Niagara Dam provides an unusual but welcome sight for visitors. Indeed, it is an oasis in the wildness that is today a very popular camping and recreational spot. The concrete dam wall, constructed in 1897-98, is 225 metres across and 18 metres high. But why on the earth was it built?
Back when it was being constructed, there was a nearby mining community called Niagara that was flourishing but in desperate need of a freshwater supply, and the locomotives that were soon to be steaming along a newly constructed railway heading north from Menzies to Leonora were going to require a lot of the precious liquid.
The Railways Department decided that a dam was the solution. Its construction required vast amounts of powered cement to be transported in barrels by camel train all the way from Coolgardie.
Once completed, Niagara Dam was instantly a white elephant. Vast supplies of artesian water had in the meantime been discovered at nearby Kookynie, while the town of Niagara was virtually deserted, the gold having run out.
Niagara, while it only briefly boomed as a gold centre, was unique in that the town’s main intersection had a hotel on all four corners – and each had a female publican!
Niagara Dam Free Camping
Free camping facilities, including shady sites, gas BBQ, picnic tables, toilets and a black water dump point. There are cement fire rings but own wood is required.
Niagara Dam Historical Fact
Coolgardie based contractors were engaged to build the dam at a tendered price of £42,000. But the Government engineers had miscalculated the depth of the bedrock that would need to be blasted away in order to construct the concrete wall. The actual work ended up costing £62,000. The contractor’s biggest challenge was getting a vast quantity of powdered cement to Niagara from Coolgardie where it had been railed from Perth.
The distance to Niagara was some 220km and they decided that the only way to efficiently transport the cement would be by camel train. By the time the dam was completed, it had accumulated very little water due to a lack of rainfall. To make matters worse a plentiful supply of good underground water had been located at nearby Kookynie.
In 1900 a journalist writing for the North Coolgardie Herald noted that ‘the fact that £60,000 of good Government money was swallowed up bin constructing the white elephant need not distract from your enjoyment of the sight. You may console yourself with the reflection that there may be a time when the reservoir will be put to some use’.
Such a time was not to come, however, for over a century this oasis in the wilderness has provided a picnic, swimming and camping spot for visitors and locals alike. The dam took its name from the nearby town of Niagara, which was booming at the time of the dam’s construction.