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1960-1963-Ord Stage 1

This page is one of two new web pages created for and linked by QR Code from the new culture & heritage interpretive signage at the recently completed Ord River Diversion Dam west bank picnic-viewing area.  This area was officially opened on Monday September 14th.  The two new web pages were created in weeks leading up to the opening to compliment the heritage signage, giving more information than was possible on a sign. One was this page...


OR go to the 2nd new page created for the new Ord River Diversion Dam west bank picnic and viewing area signage of an earlier illustrated Ord River Irrigation Area History with links to other resources as a "Timeline of Tropical Agriculture" from the earliest days which shows the incremental development that led to the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, from - http://www.kununurra.org.au/research/ord-river-irrigation-area-history

 The contractors for the Ord River Diversion Dam construction were a Danish firm, Christiani & Nielsen, who had partnered with WA firm Clough Engineering, to contract as Christiani Nielsen & Clough (CN&C).  They had just completed the Narrows Bridge in Perth when the Ord River Diversion Dam contracts were let. The Danes were expert with pre-stressed concrete beams and had built many bridges on the autobahns (freeways) in Germany and Leif Ott Nilsen's proudest achievement, a dynamic bridge over a fjiord in Denmark. These pre-stressed concrete beams used for the Narrows Bridge, completed in 1959, were also utilised for the roadway over the Ord River Diversion Dam and for the Dunham River bridge in 1962 and you can see images of the beams below.

Scroll to end of images for extracts from a paper on the History of the Ord River Project Stage I presented by Roy A Hamilton at a 1991 conference - "50 Years of Ord Irrigation - Reviews & Future Perspectives" - Roy was the Resident Engineer for the Public Works Department during the construction of the Ord River Diversion Dam and later office-bearer of the Kununurra Historical Society.

1959-Bandicoot Bar - Diamond Drill - KHS-2010-2-029-ab-PD
1959-Bandicoot Bar - Diamond Drill - Kununurra Historical Society - Cyril Ion 35mm Slide Collection - KHS Archive - KHS-2010-2-029-ab-P-D - Notice how much higher
the water level on the left is, than the much lower level on the right.  This is Tharram or the Bandicoot Bar which is holding back what was known as Thethebeleng or the "Carlton Reach," a long reach of water on Ord River, which was reputed to be the biggest waterhole in the Kimberley. 

The end of what was known for millenia as Thethebeleng, or over a century as Carlton Reach, on the Ord River and for the past 50 or 60 years as Lake Kununurra.  It was reputed to be the biggest waterhole in the Kimberley.  Shows the end of the waterhole at the head of the Carlton Ridge, today known as Elephant Rock or the head of the Sleeping Buddha. Kununurra Historical Society - WAC (Bill) Wright Collections
The end of what was known for millenia as Thethebeleng, or over a century as Carlton Reach, on the Ord River and for the past 50 or 60 years as Lake Kununurra.  It was reputed to be the biggest waterhole in the Kimberley.  Shows the end of the waterhole at the head of the Carlton Ridge, today known as Elephant Rock or the head of the Sleeping Buddha. Kununurra Historical Society - WAC (Bill) Wright Collections

This permanent waterhole stretched from the Bandicoot Bar to the 'Elephant (rock)' end of the Carlton Ridge, at the head of what has been known only since the sixties or seventies as the Sleeping Buddha.

1959-09 - John Lewis - Designer of the Diversion Dam at Bandicoot Bar Camp - KHS-2011-46-cg-PD_Sm
[1960 - John Lewis - Designer of the Diversion Dam at Bandicoot Bar Camp - WAC (Bill) Wright Collections KHS Archive - KHS-2011-46-cg-PD]

1959-Bandicoot Bar - Diamond Drill - KHS-2010-2-040-am-P-D
[Bandicoot Bar - Diamond Drill - To LHS is John Lewis, designer of the Ord River Diversion Dam - Cyril Ion Collection - KHS-2010-2-040-am-P-D]

1961 - Diversion Dam - Drilling for grout curtain - KHS-2011-27-017-P-D
[1961 - Diversion Dam - Drilling for grout curtain - Uffe Bondjeberg Hansen Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-27-017-P-D]

1961-04 - Don Rhodes at his Site Office - Initial Access to Bandicoot Bar made by Rhodes Contractors - B47 - KHS-2011-27-034-P-D
[1961-04 - Don Rhodes at his Site Office on the Coffer Dam to allow construction work at Bandicoot Bar - Initial Access to Bandicoot Bar was made by Rhodes Contractors - Uffe Bondjeberg Hansen Collection - KHS-2011-27-034-P-D]

1961-06-30 - 1st Concrete Pour - Ord River Diversion Dam Construction Site - KHS-2015-145-ae-P11-D
[1961-06-30 - 1st Concrete Pour on the Ord River Diversion Dam Construction Site - Gary Neale (Formwork Carpenter) Collection - KHS Archive - KHS-2015-145-ae-P11-D_Sm]

1961-07 - Bandicoot Bar - Monolith 47 closest will form east abutment - KHS-2011-31-356-4.55-P2-D
[1961-07 - Bandicoot Bar - Monolith 47 closest will form east abutment - Kevin Richards 35mm Slide Collection - KHS Archive - KHS-2011-31-356-4.55-P2-D]

1961-07 - Bandicoot Bar - Monolith 47 closest will form east abutment - KHS-2011-31-356-4.55-P2-D_Sm
[1961-07-ca - Bandicoot Bar - Monolith 47 closest will form east abutment with spillways being formed - Cyril Ion 35mm Slide Collection - KHS Archive KHS-2011-31-356-4.55-P2-D]

1960-11-Pilot-Farm Flume Structure Farm Manager Ron Kinsey - KHS-2010-2-067-bo-PD
[1960-11-Pilot-Farm Flume Structure Farm Manager Ron Kinsey - KHS Cyril Ion 35mm Collection - KHS Archive - KHS-2010-2-067-bo-PD - This structure now lies in bush between Kimberleyland Caravan Park and the Pump Station road]

1961-10-ca East embankment foundations and concrete cut off (point)-Crop - KHS-1998-8-nu-P4-D
[1961 East abutment embankment foundations and concrete cut off (point) - Roy A. Hamilton Collections - KHS Archive - KHS-1998-8-nu-P4-D.  The east embankment was excavated back down to rock before the concrete cut off was added.  After this a clay core and rock armouring would be built up over the top of this to form the abutment to the dam.]

1961-10 - East Abutment Ord River Diversion Dam - KHS-2011-27-048-PD_Sm
[1961 - East Abutment Ord River Diversion Dam - B65 - Uffe Bondjeberg Hansen Collection - KHS Archive - KHS-2011-27-048-PD - The east abutment would have a clay core with rock armouring - similar to the later construction method used for the Ord River (Top) Dam.]

1961-10-Bandicoot-Bar Diversion Dam Construction - KHS-2010-2-106-da-PD
[1961-10-Bandicoot-Bar Diversion Dam Construction - Cyril Ion Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2010-2-106-da-PD - Clay core going up with rock armouring visible to LHS on the east abutment to the Ord River Diversion Dam]


1961-08-ca Monolith 32 upstream rock surface before concreting - KHS-1998-8-gLL-P4-D
[1961-08-ca Monolith 32 upstream rock surface before concreting - KHS Roy A. Hamilton Collections - KHS Archive No. KHS-1998-8-gLL-P4-D - Before concreting men are removing all loose rock material.]

1961-08-ca Monolith 35. Upstream Phyllite seam and rock surface with anchor bars before concrete - KHS-1998-8-lf-P4-D
[1961-08-ca Monolith 35. Upstream Phyllite seam and rock surface with anchor bars before concrete - Roy A. Hamilton Collections - KHS Archive No. KHS-1998-8-lf-P4-D]

1961-11-ca - Aerial View over Ord River Diversion Dam_Photo Leif Ott Nilsen_KHS-2018-57-P-BD_175
[1961-11-ca - Aerial View over Ord River Diversion Dam - KHS Leif Ott Nilsen Collection - KHS Archive - KHS-2018-57-P-BD_175]

1961-11-ca - Ord River Diversion Dam shows Ord River flowing over new work_Photo Leif Ott Nilsen_KHS-2018-57-P-BD_100
[1961-11-ca - Ord River Diversion Dam shows Ord River flowing over new work. - KHS - Leif Ott Nilsen Collection - KHS Archive - KHS-2018-57-P-BD_100]

1961-09-ca - Batching Plant - Bulk Cement Tanks - Cement Globes on truck transport from Wyndham - KHS-2015-171-u-P6-D-21
[1961-09-ca - Concrete Batching Plant - Bulk Cement Tanks - Cement Globes on truck for cement transported from Wyndham that had been off-loaded from the State Ship Dulverton - Christiani, Nielsen & Clough site buildings in the background - Dennis O'Brien Collections - KHS Archive No. KHS-2015-171-u-P6-D-21]

1961-05-Bandicoot-Bar Pre-stressed beams - KHS-2010-2-097-cr-PD_Sm
[1961 - Bandicoot-Bar construction site - A pre-stressed concrete beam that will form the roadway across the top of the Ord River Diversion Dam as well as forming the roadway for the Dunham River Bridge that would commence in 1962. Cyril Ion Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2010-2-097-cr-P-D]

1961-12-ca Up-river side - Coffer dam and piers for roadway on diversion dam monoliths - KHS-2011-31-373-3.21-P2-D
[1961-12-ca - Up-river side - Coffer dam and piers for roadway on diversion dam monoliths - KHS Kevin Richards Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-31-373-3.21-P2-D]

1962 - Diversion Dam - Removing formwork from completed concrete pier cantilever - KHS-2002-43-f-P8-D
[1962 - Diversion Dam - Removing formwork from completed concrete pier cantilever - KHS Don Young Print Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2002-43-f-P8-D]

1962-03-ca - Aerial View over Ord River Diversion Dam after Wet Season_Photo Leif Ott Nilsen_KHS-2018-57-P-BD_157
[1962-03-ca - Aerial View over Ord River Diversion Dam after Wet Season - KHS Leif Ott Nilsen Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2018-57-P-BD_157 - Note the first two gates are in the process of being fitted - Shows the east abutment from downstream]

1962-06-ca Down-stream side showing trunions ready for gates circa June 1962 - KHS-2011-31-374-1.36-P2-D
[1962-06-ca Down-stream side showing trunions ready for gates circa June 1962 - KHS Kevin Richards Collections - KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-31-374-1.36-P2-D]

1962-08-ca - Ord River Diversion Dam crossing the river - KHS-2011-31-379-3.17-P2-D
[1962-08-ca - Ord River Diversion Dam crossing the river - KHS Kevin Richards Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-31-379-3.17-P2-D - Notice that the pre-stressed concrete beam roadway extending from the east bank and Diversion dam gates in various stages of construction]

1962-09-ca - Looking East Upstream - Pre-Stressed Beam Carrier - Ord River Diversion Dam construction (KHS Caption) - KHS-2012-60-PD-030
[1962-09-ca - Looking East Upstream - Pre-Stressed Beam Carrier - Ord River Diversion Dam construction - KHS Roy Ladhams Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2012-60-PD-030]


1962-08-ca - Roadway construction on Ord River Diversion Dam - Lifting Pre-stressed Concrete Beam_Photo Leif Ott Nilsen_KHS-2018-57-P-BD_115
[1962-08-ca - Roadway construction on Ord River Diversion Dam - Lifting Pre-stressed concrete beam into position to form the roadway across the dam - KHS Leif Ott Nilsen Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2018-57-P-BD_115]

1962-09-ca - Looking East Across the Ord River Diversion Dam Construction Site (KHS Caption) - KHS-2012-60-PD-035
[1962-09-ca - Looking East Across the Ord River Diversion Dam - Shows a section of the pre-stressed concrete beams that will form the roadway - KHS Roy Ladhams Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2012-60-PD-035]

[In July 1962 the Public Works Department social club's magazine "The PWD Spokesman" published a special on the Ord River Project that has detailed information about some aspects of the Ord River Diversion Dam construction.  The Kununurra Historical Society have digitised and transcribed this into a new document that is available to download at the end of this page as a file download]

The 15th of August 1962 was a bleak day for the site, the C&N mess and wet canteen burned and was completely destroyed about 1.30pm. Until such time as a new building could be erected the 400 men were fed in the Public Works mess, under the management of Mrs Foord, as well as the 120 departmental people, with 2 extra sittings a meal.

1962-08-15 - Ord River Diversion Dam - Mess Hall Fire - KHS-2010-1-hj-P2-D
[1962-08-15 - Ord River Diversion Dam - Mess Hall Fire - KHS Arthur & Dorothy Perry Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2010-1-hj-P2-D - "The guilty cook" walking back toward the mess - The fire started in an oven left unattended]

1962-08-ca - Red Hot Rivet for an Ord River Diversion Dam Gate_Photo Leif Ott Nilsen_KHS-2018-57-P-BD_159
[1962-08-ca - Red Hot Rivet for an Ord River Diversion Dam Gate - KHS - Leif Ott Nilsen Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2018-57-P-BD_159]

1962-09-ca - Installing a Bearing into a Radial Arm for a Diversion Dam Gate Hinge_Photo Leif Ott Nilsen_KHS-2018-57-P-BD_122
[1962-09-ca - Installing a Bearing into a Radial Arm for a Diversion Dam Gate Hinge - KHS Leif Ott Nilsen Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2018-57-P-BD_122]

1962-ca - Diversion Dam - Pivot point for radial arm gates - KHS-2011-31-358-4.12-P2-D
[1962-ca - Diversion Dam - Hinge Installation - Pivot point for a radial arm gate - KHS Kevin Richards 35mm Slide Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-31-358-4.12-P2-D]

1962-08-ca - First Pre-stressed concrete beams in place on Dunham River Bridge 2_Photo Leif Ott Nilsen_KHS-2018-57-P-BD_149
[1962-08-ca - First Pre-stressed concrete beams in place on the new Dunham River Bridge - KHS Leif Ott Nilsen Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2018-57-P-BD_149]

1962-08-ca - Dunham River Bridge Site from West Bank - Pre-stressed concrete beam positioning 2_Photo Leif Ott Nilsen_KHS-2018-57-P-BD_146
[1962-08-ca - Dunham River Bridge Site from West Bank - Pre-stressed concrete beam positioning - KHS Leif Ott Nilsen Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2018-57-P-BD_146]

1962 - Diversion Dam Gate During Construction - KHS-2010-1-gi-P2-D
[1962 - Diversion Dam Gate During Construction - Arthur & Dorothy Perry Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2010-1-gi-P2-D]

1962 - Ord River Diversion Dam from upstream east bank - KHS Archive No. KHS-2010-1-gh-P2-D_Sm
[1962 - Ord River Diversion Dam from upstream east bank - Arthur & Dorothy Perry Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2010-1-gh-P2-D]

1962-08-ca - Dunham River Bridge Site from West Bank - Pre-stressed concrete beam positioning 2_Photo Leif Ott Nilsen_KHS-2018-57-P-BD_146
[1962-12-ca - Ord River Diversion Dam nearing completion - KHS Kevin Richards Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-31-377-4.62-P2-D]

1963-03-17 Royal Tour Queen Views Ord leaning over Diversion Dam rail - KHS-2011-31-123-1.10-P2-D
[1963-03-17 - Royal Tour - HM Queen Elizabeth II viewing the Ord leaning over the Ord River Diversion Dam rail - KHS Kevin Richards Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-31-123-1.10-P2-D]

1963-03-17 Royal Tour Queen with the Press on the Ord River Diversion Dam - KHS-2011-31-125-4.57-P2-D
[1963-03-17 - Royal Tour - Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II by the Gantry Crane with the Press on the Ord River Diversion Dam - KHS Kevin Richards Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-31-125-4.57-P2-D - The first air-conditioned car in Kununurra, this Pontiac, was brought to Kununurra for the Royal Tour but must have lost its air-cond. gas, as it was not working on the day]

1963-07-20 - Day PM Menzies Opens Diversion Dam - July 20th 1963 - KHS-2011-31-391-2.75-P2-D
[1963-07-20 - Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies opens the Ord River Project Stage I on the Ord River Diversion Dam east embankment - July 20th 1963 - KHS Kevin Richards Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-31-391-2.75-P2-D]

1963-07-20 - Day PM Menzies Opens Diversion Dam - July 20th 1963 - KHS-2011-31-398-2.69-P2-D
[1963-07-20 - Media and the crowd present on the day Prime Minister Menzies opened Stage I of the Ord Project - July 20th 1963 - KHS Kevin Richards Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-2011-31-398-2.69-P2-D - Shows the stone mosaic made by Elizabeth Durack and Djubul, an Aboriginal man of Ivanhoe Station ]

1970 Diversion Dam in full flood all gates open from West bank 1970 - KHS-1998-3-ah-P2-D
[1970 Ord River Diversion Dam with Ord River in full flood and all gates open from the west bank - KHS Roy Walker Collection - KHS Archive No. KHS-1998-3-ah-P2-D]

A History of Ord Stage I

[Extracts from a history of the Ord River Project Stage I presented by Roy A Hamilton at a 1991 conference - "50 Years of Ord Irrigation - Reviews & Future Perspectives" - Roy was the Resident Engineer for the Public Works Department during the construction of the Ord River Diversion Dam and later office-bearer of the Kununurra Historical Society.]

In Australia the talk was directed towards Northern development, with people and politicians looking to the great rivers of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland.

Our own State Department of Public Works was quietly moving along with designs for Ord development.

The Directors of the Department were Russell Dumas to Jan 1953, Jim Young to Feb 1962, John Parker to Dec 1969 and Don Munro to 1971 .

It is a little known fact that the State put forward to the Commonwealth Government, proposals for construction of the Ord scheme firstly in 1949 and again in 1956 by the Labour Government of Premier Bert Hawke (Uncle of Prime Minister Bob Hawke) and John Tonkin Minister for Works. Unfortunately these applications failed to impress that Government.

In mid 1958 the Commonwealth Government made a grant of 2.5 million Pounds to Western Australia, for Northern development projects, and only a few months later, provided another similar amount. This gave the State 5 million pounds (10 million dollars) to work with. The funds were made available through the Western Australian Grant (Northern Development) Act 1958-59.

The State very quickly put forward three projects, the Ord River Scheme as a four stage project, the Napier Broome Bay survey, and the rebuild, in steel, of the three jetties, Wyndham, Derby and Broome. These Jetties were of old timber construction and because of the war years, badly in need of repair.

A State election and a change of Government in March 1959 Saw the Liberal Government of David Brand Premier, and Charles Court, Minister for the North West, take control and continue the good work of the Labor Government.

The Commonwealth Government approved the rebuild of the Wyndham jetty, and the Napier Broome Bay survey and then on August 26 1959 approved the Ord stage 1.

At that time (late 1959) I, with a team of some 300 people, was completing Wellington Dam construction, a large concrete dam on the Collie River. I was asked to take up the position of Resident Engineer, Ord River Irrigation Project, and quickly accepted.

1960 was a year of intense and exciting activity. Plans were prepared, specifications written, pretenderers called world wide, and selected, material gathered, surveys carried out, a temporary camp established and all the other necessary things done that were needed for a major project in what was then a remote and isolated area lacking in communications, transport and the normally accepted conveniences of life.


Work on the rebuild of the Wyndham jetty started in this year 1960, with plans to work right through the "wet". It was also proposed that work on the dam would continue through the wet season, much to the consternation of many of the local people who said that it could not be done.

From settlement to 1960 Kimberley economy was based on cattle (cattle and sheep in West Kimberley ). The local practice was to virtually close down all activities during the wet season, and that was well understandable as it was impossible to work cattle in the intense heat and it was impossible to travel on the unformed earth roads in the country areas.

The station people took in 3 to 4 months supplies and closed the gate, or went south for a holiday. This meant that town merchants and business houses lost a good proportion of their customers and so they reduced activities or holidayed in the south.

The December trip of the State Ships pride of fleet Koolinda, was always well booked with Kimberley people going south. In fact Government had a policy of providing north west women and children with half price fares so that they could get some relief from the heat and lower living standards.

The control and management of the Ord project was set up under a Ministerial committee of the Minister for the North West (Charles Court), the Minister for Works (Gerry Wild) and the Minister for Agriculture (Crawford Nalder). The Departmental committee, The Ord Project Committee was Deputy Director of Works John Parker, Director of Agriculture Tom Dunne and Commissioner of Main Roads Digby Leach.

When Tom Dunne retired Noel Fitzpatrick became director and took his position on the committee.

Bob Nunn, Officer in Charge of the North West Branch, Department of Agriculture, was also a great driving force until his retirement.

In the first half of 1960 a number of contracts were let. (The values have been converted to Dollars).

The Diversion Dam - Christiani & Nielsen - $5,152,000.
Radial Steel Gates - Vickers Hoskins - $1,526,000.
Office Housing etc - Geraldton Building Co - $ 514,000.
Gantry Crane & Stoplogs - J&E Ledger- $ 288,000.
Power Station Equipment - Hawker Siddeley - $ 234,000.
Pumping Equipment - Harland Engineering - $ 202,000.
Radial Gate Electrical - F.R Mayfield - $ 124,000.

The establishment of the town started late in 1959 Public Works Dept moved its survey camp from Bandicoot Bar to the site now occupied by the State Government Building in Messmate Way.

The State proposed that the town be called Cununurra, after the name applied to the black clay in the farm lands (Cununurra clay). Cununurra is reported to be the aboriginal word for 'big waters'. The Nomenclature Committee would not approve, but finally accepted the same word spelled with a K.


[You can read more extensive histories about the 1959 Naming Kununurra and Naming Kununurra or see the 1961 Kununurra Townsite Proclamation]

Work on the dam foundations started with drilling and blasting on Oct 20 1960. At the same time housing, town roads, water supply, power supply and camp facilities were being constructed.

In this same month of October, Public Works Department was constructing a gravel airstrip with a day labour team. The normal air service at that time was from Perth through Wyndham and on to Darwin. With the Start of work at Kununurra MacRobertson Miller Airlines provided a small 10 seat Dove aircraft to run a feeder service to the Ivanhoe airstrip adjacent to Ivanhoe Station. It would fly into Kununurra when that new strip was completed.

Ray Brindley, the resident Wyndham based pilot, was a very enterprising person with time on his hands. He established a local band to play at the town dances, he took up boot repairing and any other job offering. He became known as Bank-Note Brindley.

When Brindley heard that the Minister for Works Gerry Wild MLC and Project Engineer Don Munro was due in Kununurra, he asked that work could be pushed ahead on the airstrip so that the first landing could be made with these VIP's.

Additional plant was provided and although far from finished, it was agreed that a landing could be made. And so, on that hot, windy and dusty afternoon, with a few local people and officials out in their finery, Captain Bank-Note Brindley and the Ministerial party arrived, a few speeches were made and the official tour began. That night MMA put on the first formal function to be held in Kununurra.

The Pilot Farm

Recognising the need for larger scale farming experience the Kimberley Research Station Policy Committee recommended in April 1959, that Government engage some organisation for this work. A Sydney company owned by Mr Peter Farley had previously taken up the Camballin project under an agreement with Government known as "The Northern Developments Pty Ltd (Camballin) Agreement 1959". This company was invited and signed an agreement to farm 2000 acres (800 Ha) just to the north west of Kununurra.

[The Pilot Farm (airport block) was to test the commercial viability of crops grown in the Ord River Irrigation Area before completion of the Ord River Diversion Dam and before any farms were occupied.]

Water was supplied to this experimental farm from a new pump set up at Carlton Reach and via a small channel dug especially for this purpose. Eventually the supply was provided via the main channel and a pump known as MlP1.

Ron Kinsey was appointed manager. He later took up a cotton farm to the northern end of the allocated area. He was well known as one of the better farmers on the Ord.


The company's first rice crop of 70 tonnes was shipped to Hong Kong during August 1961. Then a wet season rice crop was planted on 400 acres in Dec 1961. This was harvested in June 1962 with a yield of 2.4 tonnes per Ha. Cotton was successfully grown and yielded 2000 lbs seed cotton(2160 kg per ha). In the dry season of 1962 rice linseed and safflower were planted. There was a real interest in oil seed crops.

From the research work being done. the Government became very interested in cotton as a crop for the Ord. Mr Jack Tomms, a wheat expert with Department of Agriculture was sent to USA in September 1961 to gain expertise in cotton. He returned and was moved to the Ord in November 1961 to plant the first larger scale experimental crops.

C R Keath Earthmoving Pty Ltd of Melbourne was awarded the contract for the irrigation channels, drains and structures in April 1962, a contract requiring the movement of some 2 million cubic metres of earth and the placing of some 2,000 cubic metres of concrete in a large number of structures and bridges.

May 1962 saw the issue of brochures for the first 5 farms, while the Government Gazette of the 18th of that month advertised the first blocks for sale in the town. Four block[s] had an upset price of $120, thirteen were at $100. Other land included a butcher shop site at $200, a baker shop site at $200 and 2 general store sites at $220 each.

Meantime at Kimberley Research Station work was progressing under the guidance of John Auty Officer in Charge, N J (Norm) Thompson cotton, R T (Kevin) Richards entomologist, P J (Pieter) van Rijn rice and [Donald] (Bondi) Beach [sic Beech] oil seeds. At Kununurra the agricultural irrigation adviser was Ken Cole and the entomologist from April 1964 to December 1967 was Don Shedley.

This station was particularly progressive under the guidance of Dr John Millington, Officer in Charge from April 1969 to September 1974. Not only was there wide ranging research work carried out but Dr Millington engaged in an excellent programme of public relations and public education.

It is interesting to note that, as isolated as it was, people of Kununurra took a keen interest in outside affairs. The Daily News on 16 July 1962, reported that Miss Rona Landquist, secretary at KRS had entered the Miss Australia Quest.

August 1962 The Government announces the 1st Five ORIA Farmers.

Shortly after the fire and on a brighter note, at the end of that month the Government announced the names of the first 5 farmers.

There were some 500 enquires to the initial advertisement, with 45 firm applications. The five selected were,

    Mr Beresford Arbuckle of Balcatta.
    Mr James Henry Arbuckle of Balcatta.
    Messrs.Beach, Gray, Massey & Tolson of KRS. [Ord River Farmers]
    Mr William Herbert Dougal of Queensland.
    Mr David John Revell of Victoria.

These farmers were required to be on site by early 1963.

[New Ord River Station]
In the upper reaches of the catchment area, work on soil conservation methods was progressing well. The Minister for Agriculture Mr Nalder announced that 5 large paddocks had been fenced to protect some 500 square miles of land, while 130,000 acres had been furrowed and seeded with buffle, birdwood and kapok. Mr Kevin Fitzgerald was officer in charge of this work.

A series of industrial strikes in early September 1962 caused some concern and delay to the construction of the dam, but were settled by September 11.

Sept 16 1962 NDL shipped 260 tonnes of rice on the Bakke Line ship to Far East with a further 140 tonnes to go a few weeks later.

Sept 29 Tenders were called, by the State Government, for the cotton gin. Government financed this gin in recognition of the fact that farmers could not afford the funds. The second gin was purchased by the Co—Operative.

During Oct Government announced that a school would be built in Kununurra, initially of one room and work would start in April 63. At that time children attended school at KRS and travelled by bus.

On Nov 24 62 the last span was placed in the Dunham River bridge, thus paving the way for the new road  to Wyndham.


Dec 62 the AIM four bed hospital was ready for use, and the upgraded gravelled but un-sealed airstrip was ready for use.

Jan 01 63 the cotton gin tender with British Engineering Pty Ltd was accepted. The plant was Platt Lumus and the price $143,014.

At a Commonwealth Grants Commission meeting at Perth in February 1963 before Mr PD Phillips QC (Chairman), Sir Alex Reid and Professor W Prest, the Director of Agriculture, Dr Dunne said that it had been decided that the economic prospects of the Ord lay with cotton and he proceeded to provide anticipated yields and returns. He suggested that Ord cotton production costs would be much cheaper that that in Queensland. When asked by the Chairman about the prospects for rice, Dr Dunne said that further research work was needed.

On March 8th 1963 the gates on the dam were closed and water storage commenced.

Meantime work on the channels and town was proceeding satisfactorily.

The Royal Tour comes to Kununurra - In mid March, as the Royal visit drew nearer, the town was flooded with officials, security, airforce personal and DCA officers. A control tower was constructed at the airport, and for the first and probably the last time, the airport became a controlled airport, all in readiness for the Convair aircraft of the Queens flight.

Her Royal Highness Queen Elizabeth ll visited Kununurra and inspected progress on March 17 1963. Arriving at 10.30am for a 90 minute visit which lenghtened [sic] to nearly 3 hours to include a tour of the farms, the dam, morning tea with the AIM nursing sisters and an official reception. In presenting the speech of welcome, Resident Engineer Roy Hamilton said "... in time when the full potential of this great region is realised, it is believed that the Kimberley could become the food bowl for the expanding population of the world."


The Ord project was designed (from an engineering point of view) for a rice crop. However when calling for these first farmers it was agreed that the secret of growing successful rice on the Ord had still not been found. These first farmers were therefore advised to plant the oilseed crop safflower.

April 6/63 a land auction was held. The hotel site was sold to Frank Camer-Pesci for $2400, a service station site to Arthur Cambridge for $2040 with the other service station site going for the upset price of $200[0?] to Ampol. Seventeen residential lots, at upset prices of $100 and $120, were passed in through lack of bidders.

And an important day, the 2nd of May 1963 the first water was provided to the farming area from the diversion dam supply via the main channel.

Later that month applications were called, closing 24 July 63, for the next 7 farmers.

The 30th May saw two U.S. cotton experts, Mr Early C Ewing and Mr Buell M Nunnery of the Delta Pine Co. of Mississippi visit the Ord.

On the same day , and because of concerns with adverse publicity around Australia, Government announced that a University team lead by Professor I.I. Bowen and including Dr A Kerr and Dr C.A. Cannegieter would work in co-operation with the Bureau of Agricultural Economics to carry out a survey of the economic implications of the Ord River Development.

June 20/63 provided the first reports of possible insect damage to the cotton crop. A helicopter was brought in for experimental crop spraying, using varying patterns and chemicals, and later the first crop spraying aircraft was a Cessna 175 tail wheel, with pilot John Turner.

1963 – July 20th – The Great Day – Official Opening of Ord Stage 1

July 20/63 was the great day, the official opening of the project by the Prime Minister of Australia, Robert Menzies. Although an exciting time for the State Government, the construction workers and the farmers, to many it was a disappointment because it was expected that the Prime Minister would announce the allocation of funds for a start to be made on the Main Dam. This offer was not forthcoming.


However water was being supplied to the farms, new farmers were coming in, business houses were being established, civic services were being considered, sporting facilities were being set up, and the change was being made from a construction village to a town.

[End of extracts from Roy A. Hamilton's paper for the 50 Years of Ord Irrigation Conference]


This page is one of two new web pages created for and linked by QR Code from the new culture & heritage interpretive signage at the recently completed Ord River Diversion Dam west bank picnic-viewing area.  This area was officially opened on Monday September 14th.  The two new web pages were created in weeks leading up to the opening to compliment the heritage signage, giving more information than was possible on a sign. One was this page...
QR Code Cool style with image of Crocodile Skull in centre and text "Kununurra Museum" created by AB for KHS and that is linked by QR Code from the new interpretive heritage signage to give more information than was possible in the signage.


OR go to the 2nd new page created for the new Ord River Diversion Dam signage of an earlier illustrated Ord River Irrigation Area History with links to other resources as a "Timeline of Tropical Agriculture" from the earliest days which shows the incremental development that led to the Ord River Irrigation Scheme, from - http://www.kununurra.org.au/research/ord-river-irrigation-area-history


[You Can Download a "1962 - PWD Spokesman" - "Ord River Special" to learn more about the Ord River Diversion Dam construction process as a PDF Below - As follows...]

In July 1962 the Public Works Department social club's magazine "The PWD Spokesman" published a special on the Ord River Project that has detailed information about some aspects of the Ord River Diversion Dam construction.  The Kununurra Historical Society have digitised and transcribed this into a new document that is available to download immediately below. [At End of Page :^]
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Kununurra Museum,
5 Sep 2020, 11:29
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