The trade contracting industries of Australia are behind some of the biggest and best man-made marvels. For plumbers, one of the most well-known is the Hamilton Syphon.  

Many people typically associate plumbing with backed up toilets, burst pipes or leaky roofs. But, what about the modern systems that solved large-scale community problems like sewage and water treatment?

Plumbers have been at the forefront of sanitation for longer than many care to think, and it’s important to tip our hats to the hard work that the men and women of our past have done.

The Hamilton Syphon was the solution to a sewage problem that had plagued Brisbane for decades. Bad planning, debt, a depression and World War II had meant that the city was around 40 years behind others when it came to providing sewage and water treatment services to its outer suburbs. 

Its creation was part of a plan to transfer sewage from the south side of the Brisbane river at Cowper Street in Bulimba to the treatment plant on Kingsford Smith Drive in Hamilton via a tunnel under the Brisbane River.

Tender for the project was won by MR Hornibrook Pty Ltd, a prominent civil engineering contracting company at the time. The work designed by the team at MR Hornibrook involved the sinking of two vertical shafts at each side of the river, and then the connection of them with a tunnel roughly 600 metres long underneath.

Perhaps the most daunting and dangerous part of it all was that the digging of the tunnel was not supported by the advanced technology we have today. Instead, the tunnel was constructed by men with rock-drilling machinery mounted on a wheeled hydraulic system. With such a simple, yet cumbersome, system, progress was slow, with the tunnel only lengthened by about 9 metres each week. 

To give you an idea about the conditions these fearless men were working in, here’s a quote from page 3 of a 1951 edition of The Courier Mail that details the project:

“The four experienced miners at the tunnel face work in a roaring wet, grey fog. They guide two long rock-drills fixed to a wheeled hydraulic mounting…River water seeps down the brightly lit walls enclosing the 10ft diameter tunnel. The men leave the tunnel when gelignite plugged into the drill holes is exploded electrically from above.”

Once the tunnel was finished, the work wasn’t done either. It then needed to lined with a special concrete sealer that prevented leaks from the river entering the tunnel – meaning more tradesmen were sent into the dark depths to work quickly and efficiently. 

Then, sewage pipes had to be installed and maintained to ensure they were working correctly – meaning that sending tradesmen down into the tunnel was a regular occurance. 

Work was completed on the Hamilton Syphon in 1955. However, the tunnel is still used today and has even undergone further maintenance. 

A few years ago some major renovations were required to repair some cracks that had occurred in the Syphon and upgrade access areas for workers that would be maintaining the Syphon.

Meyjor Industries Pty Ltd took on this renovation project, with their director noting it’s difficulties and the precision-planning it required:

“Tough engineering challenges were inherent in this project form the start, including the requirements of confined space entry, the likelihood of sulphuric gas being present in the horizontal tunnel and requiring ventilation, workers requiring breathing apparatus in case of emergency and the difficulties with being able to get a man box down the shaft to ensure workers could safely remove and install platforms. Intensive planning was undertaken by the project crew before works commenced to ensure safety of workers was paramount, and to ensure project completion would be on schedule.”

To this day, the Hamilton Syphon is still used by Brisbane, and is regularly maintained and walked through by tradesman. 

It is one of the great marvels that the trade contracting world has to offer, and a true testament to the notion that man will go anywhere. 

To read about other plumbing marvels or learn about Salmon Plumbing and the services we offer, click here to read our blog.