The area that is today known as Bright was explored by Hamilton Hume and William Hovell in 1824, who were the first Europeans to discover Mt Buffalo on 24 November 1824. Prior to this the High Country was occupied by Aboriginal people for thousands of years. It’s thought the traditional owners of the land would visit the High Plains during the warmer months to hold ceremonies and to gather the nutritious Bogong moths.
The arrival of European settlers and pastoralists in the late 1820s had a devastating effect on the lives of the traditional inhabitants of the land. It’s understood that Aboriginal people were forced out as their land was cleared to make way for cattlemen and stock grazing, destroying the cultural traditions and way of life that had been enjoyed over thousands of years.
The discovery of a rich goldfield in the Buckland Valley just 10 kilometres from Bright in 1853 attracted a great deal of settlers to the area, with people arriving from Europe, China and America. Disputes and robberies were commonplace. The settlers busied themselves with mining and the building of water races. Shanties appeared along the road side to house the miners, although many slept under the stars. Evidence of the town’s mining history can be seen along the riverbeds today in the sluicing races, rock stacks and open mines.
On 25 January 1860 the Post Office was opened and the area was named Morse’s Creek. The Morse’s Creek goldfield was chosen for the town’s survey in 1866 and the town was renamed Bright, in honour of the British politician and reformer, John Bright. Streets were also named after politicians and lawyers of the era.
The Discovery of Gold
Gold was discovered in the Buckland Valley in 1853 by a Mr W. H Pardoe, after the gold rushes in Beechworth had eased. The discovery of gold attracted a great deal of settlers to the area, who travelled from Europe, China and America. The first form of gold mining was alluvial mining; this often involved using a shovel and sieve to dig and sift through the alluvial deposits of gold from the sediment on the bed of the river. Alluvial gold washed out of the river gravel was taken from the Buckland Valley first, followed by other discoveries along the Ovens River to Harrietville.
Hydraulic sluicing was introduced in Victoria around 1855, with around 6,000 diggers mining for gold. Hydraulic sluicing continued at the Ovens River in Bright during the 1870s and 1880s.
‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death’
The flocking of miners to the area created a settlement ridden with disease. Some miners brought wives and children with them and they had to battle with extreme summer heat trapped in the Buckland valley followed by harsh, cold winters. Miners would spend many hours each day waist deep in freezing cold water, protected from the elements at night only by canvas tents. Pneumonia and other illnesses were common. With no hospital or medical assistance, women and babies would often die during childbirth. It was also common for young babies to die before reaching their first birthday.
There was no sanitation and the only water available for drinking purposes was sourced from the rivers and creeks, which quickly became polluted by the thousands of miners and animals. Within six months, an outbreak of ‘colonial fever’, which was most likely typhoid, meant that most diggers, as well as a number of women and children, had soon either died or fled the area.
For years the Buckland River was known as ‘The Valley of the Shadow of Death’ and it remained abandoned until a great number of Chinese miners arrived in 1857.
The Buckland Riot
Robberies and disputes were common between miners, with Chinese miners believed to have received the worst treatment. It’s understood that Chinese miners were willing to work the abandoned claims and their success provoked jealousy amongst the European miners. Their building of a Chinese Temple and Joss House only intensified the divide. Racial tensions escalated and resulted in the Buckland Riots that took place on 4 July 1857 in the goldfields of the Buckland Valley.
A plan was formed during a public meeting to have the Chinese miners removed from the goldfields. The original plan was to lead the Chinese miners out of the Buckland Valley at gunpoint. However, what started as an orderly operation escalated into a violent attack on the Chinese miners by around 100 rioters, who viscously beat the Chinese miners before throwing them into the river. Some Chinese miners were forced into trenches, shot and buried. The dwellings and stores of the Chinese miners were destroyed, as well as the Joss House. It is said that English and the Scottish miners helped some of the Chinese miners escape. The riot only ended when Beechworth Police arrived, under the leadership of Robert O’Hara Burke, by which time the estimated 2,000 Chinese miners had either been killed or had fled the area. A police camp was set up and 12 men were charged over the riot. Three men were found guilty of unlawful assembly and one of riot. Chinese miners later returned to the area after the discovery of reef mining in 1860, with 2,000 Chinese miners among the 2,500 miners in the Upper Ovens / Buckland goldfield in 1864.
By the end of 1866 the Buckland workings were all but exhausted, and the value of the most sought after sluicing grounds fell by 50%.
The Buckland River Hydraulic Gold Sluicing Paddock was one of several sluicing sites along the Buckland River and dates back to the mid-1860s. The site is an area of 100 metres by 50 metres, containing a small sluiced open cut, pebble dumps and a tail race. Water for sluicing would have been brought to the site through a high pressure pipeline from higher up the river and then directed at the gold bearing deposits above the river.
The Canyon Gold Hydraulic Gold Sluicing Site is a large excavation containing pebble dumps and tail races. The tail races were cut through a ridge of bedrock from the open pit to the Ovens River. Water for sluicing was delivered to the site by water races and then directed at the gold bearing deposits. Today a signed walking track follows the Ovens River past the sluice site, reached from the Star Bridge.
Reef quartz mining
Once the sedimentary gold had been obtained, miners turned to reef mining. This involved the digging of shafts and tunnels to reach the quartz rock underground. In 1857 a rich quartz reef was discovered and was mined heavily until the 1900s.
In 1860 quartz mining was underway on the Ovens River and at Morse’s and Growler’s Creeks. However, with only nine of the roughly 1,200 miners being experienced in reef mining, there was still a great deal of sluicing the beds and banks of the river. Large sluice boxes were used for the higher flats, aided by a strong head of water from the water races. Small waterwheels were used to drive ‘Californian’ or ‘elevator’ pumps in the lower claims.
Today the walking paths that were used by miners can still be seen, as well as the old tail races that transported tailings and wastewater into the Ovens River.
The Pioneer Reef Mine was a large quartz mine in operation from 1905 until 1948 and produced between 20,000 and 25,000 ounces of gold. Water was taken from the Ovens River through a race to the edge of Rifle Range near Germantown, to supply the machinery. The water continued through an 18 inch diameter pipe to the battery along a distance of 1,418 feet. A Mine Manager’s Residence was built in 1900; this was later converted to a Bed and Breakfast and is still used today. Rifle Range Road still exists in the pine plantations and the remains of the old battery can be found next to Wandiligong Road.
From the 1900s there was a revival of gold mining, with miners turning to bucket dredging to extract gold. The main areas for gold were in Bright along Morse’s Creek, in the Ovens River Valley and several dredges were used on the river near Freeburgh and Germantown.
Between the years 1900 and 1959 around 60 enormous dredges were in operation, with huge buckets used to extract gold in and along the river. The dredges used wood fired steam power engines. The Racecourse Dredge was in use from 1909 to 1918 and produced 8,000 ounces of gold. Two other dredges at Bright extracted more than 11,700 ounces of gold.
However, it came at an environmental cost, with the mining practice destroying the river bed and local forests. The topsoil from the dredged areas would be swept away, leaving huge areas of gravel behind and the effects were visible for half a century. In an attempt to improve the devastated landscape, conifers were planted and would go on to form softwood plantations. During the First World War the first pine plantation was established, using the dredge tailings from mining. The pine plantation was also made in an attempt to combat the spread of St John’s Wort. Forestry is still a significant industry today.
While dredging ended in 1922, evidence of the town’s mining history can still be seen along the riverbeds today in the sluicing races, rock stacks and open mines.
The role of Water in Mining
Water played a significant role in the success of gold mining. In the late 1800s water played a vital role in hydraulic sluicing operations. High-pressure water was used in ‘elevators’; these used high-pressure suction lifters to raise the broken down gravel that contained gold into the sluice boxes.
By 1857 it is believed that 100 miles of water races had been created in the Buckland Valley, at a cost of £300 per mile.
In the late 1800s long, high-level water races were constructed to supply high-pressure water to the larger hydraulic sluicing operations.
Water wheels would power the stamp batteries that were used to crush the gold-containing quartz rock that was mined from underground.
Water was highly valued by the miners and there was a great deal of disputes that arose regarding the ownership of water. The introduction of a licence system for diversion in 1852 enabled the setting of fees, privileges and conditions.
Race holders benefited from selling their water to claim holders, and this including the selling of water to commercial enterprises. During the 1860s it was common for Buckland miners engaged in ground or hydraulic sluicing to rent what were called ‘ground sluice heads’ from race owners for £2 to £3 per week. This was later replaced by a share agreement towards the end of the 1860s, with the race holder becoming a partner in the claim and receiving a quarter of the gold that was mined (after working expenses).
Life in Bright in the early 1900s
By 1903 the population of the town was 500, with the population of the Shire sitting at 4,500. Bright was described in the Australian handbook as ‘a post and mining town’. Residents had access to a money-order post office, savings bank and telegraph station. With the arrival of the railway in 1890, Bright became a terminal station on the extension from Everton, with daily coaches running to Wandiligong and Harrietville.
The Bright Waterworks Trust was responsible for supplying the town with water, which was sourced from Baker’s Creek. Gold mining was the town’s chief industry and many tourists visited the town during the summer. Bright also boasted three hotels, two banks, a school, four churches, the Salvation Army, an Athenaeum, police buildings, a fire station, court house, a brewery and a saw mill.
When settlers first grazed their stock in the 1820s, mutton and in particular beef were very popular produce. When the majority of grazing land was destroyed by bushfire in the 1850s, local cattlemen moved to the high plains and produced high country beef.
Chinese miners brought their vegetable and fruit growing skills to the area, providing a much needed addition to the diets of miners. Farmers made a good living supplying their produce to the miners, with farmers making more money selling their produce to miners than some of the miners made themselves.
As mining declined, many miners turned to farming, with the rich soil providing ideal growing conditions for hops, tobacco, oats, maize, nuts and fruit.
After both world wars, immigrants brought their farming skills to the region. Italians introduced tobacco to the area and this industry was very successful until 2006.
Today the region has a reputation for its soil and ideal climate for producing excellent produce, which includes nuts, apples, wine grapes and berries.
The arrival of the railway in Bright played a significant role in the development of the town. The new railway to Bright was completed in 1890, as a branch from the existing line to Beechworth. The line followed the Ovens Valley and facilitated the movement of people and produce, with easier access between Mt Buffalo, Bright and the High Plains. As a result, Bright became a hugely popular tourism destination, and well known for its excellent produce. The railway also facilitated the introduction of gold dredging in the early 1900s, transporting the required heavy machinery to the goldfields.
The railway ran until 1983 when the line between Bright and Myrtleford closed, followed by the closing of the line towards the junction at Bowser. During the late 1990s the line became the “Murray to Mountains Rail Trail”, which is still enjoyed as a cycling and walking track today. The Bright Railway Station is now a museum.
The History of Bright’s Water Supply
The Bright Waterworks Trust was constituted on 23 May 1890, with the purpose of constructing, maintaining and continuing waterworks for domestic supply to the township of Bright.
The Trust’s first tender called for the construction of the Bakers Gully Reservoir, on 26 July 1890.
Construction of the Bakers Gully Reservoirs
Bright’s water supply was originally sourced from two reservoirs in Bakers Gully. The first Bakers Gully Reservoir (the lower reservoir) was constructed in 1891 and had a capacity of 9.1 megalitres. This was followed by the construction of a higher reservoir in 1912, with a greater capacity of 13.6 megalitres. The reservoirs were connected to the town reticulation system by a 250mm main. However, the creek in Bakers Gully didn’t flow for several months of the year, therefore it was necessary to pump from the Ovens River directly into the reticulation system during the drier months of the year.
Bakers Gully Creek 1909
Bright Waterworks Trust Constructs new Pump Reservoir
In the early 1960s there was a decrease in the storage capacity of the Bakers Gully reservoirs, partly due to silting from the effects of forestry operations and from the fires of 1939. This was occurring at a time when the permanent population and tourist population of Bright was increasing. To alleviate the decreasing storage capacity and to meet the requirements of a growing population, a pump reservoir was installed on the Ovens River in 1983.
The Bright Waterworks Trust employed local contractors Huggins and Kewish to construct a new weir at the off-take in the Ovens River alongside the pumping station. The pump reservoir had a capacity of 200 megalitres and was connected to the town’s distribution system by a rising main. The new reservoir bypassed the two Bakers Gully reservoirs, which became disconnected from the town water supply, to be used only as an emergency supply.
The stop board design of the weir meant that the river level could be raised in times of low flow, to enable the new pump to operate at its optimum efficiency.
The pumping facility at the offtake was expanded and became the sole water supply for the town.
The Bright District Water Board
On 5 June 1984 the Bright Waterworks Trust was replaced by the Bright District Water Board, which assumed control of all constituted water supply districts in Bright.
In times of drought, the Bright District Water Board would use two dredge holes at Harrietville for additional water supply. The dredge holes stored water, which would then be pumped directly into the Ovens River to boost supply.
New Gravity Water Supply Scheme for Bright
A new gravity water supply scheme from Bakers Gully was implemented by the Bright District Water Board and was in operation from August 1992. The diversion of the Bakers Gully Creek to the 2 megalitre storage tank enabled the Bright township to gravitate water, as well as having the pumped supply.
The scheme cost approximately $100,000 and consisted of a nine inch pipe running 2.5 kilometres across Bakers Gully Road. An offtake from the creek ran through two sanitation pits, with chlorination at a very low rate of 1 part per million.
Bright’s water supply would now operate on a dual system. During times of adequate flow, supply would occur by gravity to the two megalitre tank. In the event of flow falling below demand, a pumped supply would be sourced from the Ovens River, to occur automatically.
The second supply would further improve the quality of Bright’s water supply and significantly reduce pumping costs. The life of the pumps would also increase as they were only required to operate in summer.
A link-up water main was also installed in Hawthorne Lane to assist in improving Bright’s chlorine detention time.
Bright and North East Water
Ovens Region Water Authority and Bright
The Ovens Region Water Authority assumed responsibility for Bright’s water supply and wastewater services when it was formed on 19 December 1994. Bright’s water was sourced from the Ovens River system, and while compliance with the World Health Organisation standards for bacteriological quality was not 100%, it was still high.
In its first year of operation, the Authority commenced discussions with the Bright Golf Club, with a proposal to use treated wastewater to irrigate the golf course.
By the time the North East Region Water Authority was constituted on 1 July 1997, the Bright water supply was still prone to experiencing ‘dirty water’; while the supply was disinfected it did not receive other forms of treatment.
Temporary Water Filtration at Bright
Historically water for Bright was taken from the Ovens River and was treated with chlorine disinfection. The Bright water supply also provided drinking water to the towns of Porepunkah and Wandiligong. While the quality of the water supply met the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines for turbidity, the bushfires that occurred in 2003, 2006 and 2007 negatively impacted the river, resulting in extremely high turbidity levels and sediment.
North East Water had to issue ongoing Boil Water Notices as a temporary measure to ensure the quality of the drinking water. This was compounded by the devastating impact of the drought on the Ovens River during 2005 and 2006, with the river at risk of drying up during 2007. In order to access water, North East Water drilled additional bores. However, the groundwater came with potential health risks in the form of Iron, Manganese and Arsenic. North East Water came up with the solution of implementing temporary water filtration at Bright, to be able to effectively treat the groundwater and ensure the quality of the water supply for customers.
North East Water commissioned Amiad to deliver four containerised filtration plants. The selected site for the plants was a tree reserve close to the chlorination facility.
The project included a raw water pump, coagulation, filter media selection, construction of the filtration units, pipework, electrical components and security fencing.
Day one of the commissioning proved to be incredibly challenging, with more than 50 millimetres of rainfall taking turbidity levels in the Ovens River to greater than 140 NTU! However, the plant was able to reduce turbidity levels from 140 NTU to 5 NTU. With optimisation of the plant, the drinking water was produced with turbidity levels lower than the acceptable 0.3 NTU.
North East Water was able to lift the Boil Water Notices that had been in place for six months, which was a great outcome for the community.
Construction of the Bright Off-River Storage and Bright Water Treatment Plant
The need for a water storage for Bright was officially confirmed in a special report commissioned by Mr David White, the Minister for Water Resources in 1983.
By March 1988 the level of concern regarding the security of Bright’s water supply was rising. Stage 1 water restrictions were required at Bright, Porepunkah and Harrietville. Water was also being pumped direct from the Harrietville Dredge Hole into the Ovens River to try and keep the flow up to the permitted minimum. The river flow was thought to have fallen as low as 11 megalitres per day. There was also concern that the river wouldn’t be able to meet needs of irrigators and diverters further downstream.
The proposal for an off-river storage was first considered in the Bakers Gully area by the Bright District Water Board in 1989. An alternative proposal for the development of a lake in the Hawthorn Lane area was also considered, however the Bakers Gully proposal had the additional benefit of being an elevated site that would enable water to be gravity fed to the town water system.
In 2007 North East Water identified that a more secure and reliable water supply was needed for the communities of Bright, Wandiligong and Porepunkah.
Following consultation with the community, the Bright District Advisory Group and the Bright Off River Storage Stakeholder Liaison Group, Freeburgh was agreed as the most suitable site for the storage to meet the needs of customers and the environment.
Construction of the 520 megalitre off-river storage reservoir commenced in early 2014. On 17 November 2014 the pumps were switched on and the filling of the storage commenced.
The $14 million project included a new pumping station on the Ovens River to pump water to the off-river storage, a 520 megalitre off-river water storage reservoir, a new water treatment facility and additional treated water storage tank and a new pipeline to Bright.
The project has enabled the provision of a more reliable and secure water supply to our customers. Benefits to the environment have also been realised, with more water in the Ovens River during periods of low flow, leading to improved river health and aquatic life.
Construction of the Bright Water Treatment Plant
The Bright Water Treatment Plant was officially opened by North East Water on 8 March 2017. The dissolved air flotation-filtration plant has a capacity of five megalitres per day.
Bright’s water supply today
Today Bright’s water is supplied by the Ovens River at Freeburgh, upstream of Bright. The raw water is then diverted into the 520 megalitre raw water storage. The raw water is then treated at the water treatment plant before being distributed to the Bright reticulation.
Bright is connected to sewer
Before being connected to sewer, the township of Bright relied on septic tanks and pan services to dispose of its domestic waste. Up until as late as 1980, 35 towns in Victoria were not connected to sewer. The absence of a sewer scheme posed a serious health risk to the Bright community and this risk increased significantly during the peak season for tourism, with up to 250,000 visitors travelling to the town each year.
A sewerage scheme for Bright was initiated in 1974, followed by the constitution of the Bright Sewerage Authority in September 1978. The principal works to be carried out as detailed in the Victorian Government Gazette included reticulation sewers, manholes, main sewers, pumping stations, rising mains, outfall sewers and treatment works, at an estimated cost of $1,870,000.
At the time, residents were anxious and concerned about the cost of the sewerage scheme; the average connection per house cost $1,500, on top of annual rates of around $120 to $130. Residents felt that they were being asked to bear the financial burden of a scheme that was required to cope with the peak tourist population of 10,000 and the 250,000 visitors to the town each year.
The commencement of the scheme was delayed due to a lack government funding available. Fortunately, the Authority was able to secure loans from the State Bank and the State Insurance Office.
In 1981 The State Rivers and Water Supply Commission allocated $800,000 to commence construction of the Bright Township Sewerage Scheme.
In January 1982 contractors James A. McMahon constructed the sewerage ponds on the Back Porepunkah Road.
The reticulation construction was then carried out by Prentice Bros & Minson Pty Ltd on 8 February 1982 and involved approximately 17.5 kilometres of piping. The first pipeline, 225mm in diameter, was installed to the bowling green, with another branch to be installed to the Alpine Hotel.
B. M Contractors constructed the rising main and stage 1 of the treatment works, oxidation ponds as well as 4.3 kilometres of pipeline. This was followed by the construction of treatment ponds. The scheme included a treatment plant that was situated in pine plantations along the Back Porepunkah Road, covering an area of around 26 acres. All plumbing works were carried out by plumbers licenced with the Bright Sewerage Authority.
The Bright Sewerage Scheme was designed to service a population of 12,000 but also had to be able to cope with tourism, with around 250,000 visiting the town each year. The scheme was unique for its use of treated effluent to spay-irrigate 120 acres of pines in the plantation by the treatment site. There was also a screen of pines used to enclose the treatment site.
The first property was connected to Bright’s sewerage scheme on 2 March 1983. By October 1986 422 connections to sewer had been connected (56% of the town).
Bright was officially connected to sewer in 1986. On 27 November 1986 the Minister for Water Resources, the Honourable Andrew McCutcheon officially opened the Fraser’s Lane Wastewater Pumping Station, to celebrate the completion of major construction for sewering the township of Bright. At the time of the opening, the Bright Sewerage Scheme was at a cost of $5.861 million.
Bright’s Wastewater Treatment Plant
The Bright-Porepunkah wastewater treatment plant is located within a pine plantation. The plant consists of a primary aerated lagoon, an offline lagoon (which has not been used since 2002) and a maturation lagoon.
In March 2018 works commenced to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant. Works will include the construction of a new aerated primary lagoon and two secondary facultative lagoons.
Today, the Bright-Porepunkah sewerage scheme comprises 57 kilometres of sewerage reticulation. Bright’s wastewater is collected at a wet well pump station in Frasers Lane, before being transferred along a 2.7 kilometre rising main to the Bright-Porepunkah wastewater treatment plant.
Reclaimed water is returned to stream through gravel beds, with some of the reclaimed water used for third party irrigation at the Bright golf course.