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The Mitchell River Weir, some history for you or your students, courtesy of Mark Francis:

River runners going down the Mitchell often stop for a swim or a jump at the ruined weir on the lower Mitchell river. Some know it's history, some maybe not so much. Turns out it's a good lesson in what not to do, despite the best of intentions for one's community.

The following synopsis was compiled by Mark Francis, and is published here with his permission. Also attached are his Word Document with photos included, as well as some related PDF files on the subject:

Important historical European figures in Gippsland and the Mitchel river

Angus McMillan was the first European to explore Gippsland. A pastoralist he managed a station for Captain Locklan Macalister on the Monaro. He came to Gippsland via a new cattle station near Omeo in 1840 assisted by Convicts and Aboriginals. After three attempts he identified a route from Omeo to Port Albert and established a number of cattle stations along the way to be managed by himself or Macalister. Later he led Government parties to establish tracks to the goldfields of Omeo, Dargo and Matlock. Along the way he discovered gold near Crooked River. He has been connected with multiple massacres of the Gunni/Kurni people.

Theo Webster, 'McMillan, Angus (1810–1865)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 4 June 2015.

Alfred William Howitt (1830-1908), Was a well educated natural scientist, bushman, explorer and anthropologist. He was a competent leader of men and is probably most famous for leading the relief party in search of Burke and Wills, finding only King alive.

Here in Gippsland Howitt lead a Govenment party that discovered gold at Crooked River, Dargo and in the Wentworth River. With some Aboriginal helpers he haphazardly explored the section of the Mitchell River in a bark canoe down to the Den of Nargon.

He later became a police magistrate in the Omeo Goldfields and rose in public office to chair a royal commission into Victorian Aboriginal conditions. He studied geology wrote a book about the Eucalypts of Gippsland and much on the kinship structures and society of the Aboriginal people and Gunai Kurnai people in particular. He acted as Guardian of Aboriginals in Gippsland for a time.

The Mitchell River is the last major free flowing river in Victoria. But not for want of trying. Two plans to regulate the river have been devised, this spectacular failure and another larger scheme proposed for Billy Goat Bend (1971) and Angusvale (1978) both deferred before work began in 1982 due to concerns about cost and environmental impact.

Interpretive Blurb

Only 50 years after the first European Angus McMillan's brutal expedition into Gippsland in 1839 and 14 years after Alfred Howitt first discovered the Den of Nargon in 1875, European agriculture was well established on the flat lands and foothills through Gippsland. 1889 was particularly dry year and crops failed in the district and an extremely ambitious plan was proposed to irrigate using water from here.

The plan was to raise the level of the river to channel water along the left (east bank before taking it across the river in a flume from where it could be channelled all the way to the Princes Highway and potentially as far as Bengworden 42 miles of channel away. Another Channel on the east side would extend for 47 miles traversing north of Bairnsdale and further east for irrigation.

The plan was approved, and work commenced in 1890 on the construction of the weir. Objections to the cost of rates and the unsuitability of much of the land for irrigation lead to a great deal of opposition to the plan and the Government ceased to advance any more funds the following year. The weir was completed in 1893 but flood damage requiring £5000 -£6000 of repairs was never made. The entire project was abandoned, and the weir has progressively deteriorated ever since.

Building the weir was more difficult than expected, foundations needed to be deeper than expected. It was damaged by floods in 1891 & 1892 contributed to rising costs and time blow outs. A construction worker also drowned crossing the river just above the rapid (surfs up) just downstream on his way to the worksite.

Why build a Weir? 1889 was a dry year, crops failed again. Lindenow farmers partitioned for a reliable water source.

Even before the works where fully under way the folly of the rushed scheme was revealed and the makings of financial disaster were becoming apparent. 1891


The difficulty which has arisen in connection with the operations of the Bairnsdale Irrigation and Water Supply Trust will shortly be brought under the notice of the Legislative Assembly. The irrigation works which the trust has been constituted to carry out have been designed to provide a supply of water for the high lying portions of land in the Bairnsdale district but recent inquiries have shown that this land is not suitable for irrigation, and the owners of it naturally object to being called upon to bear any portion of the cost of the works The Minister of Water Supply has therefore been asked to excise their holdings from the trust area, but he is unable to do this without the consent of the trust (the shire council), and the council object to any excision of the present area. The only way in which relief can beafforded to the residents of the high land is for a trust to be constituted apart from the council, and for that trust to apply for the excision. The Minister is of opinion that the success of irrigation operations in the Bairnsdale district is of such a problematical character that it is a pity that the present scheme should have been so hastily entered upon. It just affordsan example of the rash manner in which many schemes were adopted during the regime of Mr Deakin, the late Minister of Water Supply It is due to the chief engineer of the department (Mr Stuart Murray) to point out that he reported upon the Bairnsdale scheme with due caution This is apparent from what he had to say in reference to both the Lindenow irrigation and water supply scheme and the larger Bairnsdale scheme, In reference to the .Lindenow scheme, Mr Murray reported :-

" Having regard to the evident quality of the land on tho Lindenow Flats there seems good prima-facie reason to think that a carefully prepared scheme for their irrigation would prove a financial success. As to the plateau and terrace lands, a like result seems to be a fairly warrantable anticipation though by no means in the same decree as in regard to the flats. But the very small proportion of cultivated land in the uplands is somewhat discouraging.

The cost of preparing the lands to receive water will also prove a rather heavy handicap, both as to the flats and the plateau, and I think the petitioners should have directed their engineer to inquire into and furnish some information on this subject. It may be anticipated that a greater length of time will elapse before the maximum irritable area is here brought under wet cultivation than in the more Ievel northern areas. Fuller investigation of the financial conditions of the case, and of the relation of probable revenue to necessary annual outlay, than has yet been furnished is thus demanded.

Reporting later on upon the Bairnsdale scheme, Mr Murray stated: -

“The cost of the works is estimated by the petitioners £106,662, and In Mr Scott (the engineer for the department) at £111,376 which latter sum he has included in his i recommendations as the amount of the loan to be advanced to the trust. It will le impossible for me, with the limited time at my disposal, and without any sufficient data, to investigate these estimates. The larger of the two will simply be adopted provisionally. The petitioners state of the north channel they intend to carry out only a portion for the present, and Mr. Scott thinks that some years must elapse before a sufficient area of the trust district can be cleared and cultivated to yield a revenue from irrigation sufficient to pay interest on the loan. It may be expected, therefore, that the construction of the works and the development of the scheme will be gradual, and that the whole of the loan will not be required to be advanced for some years

THE BAIRNSDALE IRRIGATION TRUST. (1891, June 29). The Argus (Melbourne, Vic. : 1848 - 1957), p. 7. Retrieved June 1, 2015, from

Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle

Monday July 18 1891



Monday, July 13. The late rains have caused a considerable rise in the river, and the contractors for the weir, McKenzie and Sons, have had a great portion of their plant swept away. At about 8 o'clock

this morning the traverser was carried away, and a good deal of damage was done to the works. The contractors have made several attempts to re-build the coffer dam, but as yet have not succeeded in doing so.

A man named Frederick Kelly was drowned on Wednesday lost in the Mitchell River, at the irrigation works. Kelly and three other men were crossing the river in a boat, which was being rowed by a man named Grimshaw, who, by some means or other, let the oars slip out of the rowlocks, and as the boat was being carried down stream into a very dangerous rapid, three men, including Kelly, jumped out of the boat. Two of them succeeded in reaching thebank, but Kelly was carried into the rapid and drowned before any attempt could be made to save him. Had he remained in the boat he would have been quite safe, for Grimshaw succeeded in keeping it out of the rapid. Mesers M'Kenzie Bros., contractors, and the men employed at the works, commenced dragging for the body. The occurrence was also reported to the police, who also have been engaged in that work, but up to the present the body has not been recovered.' It is probable that it is caught on a snag in the rapid, and if that is the case it is not likely it will be recovered for some time.

The river is now about 10 feet above its ordinary level at the weir.

OUR LINDENOW LETTER. (1891, July 16).

Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle (Vic. : 1882 - 1918), p. 2 Edition: morning.. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from

Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle

Thursday 20 October 1892

AT THE WEIR.-A WILD SCENE. Whilst the residents of Bairnsdale, and more especially those engaged in ,agricultural pursuits on the river flats, were thrown into a state of apprehension on Tuesday, owing to the probabilities of being visited with another disastrousflood, it perhaps did not occur to many of them that the weir now in course of construction at Glenaladale for the Bairnsdale Irrigation and Water Supply Trust was playing a most important part in materially assisting the prevention of more serious results than actually followed from the tremendously heavy and continuous downpour of rain which fell in the more mountainous parts of the country beyond Lindenow from Saturday night till Tuesday morning. Had the great body of water which came down with suddenness quite unexpected not been checked and regulated in volume by the existence of the weir, the loss from inundation on this occasionwould, it is believed, have been as great as last year. That the weir has been of great utility in checking the great rush of water which came down was fully demonstrated on Tuesday; but thestructure was nevertheless in imminent danger of being carried bodily away, owing to the very critical stage to which the work had progressed -when the flood came. The small portion of the masonry wall that required to be built towards the left bank of the river to complete the weir left a gap about 40 yards in width. At 5 o'clock on Monday evening the foundations of that portion of the work could be seen, and by 7 o'clock the water was up 10 feet, and at midnight it had risen 30 feet, or about 6 feet over the crest of the weir. The contractors made the best of theshort warning given them to save as much of their plant as possible, but their efforts were only moderately successful, as a large portion of it was swept clean away, whilst the traverser and other ponderous and costly gear could only be secured to the bank of the river with ropes. In that position they were being tossed about like so many corks, as the water descended over the gap, the surf rose some 20 or 30 feet high, and the spray was wafted about in the air like clouds of smoke. As the water was discoloured, it cannot be exactly stated what damage has been done to the unfinished portion of the weir or the plant. It is, however, very satisfactory to know that there is sufficient to indicate that the completed portion of the weir has stood the most severe test it is ever likely to be put to in a highly satisfactory mannor. It is quite possible the 70 or 80 yards of the new concrete and masonry work at the gap have been swept away, and in that case it will entail a further loss on the contractors, who estimate that the plant alone that was swept away before their eyes will amount to at least £150. The unfortunate mishap will also mean a loss of time, as it is calculated that it will be fully a fort night before the river subsides to anything like its normal level, and probably throw the completion of the work back by at least three months, which would have been finished before now had it not been for the unfavourable state of the river on various occasions. The weir was visited by a large number of people during the day, expecting to see the structure demolished.

FLOODS IN THE MITCHELL, TAMBO AND SNOWY RIVERS. (1892, October 20). Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle (Vic. : 1882 - 1918), p. 2 Edition: morning.. Retrieved May 16, 2015, from

Memorial Stone was laid with much pomp and ceremony Tuesday 7 March 1893 Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle

Disaster and abandonment: Further damage.. It's going to cost how much... 5000-6000 pounds

progressively fallen furtheDispute over Contractors costs goes to Arbitration printed on Saturday 5 August 1893 Bairnsdale Advertiser and Tambo and Omeo Chronicle r into disrepair.

Discontent: No we will not pay out any more. Scheme abolished and Colony left holding the dept.

The whole debacle was investigated in the

Royal Commission into water supply 1894-1896

The uniqueness of the Mitchell river...

Importance for the Gippsland Lakes and wet lands. Wetlands need water.

these transitional marsh areas are highly significant waterbird and wetland plant habitats and represent the last remaining freshwater wetlands around the lakes.

They are now subject to significantly altered hydrological regimes due to a combination of factors including: Altered water regimes

• Water control structures connecting the river at these sites allow for artificial water regulation.

Water regimes are not always managed, if managed at all, in line with natural regimes.

• Erosion of the riverbanks separating these wetlands from the Lakes leads to saltwater inundation

and more stable water levels (for example, Clydebank Morass).

• Influxes of saline water from the Lakes enter these wetlands during periods of flooding (for

example, Heart Morass, Dowd Morass).

Gippsland Lakes Ramsar site Ecological Character Discription p.126

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