Hydraulic Henderson of the Outback

P1150727 (2)After two years of drilling, it happened, the township was on the map. Blasting seventy feet above the Australian Outback shot a glorious 84°C jet of piping hot water. First there was London, then Paris, and the next day in 1898, came Thargomindah. The tiny town, today with a population of 206, was the third in the world to have hydroelectric street lighting.

John Baillie Henderson was responsible for that bore. He was Queensland’s first Government Hydraulic Engineer and was considered to be the “greatest authority of the day on artesian water supplies”. He definitely earned his title Hydraulic Henderson.

Still in Thargomindah, fast forward five generations. Young Geoff Pike, not long out of his plumbing apprenticeship, is fixing domestic toilets. There’s not a lot of domestic toilets in the Outback. So just like his great-great-great-grandfather Hydraulic Henderson, Geoff began dreaming of greater things.

He took his sole trader plumbing business and transformed it into an internationally certified oil and gas production facilities construction company with a turnover of more than $30 million, and a workforce peaking at over 300. Geoff still lives in Thargomindah. He’ll never leave, he loves the town and the history too much.

I first met Geoff a couple of years ago when judging the Telstra Australian Business Awards. Geoff won the Queensland regional award, which isn’t hard to understand when you consider what he’d done, and then see him standing here in the harsh red dirt of his “office”.

Since then I’ve wanted to get back and see where the emus take me. So today I’m heading west. Blue sky, red dirt, endless stars, solitude, and history. There’s a lot to the Outback. Hydraulic Henderson knew that 120 years ago when he started drilling underneath its baked crust. His great-great-great-grandson knows it today.


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