent drawings to B.H. Gummow and engineer Robertson, showing the design for a bridge with a span of 50 feet (15.3m) and a rise of 6 feet.

By May 1902 the Grant Street proposal was almost ready. Monash wished to travel to Ballarat to discuss matters.On 5 May 1902 he spent the evening with Farrer till 1 a.m. and furnished calculations of foundation stresses.

Over a century ago, in 1902, architects and engineers were discussing the cost of the labour associated with using bluestone and intimating even then it was workmanship of previous times. "It is a long time since I used day labour for bluestone and I am not in touch with present proper rates. What are the unit costs of good quality work?" James Blair, architect and building surveyor, "Re prices - like yourself I feel a little rusty, not being in direct touch with the masonry of yore".

By November 1902 the Age suggested that the Councillors had decided on an iron girder bridge. There was a rumour that the walls of the Yarrowee Channel were being raised as if for a girder bridge at Grant Street. The Grant Street question was soon to be settled and the contract signed. Alternative tenders were called for. At a joint meeting of Councillers on 17 December 1902 it was resolved to invite alternative tenders. Mr Farrer stated the foundations were treacherous and he would not recommend a Monier construction. It would be as well for you to consider this when tendering and guarantee the structure for a certain length of time.[9]

The final payment in connection with, the Yarrowee Channel improvement works was made yesterday, and all that now remains is for the two councils to keep the fairway clear from silt. It was in 1900 that the agitation which had long been on foot for the proper building of this channel, with the object of doing away with the unsightly and insanitary stream, that formerly meandered through the sludge, culminated in a definite proposal to make the channel, and the engineers of the Town and City were called upon to submit plans to a joint council meeting. This was done on the 3rd January, 1900, the Town surveyor (Mr Robertson's) estimate being £34,000, exclusive of the cost of supervision, etc., while Mr Farrer (City surveyor) gave as his estimate £32,000, and included the cost of supervision, while giving a channel of greater width than that of his colleague. Mr Farrer’s estimate and plans were adopted as being the more efficient, though this, of course, did not cast any reflection upon the surveyor of the Town. The plans were subsequently approved by the Public Works Department, to whom they were submitted, as the necessary adjunct to securing the handsome financial assistance which was forthcoming from the Government. Tenders were returned on 15th April, 1901. those accepted being that of Mr A. G. Shaw(of Melbourne) for No. 1 section (the lower portion), at £11,981, with a schedule of contingencies, and that of Messrs Smyth and Rutherford for the No. 2, or upper section, at £15,282 7s, also with a like schedule. The contracts were signed on the 13th May, and the contractors set to work at once. No. 1 (Mr Shaw’s contract) was settled up on 11th November, 1902, though the work was practically complete three months prior to that date. The amount paid was £12,421 Is 7d, to which was added £lO2 1s 3d for extras, bringing the total to £12,523 12s lOd. The contractor's claim was £13,750 7s lOd. No. 2 section was settled on 13th February, 1903, though practically completed two mouths prior to that date. The total amount paid was £17,234 18s 3d, which included £5O 6s 4d for extras. The full claim was' £18,194 5s 7d. The total amount paid to the contractors of both sections was £29,808 17s, while £4O for gas pipe connections and the expense of direct supervision brought the grand total cost of the works to £30,475 7s, or about £1525 less than Mr Farrer’s estimated; The result cannot be considered otherwise than satisfactory, and when the difficulties of the work are considered, the councils are to be congratulated on the manner in which it has been earned out. Primarily, of course, Mr Farrer can claim the honour of having executed the task entrusted to him with marked ability. It may be pointed out that the whole length of the channel was found to be riddled with old alluvial workings. Shafts, drives, sludge dams, "paddocks" and gullies abounded, and hardly a foot of the solid channel bed was put in without sites of old workings having to be filled. In some instances the shafts were' very deep, while in others "paddocks” were excavated which absorbed hundreds of loads of material before the bed of the channel could be laid. In other places large deposits of gravel were met with, and the yielding material had to be excavated. Particularly at the junction of the. Yarrowee and Caledonian Creeks was this the case, and the gravel and sand proved so difficult, to handle that three shifts of men had to be put on, working continuously, to prevent the ground being filled as rapidly as it was cleared. In one case 14 feet deep of drift sand was struck; in another the contractor had to sink 11 feet before getting a bed for the foundations, and in sinking for the but tresses of the new bridge over Grant street a deep shaft was. struck, right in the centre. This had to be filled for part of its depth, and then securely bridged over to carry, the heavy stone work. It is safe to assert that few contracts of the kind, have been executed under such exceptional circumstances, and the skill and care shown in the drawing up of the working plans evidence how thoroughly Mr Farrer had gone into his work before placing it in the hands of the contractors.[10]

The plans for the new bridge were to be on view around 20 May 1903 when the Works Committee met. The Ballarat Star wrote an article on "modern Bridge Construction"[11] John Monash prepared, completed and lodged the tender for the bridge at Grant Street. He learnt on 10 June 1903 that he had failed to win the tender. Subsequently a letter was published in the Ballarat Courier re The Grant St Bridge. B.H. Gummow commented that "There has been a good deal of comment regarding the letting of tenders for the Grant St Bridge on the top of the letter I put in the Star and Courier at your request. I sent you the 'Papers' which I trust you got".

The Early Yarrowee Channel

Ballarat historian Bert Strange notes that:

The construction of main channels for the Yarrowee Creek and its tributaries was the greatest need in Ballarat in the early days of local government. The original course of the natural drainage system had long been obliterated by millions of tons of mining debris, and heavy rains . . . caused much flooding with the resultant costly damage. The level of Main road afterwards was often feet higher. . . . Below the Grant Street Bridge the creek spread over acres of ground which became an odorous cesspool in summer and a constant menace to public health. Similar conditions prevailed in many parts of Ballarat East.[12]

Reportedly the first major engineering works involving the Yarrowee River and the Caledonian Channel (as the present Canadian Channel was then called) occurred in 1861 when the two Municipalities formed them as 'sludge channels'.[13]

Soon after the first discoveries of gold in 1851, the natural course of the Yarrowee was altered for the first time to facilitate gold mining. Weston Bate notes that:

The demand for water was so great, that a channel was cut to bring the Yarrowee to deep pools on the flat. When mapped at the end of the year they measured several hundred yards across, and although a map could not convey the drama of what had happened to that once-beautiful terrain, a journalist could. In the Melbourne Daily News of 25 October [1851] Gibbons described Golden Point as a citadel thrown to the ground.[14]

The Government Surveyor, W.S. Urquart, was instructed in early December 1851 to lay out a township in the vicinity of these goldfields. Before deciding on its location, he first surveyed the general features of the land for a few miles around Golden Point, and proceeded to set out the nucleus of a township with a strictly gridded layout on the grassy plateau that rose above the diggings. He named the Yarrowee, although he did incorporate more than a mile of river frontage as the town's eastern boundary.[15]

Ballarat Township was proclaimed in mid-1852 but according to Withers, it was in December 1852 that the first attempt was made at a water supply. He noted that the Government Camp authorities at the time employed men to build a small dam across the Gnarr Creek at the spot where the creek ran on the northern side of Mair Street, close under what became the railway terminus hill. The little dam intercepted the overflow from Yuille's Swamp (Lake Wendouree) and the water that the Gnarr Creek brought from Soldiers' Hill and the ranges beyond, and 'served mainly for the Camp use.'[16]

Elsewhere, however, it seems that the diggers constantly polluted, as well as drank and bathed in, the waters of the Yarrowee and its tributaries.[17]

The municipality of West Ballarat, on the west side of the Yarrowee and incorporating the government-surveyed township, was proclaimed in 1855. It was first known as the Borough of Ballaarat, then a Township and became a City in 1870. The municipality of East Ballarat, on the east side of the Yarrowee with its higgelty-piggelty arrangement of streets and pathways, was proclaimed later in the 1850s and became known as the Township of Ballaarat East.[18]

Statements of Significance



The Humffray Street Precinct is historically significant at a LOCAL level (AHC criterion A and H.1). (a) the place's importance in the course, or pattern, of Australia's natural or cultural history; (a3) importance in exhibiting unusual richness or diversity of built landscapes and cultural features; (a4) & (h1) importance for association with events, developments, cultural phases and individuals which have had a significant role in the human occupation and evolution of the region. The Precinct is associated with the early track, Humffray Street, the main access route that followed the Yarrowee River to the major alluvial gold finds near Black Hill and the northern-eastern section of Eureka Lead at Brown Hill, later known as Little Bendigo.[19]

The Humffray Street/Ballarat East Precinct is scientifically significant at a LOCAL level (AHC criterion C.2 and F). (c) its potential to yield information that will contribute to an understanding of Australia's natural or cultural history; (f) importance for its technical, creative, design or artistic excellence, innovation or achievement. The Precinct is of importance for contributing to our knowledge of the infrastructure development of East Ballarat associated with efforts to minimize the environmental degradation caused by mining operations. This is evidenced by intact stretches of bluestone and brick spoon drains, kerbing and channel gutters, and stormwater drainage channel with its unusual cast-iron pipe culvert. Furthermore the precinct contains highly significant specimens of Tasmanian Blue Gum (Eucalyptus globulus subsp. globulus) and Corsican Pine (Pinus nigra var. corsicana). There is also a notable specimen of a Dutch Elm (Ulmus x hollandica) that is also on the Significant Tree Register. The Humffray Street/Ballarat East Precinct is socially significant at a LOCAL level (AHC criterion G.1). (g) the place's strong or special association with a particular community or cultural group for social, cultural or spiritual reasons. The Precinct is recognized and highly valued by the local community for residential, religious, and recreational reasons.

Ballarat Railway to Alfred Hall

A deputation from the Ballarat city and town councils yesterday asked the Minister of Public Works for a grant to enable them to line the Yarrowee channel, between the railway and the Alfred-hall, with brick, or stone.
Mr. YOUNG said he would make a personal inspection before giving his decision.[20]

Bridge Street

The Engineer laid on the table the plans for im proving the sludge channel near the Earl of Zetland Hotel. The tenders were then opened for the neces sary works, when it was resolved, on the motion of Cr Dyte "That a copy of the plans and specifica tions be forwarded to thc Board of Land and Works, and that a man named C. Tippett was willing to complete the work for £56 17s 6d"
Cr Rowe seconded the motion, which was agreed to.[21]

Gnarr Creek Channel

No. 37. To assist the Ballarat City Council to complete works in connection with the Gnarr Creek Channel, conditionally that the Council expend a like amount ...
38. To assist the Ballarat City and Town Councils in constructing the Yarrowee Channel from Railway embankment to north side of New Bridge, being two-thirds cost - £750.0.0
39. To assist the Ballarat East Council in repairing, widening, and improving Nos. 3 and 4 Channels, damaged by floods, Council to expend also a like amount [22]

Wills Street to Cart Street

The deputation brought under notice the condition of the Yarrowee Channel, between Wills and Cart's streets, which had been done with wood, and was now in a very bad state of repair. “The work would cost £1000, but when completed would be permanent and not require constant repairs, as had been the case with wood. The deputation pointed out that a mistake had been made in connection with the vote for a completed portion of the channel, which had been scheduled railway to Mair street, while it was situated between Mair and Curtis street. Colonel Smith suggested that £1000 might be put on the next estimates, and the same amount in the following year.[23]

Grant Street

A meeting of the two councils was held in the Eastern Town-hall on Thursday night, for the purpose of considering several matters affecting the city and borough. Present —The Mayor of Ballarat, and Crs Fry, Lems, Smith, Cane, Williams, Claxton, M'Dbwall, and Cowan; the Mayor of Ballarat East, and Crs James, Rodier, Baird, Fussell, Scott, Josephs, and Curtis. Messrs Baird and Young, the engineers, were also present. The first matter that came under discussion was the drainage of Sturt street through Grenville street to the Yarrowee Channel. After a good deal of discussion it was moved by Cr Lewis—“ That the drainage be taken in a covered drain to the east side of Grenville street, and thence by an open channel past the baths near the gas-works into the Yarrowee Creek.” This was opposed by Cr M'Dowall, who contended that little good would be done, and stated that Bridge Street should be relieved of flood water by the water being brought into Grenville street at a point above the Alfred Hall, and then'carried by a proper drain into the Yarrowee near the gas-works. In the meantime Cr M’Dowall moved as an amendment that the matter should be referred to a joint meeting of the works committees, with power to carry out the work. It was decided that the matter should be considered with the letter of the Engineer-in-Chief with reference to the deepening of the channel The next matter on the business-paper was the question of the removal of the Armstrong street bridge and its re-erection in Hill street. On the motion of Cr Scott, seconded by Cr M'Dowall, it was decided that plans and specifications should Be prepared for the removal of the Armstrong street bridge to Hill Street, and also for . the Nolan street bridge, the plans to be sent to the Government as soon as possible. The next business was the consideration of the letter from the Engineer-in-Chief, asking the intention of the councils with reference to the deepening of the Yarrowee channel. The mayor read the letter, which stated that the plans for the deepening of the railway culvert had been prepared, and tenders called for a quantity of the bricks required. As it would be useless to deepen the culvert unless the two councils intended to go on with the deepening of the Yarrowee channel, the Engineer-in-Chief wished to know the councils’ intentions on the subject. Cr M'Dowall moved—“ That the two councils should agree to the deepening of the channel from the north side of the Alfred Hall to the culvert.” Cr Rodier seconded the motion. Cr Cowan moved as an amendment—“ That the work agreed upon at the meeting of the two councils some months ago should be carried out in accordance with Mr Bagge’s report; and that the members of Parliament for the district' should be asked to urge upon the Government the necessity of providing the money for the work.” Cr Baird seconded the motion, which was supported by Cr Scott and the mayor of Ballarat East. Cr Smith did not see how the City Council could go into the outlay, in the face of a resolution lately passed,- to the effect that no expenditure of over £5OO should be entered upon. He thought the carrying off of the flood-water should be made at a future time part of a grand scheme of drainage and sewerage for the city and borough. Cr Lewis thought the proposition made shortly after the last flood an equitable one, so far as the expenditure by the city and borough was concerned, but thought that the channel could be deepened upwards from the White Flat bridge at a much cheaper rate than proposed. Cr Claxton moved—“That the engineers should prepare plans and specifications for deepening the channel from the south side of the embankment to the Grant street bridge in as cheap a manner as possible, with and without the bottom, being planked. Cr Smith seconded the motion. Cr James suggested that the members for the district should wait on the Government, and “present a figurative wall of brass,” in order to see whether Government assistance would be given in the matter or not. Cr Cowan’s amendment was carried contingent upon the Government providing the money for the work, and Cr Claxton’s resolution was also carried. The question of the Grenville street drain was then discussed and ultimately postponed.[24]

A Contractor's Luck.
In making excavations for the foundations of a new bridge over the Yarrowee Creek, in Grant-street, Ballarat East (Vic), the contractors have met with a number of nice slugs of alluvial gold, which had escaped the early diggers, or had been washed by the current from some of the old diggings along the course of the creek. On Friday week gold valued at £30 was obtained, and subsequently other finds were each valued at £10. The contractors, Messrss Smythe and Rutherford, of Melbourne, are now "treating" the whole of the earth taken out of the excavations, and the operations remind pioneers of the "good old days" when thousands of diggers assembled daily along the course of the stream.[25]

White Flat to Sunnyside Mill

This section of the channel is bluestone, with concrete edges.

In 1862 the channel was made to prevent earlier disastrous floods at White Flat. The channel was for the purpose of carrying off the rain-fall and storm-water of a large tract of country north of Ballarat, which water flows from north to south, crossing the Main road by channels at the following places, viz : - Yarrowee Creek, Bakery Hill, Specimen Gully, Pennyweight Gully, and Caledonian Creek, which creeks join at a point in the White Flat.[26]

... When the Main road frontages were gold, the Government reserved certain openings between the allotments, and cut trenches about two feet in depth to carry off the alarm water, which answered the purpose at that time, as there was nothing to obstruct its course along the 'White Flat into the Yarrowee; but when mining operations were being earned on over all the ground known as the White Flat and the bed of the Yarrowee Creek dug up, and the stream turned in all directions, to suit the convenience of miners, the storm water was dammed back and flooded all the low ground and that portion of the road previously named. When the Municipal Council was established it urged upon the Government the necessity for providing an outlet for the surface drainage, and in 1858 a sum of £9000 was put upon the Estimates for that object. As the old course of the Yarrowee at the boundary of the municipality had been destroyed, it was deemed advisable to cut a channel, known as the Yarrowee cutting, so as to carry off the water from that end of the road, and another channel, commencing at the bridge now known as the Caledonian Bridge, named the Golden Point; these two channels to join in the White Flat, and be continued beyond the present bridge at Grant street. A contract was accepted for the work, but the carrying it out interfered so much with certain mining clams, that the Government was induced to suspend operations, which it did for more than a year, ...[27]

Sunnyside Mill to Natural Creek

This section of the channel is bluestone, with concrete edges.

The Stonemasons and Contractors

A. G. Shaw

Smyth and Rutherford of Melbourne

C. Tippett

Mason's Marks

Mason's marks, Yarrowee Channel, Ballarat, Photograph Dorothy Wickham

The Mysterious Mason's Marks by Dr Dorothy Wickham

The Yarrowee Channel in Ballarat Victoria Australia contains many different marks in the bluestone work. I first walked along this channel in the 1950s when I was just a kid, and we “dared” each other to go through and under the dark and cobwebby tunnels, channels, and bridges. At that time I failed to notice the mason's marks. Admittedly they are difficult to find unless you are looking for them.[28]


Later, in 2010, when I was researching the Freemasons on the Goldfields, John Blythman introduced me to these fascinating mason’s marks. Dr David Waldron, with bluestone expert Dr Susan Walter, and myself, in conjunction with the St George’s Mark Freemason’s Lodge, researched the marks made in the bluestone of the Yarrowee Channel for any clues as to why they were there, and in fact why they existed. We examined some of the marks found in this nineteenth century Ballarat structure, asking questions about their provenance and construction. We were in touch with other overseas experts who were interested in 'our' marks. The 60 different mason’s marks at the Yarrowee are similar to some of those marks on buildings in Britain and Scotland. The ones in England however, had been made some centuries earlier, in a different time and place. I can think of no other place in Australia where there is such a proliferation of such marks on bluestone. These may be unique to the southern hemisphere, and may be of national significance.[29] [30]


The Yarrowee channel, part of a storm water system that runs through Ballarat, Victoria, Australia was transformed by the two municipalities of Ballarat East and West into the present waterway, part of a network of channels and associated structures. The storm water channelling system was a direct result of gold mining activities that formed the basis for the establishment and development of Ballarat from the early 1850s.1

The bluestone lining the south wall of the channel was installed around the 1890s and it is this that is of interest for its many masons’ marks, carved into the hard bluestone of its walls. There are around 60 different masons’ marks in all. While some excellent heritage studies on this industrial site have been undertaken they have failed to mention these marks. This is understandable because they are difficult to see, and the studies are more general in their scope. Added to this is the difficulty in documenting all the marks, although initially John Blythman plotted them, and provided an excellent start for any research in the area.

Dorothy Wickham and David Waldron in their article Mystery, Marks and Masons in a new publication Pay Dirt! Ballarat & Other Gold Towns have compared these marks to those at some overseas sites. It appears from their research that there are some similarities in marks at Durham and Carlisle Cathedrals in England, Grey Friars Church Edinburgh, Scotland, and other notable buildings in the United Kingdom. Much more detail and the marks can be found within their chapter in this new publication.

This brings us to question who put the marks on the bluestones in the Yarrowee? What is their purpose? In Australia the study of such masons’ marks is an emerging field of academic historical research that potentially offers new information in the general area of colonial history including, but not limited to, the transmission of construction techniques, folklore, and the early origins of the masonic movement in Victoria.

Susan Walter in completing some excellent research on stonemasons and quarrying in Victoria noted that the Victorian Heritage Database provides a report on the Yarrowee Creek channels. During a preliminary search of Government Gazettes she noted that the channel was cleared & formed in the 1860s by the Ballaarat East council, with assistance from the State Government, the stone lining of it appears to have commenced in 1882 with the State government providing £750 to the “Ballarat City & Town Councils” to assist them with the works, with additional payments in 1883, 1886, 1890, 1891, and 1893, some in 1895 to assist in damage done to it by a flood, and Ballaarat East Council advertising in 1894 they were going to borrow the sum of £3,000, part of which was to spend £350 for pitching Yarrowee Channel. In 1900 a Bill in Parliament to formalise the means by which funds loaned for the Channel works were to be paid back to the State was made, and the Scheme being extended in 1903.

There is much conjecture as to when the marks were cut into the stone. Were they made before or after the stones were used on the Yarrowee? It is possible that they belonged to an earlier building and were reused for this industrial purpose. Were they made by stonemasons to record piecework and so get paid according to the work they did? Were they architectural markings or quarry markings? Engineers still use markings today to distinguish where and how stones and other materials will be placed.

British researcher Jennifer Alexander comments in relation to the Norman use of marks that: ’There are two basic types of mark: assembly marks that enable builders to join sectional masonry without written instruction; and the banker marks that seem to indicate authorship’. Marks like these, especially the basic simple lined marks, have been used for centuries by stonemasons.

To what purpose the marks on the Yarrowee Channel belong remains a mystery. Why they are similar to those in great cathedrals many thousands of kilometres distant, and of a different time and place is unknown. Perhaps a future historian may unravel the mystery of the masons’ marks on a humble water channel passing through Ballarat, known as the Yarrowee Channel.



  1. http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/show_description/156831
  2. http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/local/result_detail/140652
  3. W.B. Withers, History of Ballarat and Some Ballarat Reminiscences, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999, pp.22-23.
  4. D. Tulloch reproduced in Weston Bate, Lucky City. The First Generation at Ballarat: 1851-1900, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1978, pp. 17-18.
  5. http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/places/show_description/156831
  6. Ballarat Courier, 19 March 1901.
  7. Ballarat Courier, 11 February 1902; Ballarat Star, 11 February 1902.
  8. Ballarat Star, 28 March 1903.
  9. The Courier, 18 December 1902.
  10. Ballarat Star, 19 February 1903.
  11. Ballarat Star, 9 June 1903.
  12. A.W.Strange, Ballarat: the Formative Years, 1982, p.39.
  13. Engineering Drawing 1861/009.01, 'Sludge Channels at Ballarat', dated September 1861; and Engineering Drawing 1862/003.
  14. Weston Bate, Lucky City. The First Generation at Ballarat: 1851-1900, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1978, pp17-18.
  15. Weston Bate, Lucky City. The First Generation at Ballarat: 1851-1900, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1978, p. 25.
  16. W. B. Withers, History of Ballarat and Some Ballarat Reminiscences, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999, pp.157 & 221
  17. Weston Bate, Lucky City. The First Generation at Ballarat: 1851-1900, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1978, p. 30.
  18. For a more detailed account of the two municipalities and their amalgamation in 1921 see Dorothy Wickham, Beyond the Wall: A Case Study of Moral Authority at Ballarat Female Refuge, MPhil, Australian Catholic University, 2003, Appendices.
  19. http://vhd.heritage.vic.gov.au/local/result_detail/140652
  20. The Argus, 11 Nov 1881.
  21. Ballarat Star, 24 December 1862.
    Ordered, by the Legislative Assembly to 6e printed, 8th December 1881.
    NORMANBY, Governor.
    Message No. 19.
    The Governor transmits to the Legislative Assembly Additional Estimates of Expenditure for 1881-2, and recommends an appropriation of the Consolidated Revenue accordingly.
    Government Offices, Melbourne, 8th December 1881.
  23. Ballarat Star, 23 January 1885.
  24. Ballarat Star, 21 Apr 1871.
  25. Byran Bay, Record, 22 November 1902.
  26. Ballarat Star, 23 February 1864
  27. Ballarat Star, 14 February 1863.
  28. https://dorothywickham.com.au/projects/masons/
  29. Wickham & Waldron, Mystery Marks and Masons on Comparisons of Masons Marks - Ballarat and Britain, in Pay Dirt: Ballarat and Other Gold Towns
  30. https://ballaratheritage.com.au/bookshop/pay-dirt-ballarat-gold-victoria-eureka/

This page has been compiled by Clare Gervasoni and Dr Dorothy Wickham from various sources, including:


Clare Gervasoni & Dorothy Wickham (eds.), Pay Dirt: Ballarat and Other Gold Towns, BHS Publishing, 2020. https://ballaratheritage.com.au/bookshop/pay-dirt-ballarat-gold-victoria-eureka/

A.W.Strange,Ballarat: the Formative Years, 1982

W.B. Withers, History of Ballarat, 1870 and 1887.

W.B. Withers, History of Ballarat & Some Ballarat Reminiscences, Ballarat Heritage Services, 1999.

Weston Bate, Lucky City. The First Generation at Ballarat: 1851-1900, Carlton: Melbourne University Press, 1978.


VPP 1881. VICTORIA. ADDITIONAL ESTIMATES OF EXPENDITURE FOR THE YEAR ENDING 30TH JUNE 1882. Ordered, by the Legislative Assembly to 6e printed, 8th December 1881. NORMANBY, Governor. .Message No. 19. The Governor transmits to the Legislative Assembly Additional Estimates of Expenditure for 1881-2, and recommends an appropriation of the Consolidated Revenue accordingly. Government Offices, Melbourne, 8th December 1881.

GP V 1881 No. B19 VPP, Additional [Treasury] estimates of expenditure for the year ending 30 Jun 1882, http://www.parliament.vic.gov.au/vufind/Search

VPP 27 Dec 1900 No. 1708, http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/hist_act/yclra1900319.pdf

VPP Index, 87/1885. Yarrowee Channel Bill, 11900-1 ; 1903 (2nd Sess.); " Stormwater Channels, &c." Water Supply. See "Water Supply"; also "Railways Standing Committee.";

GG 20 April 1883 No. 46, Construction Yarrowee channel, http://gazette.slv.vic.gov.au/images/1883/V/general/46.pdf

Jacobs, Lewis, Vines, Ballarat Conservation Study, Part 1, 1978 & Part 2, 1980.

Peter Lumley, John Dyke, Roger Spencer, Eve Almond, Ballarat Historic Landscapes, Trees and Gardens, Royal Botanic Gardens, Melbourne & Department of Crown Lands & Survey, 1983

Mayor's Annual Reports for the City of Ballaarat and the Town of Ballaarat East held in the Australian Collection, Central Highlands Library, Ballarat Branch.

Dorothy Wickham, Beyond the Wall: A Case Study of Moral Authority at Ballarat Female Refuge, MPhil, Australian Catholic University, 2003, Appendices.




John Monash, Unbuilt Monier Arch Projects, http://www.aholgate.com/unbltarchtexts/unbltarches2.html This mentions contractors, engineers etc. re the argument for the bridge and also mentions channeling.


Argus Friday 11 Nov 1881, p. 10, http://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/11523574 A deputation from the Ballarat city and Town Councils asked the Minister of Public Works for a grant to enable them to line the Yarrowee Channel between the railway and Alfred Hall, with brick or stone.

The Age 6 Dec 1900, https://news.google.com Parliament. Legislative Assembly. Commissioner of Public Works. Re payment of moneys borrowed for Yarrowee Channel

The Age 21 Dec 1900, https://news.google.com The Melbourne Visit – includes mover of Yarrowee Channel

The Age 19 Apr 1907, https://news.google.com Country News. Ballarat

--Clare K.Gervasoni 22:48, 4 September 2022 (AEST)

--Dr Dorothy Wickham 6:15, 6 September 2022 (AEST)