The Buildings

River Frontage, Spotswood Pumping Station, Victoria, 1938
View of Spotswood Pumping Station eastern frontage. Taken from river bank opposite glass works. Shows rail siding to oil terminals, both chimneys and 25-cycle substation.
Source: Museum Victoria

The Spotswood Pumping Station was built in the 1890s as a key component of the Melbourne Sewerage Scheme. Functioning as the heart of the system, the pumping station played a vital role in helping to overcome the city's early public health and sanitation problems. For almost 70 years from 1898, all the sewage collected in Melbourne's underground sewers passed through the pumps at Spotswood, on its way to the treatment works at Werribee.

Construction of the pumping station began in March 1894, with the local Footscray firm Messrs Garnsworthy & Smith being awarded the contract to prepare the site and foundations. Their first task was to excavate a massive hole measuring 20 metres by 100 metres and almost 25 metres in depth - much of it was blasted out of solid basalt. From the hole was removed some 25,500 cubic metres broken rock and spoil, weighing almost 70,000 tonnes, with the aid of steam cranes and a small steam locomotive.

Work progressed around the clock in continuous shifts with arc lamps providing illumination at night. Electric power for the lighting was supplied by generators at the Melbourne Glass Bottle Works next door.

In the excavated hole were constructed the brick and concrete lined tunnels for the inlet sewers, access tunnels, steel pipes for the outlet sewers, and twelve large elliptical pump wells formed with thick unreinforced concrete walls, strong enough to carry the weight of the buildings and heavy machinery. The space surrounding the wells was then filled with crushed rock.

Construction of the Pumping Station buildings and installation of the machinery commenced in late 1895 and would take almost two years to complete.