The Botanic Cut: Re-routing of the Yarra River, 1898
In July 1891 Melbourne suffered a major flood when the Yarra River burst its banks, inundated surrounding areas and left 1,000 people homeless. The same year, the Yarra Floods Board was convened to investigate:
[...] the causes and extent of river floods in and about Melbourne, and the extent to which they are contributed to, or intensified by, artificial or preventable causes the measures that might be adopted for controlling or mitigating the effects of such floods, and for preventing, future damage therefrom.
The Board presented its report in February 1892 and the main recommendation was that from Princes-bridge to Hoddle Street the river channel should be widened to a sectional area equivalent to 300 feet by a depth of 15 feet below Admiralty low water datum. Other recommendations included raising the roads on both sides of the riverbank to above flood level. The report was pigeon-holed until 1895 when the Minister for Public Works, John William Tavener, acted upon the concerns of local councils, sorted out financial arrangements, with work finally commenced in August 1896.
Carlo Catani had prepared the plans, with the entire project carried out under his direction and supervision. The work included the widening of the Yarra to the 300 feet as recommended by the Board of Inquiry in 1892, but only from Princes Bridge to the Cremorne Railway Bridge.The works diverted the course of the Yarra to remove a sharp bend, though did not extend to Hoddle Street. This old part of the Yarra was added to the lake at the Botanic Gardens and so was known as the Botanic Cut.
The opening of the new course of the Yarra took place on November 8, 1897. The occasion attracted over 3,000 spectators who lined the riverbanks. Mr Tavener and other dignitaries motored up the Yarra River, from Princes Bridge, in the Public Works Department launch, Lion to the site of the last earth bank. Mr Tavener triggered the first charge of explosives that were laid there, while the Mayor of Melbourne, the second. The bank exploded and the water rushed through to the new course of the Yarra. The embankment at the west end was opened by a steam dredge.
The Australasian of November 13, 1897 had this interesting report on the Yarra River works:
In 1863 the flood level in the bar of the Sir Henry Barkly Hotel, corner of Punt road and the riverbank was 9ft. above the floor; in 1891 it stood at 10ft. above the floor. On completion of these works the flood under similar conditions of weather should not rise more than 3ft, in the bar. This will still put the proprietor of the hotel to inconvenience, but this reduction of flood level will save many thickly populated streets from inundation, while Toorak-road will be almost free, and South Melbourne quite free from flood trouble.