Harvey River Diversion Drain

The Harvey River Diversion Drain (also known as the Harvey Myalup Diversion Drain) was one of the largest infrastructure projects the Australian Government delivered in the early 1900s.

At 25km in length, 10m wide and between 6-8m deep, the Diversion Drain stretches from Harvey to Myalup and was built to reduce flooding across the Harvey agricultural region.

This impressive infrastructure achievement was constructed largely by hand by a 2,500-strong workforce mainly using shovels and wheelbarrows.

Delivered between October 1931 and December 1932, it provided much-needed jobs during the Great Depression.

The Diversion Drain was officially opened on 12 August 1935.

Map of the western section of the Harvey River Diversion Drain. Credit: WA Department of Agriculture.


The Build

Some 2,500 men working on the project camped west of Harvey and, up to 3,500 lived in camps at Myalup and the nearby Stonehouse.

A mechanical drag operated at the Harvey end of the drain where the earth was heavy clay, but further west shovels and wheelbarrows were used to move the sand.

Funded by the Federal Government, each man worked two days a week for a ‘sustenance wage’. They paid out one shilling per week for tent hire and about one pound and fifteen shillings for food, leaving them with perhaps ten or fifteen shillings. Workers cooked for themselves on an open fire and with a lot of idle time on their hands, many took up fishing to augment their food supply. Others joined the constant gambling that flourished in the camps.

When work began on schemes such as these, an estimated one-third of the State’s breadwinners were unemployed. Of the remainder, many worked only part time. Officially, unemployment stood at 11% in 1929 and rose to 30% by 1932.

The works had a massive and long-standing impact on agriculture in Harvey and the surroundings. Agricultural land became more productive as it was drained in winter and irrigated in summer. The dairy industry expanded to an estimated 76,000 acres of irrigated land.

A memorial to the men who worked on the Harvey Diversion and Drainage Scheme stands in Stirling Park, close by the Diversion on which they laboured.

In 2014, the opening of the Harvey River Diversion Drain public artwork and interpretive shelter at a site, colloquially known as Coffee Pool, commemorated the history of the diversion drain.

Now augmented by myriad smaller local drains crisscrossing the landscape, the Diversion Drain and other drains still function today and play a key role in flood abatement for farmers and towns in the Harvey and Peel regions.

Harvey River Diversion Drain

Back to Top of the page.