Aqueducts and a little concrete advice …

Breakwater’s historic aqueduct is about to fall on people’s heads, again, making it time to revisit concerns from a few years back …

The giant honeycombed concrete edifice on Ryrie St looks like a bomb blast aftermath just now. The Barwon Water HQ makeover is interesting on a couple of fronts, not just for its tilt to brutalist architecture, a trait shared by the Irish pyramid also boldly evident at its rear.

Concrete is a tough building material and it can look, well, less than warm and friendly. And it can deteriorate into a rather dangerous proposition as age and a peculiar condition loosely termed concrete cancer develops.

Similar thing, efflorescence, can happen with sandstone, which you’ll find in buildings such as Christ Church at Moorabool Street’s top of the town. Pored over that as a student, way back when. Remember a mate skittling a kid on his bike while we there; kid wound up under the gearbox with about an inch clearance from his head. No helmets, he was lucky to walk away.

Was reminded of this out on Marshall’s Tanner Street the other day, eyeballing Barwon Water’s old sewer bridge, a remarkable cancer-riddled concrete aqueduct. Heritage listed to its own eyeballs, the century-old, 750-metre, 14-span structure supports a sewer pipe — ovoid in shape for max hydraulic efficiency, in case you’re interested — and looks like some strangely crocheted school project.

It’s like a concrete-stringed concertina drawn out full length with a rod through its guts. Peculiar and oddly beautiful. Been some politics attached to its survival, too, ever since engineers 20 years ago suggested it could collapse at any moment. It’s still there, though.

Can’t say the same for its engineering sister, the Geelong CBD’s old Bow Truss woolstore, which experts also said was set to fall on people’s heads any second. It’s gone. Interestingly though, when the demolition lads moved in, they couldn’t knock it down with a wrecking ball. Really had to put their shoulders into it to eventually get rid of it; the TAC building came up in its place.

I can’t say if the aqueduct would offer the same resistance, or redevelopment options; the river precinct underneath looks more flood-prone than Warralily. Some people are talking up walking tracks and interpretative signs. Best put a few warnings up for tiger snakes if that gets up.

Noted recently that Cave Clan tunnel tourists are back playing teenage mutant ninja turtles in Barwon Water’s pipes beneath Geelong. If they want something really smelly, maybe they should try the sewer pipe within the McIntyre Bridge over the Barwon at Belmont. More brutalism there, by the way, seems it’s just the way with concrete.

That pipeline’s been going since about 1967, 50 odd years now, which is getting close to the 56 years the aqueduct operated from 1916 before being decommissioned in 1972. Barwon rowers might be forgiven for looking upwards every so, given what some engineers seem to think of concrete.

Yeah, I know, shouldn’t joke about things like that. Mind you, it does strike me as a little odd that the most significant landmark near Kardinia House, the residence of Geelong first’s mayor, Alexander Thomson, might be a sewer pipe. Then again, the way Geelong treats some of its mayors, but that’s another story …

Thing I do find amusing about our water utility’s matrix of sewer pipes is the need to flush them every so often with gusts of high-pressure air. I seem to recall notices to householders cautioning them not to be alarmed if any toilets seats bang open unexpectedly.

Puts a new take on the term thunderboxes, I suppose. Maybe that’s what they should call the new bomb-blasted HQ — Thunderbox House. That would be a bit brutal.

This article appeared in The Weekly Review, 13 May 2016