What is the Ovoid Sewer Aqueduct?

    The Ovoid Sewer Aqueduct is a 756-metre, multi-span bridge structure that crosses the Barwon River at Breakwater, south of the centre of Geelong.

    What was the aqueduct used for?

    The aqueduct was constructed between 1912 and 1915 and used to carry the Geelong outfall sewer across the Barwon River. The aqueduct was decommissioned in 1992 when a new sewer pipeline was built under the river.

    What is the heritage significance of the aqueduct?

    The Ovoid Sewer Aqueduct was added to the Victorian Heritage Register in 1991 as a place of architectural, historical, scientific (technical) and aesthetic significance to the State of Victoria.

    The aqueduct was a significant example of early engineering design using reinforced concrete - an innovative method promoted by French engineer Armand Considère. 

    The structure is significant for its architecture, which was modelled after the Firth of Forth Bridge in Scotland. It is also a remnant of one of Victoria’s earliest sewerage systems.

    How do I pronounce Porronggitj Karrong?

    Say it like this: Puh-rong-gitch Ka-rong.

    You can also download the Wadawurrung Language - Intro App onto your phone to hear ‘Porronggitj’ (Brolga), along with a number of other Wadawurrung words for common birds and animals, body parts and place names.

    What is a Healthy Country Plan?

    Wadawurrung People through the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation have developed a Healthy Country Plan. The plan tells of a collective dream for a healthier future for Wadawurrung People and Country.

    Watch the video on the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation website to find out more.

    The Wadawurrung Traditional Owners will lead the development of Healthy Country Plan specifically for Porronggitj Karrong, to look after dja (country) in a way that promotes Wadawurrung connection, cultural practices and knowledge.

    What is the site’s environmental significance?

    The area surrounding the aqueduct is a large floodplain site containing a wide variety of vegetation and habitat types. Much of the native vegetation has recolonised following the exclusion of cattle grazing in 2001 and now supports a range of native, migratory and pest species. 

    The water regime is linked closely to the Barwon River. It involves a natural wetting and drying cycle and supports a wide variety of wetland vegetation types and aquatic species. 

    The range of species would have contributed to the rich existence of the Wadawurrung People living on and along the Barwon River, prior to European colonisation. The Traditional Owners would have used plants and animals as materials, for food and as different forms of medicine.

    The conservation and management of this site is likely to become more important over time, as urban development increases.

    Why is the aqueduct in an unsafe condition?

    The aqueduct suffered from structural failures since soon after its construction, largely as a result of the construction method that was used. 

    The aqueduct is now more than 100 years old. 

    Over time, moisture and air has penetrated the outer concrete casing and corroded the internal steel reinforcement. This has weakened the overall integrity of the structure and caused the shedding of large pieces of concrete. 

    The ongoing repairs of the aqueduct’s structure did not prevent the continued deterioration of the structure and was a factor in Barwon Water’s decision to cease using the aqueduct in 1992. 

    Decay of the structure has continued since decommissioning, including ongoing loss of concrete cover and exposure of the reinforcing steel, a process which ultimately will result in structural failure of the structure.

    What is Barwon Water doing to manage safety?

    The risks posed to the public by falling pieces of concrete and the potential for collapse of the aqueduct structure led to a decision in 1995 to fence the structure and close to the public the Barwon River around the aqueduct. 

    It is critical for everyone’s safety that they observe the signs and fences instructing them not to pass under the aqueduct along the river or land. The structure can shed large pieces of concrete at any time, which poses a critical safety risk to people due to the falling debris.

    In partnership with the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA), Barwon Water has installed additional signage along the riverbank surrounding the aqueduct to deter community members from travelling under the structure.

    Why did Barwon Water revise plans to reduce the number of spans to be removed from five to four?

    Heritage Victoria requested more information after Barwon Water submitted its proposal in early March 2020.

    Heritage Victoria’s request for information asked for further investigation into options including retention of piers and pads from the piers, further explanation around budget limitations, and some technical detail. 

    In responding to that request, we Barwon Water refined its application to reduce the number of spans it is seeking to remove from five to four. 

    The application seeks the right balance between the critical safety need to remove spans, safe public access to enjoy the river and 66-hectares of surrounding land and the heritage values of the aqueduct. 

    The refinement of the application will still allow safe public access on river and on land, and retain more of the historic structure within what will become public open space that will be valued for its Indigenous and European cultural, historic and recreational values into the future.

    Will Barwon Water restrict public access to the remaining structure?

    As part of our works we would secure the remaining structure with a new exclusion fence to prevent people from climbing on or under it.

    Why is partial removal of the aqueduct necessary?

    Access under the structure is unsafe and has been prohibited since the 1990s. This prevents movement along the Barwon River, both on the water and by land. 

    Concrete regularly falls from the structure and poses a serious safety risk. There is also a risk of structural collapse. 

    The provision of the permit means the critical public safety risks posed by the aqueduct can be addressed and safe public access on the river and surrounding land can be opened up, after demolition of the spans has been completed.

    Did Barwon Water consider other options?

    We investigated all possible options for improving, stopping or slowing the aqueduct’s natural degradation, particularly across the river. However, technical advice confirms it is simply not viable from a safety and cost perspective to retain the structure over the river, with full restoration costing in excess of $20 million.

    In determining the best solution to a very complex problem, the works proposed by Barwon Water have balanced a range of competing factors:

    • Valuing the heritage significance of the aqueduct structure and the desire to retain as much of the structure as possible. 
    • Acknowledging the Aboriginal cultural values of the land and river surrounding the structure, including the desire of the Traditional Owners to re-open access along the river to recognise its important role as a ‘cultural highway’.
    • Ensuring safety of users of the Barwon River and surrounding land and Barwon Water staff from falling debris or ultimate collapse of any part of the aqueduct structure.
    • Ensuring the cost of any proposed works does not impact on customer bills and service delivery. Any solution must be financially achievable within operating expenditure, including the cost of ongoing maintenance.
    • The strong desire of many groups to open up public access along the Barwon River, as well as opening access to the 66 hectares of adjacent land to the broader community.
    • The feasibility of implementing a solution that ensures all safety and cost constraints are met, and deals with the complexities of being in a floodplain where river levels can impact structures and stability.

    Our proposal aims to balance the complex and competing interests of a number of stakeholder groups, as well as providing certainty, security and longevity in resolving the long running issue of the aqueduct structure.

    What is happening with the land surrounding the aqueduct structure?

    The aqueduct divides 66 hectares of Barwon Water-owned land, and as part of the plan to make the area safe, Barwon Water would like to create an area that is unique for its high ecological, historical, cultural and recreational values.

    As part of exploring opportunities for opening the surrounding land to the community, Barwon Water has been working together with Wadawurrung Traditional Owners to identify the Aboriginal cultural values of the river and area.

    In partnership with Wadawurrung, Barwon Water would like to gather information about the landscape and water, and engage other interested stakeholders to develop a plan for the area.

    When will I be allowed to go onsite or travel down the river?

    We will start to progressively open up access to the site after:

    • the aqueduct works are complete,
    • we’ve worked through the Healthy Country planning process
    • and we’ve addressed other issues such as safe public access points for the site and regulatory requirements.  

    This is likely to be from mid-2024. We will keep the community updated on timeframes as the project progresses.

    Opening of the Barwon River at the aqueduct will take place following the completion of works on the aqueduct, and once the gazetted exclusion zone has been removed by the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority (CCMA). We are expecting this will take place by mid-2024.

    Will Porronggitj Karrong be for everybody?

    Porronggitj Karrong will be a cultural and community precinct for everyone to enjoy.

    How can I have my say about the project?

    Register to receive updates by emailing projects@barwonwater.vic.gov.au and we’ll let you know when we are planning events, and running surveys to collect your views.

    Is there a safe vantage point where I can view the aqueduct now?

    You can view the aqueduct from the end of Tanner Street, Breakwater. To ensure your safety, we ask that you view the aqueduct outside of construction hours, for example on a weekend, to avoid heavy machinery that will be moving on and off site at this point.

    We ask that you do not walk onto the site or the private property south of the Barwon River, to view the aqueduct.

    We are investigating time lapse photography to allow the community to view the aqueduct works via our website.

    What is a Heritage Interpretation Plan?

    The Heritage Interpretation Plan will cover how we present information to the public about the historic, scientific, aesthetic and architectural significance of the aqueduct. We will develop it in consultation with Heritage Victoria, the community and expert stakeholders, for final Heritage Victoria approval.