Share the joy

Download a pdf copy of this article here: Dobie and the Bucket Brigade Revival of 2018

Dobie and the ‘Bucket Brigade Revival of 2018’

Dr Peter D Matthews

It was December 1953 in the sleepy little town of Stanthorpe. The illustrious new Storm King Dam had just been completed, noted for its native “black swans” protected by Council officers as honorary protectors of the swans, who can call on the local constabulatory at a moment’s notice as ex-officcio fauna officers.[1] There was around 2,850 people living in the Stanthorpe township relying on the drinking water in December 1953, and history preserved a fascinating story of Stanthorpe’s “Bucket Brigade”.

The dam had just been completed and water had risen to “2 foot, 2 inches” (66cm) above the outlet valve, when the inlet to Storm King Dam at Nielsens Road stopped flowing into the dam. They had been pumping out of Quart Pot Creek near the bridge until the dam had been completed. On receipt of a dire report by Council’s Chief Engineer Jack Mulholland (1903-1985), that predicted the small volume in the dam will “barely last until Christmas at the present rate of consumption,” they implemented “drastic water restrictions”. Keep in mind Christmas was only a week away, so this was a dire prediction over the town of Stanthorpe.

The consumption was reduced to 130,000 gallons for approximately 2,850 people daily, instead of 260,000 gallons previous. This is 492,103 litres (130,000 gallons) for 2,850 people per day, which equals to 172.6 litres per day per person.[2] This is 52.6 litres per person more per day than what Mayor Dobie instigated when she set the extreme water restrictions at 120 litres per person per day. Even at 172.6 litres, the Council despite opposition from certain farming Councillors, the Council implemented the following:

There is to be no watering of gardens, lawns, cultivated plots, footpaths, sports grounds or tennis courts by hose, spray line or any other method.[3]

The Council were criticized for not implementing the restrictions sooner. Surprize, surprize, Mayor Dobie seems to not have learned any lessons from history. We are in the same place we were in 1953, because drought has affected many farmers, who have lost stock, crops, and many are facing ruin, yet Mayor Dobie took a firm approach allowing “rural residents accessing water from the Stanthorpe and Warwick standpipes will be limited to purchasing a maximum of 2000 litres per week.”[4] The same situation occurred with the Chair of Council making the following assertion in December 1953:

The people who spend their money here, create employment here and keep the town alive, look like losing the whole of their bread and butter through a crop failure, and they can do nothing about it.[5]

It seems we have not learnt from history. A large number of residents were “cheating the restrictions” who were “a large bucket brigade in operation” who came down at night with their buckets and filled them up at the standpipe to water their gardens.[6] This sounds very much like the “blatant theft of public water” from standpipes that Mayor Dobie outlawed in February 2019, which is now often patrolled by their quasi water police.[7]

The idea of the “bucket brigade” according to the history of Stanthorpe was that of a rebellious nature – a stand against the Council of their day – the residents of Stanthorpe saw the level of the dam for themselves, and knew the report of Mulholland was absolute porkies. It would surely last for more than one week. True to form, the report of Mulholland was proven false, and within 11 months, the dam had rowing and sail boats upon its waters. Instead the Council turned to prosecuting those killing its native “black swans”.[8]

In my opinion, either Mayor Dobie was an astute, brilliant leader by researching the historically significant events in Stanthorpe’s past and intentionally revived the “Bucket Brigade” in 2018 by handing out free buckets to embrace our sense of community, or she was completely insensitive to the history of Stanthorpe and instigated the revival of the “Bucket Brigade” out of ignorance. If it was the latter, then as instigator of the “Bucket Brigade Revival of 2018” according to historical tradition, having been the one who revived the tradition of stealing of water by buckets from standpipes, would that not make Mayor Dobie an accomplice or leader of any “alleged” criminal acts of stealing water? Does not the law still stand? Or was our Mayor an astute leader looking for a historical connection to Stanthorpian history hoping to make a difference today? Could it have simply backfired upon her? I’ll leave you decide with one final statement issued from Council regarding the buckets, which appears to have been published just prior to 29 October 2018:

The buckets are the latest addition to SDRC’s many water saving initiatives, including the Water Tank Rebate, free shower timers and other free water saving devices such as showerheads and outdoor sprinklers.

Under high level water restrictions, the target level for water consumption is a maximum of 170 litres per person per day ­ – around 19 buckets.

“The water buckets are a simple and easy way for residents to catch the heat-up water in their showers that would otherwise go to waste,” Councillor for Agriculture, Environment and Sustainability Cameron Gow said.

“Residents can use that water for outdoor activities such as watering their gardens or washing their cars while also gaining a sense of how much water they are actually using.

“Together with the Water Tank Rebate, shower timers and water efficient shower heads, the buckets will help residents save more water and help sustain the region’s water supply.”[9]

These are the facts. Draw your own conclusions…


© 2019 inclusive Dr Peter D Matthews. All rights reserved. This paper may be freely used for academic purposes, subject to citing Dr Peter D Matthews as the author. More information is also available on my website at, or you can like my Facebook page to keep abreast of any updated material I find. My academia profile is also available here.

[1] Warwick Daily News (Friday 19 November 1954), Sailing Permitted on Storm King Dam, p2.

[2] Warwick Daily News, (Friday 18 December 1953), Stanthorpe Shire Council: Drastic Water Restrictions Introduced, p3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Southern Downs Regional Council, FAQ 2: Can rural residents access urban water supply?

[5] WDN (Friday 18 December 1953), Stanthorpe Shire Council: Drastic Water Restrictions Introduced, p3. See 2.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Warwick Daily News (28 March 2019), SDRC water patrol units on the hunt for water wasters.

[8] Warwick Daily News (Friday 19 November 1954), Sailing Permitted on Storm King Dam, p2.

[9] Southern Downs Regional Council, 2018 News: Council offers bucket-load of water savings as Southern Downs moves to high level restrictions, bold mine.

Written by drpeter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *