The old water wheel in its new location Cream Can Corner

Wheel had pivotal ‘roll’ in town history

by Mike Isle

The old water wheel now located on the corner of Lowes and Goulds roads, known colloquially as Cream Can Corner, gets a lot of local and tourist interest. What is not widely known is that behind the wheel is a story of remarkable preservation and restoration thanks to the diligence of the local Rolleston and District Lions Club.

Life member Brian Whittington said the wheel played a pivotal role in Rolleston’s history, particularly during the steam era.

“Whilst its exact age is unknown, for decades it was used to pump water to the railway tanks where the water was used to fill the railway’s steam trains,” Mr Whittington recalls.

“The water wheel was mounted in the water race that flowed down Railway Road along the West Coast Railway line. The water then flowed into a man-made reservoir, between Jones Road and the Main South Road from where the water was then pumped from the reservoir; using the water wheel to drive the pump and pump the water to the water tanks by the second railway station where the third station now stands.”

Mr Whittington said it is not known whether the wheel ever supplied water to the first railway station, which was opposite the Rolleston Hotel.

Remarkably, both the first and second stations were burnt down.

The wheel ceased operations in the 1960s at the end of the steam era. For years it lay dormant and slowly deteriorating — but then it came to the attention of Rolleston Lions who presented a successful business case to their membership for the wheel’s restoration.

The club’s past-president Bill Pickering explains why it was important to the town: “Rolleston would not exist without starting as a railway junction, so anything to do with railway history is relevant to the town’s progress.”

Mr Pickering said that with Lions International celebrating a century of service the local club decided to make restoration of the historic wheel a legacy project for the club.

He said the removal of the wheel, its restoration and installation on the present site in June 2018 took several years and cost many man hours. The monetary cost was insignificant considering in excess of $200,000, has been donated into the community, during the last 10 years, to various causes.

“It was immensely satisfying for the club to have the opportunity to provide Rolleston with such a lasting legacy feature,” Mr Pickering said.

Rolleston and District Lions meet at 6.30 pm on the first Wednesday of every month at the Rock Restaurant, usually with a guest speaker and time for socialising.

The club currently has 37 members, including 13 female members. The current president is Leo Slattery phone 03 347 9428 or email llslat@hotmail.com.