Website Banner. John Monash: Engineering enterprise prior to World War 1.

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Miscellaneous Tanks and Silos:
Carlton Brewery, Bairnsdale, Rupanyup, Tocumwal, Mont Park, Charlton, North Geelong.

On this page:
[Carlton Brewery] [Bairnsdale] [Rupanyup] [Tocumwal] [Mont Park] [Charlton] [North Geelong]

Carlton Brewery Malt Tanks.

Photo (2008) showing the upper portion of one of the 21 tanks. The tanks are somewhat taller than they are wide, and their tops project through the upper floor of the building.

Location: North Melbourne (-37.80572, 144.96274). Fate: Extant (2008). Firm: M&A. Designer: John Monash. Client: Carlton Breweries. Initial Design: November 1904. Definitive Design: December 1904. Construction: March? 1905 to December? 1906. Drawings: The only drawings in the UMA file are a sketch plan of the building and details of the manhole covers.


On 22 November 1904, Carlton Breweries called tenders for 21 steel malt tanks to be housed in a new building on its Swanston Street frontage. Monash saw an opportunity and wired Gummow in Sydney to ask if he had any experience of building concrete tanks for this purpose. At the same time, he prepared a rough design, and came up with a price of £100 per tank. He submitted the tender on 24th, pointing out that such containers were widely used in Europe and the USA; and offering a free experimental tank five feet in diameter (1.52m) and five feet deep, for testing. He listed the following advantages over steel tanks: the concrete versions would be absolutely fireproof, permanent and indestructible, solid and rigid; no painting would be required - they would not be subject to corrosion or oxydation; they would require no repairs or maintenance; they would be impervious to the action of a moist atmosphere; the surfaces would remain perfectly dry, with no condensation as on cold metal; and the inner surface would be smooth, with no angles or corners to catch grain dust or germs. The tanks would have "the full internal dimensions stipulated for the metal tanks", be provided with a dome-shaped top with two manholes, and with a floor with 6-inch delivery tubes.

T L Parker, Manager of CB, accepted the tender on condition that Monash submit a specification embodying the Brewery's requirements for steel tanks, where relevant. Six tanks were to be completed by the end of June 1905, a further six by the end of August, and the remaining nine by the end of December. The Breweries would be able to delay the last nine to 1906, but must place an order by January 1906. A security of £100 was to be lodged with the Breweries: half to be refunded after 12 tanks were complete, and the rest after 21 had been completed. The Breweries were to pay £75 per tank on structural completion and £25 when their representative was satisfied with their strength and efficiency (the £25 to be paid within six months).

On 2 December 1904, Monash wrote to Gummow that he had received an order for one and possibly more tanks. "As is usual with laymen, the ability to build Monier water tanks did not, at once carry conviction as to ability to build malt tanks. In the absence of being able to quote an example in Sydney, I had to use American examples, of which I had illustrations … Realising that the conditions are somewhat peculiar, I wish to be very careful about design, and would esteem it a favour if you would look into the matter. In order to shorten your labours in doing so, I am enclosing an outline of my own calculations for design, put in a conversational way, so that my views on the various points appear in their proper context." The copy in the NLA Letterbook is marked "not sent", perhaps because Monash decided it was not diplomatic. However, the five-page summary of his calculations and the principles on which he had based them is in the UMA file (dated 2 December). The domes covering the tanks were based on an example at Lorient in France. Also in the UMA file are results of tests Monash carried out to determine the tensile strength of concrete when subjected to flexure.

A detailed drawing of the tank at Lorient (Chantier de Caudan, Port de Lorient) appeared in Berger & Guillerme, vol.2. A reproduction appears on page 89 of our Dossier on Monash's tanks and silos.

The contract was handled by CB's Head Brewer, Lieut.-Colonel Ballenger, presumably a Colonel of the Militia. He gave formal approval to the Specification on 10 January, 1905. Access to the site was guaranteed for the start of 1905, but field notes containing a sketch plan of the building are dated as late as 3 March. The tanks were fitted with difficulty into the skeleton of the building, with its closely spaced columns and timber beams. In one room it was necessary to make the tanks elliptical in plan, to avoid irregularly spaced beams. It was also found necessary to reduce the height by 3 inches (76 mm) because of low clearance. The first tank (labelled "No.2") was completed late in April 1905. In mid-July, CB attempted to reduce the number of tanks to 18. Monash beat this off, arguing that the contract specified 21 tanks, and the overheads had been distributed across all of them. CB also claimed that M&A had gained a cost advantage from the reduced height of the tanks and requested a reduction in price. Monash countered, again successfully, that the saving had been negligible and had been counter-balanced by the awkwardness of the cramped site, extra strength provided in the tanks, and higher-than-specified quality in the manhole covers.

A sketch showing the position of manholes with respect to the domes gives an insight into methods of conducting business. It is marked "Col. B. approves of above at Club 3.04.05".

In September, there was a scare when a New York engineering journal reported the collapse of an apparently similar cluster of silos in Canada, but this proved to be due to causes that were not relevant to Carlton. On 21 November 1905, Monash told Gummow the tanks would be "complete" by the end of the month, so work was presumably finalised in December.

Towards the end, Gummow was eager to know how the silos performed in service, because a Sydney architect was considering using them for Tooth's Breweries in Sydney. He was worried that moisture from the drying concrete would affect the malt. This issue was resolved in March 1906, when Mr Tooth himself was in Melbourne for Race Week and sampled the malt. In May, Gummow wrote "We also have partially built and to be completed by next month, 8 square silos for Malt the full height of same each are 51 feet [15.5m], they are nested together and supported on columns, with inlets top and bottom, the area of each is 14' × 11'-2" [4.27 × 3.40m]. These silos were obtained by tender as against steel, being lower in price."

Thanks to Natica Schmeder, Architectural Historian, and to Trethowan Architecture, for an opportunity to inspect the tanks; and to Natica for correcting some misconceptions in my original account.

Technical Description, based on RCMPC archives.

There are 21 tanks. The specification gives their internal diameter as 20 feet (6.1m). Their tops are covered by spherical domes of rise 2 feet (610mm), giving an overall internal height of 24 feet. The thickness of walls and domes was initially to be 3 inches (76mm). Correspondence suggests that the tanks were built stronger than originally intended: that the walls were thickened and provided with vertical ribs. However, a test hole shows a wall thickness of about 3 inches, and a cursory glance into one tank suggests the internal walls are smooth. Openings for manholes suggest that the domes are only 2 inches thick. The tanks are supported on the first floor (Australian nomenclature) of the building and project through the second floor. Monash had some difficulty fitting the tanks into the spaces available, which were cramped and irregular.


Bairnsdale Service Reservoir.

Photo (1997) Lesley Alves.

Location: Jennings St, Bairnsdale (-37.82548, 147.59447). Fate: Extant. Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Draughtsmen: S. J. Lindsay, W. W. Harvey. Client: Bairnsdale Water trust. Client's Engineer: W. C. Howitt. Initial Design: September 1905. Definitive Design: April 1906. Construction: May to July? 1906.


In September 1905, G. Garson, Deputy Chief Engineer of the VWS, wrote to Monash asking whether a reinforced concrete tank of diameter 62 feet and height 21 feet, sunk 6 feet into the ground, would be "within the range of safe practice" and if so, what would be the cost. Garson stated that he had told Howitt of the idea, and there is a letter from Howitt of the same date, proposing that the walls of an existing brick tank be raised by extending them in reinforced concrete. The new portions were to be 25 feet high and 18" thick and sit on the existing brickwork, either tied together across the top, or propped from the outside by inclined stays. On 10 September, Monash prepared rough preliminary calculations for a complete tank, taking Gummow & Forrest's tank at Kiama, NSW as a model. The estimated cost was £1000.

Garson replied confidentially: "I am inclined to think that you might do business at Bairnsdale if you can guarantee a perfectly satisfactory tank of not less than 300,000 galls, 20' high above the surface of the ground and excavated only to such depth as may be necessary for a proper foundation. The price you mention, £1000, is not in excess of what the scheme will fairly stand. The matter stands thus at present: the Trust has applied for a loan of £8000 to improve the town water supply. The proposals necessarily include a service tank, and Mr. Howitt who is advising the Trust has recommended a steel tank and tower about 80[?] feet high with a capacity of 90,000 galls. We object on the ground that this size is insufficient for the population of 4000. An excavated tank of about 600,000 has also been proposed and would answer fairly satisfactorily but an addition of height of say 15 feet (mean)[?] would be a great advantage giving a hydraulic pressure of about from[?] 50 to 60 in the town during periods of full delivery. The Trust is about evenly divided on the question of a steel tank vs. an excavated one and is, I think, ripe to follow[?] a middle course. In the circumstances, I think you might with advantage communicate with them at once."

Accordingly, Monash prepared a new design to Garson's dimensions and submitted it to the Bairnsdale Water Trust. Howitt responded, asking for a price on a slightly higher tank and Monash quoted £1035, supplying a drawing of the Kiama tank. Months of negotiations followed in which the required capacity and dimensions were varied several times. Monash must have been exasperated by the need to produce constantly revised estimates and drawings. However, the proposal gradually firmed. He was assured that he would obtain the work, and a trial pit was sunk to check the foundation. Tenders were called in January and RCMPC obtained the contract. An article in the local paper explained that the Premier's insistence on the use of local machinery was ignored because the Trust was unaware of it. At this stage Monash asked Baltzer to check his computations. Baltzer, who was a relatively conservative designer, asserted that Monash had not provided enough reinforcement, and sent a copy of his own tables for computing the steel required. With more justification, he also criticised the detailing of the junction between the floor slab and the walls, and the location of a drain under the perimeter of the slab. Monash replied that he had included the drain only to please Garson, and he was glad to have Baltzer's contrary arguments. However he was not convinced of the need to increase the reinforcement.

There were two more changes to the requirements after this (one of them after the contract had been signed) but at last, in April 1906, Lynch was given his orders for reconnaissance. Construction commenced early in May with Tom McCartney as foreman and was finished probably in July. Transport was chiefly by a steamship service between Melbourne and Bairnsdale, handled by O'Connor and Co. In May 1906, they noted that transport conditions had improved since they last wrote, as steamers were now able to come up river right to the wharf, whereas previously they had been forced to discharge some 5 km downstream.

There was a delay in filling the tank, as the contract for the pump had not yet been let. This meant delay in testing, and thus in obtaining final payments for RCMPC. Leakage at first appeared negligible, but it later became apparent that the ground beneath the tank was waterlogged. The berm which had been thrown up against the tank was excavated and the wall was bricked up for about five feet from the bottom with initially satisfactory results.

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Nominal capacity 350,000 gallons (1.59 megalitres). Outside diameter 55 feet (16.8m). Depth at centre 25'-3" (7.7m). Wall thickness stepped from 4.5" (115mm) at the top to 10" (254mm) at the bottom. The horizontal reinforcement in the wall, as shown in the drawing, varies from one layer of 3/8" (9.5mm) bars at 3" (76mm) spacing at the top; to two layers of ¾" (19.1mm) bars at 2¼" (57mm) spacing at the bottom. The vertical bars are 3/8" at 12" (305mm) spacing. In the lower part of the wall where there are two grids, the vertical bars in each grid are staggered 6". No reinforcement is shown in the floor which was described in the final specification as 9" thick, having been reduced from 12".

Historic images of the Bairnsdale reservoir are held by the University of Melbourne Archives with Location Numbers BWP/23814 and /23815.


Rupanyup Silos.

Photo c.2000.

Location: Gibson St, Rupanyup-Burrum Road, Rupanyup (-36.62617, 142.63719). Fate: Extant (2000). Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Assistant Designer: H. G. Jenkinson? Draughtsman: H. G. Jenkinson. Client: Wimmera Flour Mills. Definitive Design: September 1907.


The UMA file contains almost no information on the history of the project. There are nine pages of detailed computations in a hand which is not Monash's and is probably that of Jenkinson. The dimensions were initially slightly larger than those given above, resulting in a price of £3063. The reduction in size brought the price down to £2963, suggesting the client had set a limit of £3000. The J Thomas Collection contains seven drawings showing the overall layout and various details. All are initialled by Jenkinson and most signed by Monash as Engineer. The first drawing, showing general layout, is dated 19 September 1907 and the last, showing the machinery pit, 17 December 1907.

In March 1908, while selling the idea of concrete silos to the Geelong Harbor Trust, Monash told their Engineer that the wheat silos at Rupanyup were now completely filled with 30,000 bags and he believed it was the largest grain store in Australia.

P.S. In 1911 when Jenkinson, as Resident Engineer of the South Australian Reinforced Concrete Co, was considering the design of grain silos for Port Adelaide, he asked Monash to supply detailed information on the costs of construction at Rupanyup. Monash's reply was that RCMPC's work included the shells and floors, but not the roofs, ladders or valves. It did include an underground tunnel 6 feet high by 5 feet wide, lined on the floor, roof and sides with reinforced concrete and extending some 10 or 12 feet outside the bin nearest the Mill. Sand and gravel had had to be railed a considerable distance, and this was a major factor in the price. The gross capacity was 118,000 bushels. The gross cost to RCMPC was £1748, including £376 for freight and cartage. The total reinforced concrete work amounted to 11,000 cubic feet. Unit costs had been: wages 10.26 pence, concrete 10.42 pence, steel 7.11 pence, plant 2.12 pence. The total unit cost excluding freight was thus 29.19 pence per cubic foot of concrete. The unit cost of freight and cartage was 8.21 pence, giving a grand total of 38.12 pence. JM continued: "The price paid us for the work was £3054, an exceptionally high and favorable price".

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Three cylinders joined along the lines of contact. Height 40 ft (12.2m), internal diameter 40 ft. Wall thickness 6" (152mm) at the bottom, 4" at the top. Stiffening ring around top, supporting ends of timber rafters. Capacity 603,000 cubic feet (17,100m3). A tunnel runs under the full length of the silos, with a machinery pit at one end.

Historic images of the Rupanyup silos under construction are held by University of Melbourne Archives with Location Numbers GPNB/1153 and /1154.


Tocumwal Silos.

Photo c.2000.

Location: Jersey St, Tocumwal (-35.80972, 145.55671). Fate: Extant (2000). Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Assistant Designer: J. A. Laing? Draughtsman: J. A. Laing. Client: Wise Bros', Jerilderie Flour Mills. Initial Design: December 1910. Definitive Design: February 1912. Detailed check: April 1912. Construction: May to August 1912.


In December 1910, Thomas Wise wrote to enquire about concrete silos after the Shire Engineer, H. J. Threlfall, showed him photographs in a Monier handbook. Monash wrote for details, reminding Wise that he had been a resident of Jerilderie "very many years ago" and that "at any rate Mr Elliott [the schoolmaster] will remember me". Wise replied that he remembered Monash from the Riverina water rights campaign (when Monash's surveys and computations, given in evidence, defended the rights of smaller graziers). Wise was an informed client. He had studied silos in the USA and knew of expensive experiments to determine the pressure exerted by stored wheat which was "altogether different from hydraulics". Monash made calculations and quoted £860 for two silos, mentioning previous experience with the Rupanyup and Carlton Brewery vessels.

There was a delay until February 1912, when Wise discussed the project with Monash in Melbourne. The latter prepared detailed computations and Laing made a drawing showing the silos 50 feet high, with a possible extension to 60 ft. The quote for two was now £952. Wise pointed out that his firm had decided to omit the rendering and the roof from the contract, so the price should have decreased to £744. Monash countered that it had been necessary to re-design, following changes to the dimensions; that in the last twelve months the price of cement and steel had risen; that leading hands now received 10 shillings per day instead of 8/-; and that men could not be persuaded to leave the Metropolis without special wages and travelling allowances. However, he made some reduction in the price.

A final check was then made on wheat pressures, probably by Laing, using the latest formulas. Construction commenced in May 1912 with a foreman called Ormond. His daily reports cease on 12 August, and the final account (which would have included the service tunnel beneath the silos) was rendered for £826 on 12 September.

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Internal diameter 20 ft (6.1m), height 40 ft. Wall thickness 3" (76mm) at top (with stiffening ring); 4" (102mm) at bottom.


Mont Park Tank.

Photo c.2000.

Location: Gresswell Hill (formerly Sugarloaf Hill) Macleod 3085 (-37.71429, 145.06579). Fate: Extant (2000). Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Assistant Designer: J. A. Laing? Client: Public Works Dept of Victoria. Client's Engineer: G. Kermode. Initial Design: March 1912. Definitive Design: May 1912. Construction: June to October 1912.


In July 1911, Kermode told Monash of his design for a cylindrical on-ground tank, 42 feet deep and 46 feet in diameter, at the "Hospital for the Insane", Mont Park. Monash told him the design was "deficient in tension strength" and must have pointed out that the wall of a shallower, wider tank of the same capacity would be subjected to less tension and would be easier to build, being closer to the ground. Nevertheless, the PWD called tenders for the original dimensions in March 1912. RCMPC offered an alternative version with a rectangular plan. They would build this for £1561, or the PWD version for £1952. The Department seems to have adopted the latter figure as the amount it should spend, and subsequent negotiations resulted in an RCMPC design for a cylindrical tank 23 feet deep with diameter 72'-6", to cost the same amount. As a result of increased efficiency, the capacity of the tank had increased by 34 per cent: from about 411,000 gallons to 550,000. Construction took place from June to October 1912 under Giggins as foreman. The final account for £1939 was rendered on 6 November 1912. The tank bears the stains of efflorescence, but there appears to have been little dispute over leakage.

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Outside diameter 72'-6" (22.1m) plus ½" (13mm) render. Depth 23'-0" (7.01m). Wall thicknesses: at top 4" (102mm) with stiffening ring; at bottom 11" (279mm). Floor: 6" (152mm) thick. Concrete gangway near top of wall, cantilevered on brackets. Nominal capacity 550,000 gallons (2.5 megalitres).

Historic images of the Mont Park tank, under construction and completed, are held by University of Melbourne Archives, with Location Numbers NN/802 to NN/804, and GPNB/1231 to GPNB/1234.


Charlton Service Reservoir.

Location: "Currie's Hill", View St, Charlton (-36.25888, 143.34673). Fate: Extant (2000). Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Assistant Designer: J. A. Laing. Draughtsman: C. W. N. Sexton. Client: Charlton Waterworks Trust. Client's Engineer: A. G. Stewart. Initial Design: May 1912. Definitive Design: June 1913. Construction: June to August 1913 .


The story of this project is told in some detail, as it well illustrates the twin problems of leakage through early reinforced concrete tanks and reluctant payment by municipalities. Monash approached Stewart in February 1911 to offer a Monier tank for Charlton's newly-approved scheme. Stewart replied that he could not avail himself of Monash's offer as he was obliged to call tenders. In June RCMPC submitted a price of £857, but the contest was won by J. McGuinness of Melbourne at £691. It seems that something subsequently went wrong, as the same contract was re-advertised in February 1913. The RCMPC quantities and costs were modified in red ink to give a new price of £762. After tenders were opened, Stewart stated that RCMPC's tender had been accepted, but other projects of the Trust were to cost more than expected, so the cost of the tank had to be reduced. He supplied RCMPC with a drawing of his own design, dated October 1911, and evidently suggested reducing the height from 15 feet to 11'-3" while keeping the diameter at 40 feet. (This would have reduced the capacity from about 113,500 gallons to 84,000.) During lengthy negotiations Monash replied it would be better to reduce the cost by optimising the dimensions for about the same capacity, choosing a height of 14'-6" and a diameter of 35'-3"; reducing the floor thickness; and lowering the concrete strength, which was unnecessarily high. This reduced the price to £472. Stewart then informed RCMPC that the SRWSC had decided to increase its loan and the original £762 version could go ahead. Monash was obliged to ask which "of the many alternatives discussed" was meant by this.

Construction took place between June 1913 and August 1914 under foreman G. G. Sampson. On his initial visit, Lynch reported that Stewart had decided not to appoint a Clerk of Works, but to supervise construction himself. This meant there would be no opportunity in this tank to "lessen the amount of reinforcement in the floor" as Stewart would be present on the day of concreting. Lynch had told Sampson that if he did nothing to shake Stewart's confidence in the early stages he would have ample opportunity of saving cement later on! There seems to have been the usual problem of finding suitable stone nearby, as Monash was obliged to argue once again that coarse sand was perfectly satisfactory.

Filling was completed in September 1913 and Stewart reported some leaks, with a distinct stream emerging from the worst, and that a crack caused when freeing a jammed form was "throwing a fine spray". The rate of loss was 341 gallons (1550 litres) per hour. Monash replied to his complaint: "… we are by no means surprised that the tank at Charlton exhibits signs of leakage and loss of water, particularly so as the advice we tendered in regard to concrete gaugings, etc. based upon long experience of this class of construction, was not followed. We are pleased to note, however, that the leakage reported is much slighter than is usually the case in this class of structure on first filling."

It was invariable experience all over the world that, in the early stages, concrete tanks lost water in this way. After a very few weeks the porosities would entirely seal up, and the tank become quite watertight. "We think you can entirely dismiss from your mind the idea of a crack." If there were actual fissures in the walls - something RCMPC had never met - the loss would be much greater. The sprays were probably due to "several porosities occurring close together." "Nothing would be more unwise than to attempt structural alterations" by, for instance, cutting out supposedly porous parts and replacing them. This would "destroy for ever the monolithic character of the work" and perhaps endanger the structure. Monash repeated his appeal to Stewart to let the tank stand and to have confidence that the problems would solve themselves.

Late in the month, Monash heard that a (presumably local) bricklayer named Clarke had been engaged, with Sampson, to plaster the tank, and asked him to report on the situation. Clarke reported it was leaking from 8 or 10 bolt holes and had 20 vertical cracks about 8 to 10 feet (2.4 to 3m) in length and 1/16" (2mm) wide. Cutting out and re-rendering the tank and giving it a coat of crude water-glass would cost £20. In mid-October, Stewart reported the loss was now down to 180 gallons (818 litres) per hour. Monash replied he would send a representative to look at it within a month and asked if the tank was being kept full, as this was very important for sealing. At the end of October, Lynch reported there was only general seepage from the bottom 8 or 9 ft (2.4 to 2.7m) of the wall, most pronounced at cold joints and at twelve pin holes. A labourer was sent to carry out repairs. Stewart then reported that despite this, the tank was still losing 2000 gallons per day (380 litres per hour).

In January 1914, Monash wrote to say that RCMPC had still not received a £200 progress payment certified by Stewart in August. "We really think we are not being treated fairly in this matter and that it is not equitable that so large an amount as £336 should be left outstanding for a matter of 5 months, owing to presumed defects in the structure, for which, however, we have urged that we are not responsible." He did not wish to dispute that the tank was losing 2000 gallons in 24 hours, but thought it quite impossible that such a loss could be occurring through the tank structure itself. He noted that 2000 gallons represented 3" (76mm) of water in the tank, and noted that 3" to 4" could be lost by evaporation in Charlton in summer, especially if the air were in motion. The pipes leading to and from the tank were large wood stave pipes which, it was well known, would leak freely at the slightest pressure. If 2000 gallons were escaping through the walls, the surrounding ground would be water logged. When last seen, the full tank was just damp around the lower 5 or 6 ft (1.5 or 1.8m). He reasserted his claim that RCMPC were not allowed to proportion the concrete as they wanted, so it was more porous than it would have been.

Stewart persisted in his claim that most of the loss was through the walls, and at the end of the month Monash contacted the Chairman of the Waterworks Trust. "We are writing to say that we labouring under a great sense of injustice at the manner in which we are being treated with regard to the reinforced concrete tank constructed by us." The contract amount including extras was £766, excluding the deposit of £38. To date, although the structure had been completed, RCMPC had received only £430. Therefore £374 was owing. Stewart had said he had certified a progress payment of £200 in August, but this had not been received. The maintenance period ended on 27 November. "We must politely but firmly request proper attention to our accounts and particularly an immediate payment of the £200."

Early in February, Stewart reported there was now very little leakage and authorised a further payment of £130, leaving only a retainer of £6 and the deposit of £38 outstanding. Monash was obliged to write six more letters, mainly to the Secretary of the Trust, some of them ignored, before the deposit was finally returned in August 1914.

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Internal diameter 40 ft (12.2m). Depth 22 ft (6.71m). Wall thicknesses: 4" (102mm) at top, 9" (229mm) at bottom. Floor thickness 6" (152mm). Capacity 168,000 gallons (764,000 litres).

Historic images of the Charltom reservoir are held in the University of Melbourne Archives with Location Numbers NN/864 to /866.


North Geelong Tank.

Photo: c.2000.

Location: Woollen Mills, McLeod St, North Geelong (-38.11258, 144.35644). Fate: Extant in 2000. Firm: RCMPC. Designer: John Monash. Assistant Designer: J. A. Laing. Client: Commonwealth Dept of Home Affairs. Client's Engineers: T. Hill and H. J. MacKennal. Initial Design: February 1914. Definitive Design: May 1914. Construction: July to October 1914.


Late in 1913, Hill told RCMPC that a reinforced concrete tank was favoured for this project, and in February 1914 asked for an approximate price. Monash prepared rough figures and a draft specification for a tank supported on two concentric circular walls with strip footings. This system had been considered for Murtoa a year before, but not adopted. In his instructions to Laing, Monash wrote: "Above rough data may be cut down by closer design. Please develop this design and prepare usual bill of quantities &c … Cost will probably come below £550 exclusive of fittings and sundries … Please check all arithmetic." Laing tried substituting a full raft foundation, but reverted to strip footings.

The drawing was prepared by Sexton and signed by Monash on 12 May. In mid-June a contract was signed for £1158. Work commenced early in July under foreman H. Brockwell. A request for a progress payment in August was met by a response from MacKennal telling RCMPC to look up their contract. No payment at all was due until the tank had been tested and approved. Laing apologised that RCMPC had no full copy of the contract, only notes, and the relevant clause had not been noted.

On 17 August, Laing recorded that, at a chance meeting in the street, MacKennal had queried the wages that RCMPC were paying to labourers concreting at the North Geelong site. He argued they were entitled to the builders' labourers rate of 10/4 (ten shillings and fourpence) per day set by federal Award. On the grounds that a tank was not a "building", and that the labourers had no particular skill, RCMPC was paying only 9/- (nine shillings). To convince MacKennal, Monash prepared an argument to support his case, running to three folio pages. In a covering letter he wrote: "… with a view to avoiding litigation and the consequent expense and possible ill-feeling arising therefrom, we were enabled with the concurrence of Mr. Mulvogue, secretary of the Builders' Laborers Union, through the good offices of Mr. Stewart, Industrial Registrar, to obtain Mr. Justice Powers' consent to arbitrate in chambers upon the point under dispute. We had hoped that this arrangement would have settled the matter; but much to our chagrin Mr. Mulvogue withdrew from his position upon the ground that any decision given by His Honor in the proposed capacity would not be binding in law. We have no desire to evade our just obligations but on the other hand we must resist demands which we honestly believe to be unjustifiable and which if complied with unreservedly will have far reaching effects. To demonstrate our bone fides in this matter, we tender the Department herewith, without prejudice, our cheque for £39.0.9[?] being the difference between the rates we are now paying and those specified under the award, the amount to be retained by the Department until a decision has been given, or to be disposed of by the department at its discretion."

Monash argued that in everyday language the term "building" applied to forms such as houses, offices and warehouses. If it applied to tanks, then it could apply to bridges and many other forms of structure. If it applied to the process of building tanks, then it could apply to the building of motor cars, ships, and so on. Also, the builder's labourer was not attached to a tradesman, like a bricklayer's labourer, and needed no special knowledge of any trade. However, the State Full Court found in favour of the plaintiff, a George Taylor who had worked on the Wahgunyah tank.

On 21 October, it was announced that work was complete. There was some delay in filling, as the local manager refused to start the process without specific orders from above. On 17 December, Lynch reported on an inspection of the full tank by himself and the Clerk of Works, a Mr. Brownlie. "The latter gentleman is very biased against the tank and it was hard to get him to say a good word for it, but he finally agreed to write a report to Head Quarters passing the tank as alright …" Water was "oozing from half a dozen points in the wall" but it dried up four feet lower. There was no leakage under the tank floor. The account had still not been paid by May 1915, owing to continuing slight leakage.

Technical Description (based on drawings).

Capacity 100,000 gallons (455,000 litres). Tank: external diameter 29'-6" (8.99m); mean internal diameter 28'-7" (8.71m); depth 25'-6" (7.77m). Wall thicknesses: 3" (76mm) at top, with stiffening ring; 8" (203mm) at bottom. Floor 14" (356mm) thick. Tank supported on two circular walls, the outer having the same external diameter as the tank (29'-6") and a thickness of 5" (127mm). Inner wall has outside diameter 12'-6" (3.81m) and thickness 6" (152mm). No central column. Strip footings: to outer wall 3 ft (914mm) wide; to inner wall 4 ft (1.22m) wide. Between the inner and outer supporting walls was an annular floor 4½" (114mm) thick.

Historic images of the North Geelong tank are held in the University of Melbourne Archives with Location Numbers NN/950 to NN/953.