Lawson Dam – from steam train water supply to swimming pool

The commencement of steam train services across the Blue Mountains from 1867 required the provision of a reliable supply of water along the route beyond Glenbrook where a natural lake existed.

Dams were built in the Mid and Upper Mountains to solve this problem.

The first swamp to be dammed was at Christmas Swamp, now Lawson.

Blue Mountain Railway Station, a listed permanent station, not merely a stopping place or platform, was built here in 1867 because of this water supply. It was the watering place for trains travelling in both directions and the principal watering halt for down trains.

In 1879, the station was re-named Lawson.

An earth-wall dam, fed by springs in the area, was constructed in the gully north-west of the railway station. Water was pumped up from the valley and stored in, first, a wooden and, then, a stone reservoir in what is part of Lawson Bowling Club.

Between 1877 and 1884, the Mountains suffered severe drought. The dam ran dry. In 1881, it was enlarged, the wall raised seven feet (2.1 metres) and a timber spillway provided. However, the rains stayed away.

The Railways Department needed a better source of water for its trains.

An area for a new and larger dam was found at Wentworth Falls, which opened in 1908, leaving the Lawson Dam as a reserve supply only.

Water from Wentworth Falls Lake was fed via a break pressure tank below Boddington Hill to another new, concrete water storage reservoir of 280,000 gallons in Hilda Gardens on the north side of Lawson Station. The 1957 electrification of the line eliminated the reservoir’s purpose. It is now part of Lawson Bowling Club.

On May 15, 1915, the Railways Department leased Lawson Dam and surrounding land to the Shire Council for recreational purposes for five years, at one pound per year. The council improved the area, adding dressing sheds.

In 1920, the lease was renewed for a further five years with the proviso that one month’s notice could be given if the Railways required the dam.

The Railways notified the Shire Council on June 16, 1925 that the lease could not be renewed because conditions were very dry. Later that year the rains came so the lease was renewed annually.

By 1930, led by Shire President, Percy Wilson, council acquired the land. Depression relief workers cleared scrub, cleaned the baths and built roads. On November 4, 1930, Lawson Swimming Club was formed. In the park surrounding it, the Shire President encouraged the building of a map of Australia.

The steam trains’ dam was now a summer playground.

Robyne Ridge is a member of Blue Mountains Historical Society.