The Canning Dam is a popular tourist attraction in Perth. The stunning scenery makes it the perfect picnic spot, and there are a number of different walks visitors can complete in the area. These range from short strolls, to longer hikes — look out for the signs that explain the historical significance of the area. There is even a wide path along the dam wall, which means you can take in the view of water on one side and dry land on the other. Engineers Australia have marked this feat of civil engineering as historically important, as it solved the major water shortages the Perth metropolitan area was suffering from in the late 1800s and early 1900s. It has also been recognised by the Heritage Council of WA for its innovation and technical excellence.
Historical Significance of the Dam
The Canning Dam was the primary water supply to the Perth metropolitan area, from its completion in 1940 until 1961 — the Serpentine Dam was built to keep up with the population growth. It currently supplies approximately 20% of the water to the current metropolitan area.
The City of Perth Waterworks Company launched the first reticulated water supply in October 1891. However, this was quickly overshadowed by angry ratepayers and members of the Perth City Council, who were upset about the company’s handling of reticulation and house connections.
There were also a number of deeper issues, such as rapid population growth due to the gold rush, which had already rendered the scheme inadequate. It was also only relevant to Perth; with Midland Junction, Claremont and Fremantle not receiving service for another 15 years. This meant much of the population was excluded from the water supply. At the same time, there was an outbreak of typhoid and waste disposal was considered basic and underdeveloped.
The Government had made the water company the responsibility of local council, which meant it was originally reluctant to become involved in any issues. However, by 1986 the Government had resorted to setting up the Metropolitan Water Works Board. This Board first proposed the construction of a dam on the Canning River in 1897, however funds were not allocated to the project.
In 1924, a pipehead dam was built near Araluen and used the Canning River as its water source. This was launched by Premier Sir James Mitchell, to satisfy the constant water shortages in Perth. However, the water supply was still insufficient for the population and the quality was poor.
In the meantime, several reports from inquiries had recommended the construction of a dam on the Canning River. Despite this, and multiple droughts, the Government didn’t allocate any funds to the project until the early 1930s.
Construction on the dam began in 1933 and it was completed in 1940. It’s considered to be of social significance for a number of reasons. Firstly, it provided a number of employment opportunities during the Depression, which helped the labour market recover. Since it was so labour intensive, many people in Perth were associated with it and formed a community. It has also been an enjoyable day trip for generations of Australians, who have enjoyed the surrounding landscapes.
It has also been recognised for its aesthetic structural design, given it had minimal environmental impact and features a curved design which demonstrated technical excellence. On top of this, it is still mainly in its original form. It was the first instance new concrete batching technology in Western Australia and was a benchmark for hydraulic technology at the time.