Why are so many Windmills in Rural Australia?

A windmill at the Victorian rural town of Kaniwa

A drive through the country side of Australia, one will never miss the sight of a windmill standing tall in sparsely populated farm areas doing its work without expecting anything in return. Windmills hold an iconic status in Australia symbolising the “never die” attitude of a settler fighting against the natural barriers to eventually come out triumphant against all odds.

From the mid 1800’s to the mid of 1900’s many Australian engineering establishments designed, manufactured and sold windmills across Australia. An article named “Windmill Wisdom” that appeared on Sat 29 Sep 1917, in The Kyogle Examiner, published from NSW explains very well, why windmills have become so popular in Australia in the 19th century.

“The wisdom of installing a good windmill is indisputable and a potent argument is that once erected a good windmill requires practically no running expenses beyond occasional lubricating. — it requires no looking after and it necessary will work 24 hours in the day and every day.”

Windmills here are used for pumping water from underground. Windmills allowed pastoralists to graze livestock in areas previously limited by the harsh arid conditions and windmill provided a permanent water supply to the early settlers.

The History of Windmills in Australia

In the mid 1800’s, the first windmills to appear in Australia were the large Windmills used in parts of Europe for milling purposes. They were not suitable for Australian conditions to pump water in the outback and they were too expensive. Australian conditions required a cheaper less powerful windmill.

Spotting an opportunity, American windmill manufacturers showed keen interest in Australian market and as a result their windmills started being imported to Australia. This continued until the great success of The Southern Cross Windmills in 1910. In 1871 George Griffiths established the Toowoomba Foundry. Toowoomba foundry initially built wooden framed windmills. The foundry produced “Simplex Economy” and “Little Wonder” mills in various sizes until 1893. From 1893 to 1903 the foundry produced geared windmills and the advent of the wheel on the windward side of the tower. Toowoomba foundary’s windmills were not as good as the American ones. Once while visiting the Toowoomba show, Bert Griffiths noticed that his windmills ran at half the speed of his American competitors. He made suitable changes to his design to overcome the shortcomings. His new design became highly successful and the brand name The Southern Cross was born. By 1910, its success has eliminated American mills from Australian Market.

There were many other Australian manufacturers producing quality windmills. The Intercolonial Boring Company was manufacturing Simplex windmills in Brisbane. Sidney Williams & Company established in 1879 at Rockhampton in QLD still continue making Comet Windmills.

How the Windmill works?

A windmill used for pumping water is also known as Windpump. The windmill in Australian farms are for pumping water. The wind rotates the blades which are referred as “sails”. This in turn rotates a wheel. The cam motion of the wheel which incorporates gears rotates a piston which will pump water from underground to above. As the piston rises it pumps water to the storage tank.

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