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1927 -  The connection of electricity

Before the advent of electric lighting in the late nineteenth century, artificial lighting in buildings after dark was provided by candles, kerosene lamps with wicks, and pressurised kerosene lights such as Tilleys, Aladdins or Colemans, using mantles made of silk fabric. In large cities like Brisbane, homes and streets were lit with coal gas piped from huge centrally-located tanks called 'gasometers', which were in turn kept filled by gas plants which extracted the gas from coal, leaving coke as a second by-product. Coke was sold as a popular fuel for fire-places, as it burned with great heat and almost without smoke.

The use of gas for lighting was not ideal. People often complained of nausea or headaches, and the burning gas produced soot which darkened ceilings and furnishings, discoloured fabrics, corroded metal and settled on all flat surfaces. Flowers wilted quickly in its presence and plants turned yellow unless under glass covers. One exception was the aspidistra, which seemed immune and therefore became the plant of choice in gas-lit homes and offices. Variations in gas pressure also meant that the flames had to be regulated and carefully monitored. 

In towns without gaslight, wealthier people, and businesses such as boarding houses, large shops and hotels often employed acetylene gas lamps. The gas was a simple product of calcium carbide and water, so the lamps were also known as carbide lamps.  

To produce the gas, a tank of water contained a floating reservoir which was kept afloat by the acetylene gas trapped in it. As the acetylene was drawn off by lamps, the reservoir gradually sank until calcium carbide suspended inside it came into contact with the water, which created more acetylene to make the container rise, lift the carbide clear of the water and so stop further production of the gas. The operation was automatic until the carbide was exhausted. The gas producer was usually located outside the building, and the gas piped through walls and ceiling spaces to where it was needed. The light produced by the acetylene flames was surprisingly bright.

In Nambour, electric lighting had been installed at the Moreton Central Sugar Mill as early as 1905. On 30th June of that year the Mill Manager Mr Desplace had arranged for Mr P. S. Trackson of Brisbane to install a dynamo at the Mill, belt-driven by a steam engine fed from the Mill’s main boilers. With the engine running at 240 revolutions per minute, the dynamo would turn at 580 rpm. At that speed it produced 200 amperes of direct current at 100 volts pressure, making twenty kilowatts of power. It powered 90 lamps in the Mill itself, plus a second circuit providing lights in the engine rooms, boiler rooms and workshops. A third circuit provided electric lighting in the yard, offices, men’s quarters and the residences of the engineer and the manager.  {8-7-1904, p.4} 

People who were keen to have electric lighting in their homes had the option of purchasing their own 32 volt system. This was usually powered by a petrol, oil or diesel engine driving a dynamo, which charged a bank of sixteen large lead-acid batteries, called accumulators. These batteries were similar in size to car batteries, except that each produced only 2 volts. These sixteen batteries were connected in series to provide the 32 volt direct current electricity to the residence when the generating engine was not running. Because the voltage was low, the current had to be high to provide the same power or wattage. The high current meant that house wiring had to use heavier cabling, and the wires became hot under load. To avoid the risk of fire, the cables were usually piped throughout the house in metal conduits.

Advertisements for lighting plants and gas generators regularly appeared in the Chronicle and after 1922 the Nambour Chronicle. Two examples may be seen here.

Meetings regarding the provision of electricity to Nambour were called on numerous occasions, but when the economics were examined, the cost was always found to be prohibitive. Through The Electric Light and Power Act, 1896, the State Government could provide loans to prospective electricity providers by an Order-in-Council,  but the demand had been so great that the funds had virtually dried up. Over the years, the Moreton Central Sugar Mill was able to help out a few nearby business people in Nambour by connecting their premises to their small distribution network, but the main disadvantage to this was that the Mill could only supply electricity when its boilers were in steam.

At a public meeting in 1918, a committee was set up to liaise with the Moreton Mill to see if it could supply power to the town on a regular basis. The Mill said that it could, if (1) the consumers were prepared to pay their proposed charges and (2) there would be enough consumers to make the venture profitable. The committee canvassed the town for support, but the general feeling was that the charges were too steep. This resulted in insufficient consumers to satisfy the Mill's requirements. The Chronicle reported on this result with a report headed dryly, 'Electric Light for Nambour - Proposal Switched Off.'  {17-5-1918, p.5}

By the end of World War I many small towns were installing their own power houses, as the idea of a state-wide power grid was many years away. Some towns purchased their electricity from private contracting firms, who paid for all the infrastructure and charged the consumers accordingly. The nearby town of Gympie was already providing its citizens with electricity to their homes.  {22-5-1925, p.8}

On 2nd April. 1920, The Chronicle carried an announcement that Mr Frederick William Bestmann, an electrical engineer of Mary Street Gympie, intended to make an application for an Order-in-Council, to supply electricity within the townships of Nambour and Woombye. Mr Bestmann's representative in Nambour was Mr A. W. Thynne, a local solicitor and partner in The Chronicle. This application did not meet with success, however, as the Under Secretary of the Public Works Department advised Mr Thynne that the Government was "not disposed to grant any more Orders-in-Council under the Electric Light and Power Act to companies or private individuals. It is regretted therefore that it is of no avail for your client to proceed further in the matter."  {2-4-1920, p.2}  {25-6-1920, p.1}

Mr Thynne had this response, with its wider ramifications, printed in the top centre of page 1 in The Chronicle of 25th June 1920. The following week's issue carried a short note from Mr Bestmann, thanking those people who had supported his application, and regretting that he was unsuccessful. This stymied any further attempts to provide electricity in Nambour for the next five years, although The Chronicle kept the issue before its readers.  {25-6-1920, p.1}  {2-7-1920, p.5}  {16-7-1920, p.3}  {6-4-1923, p.4}  {26-9-1924, p.7}

With no action by the Shire Council to provide an electrical supply, some businessmen in the town installed their own lighting plants in their businesses. One of these was the Club Hotel, which installed a generating set in October 1922. The quietness of the night-time town was punctuated by the dull, heavy throbbing of the low-revving diesel engines powering the various plants. The Chronicle reported the switching-on:

Another Nambour establishment, in the shape of the Club Hotel, blossomed into great brilliancy one evening early this week. Mr North Brake, the licensee, decided to join the brighter number of Nambour's businessmen, and installed an engine and wiring system which has proved very satisfactory so far. More has yet to be done to complete the wiring of the whole building as planned, but the results so far are very promising.  {27-10-1922, p.5}

By 1923 various townspeople again began to seriously canvass the idea of electric power for Nambour, but the idea was deferred when the great fire of 5th January 1924 destroyed 17 shops in Currie Street. Rebuilding the town’s commercial heart occupied most influential people in the Nambour Chamber of Commerce and the Maroochy Shire Council for the next twelve months.  {11-1-1924, pages 2, 7 and 9}

 Local people gather dolefully at the site of the previous night’s fire in Currie Street, 6th January, 1924.The utility poles are for the small telephone network.
Photograph courtesy Sunshine Coast Libraries

In early May 1925, the Moreton Mill wrote to the Shire Council, stating its willingness to enter into a contract with the Council for the supply of electricity in bulk to the town. They required a minimum consumption of 40 000 units, and the contract would be for ten years. The Council felt that the cost being charged, eight pence ha'penny per unit was excessive, and that ten years was too long.  {22-5-1925, p.8}  {5-6-1925, pp.2 and 8}  {26-6-1925, p.2}

Eventually the Chamber of Commerce called a meeting on 29th May 1925 to gauge public opinion on the matter. On the one hand, householders, particularly women, were very impressed with the convenience electricity would provide in their homes, particularly with regard to lighting, sewing and ironing. On the other hand, the cost per unit of power caused concern, the term 'unit' being a cause of some confusion. By the close of the meeting, it was unanimously decided to support the Mill's proposal. {5-6-1925, p.2}

The fact that the Moreton Mill could only supply direct current electricity, whereas most towns elsewhere were choosing 240 volt alternating current electricity, was soon recognised to be a major problem with the Mill's proposition. The Shire Council therefore decided to reject it completely, and work towards generating and distributing electricity itself.

It was known that the State government would only loan funds to the Shire Council to build a powerhouse, if a guarantee were made that there would be at least 300 consumers. Alternatively, there was a smaller scheme available which required only 200 consumers. As the Council was unsure if it could reach either target, a poll was conducted in August 1925 of all Nambour householders and business people, asking them if they intended to be connected up to the electricity supply.  {21-8-1925, p.2}  

675 ballot papers were issued but by mid-September only 285 had been returned. Of these, 136 voted ‘yes’ and 131 voted ‘no’. The Shire Clerk Mr A. H. Brookes who organised the poll, stated that he felt that there would be no difficulty reaching the 200 target for the smaller power scheme, and so the Chamber of Commerce raised a sum of 40 from its members to pay for an Order-in-Council from the Government. This Order-in-Council gave the Shire Council permission to borrow sufficient money to fund the project, provided that the interest on the loan was not greater than 6 percent. {19-8-1932, p.4}

Applications for the loan were made to various Banks and insurance companies such as the Australian Mutual Providence Society (A.M.P.), but none would agree to such a low rate of interest. Finally, the Commonwealth Bank of Australia agreed to loan the Shire Council the money at the required rate, but only on the condition that the Council place all of their business with that Bank. This enabled the venture to go ahead, and it was named the 'Nambour Electrical Undertaking'. {18-9-1925, p.9} {19-8-1932, p.4}

Six months later, construction had still not started. William Whalley had built a new, brick two-storeyed Whalley Chambers adjoining his Universal Stores building on its southern side, and had installed an electricity generating plant there. He ran electric wires on poles down Currie Street, over the Petrie Creek bridge, and along Blackall Terrace to his spacious home 'Stoneleigh'  at No. 37, so that he could have an electrical supply there despite the Shire Council's inertia. To demonstrate to the local residents the benefits of electricity, he installed a couple of street lights along the route, at the bridge and near the Masonic Hall, two spots which were known to be hazardous at night. [Mr Whalley was a foundation member of the Rosslyn and Nambour Masonic Lodges. {5-12-1952, p.3}]

The Nambour Chronicle lauded this action, and used it to encourage the Council to get moving on its Electrical Undertaking:

"Electric Lighting

"Nambour had its initiation into the benefits of street lighting by electricity the other week, as a result of a cabling from Mr W. Whalley's garage in Currie Street being continued to his residence. As it proceeds along a road much used, and which also takes in the line of the Petrie bridge, the approach to which from Nambour's main street is on a sharp and dangerous corner with a fairly deep-graded descent, a light installed near the bridge  was most acceptable to pedestrian and vehicular traffic alike. Luckily, and probably a feather in the caps of those who meet by car or other vehicle at either the northern or southern approaches of the bridge, no accident has yet occurred at these places, and only judgment and consideration on the part of the travelling community has averted this, more especially on dark and wet evenings, so that the light may well be appreciated by all. At the semi-circular turn of the Blackall Terrace road near the Masonic Hall is a similar installation of electricity, which proves as great a boon as its contemporary.

"This utility serves to illustrate what a distinct service a public supply of electricity would mean to the town and environs, where the now dark and uncertain corners on roads which a pedestrian without a torch at night may step only with a faith in Providence to pilot them safely through. The costly and inefficient lighting adopted years ago was never regarded as permanent, but more in the shape of an experiment. None of these can compare with the benefits and conveniences obtained by electric reticulation. The saving as against any other form of street lighting will more than compensate for the extra cost of installation involved.

"Ere long we should see a definite move in the desired direction of an electric supply for Nambour, the application for an Order-in-Council having been formally lodged with the Government some months or so ago. Once the required loan (and if the experience of the Hospital Committee is to be repeated, and prolonged delays hold up negotiations) is in sight, the Council would be in the position to take preliminary steps in the erection of a power house, and to move on with the reticulation of the streets within the lighting area. If deputations were not so unfruitful, one might urge that such a means be adopted to hasten matters.

"There is now no impediment, we understand, to the scheme coming to practicability, but for the much-needed wherewithal - money. The preliminary system of town lighting in existence [Whalley's two streetlights] should act as a spur to the people of Nambour, that a utility which abounds with unlimited facilities, eliminating danger, making for better and cleaner lighting facilities in home, business, factory and public buildings is soon established, and from it, we believe, will arise a new era of town progress not hitherto realised. {12-3-1926, p.4}"


A year later, the powerhouse had been built about half a mile from the town centre. It was located on the south side of the Moreton Central Sugar Mill, between that Mill and Mr H. E. Lowe's sawmill. It had access to Mitchell Street, and was served by a Queensland Railways spur which terminated at the sawmill. QR wagons and coal trucks were shunted onto this spur to provide oil fuel for the powerhouse and coal for the Mapleton Tramway which also crossed the site. Mill Lane was eventually put through to connect the western end of Mitchell Street with Arundell Avenue, and to provide better road access for both the powerhouse and the sawmill.

It had been suggested by some that the Shire Council convert the Mapleton Tramway's locomotive shed on the site (disused at the time) into a small powerhouse to save money, but the Council refused to do this, and a new powerhouse was built closer to the Mill. The site today is at the top end of Mill Lane, between that lane and the QR North Coast Line. {11-3-1927, p.6} 

When fully commissioned, the powerhouse would have three two-stroke engines, described in the press as 'semi-diesel', running on crude oil. Two engines were rated at 75 horsepower, and a smaller one was rated at 25 horsepower. Each was direct-coupled to a dynamo, the larger ones producing 65 kilowatts each. The dynamo attached to the smaller engine could produce 20 kilowatts, making 150 kilowatts in total. The total cost of the installation was ₤1364 / 12 / 9.

Nambour Chronicle,  12th August 1927, page 5.

The switching-on ceremony for delivering electric light and power to Nambour for the first time took place on the evening of Monday, 12th September, 1927. The honour of pressing the first switch was given to Mrs Sarah Lowe, wife of the Maroochy Shire Chairman J. T. Lowe. She received a carriage clock in commemoration, the clock being mounted on a plinth that also housed a replica of the switch set with two push-buttons that she had used. This clock has since been donated to the Nambour Historical Museum by the Lowe family. As the power was turned on, the town and household lighting sprang into activity. 118 consumers illuminated their homes and business premises, many switching on all their lights to begin with, but then diminishing the number as they realised that their meters were silently registering the consumption. Observers noted that the electric light was softer and whiter, in contrast with the yellow glare of the usual kerosene pressure lamps. By the end of the week, 240 consumers were connected up. {16-9-1927, p.8}

In the beginning, one large generating engine provided enough electricity for the town during the day and evening. As the equipment could not be left unattended, it was shut down at midnight. Power would be made available again each day at 8 am. Before the first week was out, the second large generating set was commissioned. Within a month, the smaller unit was also brought on-line, this generator being sufficiently reliable to be left to run unattended during the night. This provided Nambour with light and power for the full 24 hours.  {7-10-1927, p.9}

The western side of Currie Street about 1929, from in front of the Town Hall, looking south. The Club and Royal George Hotels are at the Howard Street intersection in the middle distance. The new power poles have been installed on the western side (telephone poles and wires were on the opposite side of the street). The brick building at centre (the E.S.& A. Bank) was Nambour's first building not made of wood.
Photograph courtesy Sunshine Coast Libraries

Looking down Currie Street from the Mitchell Street intersection about 1929, showing the new power poles.
Photograph courtesy Sunshine Coast Libraries

At a Dinner convened by Shire Chairman J. T. Lowe to celebrate the switching-on, the President of the Nambour Chamber of Commerce, Mr William Whalley, said that the provision of electricity would brighten up the town in more ways than one. Nambour had taken another practical step forward in its history, and had passed another milestone along the road to success. He warned that, like many new projects, trouble could be experienced. He had been in Sydney when the electricity supply failed, and the city was plunged into darkness. Mr Whalley said that if this happened in Nambour, he expected that such a 'black-out' would be of quite short duration, as the local generating plant was one of the most modern in the Commonwealth.  {16-9-1927, p.8}

Black-outs were a common feature of the early years of electricity reticulation, and were accepted by the consumers as normal teething problems to be expected with such a new service. On 13th November 1931 the Nambour Chronicle carried this story:


"Brisbane was in darkness on Friday night at the time when the city was thronged with theatre-goers. The incident was taken good-humouredly, and while an occasional diner appeased his appetite in a candle-lighted café, the happy strains of community singing emerged from the darkened depths of most theatres. The delay was caused by an accident to one of the 30,000 volt cables of the City Electric Light Company, which conveys the current from the Bulimba power-house under the river to the northern bank at New Farm.  {13-11-1931, p.9}"




Within four years, electricity consumption had soared to the point that the equipment installed in 1927 could not cope any more. People had discovered the convenience of appliances such as irons, toasters, grillers, stoves, ovens, heaters and electric kettles, all of which used considerable wattage, and businessmen had replaced many internal combustion engines powering their machines with electric motors.

Lubrication problems with the two-stroke engines caused them to overheat if run continually, so they needed be stopped after a few hours work. A roster was in use, each engine and its generator being brought on-line when the running engine needed to be rested. Things reached a critical stage in the hot summer of 1931-32, when one engine failed completely. To prevent the other engine from overheating and also breaking down, the engineer in charge of the powerhouse, Mr G. Fletcher, would shut it down in the hottest part of the day. This action caused widespread aggravation to people with refrigerators and cold rooms, and when they complained, he was less than helpful, saying that the main purpose of his electricity supply was for lighting, not power.

Having received no satisfaction from the engineer, a deputation of power consumers attended the Maroochy Shire Council meeting of Tuesday 15th March 1932, to voice their complaints. The Nambour Chronicle published a report on this meeting in their next issue:


Nambour Electrical Undertaking


Chances for Restoration of Full-Time Service Most Remote

"Consumers of industrial power from the Nambour Electrical Undertaking waited on the Council on Tuesday requesting a more efficient service. Those present on the deputation were Messrs. L. H. Collins, E. A. Sherrington, M. H. Gray, C. Joseph, and J. D. Grimes. [The electrical manager, Mr. G. Fletcher, was summoned by the Council to attend the meeting.]

"Mr Collins said that the deputation protested against the interrupted service. The plant was shut off during the hottest part of the day, and as a result a tremendous loss was caused to those who used the power. He had been informed by the manager of the power house that the plant was installed as a lighting plant only. This was absolutely ridiculous. Mr Collins asked the Chairman did he not think that a better supply than at present could be given, and had anything been done to the engines since the visit of an expert from Gympie.

"Mr Fletcher said that at the present time one engine was disabled, and if put in order would render only very infinitesimal assistance to the other engine. He had been compelled to reduce the output from 50 kilowatts to 40. If he ran the engines all day, they would not be available to run for night work, on account of overheating.

"Mr Collins:         Can you give a continuous supply?
Mr Fletcher:        I can run to a finish [i.e.: If you want to, I can run the engines until they fail completely].
Mr Collins:          Who is in charge of the plant, you as Chairman or the engineer?
The Chairman:    The engineer!
Mr Collins:          Does he take his instructions from you?
The Chairman:    From the Council.
Mr Fletcher:        Some of these persons have been ringing up on the phone -
Mr Collins:          Can they get you on the phone? You won't answer it.
Mr Fletcher to Mr Collins:     If you were an engineer, I could talk in engineering terms to you, but you're not.
Mr Collins:          And you're no engineer.

"The Chairman said the Council was doing its level best for the consumer. Last Saturday week, he was called away to the power house, owing to a breakdown. He had obtained the services of an engineer from Gympie. Mr Fletcher had told him that if the engines were run continuously, they would not last a week. The engineer from Gympie had recommended that a forced-feed lubrication system be installed in No. 2 engine, in fact both of them.

"In the event of the Council carrying out a resolution, continued the Chairman, Mr Fletcher would carry out the instructions. He knew that several shops had been inconvenienced by the supply being cut off, particularly those with refrigerators. The service had been good until the last month, but the Council knew last October that trouble was coming with the engines. The quotation favoured was for a replacement engine manufactured by Walkers Limited, Maryborough, at a cost of 2650. He had the Council's authority to borrow the amount, but despite a profit in the electrical undertaking account, the State Treasurer would not allow the Council to borrow any money.

"The business was a payable proposition to the Council. He thought of soliciting the support of Mr H. F. Walker MLA in getting the Treasurer to waive the objection to the Council borrowing any further sums. At the present time, the Council could not borrow 200, let alone 3000. An amount of 5500 should have been paid by 30th June last year. The Council had been hard-hit of late. It was necessary for the Council to find between 13,000 and 15,000 by the end of June next to meet its indebtedness, whilst the estimated revenue from all sources was 12,000. [Much of this debt was due to the construction of the large new Maroochy Shire Hall, opened in April 1931, to replace the wooden Nambour Town Hall, lost to fire in October 1929.] The Council was doing its utmost to meet the situation. A good deal of trouble had been experienced, even up to the time of Mr Fletcher taking over. The Council could carry out the recommendation of the Gympie engineer, but this would mean a delay.

"Mr Sherrington said he understood that there were two engines in good order, but one was not sufficient to carry the peak load. Could the hours of running be extended in the day time to meet the requirements?


"Mr Fletcher replied that the engines would run nearly as hot carrying a light load as with the peak load. He would attempt no more than 40 kilowatts at the present. Last Saturday he ran the engines just for the sake of those business places who required the power. The hours of running were from 8.30 a.m. to 12 noon. A total of 42 units were consumed, and at 4d. per unit produced 14/-. The cost, with labour and fuel, was ₤1 [20/-]. Mr Fletcher quoted several occasions when the power had been supplied at a loss.


"Cr. Kittle said it was made clear that the service was not efficient. He asked could the Council give a better service? There appeared to be no solution to the problem.

"Cr. Whalley:  The only thing we can do, and it seems to be general opinion, is for the Council to make the purchase of the engine on time-payment.

"Cr. Lowe said that the Treasurer would not allow the Council taking this action. The big engines were supposed to give a production of 50 kilowatts each. He had opposed the purchase of this type of engine, as he had had a very fair experience with two-cycle engines on the Maroochy River. It was impossible to keep check on the consumers. They had a concern at the Maroochy [Nambour] Hospital, which consumed a fair amount of power, and in addition to this there was battery-charging going on in the garages, and also small refrigerators. It was, however, no use complaining about the past at all. It was acclaimed there was insufficient power for the works. The only solution was to get the Minister to lift his objection to the borrowing of a sum to replace the engines. It was next to impossible to give a full day's service as the engines must have time to cool.

"Cr. McNab supported Cr. Whalley's suggestion. The Chairman: The Minister will not allow it.


"Cr. Kelly said the electric lighting was just another of the many failures the Council had taken on. The Tramway was one, and the electric light another. Fate was up against them. They had endeavoured through many angles to get a loan from the Treasurer, but he had such a set on them that it was not worthwhile going near him.

"The Chairman:  Only as far as main roads were concerned.

"Continuing, Cr. Kelly said that the trouble was that the Council had given power away at such a low price, instead of continuing with a higher rate and creating a reserve fund. The affairs of the Council had got into a very contrary way. The fact remained, however, that he (the Chairman) intended to seek authority for application of a loan of 3000. The Treasurer at the present time would not lend even 50 to fence a cemetery. It was a mystery to him where the cash was coming from to purchase new engines. He could not see any other scheme but to close the plant down. He had, unfortunately, assisted the Council in all the 'wild-cat' schemes.

"The Chairman, in reply to Cr. Kelly, said there was no desire to establish a big reserve. The first year's working had shown a profit of 1039, whilst last year the profit was 253. He thought that by the time the matter was discussed, Cr. Kelly would think different. The Council would be in a position to send to the Minister 1000 tomorrow, and that would show him (the Minister) that the Council was making an effort to reduce its liability. Over 2000 had been collected since the first of January as the result of an appeal to the ratepayers.

"Mr Sherrington:  We quite understand that the Council is doing all it can for the consumer, but in the meantime it is a crippled service.

"The Chairman:  You can take our word for it that we are doing all we can.


"Mr Sherrington asked if it would be possible to increase the power supply by cutting out the street lighting. The decreased power supply was causing a loss in business. Mr Collins asked if it would be possible to run the small engine for two hours longer in the afternoon, particularly on a Saturday, to cater for Saturday evening trade. The Chairman said that nine kilowatts could be supplied, but there was no check on the consumers. Every consumer, knowing the power was on, would use it. Then it would be a case of the last straw to break the camel's back.


"Cr. Kelly:  Could the sugar mill help you out?  The Chairman said that he had taken up the matter with the [Mill's] chief engineer (Mr S. Baildon), but the trouble was that one was alternating current and the other direct current.


"Addressing the members of the deputation, the Chairman said that they could accept the Council's assurance that it will do all in its power to give continuous service. He felt sure that the Councillors would go with the scheme, or get the Minister's approval to sell the undertaking. Cr. Pope said he was in favour of a private company taking over. They could run it more satisfactorily than the Council. The Labour Government would not allow Mr Bestmann some years ago to run the plant privately. Mr Collins again asked could the small engine be run for two hours longer in the daytime.

"The manager was about to speak again regarding the cooling of engines when the Chairman said not to make any promises but to wait until after the meeting [with the State Treasurer]. It was thought that within a couple of weeks it would be possible to pay 2000 of the Council's indebtedness. The deputation thanked the Council and withdrew."    {18-3-1932, p.8}

In looking back in August 1932 at the trouble they had had with their powerhouse equipment, Shire Chairman J. T. Lowe said that in the beginning the plant had run well and the Nambour Electrical Undertaking had 'paid handsomely, until the engines went to pieces.' Two had been repaired, and another totally re-built, but one night the smaller engine had failed completely and was unrepairable.  {19-8-1932, p.4}

These breakdowns supported the Maroochy Shire Council's request to the State Treasurer for a loan to replace all of the engines, and a loan of 2600 was received from the State Government to replace the overloaded engines. The bigger and better replacement engines, built by Crossley in England, were installed in mid-1932.  {18-3-1932, p.8}  {8-4-1932, p.5}  {20-5-1932, p.4}

The powerhouse engineer Mr Fletcher was replaced by a Mr Haywood that same year, and an electrician, Mr Fitzgerald, was appointed to help him. {26-4-1940, p.8}




In 1932 a Brisbane-based company (anonymous in the Nambour Chronicle articles, but possibly Brisbane's City Electric Light Company Limited) was seeking to extend its power grid into country areas. In August of that year it approached the Maroochy Shire Council, seeking to take over the Nambour Electrical Undertaking. It made two proposals. The first was that their company would supply power in bulk from Brisbane to the Shire Council, who would then distribute it to consumers over their existing wires. The second was that the Council sell the Nambour Electrical Undertaking to them at market value of all the associated infrastructure.  {19-8-1932, p.4}

The Council thought that the first option would not be very helpful to them, as they would still need to maintain and improve the power distribution network. It would also be likely to lead to increases in the charges to consumers. The second option was preferable, as it meant that the Shire Council would not have to concern itself with electricity any more. Shire Chairman J. T. Lowe was not in favour of either option, as he had taken a personal interest in setting up the Nambour Electrical Undertaking in the first place. In fact, he was known for his 'paternal' feelings for both the new Maroochy Shire Hall and the Undertaking.  {6-3-1936, p.3}

On 15th August 1932, a public meeting was called to discuss the proposals put forward by the company, but only 41 persons attended. This lack of interest by ratepayers hampered any decision-making by those at the meeting, and it was felt that for the Shire Council to dispose of the Undertaking would not be in the interest of the ratepayers. Yet the Council had had so much difficulty with the Undertaking, many Councillors would like to get out of it. A motion was put to dispose of the Undertaking, and was passed by a single vote. In the event, both proposals lapsed and the status quo remained.   {19-8-1932, p.4}

The City Electric Light Company ran into a problem in their objective to extend their power and lighting service towards the North Coast. When they, as an instrumentality of the Brisbane City Council, wished to erect power poles northwards through the Pine Rivers Shire, that Shire strongly objected.  {19-7-1935, p.7}

By 1936, people in rural areas of Queensland were demanding that an electricity supply be made available to them, too. The State Government set up a Royal Commission to inquire into finding ways to make this possible, and the four Commissioners travelled throughout the State by car, conducting meetings with the public, City Councils, Shire Councils, electrical generating companies, and other interested parties. They arrived at Nambour on Wednesday, 1st April 1936, and attended a private meeting with Shire Councillors, a few local people from the Blackall Range including Messrs J. J. Manion and F. G. Morris representing orchardists, and representatives of the City Electric Light Company Limited (C.E.L., a private company taken over by the Brisbane City Council when that Council was formed in 1926, and at the time providing electricity for parts of Brisbane and Ipswich, and also the Brisbane Tramways.)  {3-4-1936, p.3} 

They found that, out of the 386 square miles of the Maroochy Shire, only one square mile (the town of Nambour) had been connected to the Nambour powerhouse and enjoyed the advantages of electric light and power. To recompense the Council for this, the citizens of Nambour paid an extra levy on their rates, covering their meter rent, electric light units used, power units used, and street lighting.  {3-4-1936, p.3}

It was financially impossible for the Shire Council to reticulate electric power throughout its rural areas, as the income it received from sale of electricity to consumers would be far outweighed by the cost of the poles, wiring and transformers needed to provide a satisfactory network. The same problem was shared by most local government bodies who had set up their own small powerhouses - the central town of each Shire, and any nearby towns if close enough. were provided with power, but the rural districts were not. If the country areas were to be provided with electricity, then a large central body, either a private company or government instrumentality, would be required, one large enough to benefit from the economics of scale.

The City Electric Light Company offered proposals to supply electricity in bulk to the Landsborough Shire Council and the Maroochy Shire Council, suggesting that the local Councils cooperate in reticulation to consumers. Negotiations began among the three parties, and the Landsborough Council agreed to the C.E.L. Company's proposals at once. In Nambour's case, the arguments pro and con dragged on until 1939, by which time the Maroochy Shire Council was keen to divest itself of its power-generating interests. In early 1940 an agreement was reached, and on 30th April 1940 the Nambour Electrical Undertaking was absorbed into the City Electric Light Company (by then becoming known as the State Electricity Commission of Queensland), thus ending the Shire Council's involvement with supply of electricity.  {19-1-1940, p.4}   {26-4-1940, p.8}

In Nambour, the takeover resulted in the powerhouse coming under the control of the City Electric Light Company. The Council put on record that their two employees Mr Haywood and Mr Fitzgerald and their equipment had provided a 'wonderful service' for eight years, so much so that the Shire Council rewarded them with a bonus, a 'fortnight's leave on full pay granted to each'.  {26-4-1940, p.8}

Before the powerhouse was officially handed over, a new Sub-station had been built in Nambour, a number of transformers had been commissioned, many poles in the main street had been re-positioned, and heavier copper cabling had been installed throughout the town. The City Electric Light Company paid the Maroochy Shire Council 10,219 for the existing infrastructure, which enabled the Council to pay off all of the debts remaining from the Nambour Electrical Undertaking, and still have more than 2000 left over. Some of this money was spent in the purchase of 400 streetlights, and in upgrading the streetlights in Currie Street to 300 candlepower. Sixty people were immediately employed to handle the affairs and develop the infrastructure of the City Electric Light Company in the Maroochy Shire.   {19-1-1940, p.4}   {26-4-1940, p.8}

The takeover of electricity reticulation in the Maroochy Shire by the City Electric Light Company in 1940 resulted in the mains soon reaching Eudlo, Palmwoods, Maleny and Montville, but Mapleton did not receive the service until 1951.



Note:  The City Electric Light Company Limited (C.E.L.) started as a private company and was inaugurated on 2nd December 1904. When the Brisbane City Council was formed in 1926, C.E.L. was taken over by the new Council and assumed the rôle of the B.C.C.'s Electricity Department. It thus became a statutory authority. The Company grew rapidly, and evolved into the State Electricity Commission of Queensland in 1938, although the Maroochy Shire Council was still receiving letters from the 'City Electric Light Company' as late as 1942. {30-1-1942, p.1} Notices in the Nambour Chronicle referring to the regular interruptions of power due to maintenance continued to be headed 'City Electric Light Company Limited' until the company was re-organised into the Southern Electric Authority of Queensland (S.E.A.Q.), effective from 18th December 1952. {18-7-1952, p.6}  That date marked the official end of the C.E.L.'s existence. After that, notices in the Nambour Chronicle for power supply interruptions and publicising S.E.A.Q. loans carried the heading, 'Southern Electric Authority of Queensland - successor to City Electric Light Co. Ltd.' {18-9-1953, p.6}  {14-10-1955, p.18}

Due to reorganisation under the Electricity Act of 1976,  the State Electricity Commission of Queensland and other electricity authorities underwent a significant restructure. As of 30th June of that year, the Southern Electric Authority, the Brisbane City Council, the Northern Electric Authority, five regional boards and several local authorities no longer functioned as electricity authorities, and as of 1st July their place was taken by a new structure. The State Electricity Commission became the executive arm of the government's interest in electricity, and below it the Queensland Electricity Generating Board and seven district Boards were created and given the responsibility for the retailing of electricity as from 1st July 1977. The regional boards were bodies with which consumers had direct dealings, and the board which dealt with Nambour was the South-east Queensland Electricity Board (S.E.Q.E.B., known popularly as 'Seequeb').

On 30th June 1982, the Queensland Electricity Generating Board was dissolved and its functions were assumed by the State Electricity Commission. The amalgamation of the two bodies was formally proclaimed on 1st January 1985.



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