Move over Fort Scratchley, the Bogey Hole and Nobby’s Lighthouse! There’s another historical experience to explore in Newcastle.
Newcastle Reservoir #1 (The Res) on Tyrrell Street officially opened to the public today with guided tours of the 135 year old underwater reservoir. Like Fort Scratchely and the Lighthouse, The Res played an important part in the development of the Hunter region. Built in 1882, the function of the reservoir was to provide store water for the growing population holding over two million litres of water when full. It’s now empty having been decommissioned almost fifty years ago and now Hunter Water has commenced tours of the historic facility.
I’ve always been curious about this structure having walked by the high walls on Tyrrell Street and wondered what’s behind it. Well today I’m lucky enough to find out having been invited for a tour of the facility.
The tour starts with a safety briefing on top of Newcastle Reservoir #1 where we don hardhats and put on our audio gear.
From here, there are sensational views across Newcastle Harbour to Stockton.
It’s then time for the tour to begin and our group lines up in front of the green door. My eyes have to quickly adjust to the dim lighting as we descend down metal stairs into the structure. It’s such a change from the bright sunshine to a dark subterranean world.
I step off the bottom step and look around and see rows of columns. In fact, there’s 32 four-metre columns separating the area into different sections. As I look up and notice the historic cast iron support beams, I spot some stalactites hanging from the roof. With dim lighting and a drop in temperature, it’s wonderfully atmospheric.
It’s then time for the educational portion of our tour. With the assistance of historic photos and diagrams, our guide Nick provides an interesting account of the role that a permanent water supply played in the establishment of this region.
He explains the origins of Walka Water Scheme which involved water flowing down from the Hunter River in Walka as well as explaining about other the more recent infrastructure built to support the local water supply.
It’s interesting to learn that although Newcastle #1 was decommissioned, Newcastle #2 Reservoir remains operational and is behind the adjacent brick wall near to where we stand.
It’s fascinating to hear about the history of our local water as it’s so easy to take our water supply for granted. I have to admit although I had heard of Chichester Dam and Grahamstown Dam, until now I wasn’t exactly sure of where our local water comes from. Following the history lesson, Nick shows us around the reservoir pointing out original water pipes and an overflow water pipe, now rusted as well as the construction of the building.
It’s a testament to the quality construction that The Res is still relatively intact. Nick points out that the bricks were produced locally in Pokoblin and the mortar used contains premium lime content sourced from local Awabakal middens.
All to soon, our tour is at an end, the lights turn on and we blink adjusting to the bright lights.
However, it’s been an illuminating experience to learn more about Hunter history as well as assuaging my curiosity about what’s behind the high brick walls.
Hunter Water Tours of The Res
Hunter Water is opening The Res for public tours with participants selected by ballot. To register, visit hunterwater.com.au/theres. The tours have been extremely popular with over 10,000 people entering the ballot.
Tours run for 30 minutes on weekdays with a minimum age of 9 year old for visitors.
The Res is a dark underground space only accessible by stairs and therefore may not be suitable for those with claustrophobia or mobility issues.