In 1970, Magnetic Island became the first Queensland off-shore island to receive a water supply from the mainland, when an 8km-long submarine pipeline was laid from Rowes Bay to Cockle Bay, on the south-eastern side of Magnetic Island.
Locals watch on from the Rowes Bay foreshore as the first section of pipeline for the water supply to Magnetic Island is towed out to sea and manoeuvered into place, February 1970.
Photo: Townsville City Libraries.
Work on the ambitious project began in August 1969, and at times required divers to work in water depths of up to 9 metres. To mitigate the risks associated with sharks, a spokesman for the contractor told the Townsville Daily Bulletin that precautions would be in place for the divers, possibly in the form of protective cages.
According to the Bulletin, the original contractor who had tendered to lay the pipe for $258,000 within a timeframe of six months - “abandoned” the project shortly after work commenced.
When the city council took over the work, they decided to use six-inch PVC pipe instead of the 9-inch pipe made of asbestos cement that was originally planned. PVC was chosen for the pipeline because it was lightweight and flexible and was expected to last for up to 150 years.
By June 1970 the pipeline was nearing completion, albeit a few months behind schedule. Tides and wind conditions dictated the speed of the work, and an extra 900 metres of pipe had to be added to the length of the pipeline because it proved impossible to cut through the reefs of Cockle Bay.
A water supply for the island also required additional infrastructure to be built on the island itself. This involved the construction of 24 km of pressure and reticulation mains and storage reservoirs at Picnic Bay, Nelly Bay and Arcadia. The three reservoirs could each hold 1.9 million litres, and once fully operational, would supply approximately 600 residences.
After experiencing two years of drought, the pipeline was welcome news for island residents, since many people had resorted to buying water from the mainland and having it transported to the island at considerable expense.
Others hoped that supplying water to the island would trigger a boom on the island, in the form of increased tourism and housing.
Mr Charles Thomas, president of the Magnetic Island Tourist Association told the Bulletin in February 1970 that he doubted if many people on the island realised just how much (the) water would mean to them.
“The island will grow up overnight,” Mr Thomas said.
Mr Thomas believed that within four years, development on the island would have quadrupled, with island residents commuting to the city for work, and the opening up of investment opportunities on the island.
In May 1970, the Bulletin reported that it was “widely predicted” that completion of the reticulated water scheme would set off a building spree on the island.
“According to reports, many people holding land on the island are only waiting for the water connection to start building,” the Bulletin noted.
However, the newspaper pointed out that at least one factor that would limit such a spree was that the land available for building was limited, since three quarters of the island was National Park.
“The area with the greatest potential for residential sites appears to be Horseshoe Bay. The extensive flat land at Horseshoe Bay once supported a substantial pineapple industry… which has now become virtually extinct.”