The world’s last working Humphrey pump has not fired in front of the public for years, and volunteer operators are calling for the South Australian Government to jump-start this piece of engineering history.

Key points:

  • The Cobdogla Irrigation and Steam Museum is home to two massive Humphrey pumps
  • Volunteer operators have been told it cannot be operated in front of the public due to safety standards
  • The SA Government is being called on to fund the necessary improvements

Two Humphrey pumps, only one of which is still operable, are located at Cobdogla, a small and quiet town in the heart of South Australia’s Riverland.

They are housed at the Cobdogla Irrigation and Steam Museum and were responsible for supplying irrigation water to the food-producing communities of Barmera, Loveday and Cobdogla from the late 1920s until 1965.

The Humphrey pumps at Cobdogla have been officially recognised at a national level.(ABC Riverland: Sam Bradbrook)

It is this history that motivated museum volunteers and Cobdogla Steam Friends Society members, like Lyn Amos.

Mr Amos is a member of the Humphrey pump operation and maintenance team and is desperate to fire it up again in front of the public to educate them about its significance.

“Nowhere else in the world can you get close to these two things and nowhere else in the world can you go down to the bottom of it and get an idea of the size of this huge contraption.”

While the pumps are operated and maintained by museum volunteers, they are owned by SA Water.

The two Humphrey pumps sit side by side in a pump house at the Cobdogla Steam and Irrigation Museum.(ABC Riverland: Sam Bradbrook)

Mr Amos said SA Water notified the museum that the pump could not be operated in front of the public as it does not meet current safety standards.

He said that was to be expected given it was more than 100 years old, but the State Government should be stepping in to make any necessary improvements.

Lyn Amos is passionate about keeping the Humphrey pump’s history alive.(ABC Riverland: Sam Bradbrook)

SA Water capital delivery service manager Peter Seltsikas said it would cost around $3 million to ensure the working pump meets modern safety standards.

“We’ve assessed and gone through with a contractor about what it will take to make the pump safe and to be operational again,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we’ve recognised that a significant expense is required to bring the pump and the gas production facility up to today’s standards and ensure the safety of the pump itself.” 

Not the first hurdle for passionate pump volunteers

The Cobdogla Steam Friends Society have been long time advocates for the Humphrey pump and its future.

It was last at loggerheads with SA Water in mid-2019 after it closed the building that houses the pump to the public and museum volunteers due to concerns about the safety of the structure.

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Members of the steam friends wrote to SA Water’s chief executive and the state’s environment and water minister at the time and pleaded for it to fund repairs.

Those issues have been rectified and the building has again been deemed safe to enter.

SA Water’s Mr Seltsikas said he understood it was frustrating for the museum and they have had to fight for funds to be allocated toward the pump.

“But we have been talking to the volunteers about how we may be able to support them to engage with special interest groups and heritage groups.

“They may be able to raise money through [these groups] so that can be invested in making the pump safe and maybe bringing it back to life.”

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