Melbourne Water Corporation [known as Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works to 1992]

Public Record Office Victoria
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Full description


Four main systems (Yan Yean, Maroondah, O'Shannassy, and Upper Yarra) supply Melbourne with water. The first of these (Yan Yean) was inaugurated in the 1850's. Responsibility for urban water supply and sewerage originally belonged with the City of Melbourne (1842 to date). In 1853 it was passed to the Commissioners of Sewers and Water Supply (1853-1860), thence to the Public Works Department, and finally to the Melbourne & Metropolitan Board of Works (1891 to date) now known as Melbourne Water.

Historically, sewerage lagged behind water supply and the inability of the early water authorities to deal effectively with sewerage problems was a major factor in the establishment of the Board in 1891. Only in the second half of the twentieth century did the supply of sewerage to newly settled areas become nearly simultaneous with water supply. In 1923, the M.M.B.W. was made responsible for drainage (main drains, rivers, creeks, surface water, storm water and floods). A major ancillary function has been the survey and mapping of urban and catchment areas under the Board's control. Diverse other responsibilities associated with water have included -

management of catchment areas,

management of parks and reserves in drainage areas,

management of industrial and hazardous wastes,

maintenance of metropolitan highways and bridges (1956 to 1974),

foreshore protection and improvements (1956 to 1974).

From 1949 to 1985, the M.M.B.W. was the chief planning authority for metropolitan Melbourne. In the early 1970s, "the Board had become a delegated agency for the EPA [Environmental Protection Authority] in detecting, licensing and monitoring waste discharges" (Tony Dingle & Carolyn Rasmussen, Vital Connections 1991, p.307). Late in 1985, legislation gave the M.M.B.W. responsibility for the storage treatment and disposal of industrial water throughout the whole of Victoria.


From its establishment in 1836, Melbourne drew its water supply direct from the Yarra River. As the population grew, this became hazardous to public health. The City of Melbourne (VA 511), established 1842, had formal responsibility for water supply and sewerage but lacked the necessary finance to construct its own water supply and sewers works.

In 1853 the colonial government established the Commissioners of Sewers & Water Supply (VA 2802) to take control of water supply functions. Works were undertaken by the Sewerage and Water (Supply) Commission whose staff were part of the civil establishment of the colony, responsible to the Commissioner of Public Works and effectively part of the Public Works Department (VA 669). The Commissioners built the Yan Yean water supply but "shied away from building the more difficult and costly sewers" (Tony Dingle & Carolyn Rasmussen, Vital Connections M.M.B.W., 1991, p.18). Initially these works were financed by an advance from the Colonial Treasurer to be repaid within a period of twenty five years. The Water Works Debenture Act 1855 authorised the Colonial Treasurer to issue debentures and the money raised was to be used to finance the work of the Commissioners.

PERIOD FROM 1860 TO 1891

On 12 December 1859, by Order of the Governor in Council and under the provisions of the Melbourne Sewerage and Water Amendment Act 1858, the Board of Commissioners of Sewerage and Water Supply was dissolved and its powers and property vested in the Board of Lands and Works (VA 744). Operationally, this responsibility was exercised by a branch of the Public Works Department known as the Melbourne Sewerage and Water Supply Department.

Water supply generated a revenue surplus, but successive colonial governments were unwilling to apply it to capital works for sewerage out of fear that country voters would resent increased spending on the metropolis. This led to urban dissatisfaction at what was seen as a hidden tax on city dwellers since surplus water revenues were applied to consolidated funds. Melbourne municipal government had been kept fragmented to prevent the formation of a metropolitan power and tax base which would rival the colonial government's own. There existed, in consequence, no single municipal authority capable of discharging water supply and sewerage functions throughout the metropolitan area.

The Town Clerk of Melbourne, E.G. Fitzgibbon, was prominent amongst those urging the formation of a single body representative of municipalities on the model of London's Metropolitan Board of Works as an alternative to government control. Other municipalities, many of which feared domination by Melbourne, could not agree, however, on the basis of representation. See David Dunstan, Governing the Metropolis ... (Melbourne, 1984).

As the sanitary crisis worsened, municipal conferences continued to disagree about what should be done until, in the late 1880s, a majority agreed to support the idea of a Board of Works for Melbourne. A Royal Commission into Sanitation recommended the establishment of a Board to provide a sewerage system and to take over control of the water supply and rivers and water courses in the metropolis. The Commission recommended establishment of a small Board of experts, independent of municipal control. The municipalities, however, demanded and won government agreement to the formation of a body representative of and largely controlled by municipal interests. This pattern of control lasted until 1978, when the government resumed a large measure of control leading, in time, to the corporatisation of the Board's functions and its current break up into diverse businesses.

PERIOD FROM 1891 TO 1991

The Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works (M.M.B.W.) was established in 1891 under the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works Act 1890 (No.1197) which received Royal Assent on 20 December 1890. The Board held its first meeting on 18 March 1891, but it was not formally constituted until its proclamation by Parliament on 1 July 1891.

Under s.60 of the M.M.B.W. Act of 1890, the new Board took over from the Board of Lands and Works (VA 744) responsibility for the ownership of all Melbourne metropolitan waterworks, sewers, drains, property, land, buildings, plant, river beds and banks except for those river beds and banks vested in the Melbourne Harbour Trust Commissioners, Victorian Railways Commissioners (VA 2876) and the City of Melbourne, and for all related debts and contracts. Operational responsibility for Melbourne's water supply and sewerage was taken over from a branch of Public Works (VA 669), the Melbourne Sewerage and Water Supply Department.

The 1890 Act established a Board of thirty nine unpaid Commissioners, all drawn from Melbourne and Metropolitan Councils, and a full-time elected Chairman. Amending Acts in 1945 and 1953 increased the number of Commissioners to fifty four by 1978. Following a Board of Inquiry in 1977, the constitution of the M.M.B.W. was changed by the Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works (Reconstruction) Act 1978 (No.9165) and from 1 August 1978 the Board comprised a full-time appointed Chairman and six part-time members (four elected by Area Commissions - groupings of municipalities - and two Government appointees: Victorian Yearbook 1980, p.304). The Board also worked through a number of permanent Committees - Officers and Servants, Finance, Water Supply, Sewerage, Farm, as well as Planning and Highways 1956-1974 and Planning 1974-1985. The Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works (Offices) Act 1982 instituted senior management reforms including a change in the status of Chairman from full to part-time and the appointment of a General Manager.

E.G. Fitzgibbon became the Board's first Chairman. In late 1890 an English sanitary engineer, James Mansergh, visited Melbourne to provide recommendations on the development of a sewerage system. His recommendations have guided the subsequent history of Melbourne's systems (M.M.B.W. 75th Anniversary and Annual Report, 1965-1966). Over time, the M.M.B.W. subsumed water authorities in surrounding areas which were progressively swallowed up in Melbourne's urban sprawl.


Melbourne Water is the successor in law and the body responsible for the functions carried out by the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works. It was formed by the merger of the M.M.B.W. with other local water authorities on 1 September 1991. Under the Melbourne Water Corporation Act 1992 (Act No.54, 1992), which received Royal Assent on 30 June 1992, the M.M.B.W. as then constituted continues in existence under the name Melbourne Water Corporation (known as Melbourne Water). The 1992 Act does not repeal the earlier Act. Melbourne Water has the functions conferred on it by the 1992 Act, the 1891 Act (as amended) and any other Act. The Melbourne Water Corporation Act was proclaimed on 30 June 1992.

Under section 51 of the Act, Melbourne Water took over responsibilities for water supply, sewerage and drainage functions formerly undertaken by:

Dandenong - Springvale Water Board;

Emerald District Water Board;

Dandenong Valley and Westernport Authority;

Mornington Peninsula and District Water Board;

Pakenham Water Board and the

Lang Lang Water Board

in the geographic areas formerly administered by these bodies.

Melbourne Water also has responsibility for development of metropolitan waterways and parks and the management of Victoria's industrial wastes. Major initiatives as at February 1993 included the construction of the North West Sewer, continued expansion of open space, improvement of waterways and implementation of customer services programs. Melbourne Water has three regional offices in metropolitan Melbourne to increase its capacity to respond quickly to the concerns of customers, local government and trades people.

During 1992, Melbourne Water Corporation was administered by a Commissioner. From 1993, the corporation will be administered by a Board of Directors with a maximum of six members (Part 3 of the 1992 Act).


The M.M.B.W. took over the Yan Yean Reservoir (constructed 1857) and subsequently constructed a number of major storage reservoirs - Toorourrong- Maroondah (1927), O'Shannassy (1928), Silvan (1931), Upper Yarra (1957), Cardinia and Winneke. These reservoirs are linked to a number of metropolitan service reservoirs. The Werribee Treatment Farm and pumping station at Spotswood formed part of the original sewerage scheme developed by the Board. The Brooklyn pumping station began operation in 1964 and in the same year construction of the South Eastern Scheme began (Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works Annual Report 1965-1966).


The M.M.B.W.'s responsibility for rivers, creeks, drains, surface water, and flood control was made definite in 1923 by the Metropolitan Drainage and Rivers Act which vested responsibility in the Board for the drainage of surface water and rainwater flowing through more than one municipality. Later amendments extended the Board's responsibilities and the provisions of these Acts were consolidated in the 1958 Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works Act. At first, efforts were concentrated on the management of rivers and water courses and on the building of main drains to control floods. From the late 1950s, the Board sought "non-structural" solutions by reserving flood plains and natural valleys from development. These reserves were often used for recreational purposes and, as the city developed, for freeway construction.


In December 1922 an Act was passed establishing the Metropolitan Town Planning Commission. The Commissioners, appointed in an honorary capacity in 1923, were charged with providing advice on town planning in the Melbourne and Metropolitan Area. The Commission was financed by metropolitan municipalities, the Victorian Railways (VA 2876), Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board (VA 2694), Melbourne Harbour Trust and the M.M.B.W. The Commissioners presented their report in 1929, stressing the need for legislation, but a long period of inaction followed until the passage of the Town and Country Planning Act in 1944. An amending Act in 1949, the Town and Country Planning (Metropolitan Area) Act authorised the M.M.B.W. to prepare a comprehensive plan for Melbourne and the Metropolitan area. A subsequent Act in 1954 established the Board as the permanent planning authority for Melbourne and the Metropolitan Area and the Metropolitan Improvement Rate was struck to finance the planning scheme developed by the Board. Through its planning role, the Board also took on responsibility for metropolitan parks (Victorian Yearbook 1973, p.187 and 1980, p.241).


From 1956 to 1974 the Board also took on responsibility for the construction and maintenance of metropolitan highways and bridges approved and declared by the Governor-in-Council, and for foreshore protection and improvements for Melbourne's bayside suburbs. These responsibilities were vested in the Board by an amending Act in 1956, subsequently consolidated in 1958. In 1974 the Metropolitan Bridges, Highways and Foreshore Act passed these responsibilities back to the Country Roads Board (VA 722) and Ports and Harbours Division of Public Works (VA 669) respectively.

In relation to its town planning, highways, bridges and foreshores functions, the Board was responsible (in succession) to the Ministers for Public Works (VRG 28), Local Government (VRG 57), Planning (VRG 65) and (for town planning only) Planning and Environment (VRG 78). From 1985, the town planning responsibilities passed to the Ministry for Planning and Environment (VA 1024) under the Town and Country Planning (Transfer of Functions) Act 1985 (No.10187). Under the Road Traffic Act 1980, the M.M.B.W. was also represented on the Traffic Commission.

Functions Transferred From Previous Agencies

Function Year of From Agency

Melbourne Water Supply and 1891 VA 744 Board of Lands and Sewerage Works

Melbourne Drainage 1923 VA 744 Board of Lands
and Works

Water Supply (Healesville) 1982 VA 2097 Healesville
Waterworks Trust

Water Supply (Hurstbridge) 1982 VA....Hurstbridge Waterworks

Sewerage (Hurstbridge) 1982 VA 1990 Hurstbridge
Sewerage Authority

Water Supply (Warburton) 1983 VA 2171 Warburton
Waterworks Trust

Water Supply (Woori 1983 VA 2177 Woori Yallock-
Yallock/Launching Place) Launching Place Waterworks

Water Supply (Yarra Junction) 1983 VA 2179 Yarra Junction
Waterworks Trust

Yarra River improvements 1983 VA 1942 Yarra River
Improvement Trust

Sewerage (Dandenong) 1991 VA 2669 Dandenong-
Springvale Water Board

Sewerage (Springvale/Noble Park) 1991 VA 2669 Dandenong-
Springvale Water Board

Drainage (Dandenong Valley) 1991 VA 1428 Dandenong Valley
and Westernport Authority

Drainage (Westernport) 1991 VA 1428 Dandenong Valley
and Westernport Authority

Water Supply (Gembrook/Cockatoo/ 1991 VA 2678 Emerald
Emerald) District Water Board

Water Supply (Lang Lang) 1991 VA.... Lang Lang Water Board

Sewerage (Lang Lang) 1991 VA.... Lang Lang Water Board

Sewerage (Cranbourne) 1991 VA 2806 Mornington Peninsula
and District Water Board

Sewerage (Dromana/Rosebud) 1991 VA 2806 Mornington Peninsula
and District Water Board

Sewerage (Frankston) 1991 VA 2806 Mornington Peninsula
and District Water Board

Sewerage (Hastings) 1991 VA 2806 Mornington Peninsula
and District Water Board

Sewerage (Mornington) 1991 VA 2806 Mornington Peninsula
and District Water Board

Sewerage (Mt Eliza) 1991 VA 2806 Mornington Peninsula
and District Water Board

Water Supply (Mornington Peninsula 1991 VA 2806 Mornington Peninsula
Waterworks District) and District Water Board

Water Supply and Sewerage 1991 VA.... Pakenham Water Board


Very few records were transferred prior to 1993 - see List of Holdings 2nd edition 1985, section 3.23.3. In 1993, a major transfer was made comprising mostly survey records and plans, photographs, and material from an historical collection assembled over the preceding twenty years. See list of series below.

Data time period: [1891 TO 3000]

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