|Off South Beach|
My first venture down,several years ago now, had been purely accidental; arriving at South Beach an hour before sunset, I didn't feel like hanging around and so rode south, past the cattle slip lanes before climbing over the sand dues and onto the beach. There, about 50 metres off the coast, partially submerged in the waves, is a statue of a man on a horse. It is the memorial to C.Y.O'Connor who committed suicide off this beach in 1902.
O'Connor is one of this state's great engineers. He is responsible for the transformation of Fremantle Harbour into the commercial success it is today and for the pipeline that transported water from the Perth hills to Kalgoorlie to support the growing gold rush.
Both engineering feats are still going strong to this day, and yet at the time, they were ridiculed and faced increasing criticism and pessimism that they would ever be worth the Government's initial investment.
Prior to O'Connor's plans for Fremantle Harbour, Albany provided the only deep water harbour in the south of the state. As a result, many ships preferred to dock there and send their cargo north by train than brave the conditions at Fremantle.
Albany instead of Fremantle was the major stop on the mail route between Sydney and London and Albany was used for much of the state's industry.
|The wreck of the Wyola (1912), run ashore in 1970 for dismantling and scrapping|
The reason for this was that a limestone bar across the entrance of the Swan River prevented ships from seeking shelter there from the ocean winds and waves. Instead, ships were expected to moor alongside the mile long jetty that jutted out to sea, unprotected from the wind and the waves. In fact, damage from the boats bashing into the jetty seems to have been a regular occurrence, and increased sailors' preference for Albany.
|Supposedly one of the timer barges used in the scrapping of the Wyola|
|Remains of Robb Jetty. Used for unloading cattle from the North West into the adjacent|
abattoirs that operated here from the 1890s - 1970s. The pilons extend 300ms out
and are a great shallow dive location.
By 1897 it must have been viewed as a success, for not only did ships successfully berth within the new harbour, but O'Connor was inducted as a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George; somebody obviously thought his work was, if not brilliant, at least highly beneficial to the community.
Perhaps the only problem with the scheme is that he built the harbour from Jarrah wood which is one of the only local hardwoods not to contain natural oils that repel sea worms. As a result the underlying structure of what is now Victoria Quay is being devoured and will soon need to be replaced (if it hasn't already).
*In fact it was the worry of this scheme being a financial loss for the state that played a part in postponing the creation of WA's first university.
One of the particularly harsh pieces of criticism levelled at O'Connor through the newspapers is reputed to be the one that drove him to suicide.
Today, that beach is named after this tortured genius and a statue of a man on a horse stands, partially submerged in the Indian Ocean.
I wonder how many other engineering feats he would have undertaken if he had lived.