Little River Weir History

History – How the Weir came to be (“official story” from State Rivers and Water Supply Commission brochure)

LIttle River Weir
Little River Weir 1951


The Little River rises in the Brisbane Ranges at an elevation of some 1300 feet above sea level and flows generally in a south-easterly direction through the Township of Little River into Port Phillip Bay, reaching the bay some 6 miles west of the mouth of the Werribee River.

The catchment of the stream covers a total area of 170 square miles, of which 120 square miles are tapped to supplement the water supply to the City of Geelong and adjacent municipalities by Geelong Waterworks and Sewerage Trust.

The catchments, which includes 11,000 acres of State forest, is comprised of cleared plain or lightly-timbered hills, much of which is used for grazing.

The eastern or larger portion of the catchment, which is newer basaltic, id flat to undulating. The lower half of the western portion of composed of the granite outcrops of the You Yangs and Anakie Ranges, which form the watershed between the Little River and Hovell’s Creek. To the north-west the catchment is bounded by a steep range of Ordovician slates and sandstones, while to the north there is a small area of Miocene clays. On the lower slopes of these latter three formations there is an area of Tertiary sand, clays and gravels.

From the water supply point of view the catchment cannot be regarded as a good one, the run-off being very low indeed in summer months and practically nothing at all in times of protracted drought.

The maximum flow is estimated at 17,000 cusecs (one cubic foot of water flow per second or 481,000 Litres / second) , and for six months, say from November to April, there is practically no flow.


For a number of years prior to the construction of the Little River Weir demands for water for intense irrigation of lands adjoining that of the river in the vicinity of Little River township exceeded by far the capacity of that stream.

Many years before any commercial irrigation small areas were watered by early land owners, who had riparian rights which permitted the irrigation of gardens not exceeding 3 acres used in connection with a dwelling.

The first applications for authority to divert water for commercial irrigation from Little River were made in 1907 by Mr John Rees and Mir P. T. Wilson. The first permits issued at Little River was No. 107 to Mr. Rees on 14th January 1910, for irrigating 3 acres of fruit trees, and No. 158 to Mr Wilson on 15th March, 1910, for irrigating 20 acres of Lucerne. From time to time, attempts were made by farmers to extend Lucerne plots and market gardens without a great deal of success, because of the failure of the stream in dry seasons. Market gardening was proving highly profitable in the adjoining irrigation district at Werribee, where lands with water rights were changing hands at high prices, and, as further extension of irrigation at Werribee was impossible owing to the limited water supply available from the storages, farmers gave increasing attention to the possibilities of private irrigation along the Little River.

By 1939 the number of pumping plants along that stream had increased to twelve, and the gross area authorised to be irrigated amounted to 209 acres (84.5 Ha).

As has been found with many Australian rivers which are not backed by storages, the flow of the Little River is subject to very great variation and pumping had to be restricted during dry periods in order to ensure equitable distribution of available supplies between the diverters.

The year 1938-39 was one of very severe drought, and irrigators along the Little River were able to obtain only 70 acre-feet (86 mega litres) of water as against their normal requirement of about 418 acre-feet (515 mega litres) – which figure represents 2 acre-feet per acre (2.5 mega litres) over the 209 acres registered.

The commission decided, therefore, that no new permits should be issued for irrigation of lands upstream of the Geelong Road, and that areas for which permits to irrigate had already been issued should be limited to 10 acres (4 hectares) per permit for the year 1939-40.

It was clearly evident that irrigation from the Little River for market gardening and other purposes could not have any permanency unless water was stored on that stream to meet periods of shortage such as lead occurred in 1938-39.

In July, 1929, at a public meeting of irrigators at which the commission’s Superintendent of Water Distribution, Mr M G Ferguson, explained the necessity for imposing the restrictions, certain resolutions were carried, the most important being that a local committee of five representative land holders should be formed to advise the Commission on all matters affecting water users along the Little River. The commission agreed to the formation of the Committee and also to a request that restrictions should continue to be made as required.

As an outcome of that public meeting the Little River Advisory Committee was formed. This was actually the first of the very many successful local river Advisory Committees now operating all over the State. These committees are composed of water users, varying in number from 3 to 9, under the chairmanship of the Superintendent of Water Distribution, Mr N G Ferguson. The purpose of these Committees is to bring about the most equitable distribution of available water supplies where a number of irrigators are diverting water directly from streams for intense culture.


Following the formation of the Advisory Committee at Little River, representations were made to the Government on behalf of the irrigators for the building of a weir in the vicinity of Little River for the purpose of storing and efficiently regulating the flow of that steam. In 1940 the Government referred the question of the building of a weir on the Little River to the Parliamentary Public Works Committee, which investigated the matter. After taking evidence that Committee, in its report dated 12th June, 1941, recommended to the Governor in Council –

  1. The construction of a storage reservoir on the Little River in the vicinity of the Little River township, at the estimated cost of 5,971 pound and 8 shillings ($495,441.59 in 2020 according to RBA calculator)
  2. A grant be made to the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission to carry out the works recommended.
  3. Charges to water users to be such as to repay within a reasonable period the cost of works recommended, together with interest, administration, and maintenance costs.
  4. The works to be carried out and controlled by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.

Because of war conditions, it was not possible for this work to be undertaken at that time, and it ws not until 1951 that work was completed on this structure, which is of mass concrete 330 feet long and 7 feet above existing river bed level.

The capacity of the storage is approximately 120 acre-feet, and as a result of its completion the Commission has been able to recommend the issue of long-term licences to land holders authorising the diversion of water for the irrigation of their lands. These licences are for periods of fifteen years, and they rank equally in value to water rights in an irrigation district in terms of water shortage. In addition, eleven permits have been issued giving limited water rights to divert surplus water, the total area covered by these licences are permits being 170 acres.

The maximum amount that may be irrigated under the licences or permits when water is available is 2 acre-feet per annum, the annual charge being 25 shillings per acre per annum under licence, and 5 shillings per acre per annum under permits. The permits operated when water overflows the weir, whereas irrigators with licences are able to irrigate from stored water which is released as required to meet the commitments under licence on the full length of the stream.

The construction of the weir will enable the farmers to engage in intense culture, mostly market gardening, under conditions not possible prior to the construction of this storage. Already increased quantities of market garden produce are reaching the metropolis from Little River.

The weir was designed and built by State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, the engineer in charge of work on the site being Mr Gordon HIrth, BCE, under the direction of the Divisional Engineer, Formerly Mr I N Hughes, CE, AMIE. Aust, who was succeeded by Mr F A Nevill, CE, MIE Aust.

Members of the present Advisory Committee are –

Mr NG Ferguson, State Rivers and Water Supply Commission

Councillor WW Shaw, JP, Werribee Shire

Councillor JA Drysdale, Corio Shire

Messrs. J Bull, EF Gleeson and JC Rees

The commission wishes to place on record its appreciation of the co-operation received from the Werribee and Corio Shire councils, from local irrigators, and from land holders generally, in the building of the Little River Weir.


History – How the Weir came to be (the real story – Notes on the Weir from Ron Rees)

A brief history of the irrigation of land from the Little River shows that the first permit holders were John Rees and PJ Wilson in 1910.

By 1939 there were twelve pumping plants along the stream and the area authorized to be irrigated amounted to 209 acres. This far exceeded the capacity of the stream in the dryer periods of the year and it was clearly evident that a weir was required to store water for the dry months ahead.

An extract taken from the Geelong Advertiser of 9th November 1932 quotes Cr Joe Ryan as saying land holders had been agitating for a weir on the river for same five years. Some sixty five farmers signed a petition indicating they were interested in irrigating their properties. A deputation from the land holders met with the minister for Water Supply that year without having any success in obtaining the necessary funding.

In July 1939 a public meeting of irrigators was held and an advisory committee of 5 land holders was formed. The committee in 1940 made representation to the Parliamentary Public Works Committee for funding for a weir and once again had no success.

In 1948 my brother Charlie Rees had contracted Hodgins disease and was having radium treatment at the Royal Melbourne Hospital. His way of getting to and from Melbourne was to go over to the Princes Highway and hitch a ride with a passing motorist. On one particular day he had his treatment, caught a bus out to Footscray and proceeded to hitch a ride home. It happened the motorist who picked him up was Henry Bolte, Minister of Water Supply in the ruling Government. Charlie took the opportunity to tell Henry how Little River farmers had been trying to get a weir on the river for many years without success. Henry’s reply to him was to arrange a deputation, put your submission to me to consider and I’ll see what I think.

A deputation of Charlie, Eddy Gleeson and Joe Ryan met with Henry and must have been convincing as he said, “You will get the necessary funding for the project”. Henry Bolte was later Premier of Victoria and on of the most progressive premiers we’ve had.

Work began on construction of the weir early in 1950 and took approximately 18 months to complete. In that time there was above average rainfall and several big floods caused delays and damage on the site. The total cost of the job was twelve thousand pounds or $24,000 in todays money. (ie: in Dollars). A mere fraction of what it would cost today.  (According to Google, 12000 Aus pound in 1950 was equivalent to Aus $636,891 in 2020)

Our weekly wage at the start of the job was $16 and rose to $25 in 18 months, the biggest rise in wages for many years. We were not in a union and could be labourers, carpenters, plumbers or concrete hands as required.

In the time it took to complete the construction there wre no injuries that I can recall. The first engineer was a retired Board of Works man, Mr Larkins. A decline in health caused his retirement after three months. His replacement Mr Gordon Hirth from State Rivers and Water Supply Commission. A good deal of praise goes to Gordon for taking a crew of young inexperienced local lads and guiding and supervising them into a successful team.

Regular Workers

Ron ReesAlan ReesGeoff FinkGraham Fink
Goldie NewlandsFrank FrattinSavillio BisenellaStan Newton
Don McLarenLes LockyerHarry SandersonMerv Newlands
Reno FrattinCliff NewtonJim LarkinGordon Hirth
Jim Myles   

Market Gardeners in 1939.

Gino Maggio                      Wilsons Rd

Charlie and Harry Rees  Argyle St

Naum Dellios                     Ryans Farm    Now Melb Water

Menegazzo                        Jim MacIntosh Farm

Angelico                               Rothwell Bridge


Goegan                                                Hotel Paddock

Additional Oral History