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Cataract Hill has Launceston's first electric home

When the Cataract Hill Sub-station in Launceston officially came into operation on 18 December 1922, The Examiner reported that the adjoining residence for the engineer-in-charge Henry Appleby could be regarded as Launceston’s first electrical house.

Electricity was being used for cooking, heating, hot water, lighting and other domestic purposes and there was only one fireplace.

The Cataract Hill Sub-station was built to distribute electricity from the state government’s Hydro-Electric Department’s power station at Waddamana.

At the time it was feared the Launceston Municipal Council’s Duck Reach Power Station on the South Esk River, commissioned in 1895, would be unable to meet the needs of an increasing number of industries in the city.

Launceston had been the first city in Australia to be lit by hydro-electricity.

Plans for increased water storages in the Central Highlands to improve the all-year flow in the South Esk River were being considered but abandoned when the council signed a seven-year contract to take 3000 hp of electricity from Waddamana.

Some residents were unhappy at the cost of £16,500 a year but it doubled the amount of power available in Launceston and ensured a reliable electricity supply for the new Patons and Baldwins and Kelsall and Kemp textile mills.

At the official opening of the Cataract Hill Sub-station, Mayor George Shields said the object of getting the extra power was to assist the city’s industries and he didn’t think there would be a greater demand for electricity for domestic purposes.

This was disputed by the Hydro-Electric Department general manager John Butters who said that in Hobart the demand for electricity for heating and cooking purposes had almost outgrown the supply.

Not only were new houses being installed with modern electrical cooking and heating apparatus, but he said 75 per cent of old houses had electrical appliances installed.

It was several years before Launceston caught up to Hobart.

In 1924 the council made the decision to change the city’s electrical system from 110 volts to 240 volts which would bring the city into line with other parts of the state and the nation.

In welcoming the decision, the Daily Telegraph in April 1924 noted that Launceston was the only city in the Commonwealth whose electrical system was running on the lower voltage.

The estimated cost of the changeover was put at £41,000 but it was expected electricity would be cheaper for domestic consumers.

In his valedictory address in December 1924 Mayor Claude James was able to report that

Trevallyn and parts of South Launceston and Inveresk had been converted to 240 volts with work underway in East Launceston.

The Examiner said the mayor confidently expected a big increase in the sale of the council’s electricity for heating, cooking and hot water systems. “The price of current for this class of apparatus is low and its general use will only be a question of time.”

Images -- TOP: The sub-station engineer's house adjacent to the Cataract Hill Sub-station today, Google Maps. MIDDLE: A display at the Wireless and Electricity Exhibition at the Albert Hall, Weekly Courier 30 July 1926. BOTTOM: Cataract Hill Sub-station, Weekly Courier 13 July 1922.

Written for the Launceston Historical Society and published in The Sunday Examiner, 23 October 2022.


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