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Overview of major tanks and silos
built by RCMPC in Victoria and at Tocumwal, NSW

Approach to our study of JM's Tanks & Silos

At the time when our team began to research the work of the Monash & Anderson partnership (M&A) and the Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Company (RCMPC), bridges associated with Monash were starting to disappear owing to high maintenance costs, inadequate strength, and/or impediment to traffic. We therefore made it a priority to add to the documentation of existing structures. The result was the publication of Lesley Alves's typology study Monash Bridges and the series of dossiers on Monier arch bridges in Victoria. [List of publications.] Some structures were already well-researched and protected (such as the Morell and Fyansford bridges) but to produce a coherent body of publications we included them, together with the demolished Ford's Creek Bridge and the collapsed First King's Bridge, Bendigo. With the study moving to other types of structure, tanks and silos were seen as the next priority, as many are still standing and are significant features of the landscape.

Whilst Monash Bridges concentrated on bridges then extant, our Dossier on the Tanks and Silos included information on unbuilt and demolished projects which were considered important in the history of Monash's development of this type of structure.

The records relating to the tanks and silos are relatively sparse and easily summarised. A number of factors could have contributed to this. There was less need for political lobbying. Monash dealt with Waterworks Trusts, usually through their engineers, and with the State Rivers & Water Supply Commission of Victoria. Although concrete displaced steel and brick in this field, the archives hold no evidence of the sort of opposition this created in the case of bridges. Tanks and silos required less effort in administration of design and construction. The latter was less risky - there was no excavation of deep foundations in river banks. Formwork, reinforcement, and concrete-placing were largely repetitive. By the time tank and silo construction was in full swing, Monash was more experienced than in the days of his partnership with Anderson, had assembled and trained a team of reliable engineering assistants and foremen, and had established a firm foothold in the Melbourne 'establishment'. The only major problem to give rise to significant correspondence was that of leakage through the walls of the tanks. (The reasons for this are discussed below.)

The primary aim in publication of the Dossier was to present information obtained from the records of M&A and RCMPC. Contextual historical information (of the type included in 'Monash Bridges') was restricted to material readily available, so as to avoid delay in summarising the firms' activities. For the same reason, the stories of the Tanks & Silos contain more loose ends than those of the bridges. Most of these defects are minor, but the fate of many of the structures has not been determined. At the time of publication (2000) our research on the tanks and silos had revealed examples mainly built by RCMPC in Victoria and over the NSW border. Subsequently, correspondence regarding many examples built by the South Australian Reinforced Concrete Co. was discovered, bound in folders entitled "Quotation File" (A to Z). These were intended for documents concerning unsuccessful tenders. (We presume that the original files of SARC have been lost.)

The text below is taken from our Tanks & Silos Dossier with minor adjustments. To some extent, it has been made redundant by later web pages describing the projects in greater detail [List]. However, it still provides a more-or-less chronological account of the development of Monash' expertise in the design of this type of facility.

An error in quoting William Julius Baltzer's first name was carried over into several dossiers. It appears on page 17 of the 'Tanks & Silos' Dossier.

Map of RCMPC's tanks and silos in country Victoria, and at Tocumwal, NSW.

For a map (900 × 634 px) showing the locations of the structures mentioned in the following text, click here.

History of the major Tanks and Silos


The Monier system of construction was patented in 1867 by Joseph Monier, a French manufacturer of garden ware who made planter pots of coarse mortar reinforced with a grid of small-diameter iron bars. The technique and patents were gradually extended to cover concrete pipes, tanks, buildings, and bridges. These applications were forcefully developed and promoted in the German-speaking world by a number of licensees, amongst whom G. A. Wayss became dominant. W. J. Baltzer, a German immigrant working for the NSW Public Works Department, was kept informed of these developments by his brother and in 1890 returned to Germany to gather information [Fraser 1985]. Back in Australia he tried unsuccessfully to interest his superiors in the new technique; then joined several businessmen to obtain licences through Wayss to cover the Australian Colonies. Their vehicle was the firm of Carter Gummow & Co which, after small trial projects, obtained contracts to build two large arched sewage aqueducts over Johnstone's and White's Creeks in Annandale, now a suburb of Sydney. These were completed in 1896. Baltzer moved across to become effectively the Chief Engineer of the company.

In Melbourne in 1894, John Monash and Joshua Thomas Noble Anderson formed a partnership offering design and general contracting services in the fields of civil and mechanical engineering, with Monash applying his aptitude for legal matters to patent work and cases requiring a knowledge of engineering. In 1897, Gummow came to Melbourne to promote the Monier system here. Anderson seized the opportunity (Monash was in Perth) and persuaded Gummow to appoint the partnership as sole representative of the patent system in the Colony of Victoria.

Anderson threw himself enthusiastically into the design and construction of Monier arch bridges, those at Fyansford and Creswick (Wheeler's Bridge) being the first carried out mainly by the partnership. On Monash's return from Perth in July 1899 he joined in, his first major involvement with Monier concrete being the eight arch bridges built in Bendigo between October 1900 and May 1902. A contractual dispute over Fyansford and the collapse of a bridge at Bendigo led to severe cash-flow problems, and in May 1902, Anderson sailed to New Zealand to take up a salaried position as Chief Engineer of the Dunedin Sewerage and Drainage Board. In the same month the partners signed an agreement with Carter Gummow & Co permitting the establishment of a factory to manufacture Monier pipes for water-supply and sewerage, under the name of the Monier Pipe Company. It seems the plan was that Monash would remain in Melbourne trading the firm out of its difficulties, while Anderson established a bridgehead in New Zealand. This did not eventuate and in 1905 the partnership was dissolved and its projects and liabilities were combined with those of the pipe company to form a new establishment, the Reinforced Concrete & Monier Pipe Construction Company. (This name was commonly shortened to "The Reinforced Concrete Co.", while some correspondents continued to use the name "The Monier Pipe Co.")

Under Monash's guidance this firm gradually worked its way out of debt, diversifying its work in reinforced concrete and, up to about 1910, maintaining a position as the only important designer and builder of reinforced concrete in Victoria. A major factor in this process was Monash's self-tuition in the theory and practice of reinforced concrete, with the aid of Gummow and Baltzer. Starting in 1903, two major lines of development were the T-girder bridges described in Monash Bridges and the tanks and silos described on this, and accompanying, web pages (see links at bottom of page). The bulk of the tanks and silos were cylindrical in form, and thus closely followed the original Monier concept of a thin-walled vessel reinforced with a grid of closely-spaced small-diameter iron or steel bars.

First (fruitless) essays

Records concerning M&A's and RCMPC's early projects for reinforced concrete tanks and silos are patchy, but it seems to have taken four years for them to break into the field, during which time a number of proposals were made, all apparently fruitless. The first recorded is a quick study by Anderson for an elevated water tank for Rutherglen in August 1899. He proposed an octagonal Monier tank sitting on a square brick tower and central concrete column, but brief calculations led him to believe it was not feasible. Late that year, Carter Gummow & Co obtained a contract to build a service reservoir at Kiama, NSW. This on-ground Monier tank, 16m in diameter and 4.9m high, was completed in March 1900. In November 1900, M&A heard from Gummow's brother that British Insulated Wire was to build storage tanks at Bendigo and suggested concrete would be ideal for the job, quoting the Kiama tank as a precedent. In January 1901, an approach was made to the Pastoral Inspector of the Bank of Australasia proposing small Monier tanks for country areas.

Then late in May 1902 came a fully-fledged design in Monash's own hand for an elevated water tank for the Railways at Mildura. The record comprises four pages of calculations (stresses, quantities and costs) and a detailed sketch showing reinforcement. M&A's submission suggests the overall form was based on a Monier water tower at Wandsbeck, Germany, while details were modelled on the Kiama tank. The design appears to have been prepared in haste, as all correspondence so far located is dated between the 19th and 27th of May, and there is no evidence of advice from Baltzer or Gummow, even though this was readily given in the case of the arch bridges and pipe factory.

In September 1902, there was a hasty quotation for a shallow rectangular tank at St Kilda, 1.2m deep and 61m by 24m in plan. In January 1903, Monash wrote to David Mitchell proposing a type of silo for country areas, to consist of a ring of vertical iron joists of I cross-section, joined by a ring at the top, with flat Monier plates 50mm or 75mm thick cast between them in situ. Later the same month, Baltzer came to Melbourne and introduced Monash to important texts on the theory and practice of reinforced concrete.[4]

Mitchell was a prosperous builder, quarry owner and cement manufacturer; a key backer of Monash's enterprises; and father of Dame Nellie Melba. The texts lent to JM were Christophe, Berger & Guillerme, and Emperger. At or about the same time he was lent an up-to-date edition of the 'Wayss Handbook'.

In June, Monash designed a type of elevated water tank for Mitchell which harked back to Anderson's design for Rutherglen, much simplified. Both the Monier tank and its brick supporting tower were to be cylindrical, with the tank of larger diameter than the tower. Again, the tank floor was be propped at its centre by a central column and to extend beyond the tower walls to carry the walls of the tank by cantilever action; but it was to be flat and capable of supporting the weight of water and tank walls without the aid of beams. The column was to consist of Monier pipes joined end to end and filled with concrete and a reinforcing cage. An enquiry in August concerning cyanide vats for a gold mine near Tallangatta also appears to have come to nothing.

Caldermeade: first reinforced concrete tank in Victoria?

At last, later in August, came a job apparently gained through Mitchell for a simple cylindrical on-ground tank on the MacMillan Brothers' property at Caldermeade, 4.9m in diameter and 2.7m high. This was completed in December 1903 and was probably the first reinforced concrete water tank built in Victoria. [Photo.] Here Monash first encountered the problem of leakage which was to bedevil relations with municipal engineers in coming years.


Normal reinforced concrete has a disadvantage as a material for water tanks. Concrete shrinks slightly when it sets, but this shrinkage is resisted by the reinforcing bars which remain basically the same length though under slight compression. Fine cracks develop in the concrete, their width and spacing depending on the proportion of metal to concrete in the cross-section. Heavy reinforcement ensures closely-spaced, fine cracks. Light reinforcement permits wider cracks, further apart. When a tank or pipe is subjected to internal water pressure it expands and its circumference increases in length. This stretches both steel and concrete. Existing cracks widen and others may form. It was recognised in Monash's time that this phenomenon was inevitable, but that a process known as 'autogenous healing' could come to the rescue. This is somewhat like the process which forms stalactites in caves. As water is forced through the cracks it picks up salts where cement particles are concentrated and deposits them on the internal surfaces of cracks and cavities. If the cracks are sufficiently fine they can become blocked within a period varying from days to months. Monash was aware of this. He kept his steel ratio relatively high and his stresses relatively low - and tried to persuade his clients to be patient. Unfortunately, they were always anxious, and in a few cases, owing to lapses in quality control at distant sites, their fears were justified and the sealing process required months or years. The white staining left by early 'efflorescence', as salts were leached through the wall and deposited as vertical streaks on the outside surface, is a feature of all the extant tanks. It seems strange that reinforced concrete tanks and silos gained acceptance when they suffered from such a disadvantage. The answer has not been investigated, but must lie in the economic and functional disadvantages of their main competitors: iron or steel water tanks on a brick tower; and agricultural silos consisting of a timber framework lined with steel plates.

As experience was gained, designers progressively increased reinforcement ratios (and thus decreased the stress in the reinforcement) to minimise these problems. Since the 1930s, the development of very high-strength steel has made it possible to 'pre-stress' the reinforcement, stretching it like an elastic band, so that when the jacks are released it tends to spring back, placing the hardened concrete in compression. As the concrete shrinks, the 'elastic band' effect minutely reduces the circumference of the tank and prevents the development of cracks. The magnitude of pre-compression can be chosen so that subsequent expansion of the shell due to the outward pressure of the water merely reduces the compressive stress in the concrete, rather than inducing tensile stress. There can thus be no tensile cracking.

Christophe, in Le Béton Armé, described the achievement of impermeability as the most awkward question regarding concrete tanks ("la question la plus délicate qui se pose dans la construction des réservoirs …"). An example of efflorescence may be seen in our photo of the tank at Echuca.

The first tower design

In September 1904, Monash prepared a design for a water tower at Sale for an architect named Cain, working for a client who is not named in the records. The cylindrical tank was to be supported on a cylindrical Monier shaft and a central column. The scheme was abandoned when the client found the cost "prohibitive".

The first silos: Carlton Brewery

In November 1904, the Carlton Brewery called tenders for 21 steel tanks to hold malt. In a bold move, Monash prepared an alternative design in Monier construction, basing his calculations on articles in the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (UK) and the US journal Engineering News, apparently without assistance from Baltzer. The shape of the domed roofs of the tanks was based on an example at Lorient in France, illustrated in Berger and Guillerme's book. Monash told the Brewery that reinforced concrete tanks were already widely employed in Europe and the US and were "absolutely fireproof", "permanent", "indestructible", and rigid. They were impervious to rust, required no repairs or maintenance, were free of condensation; and their inner surfaces were smooth and free from the angles and corners which captured grain in steel tanks. The Breweries were convinced, and the contract was completed by the end of 1905. This time it was Carter Gummow & Co who asked Monash for advice, when they were trying to persuade Tooth's Breweries in Sydney to use concrete tanks. In March 1906 Mr Tooth, in Melbourne for Race Week, called at the Carlton Breweries and sampled the malt stored in the new tanks. It was reported that he was thoroughly satisfied. [The drawings for these tanks have not been located.]

Gisborne on-ground tank

In June 1905, Monash prepared a design for a shallow service reservoir for the town of Gisborne, 10.7m in diameter and 2.7m deep. The upper 1.8m projected above ground where, in an attempt to improve appearance, a one-metre-high band around the outer surface was roughened, exposing the aggregate (stone). This tank was demolished when it was taken out of service because it was not covered and was seen as a potential danger to local children.

Cobram elevated tank (project)

Also in September, Monash responded to a call for tenders for an elevated steel tank at Cobram, of 273,000 litres capacity. He spent several days on estimating the cost of the steel tank and preparing alternative designs in reinforced concrete. The tank was to have an internal diameter of 7.3m and be supported on a circular girder forming a ring 6.1m in diameter. This was to be supported just over 14m above ground by eight peripheral columns, encircled and joined by a cylindrical shell 75mm thick. There was also to be a central column to support the middle of the tank floor. Monash then tried dispensing with the peripheral columns and using a simple cylindrical shaft of wall thickness 130mm (again with a central column). He compared the use of a domical floor for the tank, common in European examples, with a simple flat slab floor and decided in favour of the latter. He also studied the economics of varying the ratio of height to diameter of the tank for a given capacity. Although there appears to have been no direct outcome, this investigation must have greatly enhanced Monash's understanding of such structures.

Bairnsdale on-ground tank

September 1905 also saw the commencement of serious discussions with the Engineer for the Bairnsdale Water Trust concerning a large service reservoir. Negotiations on the nature and size of the tank dragged on for months, requiring many revisions and probably much patience on Monash's part; but a contract was finally signed in March 1906 for a tank of 1.6 megalitres capacity. [Photo.]

The first "Standpipe": Wunghnu

Another breakthrough occurred in October 1905, when the Numurkah Water Works Trust called tenders for an elevated wrought iron tank on either a brick tower or timber stand, to be built at Wunghnu. Their Engineer responded enthusiastically when Monash wrote offering a Monier alternative, but he warned "you know, however, what a Trust is, and that they do not consider much beyond the [initial] cost - so be careful to make that a consideration …" Monash persuaded his clients that it would be better to have a simple, tall cylinder full of water from ground level up, rather than a tank sitting on a stand. He called this form a "standpipe" and the Wunghnu example is 15.9m high and 4.3m in diameter.

The term 'standpipe' is used in this dossier as Monash and his colleagues used it. It has other meanings in civil engineering, and some engineers might object that it not applicable to a service reservoir.

Monash knew of precedents, and had full details of one in the US, but wrote to Gummow asking if he felt the slender form would be safe. Gummow assured him it was, and sent a table showing recommended proportions of reinforcement for tanks. With typical economy of effort, Monash prepared his quotation by extrapolation from the Kiama tank, and made a proper stress analysis only when he was sure he had obtained the contract. The tank was completed in March 1906, but attention to leaks was required until early 1907. [Photo.]


Monash was still aiming for a large elevated tower and in March 1906 refined his calculations for a typical tank of 273,000 litres, still supported by eight peripheral columns and one supporting the centre of its floor. He was heavily influenced by a Belgian precedent illustrated in Fritz von Emperger's texts, of which he made detailed notes and sketches. However, the floor of the Belgian tank was supported by a clumsy arrangement of beams, and the columns were again encircled by a thin shell. Monash simplified the beams and omitted the shell, but his design retained the many horizontal braces in the stand. (Monash's notes for the typical tank are dated 2 and 3 March 1906, but the Belgian example may have influenced his earlier study for Cobram mentioned above.)

The first sprinkler tank

In February 1907, Monash prepared a design for a small elevated tank to supply the fire sprinklers of Bell's Match Factory in Richmond. The tank was cylindrical, 3.5m deep and 3.4m in diameter, and sat on a square stand consisting of four columns about 5.5m high with one set of lateral braces at mid-height. The height of the stand was later increased to about 8.5m and the details were recalculated by Monash's assistant, W. W. Harvey. Construction appears to have been completed by the end of June.

Pyramid Hill standpipe

In March 1907, the Pyramid Hill Waterworks Trust, inspired by the Wunghnu tank, approached RCMPC about a somewhat smaller tank suited to their limited means. Monash prepared his estimate by comparing it to the top 12m of the Wunghnu tank. Administrative arrangements were rather complex. The Trust asked its own engineer to prepare alternative designs in reinforced concrete and reinforced brickwork, to be checked by H. V. Champion, a leading Melbourne consulting engineer. (Champion was a Major, presumably in the militia, and would have been a professional colleague to Monash in both roles.) The local engineer was keen for Monash to win the contract and this duly occurred. Work started in November, but was hampered by the discovery that local materials were not of the quality promised, necessitating the importation of sand and gravel from White Hills, Bendigo. The tank was finished in February 1908, but minor squabbles over finish and leakage continued for some time. RCMPC made a loss on this project, but it set the scene for other more important ones. [Photo.]

Silos: Rupanyup and Sparrovale

In September 1907, a design was prepared, probably by Monash's assistant H. G. Jenkinson, for three grain silos at Rupanyup, each 12.2m high and 12.2m in diameter. Jenkinson based his design on the same article in Engineering News used by Monash for the Carlton Brewery tanks. These silos were believed to constitute the largest grain store in Australia at the time. [Photo.]

In October 1907, the Geelong Harbor Trust asked for quotes for one or two silos for their Sparrovale Irrigation Farm. The project was marked by strong disagreement between Monash and the Trust's Engineer, A. C. MacKenzie, initially over the stringency of the specification, then over the amount of cement in the concrete, and finally over leakage through the walls. It was discovered that the silage was attacking and softening the concrete and, following tests by RCMPC's business manager (a chemist by profession), it was decided to render the inside surfaces and treat them with sodium silicate. The existing RCMPC files mention two silos being built, 10.7m high and 6.6m in diameter.

The Harbor Trust had an option on two further silos at Sparrovale. Monash commented in April that it looked as though the Trust would decline to take this up. Given the continuing disputes with the Trust Engineer this would have been understandable, and no evidence has been found in the archives to suggest that a third and fourth silo were built in the period up to 1914. However, two similar silos still standing nearby are said to have been built by the firm.

Lara: an in-ground reservoir

Negotiations commencing in August 1907 led to a small but multi-chambered in-ground tank for the Inebriate Retreat at Lara, the client being the Public Works Department of Victoria. Built in a swampy area, this proved another learning experience.

More sprinkler tanks

Next followed a series of small industrial tanks. A rectangular tank for Hackett's Tannery, Richmond was 5.5m by 1.5m in plan and 1.2m deep, resting on brick walls. The initial drawing was dated March, and the definitive version July 1908. Also in March, a design was prepared for an elevated tank to supply a Grinnell Sprinkler at the Victorian Railway's carriage sheds at the corner of Dudley and Adderley Streets, North Melbourne. The tank sat on a cross-braced stand consisting of four columns placed at the corners of a square, with a fifth column in the centre. [Photo.] The job was obtained through the firm of Wormald Bros & Wears which included fire engineering amongst its services. Monash told his Works Manager, Lynch, that he wanted no more ornamentation than specified by the Railways, but wanted a good finished appearance in the hope of further orders of this kind. Owing to the swampy nature of the ground, the Railways Department, which had elected to prepare the foundations, relocated the tank and finally decided to drive piles. Several re-designs were necessary, some labour was wasted in the foundations, construction was interrupted, and the Department made additions to the design. RCMPC was recompensed for some of these setbacks but made a loss of £40 on a contract originally estimated at £220.

Since March 1907, the firm had been working on design and construction of the concrete floors of a factory for the British Australasian Tobacco Company between Swanston St and Stewart St, Melbourne. The contract included a rectangular sprinkler tank on a framed stand. Preliminary theoretical investigations and analysis for this were commenced early in June 1908 by Jenkinson. A few days later, Monash copied the drawing of a tank at "Neufeld (Hungary)" taken from Emperger's text. It is not clear to what extent it influenced the BATC tank as there are considerable differences in structural arrangement and height. A tank somewhat similar to the BATC tank was designed in September 1908 for a warehouse in De Graves St, Melbourne; but the order appears to have been cancelled just after construction commenced, leading to some bitterness between RCMPC and the general contractor.

Cable Tanks

December 1908 saw the design of cable tanks for the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs. The site was adjacent to a wharf at Lorimer St "3 miles from Queen's Bridge". This would place it in Fisherman's Bend, about one kilometre upstream from the West Gate Bridge. The records are somewhat confusing, but it appears that two tanks were built, one 7.6m in diameter with an inner circular wall 4.9m in diameter, and the other 8.5m diameter with no inner wall. Both were 2.7m deep, with their walls projecting one metre above ground.

More 'standpipes': Katamatite, Tungamah, St. James

In May 1909 came an opportunity which led on to a gratifying series of contracts for public water supply tanks in northern Victoria. This was for 'standpipes' similar to Wunghnu, to be built at Katamatite and Tungamah: both simple thin cylinders 15.2m high and 4.3m in diameter. In October, an order was placed for an identical standpipe at St James. All were completed by December. [Photos: Katamatite; Tungamah; St James.]

Mildura water tower: draft design

Also in October 1909, the Mildura Irrigation Trust made plans for an elevated tank containing 455,000 litres above a height of 19m from ground level. When RCMPC proposed a reinforced concrete structure, the Trust Engineer suggested a standpipe form filled with water from the ground up. Monash had to point out that the ring tension in the walls at ground level would be extremely, and unnecessarily, high. At this stage he was still thinking in terms of supporting large elevated tanks on columns, despite his use of cylindrical shafts as support in his 1902 design for the Mildura Railway Tank and in his studies related to Sale and Cobram. His quotation for the Mildura water tower produced no immediate result, but was taken up again some 15 months later.

Commencement of projects in South Australia

Since the establishment of the South Australian Reinforced Concrete Company in June 1906, with Monash serving officially as consultant, a number of fruitless proposals for containment vessels had been investigated. At last in August 1909, enquiries were received from a Wallaroo mining company for a large, shallow tank which was built in November. In February 1910, an elevated tank was designed for abattoirs at Adelaide, similar in appearance to European models. The tank was to be circular and supported on a ring of eight columns with connecting beams at three levels including the bottom of the tank. It appears that a contract was awarded. In March 1910, a drawing was prepared showing "Proposed reinforced concrete concentrates bins for Wallaroo Mines". Two adjacent bins are shown, square in plan, with a common party wall and steeply sloping bottoms. The whole was supported on six legs. No evidence has been found to show whether these were built.

Through the SARC, and his Resident Engineer in Adelaide, H G Jenkinson, Monash went on to oversee the design and construction of a significant number of service reservoirs in South Australia. These are described in a separate web page created after publication of the Tanks & Silos Dossier. [Link.]

Tocumwal Silos, phase one

From mid-March to November 1910 Monash took leave from his civil and military duties to make a world tour: sight-seeing; visiting relatives; and taking notes on developments in civil engineering - especially reinforced concrete - around the world. In December 1910 he prepared a rough design and estimate for two grain silos for the Jerilderie (NSW) Flour Mills, owned by the brothers Wise. He reminded them that he had been at school in Jerilderie "very many years ago" and suggested that "at any rate Mr Elliott [the schoolmaster] will remember me". Thomas Wise replied that he remembered Monash from the campaign over water rights in the Riverina, when Monash acted as engineering advisor and legal representative of the smaller land-owners. Estimates were prepared and a quote made, but the project was not activated until early 1912.

The water-tower design refined

Just before Christmas 1910, Monash learned that a significant elevated tank was required for the town of Beulah. He tried to persuade the State Rivers & Water Supply Commission to guarantee the job to RCMPC, but gained only a promise that alternative tenders in reinforced concrete would be accepted, and that a group of four towers would be let together to permit economies of scale. Monash's calculations were entitled "Standard Design for Elevated Water Tank". All vestiges of peripheral columns were at last abandoned in favour of a simple cylindrical supporting shaft, somewhat smaller in diameter than the tank. A single central column was to be composed of concrete pipes, about 700mm in diameter, stood end on end, and filled with concrete containing a cage of reinforcement. At mid-height of the shaft was a concrete slab serving as a stiffening diaphragm and intermediate floor. As we have seen, these ideas were not new, since Monash had used a cylindrical shaft with diaphragm for the Mildura Railway Tank in May 1902, had included a pipe-column in his project for David Mitchell in June 1903, and had combined both ideas in his project for Sale in September 1904. The Commission's response was that it would probably build the tanks by day-labour as RCMPC's price for a tank at Ultima had been high.

Monash noted SRWSC's reason as being that RCMPC's price for the Ultima tank had been so much "above McClelland". Since the Tanks & Silos Dossier was written, JM's calculations for the Ultima (Vic.) tank - a 'standpipe' - have been found in RCMCP's 'Quotation Files'. McClelland is presumably the contractor who worked with RCMPC on the Preston No.2 Reservoir.

Monash reacted in February 1911 by revising his design to reduce the basic cost of the structure from £486 to £415. To this was added £125 for freight, fittings and plant; £60 for contingencies; and a £200 'margin'. This brought the tender price down to £800. Included in the calculations is a sketch of an un-named water tower taken from Emperger's Handbuch für Eisenbetonbau. This much smaller tank may have served as a model, or as a reassuring precedent. Again, Monash's design is considerably simpler and the Beulah design is the first example in the RCMPC archives of a type which was to provide tall distinctive water towers to a number of Victorian country towns.

Tall towers: Mildura, Wonthaggi (project), Tatura

In January 1911, the Mildura project was revived. Rough calculations were prepared by assistants and a "final" design by Monash. Included with these is a more careful sketch of the water tower from Emperger's text. This shows its cylindrical shaft to be 170mm thick at the base, with 300mm wide ribs (or columns) projecting 150mm from the inside surface. In March, while investigations for the Mildura project were continuing, SARC commenced construction of a 227,000 litre elevated tank for the Mile End Running Sheds of the South Australian Railways. It seems that neither RCMPC nor SARC designed this structure which was supported on two rings of columns (8 plus 4), with connecting beams at three intermediate levels. [Photo.] Monash requested copies of the drawings, but there is no possibility that he saw anything in its complex and costly structural system to divert him from the Sale/Beulah type-design. Definitive drawings for the Mildura tower were prepared for submission of a tender to the Trust early in May. They were passed to the State Rivers & Water Supply Commission, which handed them in turn to A. G. M. Michell, a renowned consulting engineer, for review. While this was in progress, RCMPC prepared designs and tenders for two more water towers on the Beulah model, to be built at Wonthaggi and Tatura. Calculations were left to assistants: the former to P. T. Fairway and the latter to J. A. Laing. Michell's proof-engineering of the Mildura tower occupied some six weeks in June and July. He recommended some strengthening of the structure, and although Monash was by no means convinced it was necessary, he agreed to avoid delay. New drawings were prepared in August, and construction of this first of the new type took place between October 1911 and June 1912. The process was enlivened by the idiosyncrasies of the foreman and clerk of works and a shortage of skilled workers. The usual difference of opinion concerning leakage was not resolved until January 1915. [Photo, Mildura.]

Tender drawings for the Wonthaggi water tower were complete by June 1911, but in September the SRWSC decided not to go ahead with the project.

In the case of Tatura, Monash appears to have short-circuited the review of design by going straight to the senior SRWSC engineer, Thomas Murray, to sort out any questions he might have. Some modifications were made, the tender was accepted, and drawings were prepared in August; but in September the Commission decided to increase the capacity of the tank from 60,000 to 80,000 gallons, requiring further re-working. Construction commenced soon after, and was completed in April 1912. [Photo.] Unfortunately, the floor of the tank contained 'construction joints' where pauses in operations had caused fresh concrete to be laid against partially hardened material. [Photo.] Measures taken to ensure good bond between the fresh and the set concrete had been inadequate, and this led to serious leakage. Attempts to seal the floor with render were unsuccessful and at the end of 1914 the upper floor in the shaft, beneath the tank, was graded to an outlet to carry away the leaking water.

In June 1911, another Beulah-type design was prepared for the abattoirs in Adelaide, as already mentioned. It is known only from a drawing and may have been an alternative design to the eight-column version of February 1910, or a new design for a second tower.

Miscellaneous projects (including Tocumwal Silos and Reservoirs at Mont Park and Charlton)

After this there was a lull in orders for tall water towers which was compensated by a spate of contracts for industrial tanks, silos and smaller reservoirs. A sprinkler tank was designed for Jury's Warehouse in Flinders Lane, Melbourne in April 1911, and a drawing for a second was prepared in December 1912. These were part of a larger contract for the floors and roof, and we have no clear evidence that they were built. In February 1912, Wise Brothers revived the Tocumwal project. Monash prepared a design the same month, and this was followed by detailed calculations, probably by Lindsay, in April. Construction took place between May and August. [Photo.]

In March 1912, the Public Works Department prepared a design for an on-ground reinforced concrete reservoir for the Lunatic Asylum at Mont Park, near Melbourne. Standing on a tall hill overlooking the site, this was to be 14m in diameter and about 12.8m deep. Monash persuaded the Department to accept an alternative design for a rectangular tank which he priced at £1561 compared with £1952 for the Department's. The PWD then decided it could have a larger tank for the £1952, and RCMPC came up with a cylindrical form 7m deep and 22.1m in diameter which was built between June and December. [Photo.] In May 1912, a small silo was designed for a farm, also at Mont Park. This is known only from a drawing and a photograph showing it under construction.

In February 1913, a design was prepared for a cylindrical structure known only from a drawing entitled "Nitrate Store - Yarraville". It was 11.9m in diameter and 4.6m high and was unusual in having a concrete roof system (slab, girders and joists).

In June 1906, after several attempts and much negotiation, Monash obtained a contract with the Charlton Waterworks Trust to build an on-ground reservoir, 12.2m in diameter and 7m high. It was built from mid-June to mid-August, with the usual difference of opinion over leakage continuing until the first half of 1914. [Photo.]

In May 1913, a drawing was made for a gasometer tank. This had a reinforced concrete floor, a circular wall of internal diameter 7.8m and height 3.8m, and six reinforced concrete columns integral with the wall and projecting 3.1m above the wall to guide the gas container as it rose and fell. This project is also known only from a drawing.

Reservoirs at Murtoa and Mortlake

In the second half of 1913 and the first part of 1914 came a new series of orders for public water supply reservoirs. Design of a tank for Murtoa was investigated by Laing under Monash's direction. Because of the need to maintain pressure, any water closer than 15 feet to the ground would be considered unusable. Laing compared the cost of a 15-foot high substructure supporting a 45-foot deep tank with that of a simple cylinder containing water over a total height of 60 feet. The costs proved equal, so the simpler alternative was adopted. After discussion and negotiation the height was increased to 80 feet. The definitive drawing was made in August 1914, and work was completed between November 1914 and March 1915.

Back in June 1906, a quotation of £650 had been prepared, probably by Monash, for a standpipe for the Mortlake Waterworks Trust. This was based on a simple extrapolation from experience at Charlton, a somewhat different tank. The Trust delayed until October 1913, when their Engineer took the quotation to the SRWSC. Its Chief Engineer, Thomas Murray, told him the price was too low and sent him back to Monash. A more detailed investigation was carried out by Laing, and the price was raised to £800. Laing persuaded the Trust Engineer to adopt the system that RCMPC had used since introducing reinforced concrete to Victoria, whereby they prepared the specification for approval by the client's Engineer. The final design and drawing seems to have been prepared in August 1915, after Monash's departure for the First World War (December 1914). [Photo.]

Tall towers: Rochester, Echuca and Tongala

In March 1912, A. E. Castles, the Engineer for the Tatura tower had asked Monash for a quotation for a 455,000 litre elevated reservoir for the Rochester Waterworks Trust. In February 1913, with Rochester still "hanging fire" he told him of a further project for a 682,000 litre tank at Echuca. These were large structures, Rochester having a tank 8m deep on a shaft 25m tall, and Echuca a 12m deep tank on a 21m shaft. Probably about the same time, a smaller tank was mooted for Tongala with a 12m shaft and a tank of 10,000 gallons (46,000 litres) "easily extendable to 20,000 gallons". In January 1914, the larger projects began to firm, and Monash told Fairway to base their design on the Mildura tower, with improvements to avoid the leakage which occurred through the floor at Tatura. Outline drawings were prepared for both within a period of several days. Tenders were called for Rochester in February. The design was finalised after extensive negotiations concerning technical questions, and construction commenced in April.

In February 1915, a plaque was unveiled giving credit to the politician who performed the opening ceremony, the nine individual Commissioners of the Water Trust; and lastly RCMPC, the Trust's Secretary, and Castles.

Meanwhile, tenders had been called for Echuca in April. Monash was evidently worried about competition, and wrote a long letter explaining why the larger reservoir had to be more expensive than Rochester, and hoping that Castles would not recommend a slightly cheaper, but less effective design. In the event, RCMPC won with a price of £2973, compared with £3259 from G. F. Taylor and £3600 from Stone & Siddeley. Technical details were worked out in May, and formal acceptance came in June. Construction extended from July 1914 to early 1915. For the Tongala reservoir, initial design took place in April 1914, details were prepared in June, following negotiations, and construction took place from August to October to be ready for the coming summer. [Photos: Rochester; Echuca; Tongala.]

Rochester and Echuca were the culmination of Monash's development of the country water-tower before his departure for World War One, though the firm continued to build such towers for many years. Rochester seems to have been relatively free of leakage problems, though the tank itself was in modern times replaced by a bright blue fibre-glass container sitting on the original concrete shaft. Concerns about leakage at Echuca continued until at least the end of 1915 with Fairway, Monash's successor as RCMPC's Superintending Engineer, still insisting the problem would solve itself.

Geelong: Cheetham Salt Silos, Reservoir for Woollen Mills

In May and June 1914, drawings were prepared for a pair of bins for the Cheetham Ltd Salt Works at Geelong. These are known to us only from drawings and photographs. Also in May, Monash instructed Fairway to prepare a design for a 455,000 litre tank for the Woollen Mills at North Geelong, the client being the Commonwealth Department of Home Affairs. This meant treading on what was probably rival territory, as Geelong was the home of G. F. Taylor's competing construction company and the base of Stone & Siddeley's operations in Victoria. It is significant that the RCMPC file on this tank contains extracts from Monash's Presidential Address to the Institute of Victorian Engineers in which he attacked the use of patent reinforcing bars - the basis of competing systems of reinforced concrete construction. Detailed design was carried out by Laing following Monash's instructions. The design reverted to a simple cylindrical form, about 8.8m in diameter and 16.8m high, with a horizontal diaphragm part-way up forming the tank floor. [Photo.] There was a difference from previous examples, though, in that the middle of the tank floor was supported by a circular wall 3.7m in diameter rather than a central column. Construction took place between July and October and was noteworthy for a dispute about the definition of a 'builder's labourer'. RCMPC maintained they were entitled to pay their workers the rate for simple labourers, as a water tank was not a 'building' in the everyday meaning of the word. The Department insisted that the rate was applicable to any form of concrete work similar to that in buildings. The dispute went to arbitration and the judge agreed with the Department.

RCMPC paid labourers on tanks nine shillings per day. The Geelong Harbor Trust at the same time paid eight. The federal award specified ten shillings and four pence, which RCMPC was already paying to those working on buildings.

Wahgunyah standpipe

In May 1912, G. W. C. Venables, Engineer for the Wahgunyah Waterworks Trust, had approached Monash about a tank similar to Tatura, asking for a quotation and full technical details to confirm his own design. Municipal engineers were at this stage beginning to try their hand at reinforced concrete design based on information readily available in text books, and Monash was anxious not to dispense his hard-earned knowledge of design and construction in the medium free of charge. Venables's subsequent behaviour confirms he had no underhand motives, but shadow-boxing continued until June 1914, when tenders were finally called in a notice drafted by Monash.

There were some instances in the case of reinforced concrete girder bridges where RCMPC provided a design which the municipal engineer passed off as his own. This does not appear to have happened with the water tanks, but the matter has not been investigated.

The final design was a slender standpipe 19.5m high. [Photo.] Construction took place from August 1914 to April 1915, also touched by the dispute about builders' labourers. The individual on whom the dispute was centred, or who perhaps precipitated it, was on the workforce at Wahgunyah. Associated with this tank was a pump well excavated in rock and lined with a thin coat of reinforced concrete. Venables appears to have taken responsibility for this design with RCMPC acting only as contractors.

Yarrawonga project

In August 1914, RCMPC drew up a tender for a reservoir at Yarrawonga. In March, the Water Trust had asked Monash for rough prices for tanks of various sizes, to help them decide what size they could afford. As often happened, Monash coached the local Engineer in technical aspects and contract procedure, while the Trust investigated the question of finance. The parties attempted to arrange a contract without public tender, but when the drawings were submitted to the SRWSC for approval this body, which supplied part of the finance, insisted that public tenders be called. This was done in January 1915 for a standpipe 20.4m high, and the contract went to Stone & Siddeley.


The story of Monash's tanks and silos provides an interesting study in technology transfer, with documented references to overseas texts and the practical examples they contained. Monash obtained support from Gummow and Baltzer, but ventured ahead of them in certain respects. He appears to have selected, and may have developed himself, forms of public water supply service reservoirs which were particularly well adapted to Australian conditions. (A final judgement would require reference to the history of such structures overseas.)

A number of less important projects, particularly some of SARC's which are known only from drawings, have been omitted from this account.