A recent visit to the museum in Southern Cross revealed a once-loved "humble tool of the Twentieth Century" (to quote Jim Fitzpatrick’s “The Bicycle and the Bush”). This humble tool had belonged to Fred Driver, long-time resident of nearby Moorine Rock. Fred was a pipe runner and did a daily bicycle patrol along the Goldfield’s pipeline, checking for leaks. The Pipeline, that most remarkable and historically poignant engineering feat in our region, provided the pulsing artery which ultimately beat Australia's longest typhoid epidemic in the Goldfields and in many other ways brought progress. Enough progress in fact to quench an enduring thirst from mining and agriculture throughout the region.
Fred would ride alternately west to Garratt and east to Noongar, each a daily round trip of about 30 km. His bike, remote from archivist attention, battle weary and lacking care, hangs indelicately in the Southern Cross museum shed.
According to “The Bicycle and the Bush”, this use was typical along much of the 557km pipeline for about 60 years, from its completion in the early 1900's. Another of Fred’s humble tools was a hammer, for caulking cracked seam welds with lead shot.
The bike is unremarkable, except for its place in the history of the Goldfields. The generous sweep of the drop bars had been turned up for comfort. The 'Major Taylor' headstem is more often associated with racing cycles than utility bikes. Fixed or freewheel I wondered? Possibly fixed as the Philco rear calliper brake appeared to be an after-thought. It was poorly aligned on the rim and what was left of the brake lever had been mounted clumsily on the top tube.
It seems Fred was handy with a strand of wire; tidy wire reinforcements adorned the pedals and a fine figure of 8 loop secured the break link on the chain.
Fred Gordon Driver would have been around 18 when the pipeline was completed in the early 1900’s. He was carting water to pioneer farmers in the early 1920’s, a hint perhaps that by then he was working on the pipeline. A perk of working on the pipeline was unlimited water for the home garden and vegetable patch. Assuming he made his pipe runs for perhaps 25-40 years (a reasonable guess by the look of the bike), a conservative estimate puts the bike’s working life at around 200,000-300,000 km.
Fred was still residing at Moorine Rock at his death aged 73, in 1957. No doubt he understood well what richness to life the pipeline provided, with his own dedicated contribution to it. Robert Loughman