Glebe Hill Reservoir

The University of Newcastle Cultural Collections site has a Ralph Snowball photo with the caption “Construction of the water reservoir, New Lambton, NSW 1917”. In tracking down the location of this photo, thanks to Robert Watson I somewhat surprisingly ended up in a different suburb and a different year.

Construction of Glebe Hill Reservoir, 1886. Located at 65 Macquarie St, Merewether. Photo by Ralph Snowball, University of Newcastle, Cultural Collections.

Part 1: Ridgeway Road?

Given that the photo is taken from an elevated position overlooking a flat plain I had always assumed that the location was where the reservoir now is at the top of Ridgeway Road, New Lambton Heights.

Water Reservoir site, corner of Ridgeway Rd and Lookout Rd, New Lambton Heights.

A search of Trove appeared to confirm my assumption, with a 9th January 1917 newspaper article reporting that

“The construction of the New Lambton reservoir was completed on the 3rd instant, and after satisfactory tests were made the reservoir was brought into use.”
Further investigation however cast serious doubt on this being the site of the Snowball photo, for none of the other details matched up.
  • the topography of the land wasn’t right – there is a deep gully below Ridgeway Rd, but in the photo the land slopes down more gently.
  • the reservoir in the photo was of brick construction, but the New Lambton reservoir was of reinforced concrete.
  • the reservoir in the photo was large (from estimates of the dimensions in the photo I calculated the capacity to be 350,000 imperial gallons) whereas the New Lambton reservoir was only 50,000 gallons.

Visiting the site of the Ridgeway Rd reservoir revealed that the 50,000 gallon 1917 reservoir is still there, covered in ivy, beside the new 1954 steel reservoir. It is clearly not the reservoir in the Snowball photo.

The 1917 ivy covered concrete reservoir, Ridgeway Rd, New Lambton Heights.

On the horizon of the Snowball photo there is a very faint outline that appeared to me to be the outline of Shepherd’s Hill on the coast. What other reservoirs on the hills around the Newcastle would provide a view eastwards over the flatlands towards the coast?

A 1940 map of Newcastle shows reservoir locations as small blue circles. Having ruled out the Ridgeway Rd site [1], I then considered Lambton Reservoir [2], St James Rd Reservoir [3], and Lookout Reservoir [4].

1940 map of Newcastle, showing reservoir locations.

Part 2: Lambton?

Lambton Reservoir was built in 1885 and sits in the middle of Newcastle Road at the top of the hill.

Lambton Reservoir, Newcastle Road.

Interestingly, a drawing of the Lambton Reservoir shows that it is the same design as the reservoir in the Snowball photo, with a central dome and two concentric rings of arches to form the roof.

Design of Lambton Reservoir, 1885.

But despite the similarity of design, the topography of the land in the photo doesn’t match. If the photo was of Lambton Reservoir we would expect to see the township of Lambton (including the very prominent Post and Telegraph Office building) before us.

Part 3: St James Road?

The reservoir (marked 3 in the map above) in New Lambton, between St James Rd and Queens Rd was built soon after August 1926. It didn’t seem to match up too well with the shape of the land in the Snowball photo – the St James Rd reservoir appears to have a slight ridge to its right, which is absent in the old photo. Also in 1926 we would expect to see the growing suburb of New Lambton below the reservoir, instead of the large expanse of scrub land that we do see.

Reservoir, between St James Rd and Queens Rd, New Lambton.

Part 4: Lookout?

The reservoir marked 4 on the map above was known as the Lookout Reservoir. It also was constructed on 1926, and its location can still be seen in the empty circular space between the two newer above ground steel reservoirs.

Location of the “Lookout Reservoir”, corner of Grandview Rd and Lookout Rd, New Lambton Heights.

The “Lookout Reservoir” seemed to be a better candidate for the Snowball photo in terms of the shape of the land and size of the reservoir, but it led me to an impossible conclusion … the “Lookout Reservoir” was constructed in 1926, but Ralph Snowball had died in August 1925, before construction had begun!

Part 5: Merewether?

At this point, Robert Watson came to my aid, and with some inspired thinking rescued me from my impossible conclusion. He deduced that the reservoir in the Snowball photo is actually situated in Macquarie St, Merewether.

Location of Glebe Hill reservoir on the 1940 map.

I had led myself astray in too quickly assuming that the Snowball photo was looking east towards the coast. It is in fact looking north-west, across the Broadmeadow flatlands towards Waratah.

Glebe Hill Reservoir, Merewether.

Panorama from the site of the Glebe Hill reservoir.

Glebe Hill Reservoir in Macquarie St Merewether is now part of a private residence. Google Street View.

A newspaper article from May 1886 states that the construction of the reservoir began in November 1885, only three months after the Lambton reservoir was completed in August 1885. The article contains a detailed description of the design that matches the photo very closely.

The roof is formed of two concentric arched rings and a dome carried by cast-iron girders, supported by iron columns resting on stone foundations some two feet square.
A March 1887 article describing the Hunter River District Water Supply shows that the Glebe Hill reservoir was almost identical to the size to the Lambton reservoir.
The reservoir at Lambton is built on the hill above the Public school, a distance of twelve and a half miles from. Buttai. It will hold 402,600 gallons. At fifteen and a third miles from Buttai a 15-inch branch pipe, a mile and a quarter in length, is connected with a reservoir having a capacity of 403,000 gallons, to supply Hamilton, Adamstown, the Glebe, and other towns along the line.
Note that although the reservoir is located within the modern day suburb boundaries of Merewether, it is sometimes called the “Hamilton Reservoir”, as that was the principal township it served.
Some other hints that confirm that the Snowball photo is of the Glebe Hill reservoir are the faint outline of smoke stacks in the distance. At the right are two stacks of different size, close together.

Broadmeadow copper smelter stacks.

These are the stacks of the English and Australia Copper Company smelter at Broadmeadow.

To the right is a single stack of one of the A.A. Company pits in Hamilton, and the very faint outline of the roof of St Peters Church in Denison St, Hamilton.

The Glebe Hill reservoir photo is taken from a spot only about 400 metres away from another Ralph Snowball photo taken in 1897, which shows the same landmarks in the distance.

The Newcastle lowlands. 1897. Photo taken from intersection of Beaumont St and Glebe Rd looking north towards Hamilton. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.

1886 Glebe Hill Reservoir photo (top) and 1897 Glebe Rd photo (bottom)

The Glebe Hill reservoir is marked on Corporal Barrett’s 1910 map of Newcastle, situated on Lake Macquarie Rd. Quite possibly the two buildings marked at the end of Henry St are the two buildings we see in the Snowball photograph.

Glebe Hill reservoir, on 1910 map. University of Newcastle Cultural Collections.


Acknowledgements

My thanks to Robert Watson who had a substantial input into the content of this article. Thanks also to Brendan Berghout of Hunter Water, who pointed me towards some useful information on early water supply infrastructure, and who helpfully reminded me that imperial gallons (220 gallons/m3) are not the same as U.S. gallons (264 gallons/m3). It was a casual conversation with Brendan on a bicycle commute to work one morning that was the genesis of this journey of discovery.

Ambivalent

In a post earlier this month I used the word “ambivalent ” when talking about iTunes upgrades. A lot of people think of “ambivalent” as meaning not having a strong feeling on some matter. More correctly, ambivalence is when you have two conflicting feelings at the same time.

A good example of ambivalence is the music that retailers play in their stores. Undoubtedly they target the music they play in the background to cater to the tastes of the demographics of customers in their store, and to make them buy more stuff. I suspect they even fine tune it by the day of week and time of day, so that the music that gets played 10am on a Monday morning will be different to what gets played 3pm on a Saturday afternoon.

Yesterday's Hero (song) by John Paul Young.jpgSo when I was in Bunnings the other day and John Paul Young’s “Yesterday’s Hero” is played, I am both simultaneously delighted to be hearing my favourite song of 1975, (and knowing that JPY will be collecting a few cents more in royalties), but at the same time disgusted that a retail behemoth is trying to mess with my mind and affect my buying behaviour. Ambivalence.

Now in a curious coincidence an interview with JPY appeared in the Newcastle Herald today, in which he recounts how he was in Bunnings the other day and was recognised, but only as someone “who looks like John Paul Young.”

Now secure

Today I’ve done something I’ve been meaning to do for quite some time … to make this website use HTTPS (a.k.a. SSL/TLS). That means that all traffic to and from this website is now going over an encrypted connection, and web browsers will indicate this with a friendly green padlock in the address bar.


The final impetus for getting this done was Troy Hunt’s blog about how “Life Is About to Get a Whole Lot Harder for Websites Without HTTPS”. Soon, any website page that has a text input box will start displaying an “insecure” warning to users who load the page over old fashioned HTTP.

So how hard was it to get HTTPS enabled on this WordPress site? In short, not at all. Thanks to a collaboration between Comodo and cPanel I didn’t have to obtain or install SSL certificates – it was there waiting for me to use. All I needed to do was install and activate the Really Simple SSL WordPress plugin. That was it. Job done.

iTunes 12.6.2.20 sync woes

I use iTunes to organise my music library, listen to music, and sync music to my iPhone. With this fairly basic usage pattern, its probably been close to a decade since iTunes added any functionality that is of use to me. And that leaves me fairly ambivalent about the regular notification that “an update of iTunes is available”. On the one hand I don’t want to upgrade and risk breaking something that is working fine, but on the other hand skipping an upgrade potentially leaves security vulnerabilities unpatched.

The cautious side of me steers me to upgrading, and usually this is unproblematic. But not last time.

In late July I updated to iTunes 12.6.2.20 on my Windows 10 PC, and to iOS 10.3.3 on my iPhone 5. Everything seemed to upgrade as usual, but when I next connected my phone via the USB cable I got an error that the phone “cannot be synced because there is not enough free space to hold all of the selected items.”

I sync music to my phone based on a smart playlist I hadn’t changed the playlist settings or added any new music recently, and the size of the playlist as displayed in iTunes was indicating that the music should fit in the available space on my phone.

I tried simplifying the playlist rules, and a few other things, but the sync operation continued to baulk with the incorrect error about available space. I was eventually able to resolve the problem with the following steps.

Firstly I turned off the “Sync Music” checkbox, and performed a sync that removed all the music files on my phone

After doing this, on the phone I went into Settings –> General –> Storage & iCloud Usage –> Manage Storage –> Music. Even though all the music files on the phone had been removed, the phone was still reporting 10.49GB of space being taken up with music. (In the music player app, a large number of songs were displaying as available, but trying to play them would fail with an error.) By swiping left on “All songs” I was then able to ‘delete’ these phantom songs.

After this I restarted the phone. I’m not sure this was necessary, but I wanted to ensure the phone was in a clean state before the next step.

Lastly, in iTunes I ticked the checkbox to sync music again, and this time the sync progressed to a successful completion after several hours.

In summary, I don’t know whether it was the iTunes update or the iOS update that broke things, but it seems that the phone ended up with an incorrect reckoning of how many music files it had. The fix was to delete all the music files and resync the music files from a fresh start.