The Lubecker Steam Dredge was the first machine used on the long running project to drain the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp. Small scale works, undertaken by individual land owners, had started in 1856. In 1875, landowners formed the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp Drainage Committee. This Committee employed over 100 men and created a drain that would carry the water from the Cardinia and Toomuc Creeks to Western Port Bay.
It soon became apparent that drainage works needed to be carried out on a large scale if the Swamp was to be drained thus the Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department, William Thwaites, surveyed the Swamp in 1888. His report recommended the construction of the Main Drain from where the Bunyip River entered the Swamp in the north to Western Port Bay and a number of smaller side drains. A tender was advertised in 1889 and by March 1893 the contractors had constructed the 16 miles of the drain from Western Port Bay to the south of Bunyip. The Swamp was then considered ready for settlement. All work was carried out manually using axes, shovels, mattocks and wheel barrows.
The Public Works Department had been unhappy with the rate of progress and took over its completition in 1893 and appointed the Engineer, Carlo Catani, to oversee the Swamp drainage works. Catani was keen to introduce land dredges; however this was not approved because it would reduce the work available for unskilled labour. It wasn’t until 1912 that Catani was given permission to purchase a machine and he ordered a Lubecker steam driven bucket dredge from Germany. It was described as being of the articulated ladder type; it ran on rails and had a 9 man crew. It weighed 80 tons and had a capacity of 61 cubic yards per hour or approximately 200,000 cubic yards per annum when working one shift. A labourer at the time dug about 8 cubic metres per day. The purchase price was £2,300 pounds, plus £632 duty. The total cost landed, erected with rails, cranes and other equipment came to £4,716.
The dredge in operation, on some official occasion.
State Rivers & Water Supply Commission photographer, State Library of Victoria Image rwg/u873
According to the Lang Lang Guardian the dredge had arrived by June 1913 and was to start work on the Lang Lang River, which was described as a ‘wandering creek.’ This dredging was to prevent flood waters backing up across areas of the Tobin Yallock Swamp lands. The paper also said that the dredge was thought to be the finest in the world and will shift earth at the rate of a penny a yard. A report in the same paper on July 16, 1913 said that 50 chains of rail would be laid for the dredge on a cleared track. The reporter went onto say that at this time the dredge was currently scattered over the ground, and is an insoluble puzzle to visitors who attempt to construct in their minds a mechanical theory as to how this vast and complicated machine will be put together and how it is going to work.
It was obviously put together and started work, and the Lang Lang Guardian reported that the Engineer, Mr Osborne, had employed a small Tangye engine and secured it to a truck for the hauling of the machinery and goods.
This is the Tangye engine referred to, above, used to haul machinery, goods and in this case important visitors. This photo was obviously taken during an official occasion.
State Rivers & Water Supply Commission photographer, State Library of Victoria Image rwg/u877
From a report in The Argus on October 13, 1915 we can get an idea of how the Dredge operated - it excavates by means of an endless chain arrangement, wherein each link of the chain consists of a heavy steel shovel head…these scrape away the ‘spoil’ and then they deliver it onto a mechanical conveyer …which dumps the earth onto a regular embankment or if necessary into wagons that cart it away.
Around August 1916 the Dredge had completed its work on the Lang Lang River, having removed 78,000 cubic yards of earth and creating a channel a mile and half long. It was then taken over by the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission and worked on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp on the Main Drain, Cardinia Creek and the Yallock Outfall Drain.
State Rivers & Water Supply Commission photographer, State Library of Victoria Image rwg/u855
According to a paper presented to the Institution of Engineers by Lewis Ronald East in March 1935, by June 1934 total excavation by the Dredge was 1,332.231 cubic yards. It never worked full time and never at more than at 60 percent of its capacity. The average cost of excavation was 7.9 pence per cubic yard, but with interest and depreciation the total cost was 9.15 pence per cubic yard, well over the Lang Lang Guardian’s original estimate of one penny per yard. East also reports that the dredge has now practically completed its useful life.
State Rivers & Water Supply Commission photographer, State Library of Victoria Image rwg/u871
Other machines working on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp included a steam powered Stiff Leg Dragline, weighing 25 tons, purchased in 1925 for the cost of £2,200. This had a five man crew and was rail based and a working cost per cubic yard of 7 pence. In 1929 a 45 ton steam powered Full Swing Dragline was purchased for £3,100. This had a three man crew and a caterpillar undercarriage and a per cubic yard cost of 4.4 pence. In 1929 the first non-steam powered machine, another Full Swing Dragline was purchased for £3,700. This weighed 26 tons, had a two man crew a caterpillar undercarriage and had a working cost per cubic yard of 2.4 pence. East said that the economy of caterpillar traction and of crude oil power are obvious. You can see some photos of other dredges that worked on the Koo-Wee-Rup Swamp, here.
Finally, what happened to the Lubecker Dredge? We don’t know but presumably it was cut up for scrap as all that remains are a set of wheels on display at the Swamp Look-out tower on the South Gippsland Highway.
The Lubecker Dredge wheels at the Swamp look-out tower.