Water, a most precious resource
Throughout Marble Hill’s long history, the need to source and store water in sufficient quantity had been the constant conundrum for all the previous custodians of the Estate. It was an ongoing battle to provide for domestic purposes in the Governor’s mansion and caretakers cottage, but also there was a desire to keep the grounds green and proffer some degree of bushfire protection.
In 1878 when the residence was first built technology didn’t allow for deep well construction and so the original plan included very large (for the time) underground tanks to be constructed to capture runoff from the extensive roof area of the building. To capture and divert this runoff into the tanks, an elaborate system of down pipes, diversion channels and underground piping was devised. Water was directed into the tanks from all parts of the building and directed towards two large underground cisterns. These main tanks themselves are brick-lined, massive and divided into four chambers. As water flows in from downpipes it passes from one chamber to the next and as it does pours over silt traps, meaning the water at the end chamber is clear and clean. Atop the end chamber a windmill was located, which when the wind was blowing (most days at Marble Hill), pumped water to a smaller water butt at the highest point on the property.
Some captured water flowed via a water butt that is constructed directly below the scullery (old term for a room used for dirty domestic tasks such as washing dishes). Here the house maids were able to hand pump clean water straight up into their coppers and laundry troughs. Once the scullery tank was full, excess water flowed into one of the main storage cisterns.
The windmill supplied “top tank” simply gravitated water back to the main residence for use in the bathrooms and plumbed toilets, which the Governor’s residence was noted for in a time when flush toilets were the height of luxury. Unfortunately, this complex but well-engineered system did not allow for firefighting water with pumped pressurised water to save the property when the 1955 Black Sunday fires swept through gutting all the buildings at Marble Hill.
In the 1970’s when the National Trust maintained the site they drilled a small bore and built a storage tank, but this was a very poor supply and barely supplied enough water for the now renovated Caretakers Cottage alone. There was no attempt to resurrect use of the big underground tanks which lay undamaged by the fire and in any case needed the residence roof for runoff, which of course was now gone. At some time in this period, a small dam was constructed as back up supply for some areas of garden re-established by the National Trust and Friends of Marble Hill. Again, this was barely sufficient with a very restricted catchment area to draw from.
In 2015, a new bore was drilled which luckily located a plentiful supply of clean water, that can be used both for domestic uses and gardens. Most importantly, this water will help protect from the threat of bushfire. For the first time in its history Marble Hill can look forward to a green future free of from the constraints of the past.