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Cobdogla Irrigation and Steam Museum stalwart looks back as beloved site faces possible closure

5 July 2022

Man stands in front of a large vehicle
Doug Fieldhouse has dedicated majority of his life to maintaining and preserving irrigation machinery and equipment.(ABC Riverland: Matt Stephens)

For 94-year-old Doug Fieldhouse, the sound and smell of starting up an aged irrigation pump still brings much joy to his life. 

Mr Fieldhouse was a pump station superintendent at the former Cobdogla Pumping Station, based in South Australia's Riverland, for many years.

He was also one of the people behind its transformation into a museum 36 years ago. 

"I just thought that all of that beautiful machinery that I had been involved in all of my working life was just going to get chucked out to the scrap metal," he said. 

The centrepiece of the museum is the world's last remaining operational Humphrey Pump which was used in the late 1920s until 1965 to transport water from the Murray River to horticultural properties around the region.

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

Mr Fieldhouse is one of a very few living experts on the pump and was one of the people responsible for getting it firing in the late 1980s after it had fallen out of working order.  

"The excitement is watching it start up. We use a low calorific charcoal gas, very similar to kerosene," he said. 

"It requires a very long drawn-out spark which we get from T-model oils and six of these spark plugs fire simultaneously at the combustion head so that they ignite the gas and start the momentum.

Council backing volunteers

Mr Fieldhouse's memories and passion to preserve pieces of the region's irrigation history could soon be lost, as the Cobdogla Irrigation and Steam Museum faces possible closure if it cannot find a source of financial support.

SA Water had provided $70,000 a year to help with the maintenance and running costs of the museum but last week it ended this arrangement. 

The Berri Barmera Council said it has heard the museum's calls for help to rectify its funding issues and it will lobby the state government for support. 

"Council will be approaching the state government in a formal sense and requesting that the option to reinstate the support for the group and the site is considered." 

Back at the museum, Mr Fieldhouse said while he is physically no longer able to do a lot at the museum or on the Humphrey Pump, he is still on hand to give advice and to direct others.

"I'm 94; I don't move too well, but I can still talk," he laughed.