VALE MR JOHN GILBERT – VISIONARY, ENGINEER, GENTLEMAN

Councillors and staff of Dubbo Regional Council (DRC) are deeply saddened by the passing of Mr John Gilbert, one of the region’s great engineers and forefathers of Dubbo’s successful transition from a town to a thriving city.

In a note to Council’s Chief Executive Officer, Mr Michael McMahon advising of Mr Gilbert’s passing, Mr Stewart McLeod eloquently surmises the significant contribution John Gilbert made to the region:

“John Gilbert was the Municipal and then City Engineer of Dubbo for 30 years from 1953 to 1983. Today’s population will most likely remember him because the filtration plant in South Dubbo was named the John Gilbert Water Treatment Plant in his honour shortly before he retired.

John Gilbert was a key figure in guiding Dubbo’s growth from a sleepy country town in 1953 through to a thriving regional city in 1983. In that time, Dubbo had grown from a town of just 12,000 to a City in excess of 30,000 people. When the population reached 15,000 in 1966 Dubbo Municipal Council became Dubbo City Council.

In 1953 Dubbo’s post-war boom was just beginning. Many of its key engineering services including roads, footpaths, water supply, sewerage and drainage were bursting at the seams through lack of capacity. John Gilbert immediately proved he possessed the drive and vision to tackle these problems with verve and enthusiasm.

He quickly upgraded both the water treatment and sewage treatment plants of that era. At the water plant John introduced the innovation of water softening technology to overcome the Macquarie River water hardness issues that had been noted from as early as John Oxley’s exploratory expedition in 1818. He was also the driving force behind the retirement of Council’s large diameter but shallow water supply Drift Wells dating from the late 19th and early 20th centuries and their replacement with a dozen small diameter deep bores stretching in an arc from south of Dubbo all the way through Central and into North Dubbo.

In the 1970’s Council also invested millions of dollars in new drainage infrastructure in East and West Dubbo. This paved the way for extensive expansion of the City in both directions whilst at the same time overcoming nuisance flooding in the inner parts of Dubbo he had inherited when first employed.

In the years leading up to his retirement John was responsible for the design of Dubbo’s second major river crossing, the Serisier Bridge. The minimalist “local” option for this had always been a bridge at the end of Talbragar Street, thus avoiding the additional cost of a major railway viaduct as well. However John took the more strategic view and negotiated with the State Government instead for a deviation of the Newell Highway to be achieved at the same time (extending Whylandra Street underneath the railway line and across into Erskine Street, North Dubbo). This created a far superior and more efficient road network for both Dubbo and NSW more broadly, and removed unnecessary extra traffic from the growing CBD.

As the Town Planner for much of his tenure, John drew up visionary plans for a city with an eventual population of 100,000 people. He built water supply service reservoirs on high ground well outside of the existing town area at Mugga Hill, Eulomogo and Rifle Range Road to facilitate Dubbo’s unimpeded growth to both east and west. New sewage pump stations at Troy Gully and Cootha achieved the same aim. Major sewerage infrastructure extensions and the construction of a standpipe reservoir at Newtown facilitated the development of South Dubbo at a time when the land south of Boundary Road was simply farmland and orchards. In broad terms, by the time John Gilbert retired, Dubbo’s footprint had tripled in size and its potential footprint, since realised, was much larger still.

John Gilbert was a gifted and enthusiastic engineer who gave 30 years of invaluable public service to Council and the people of Dubbo. He is survived by his wife Margaret and children Sue, John and Kent.”

“On behalf of all the Councillor’s and staff of Dubbo Regional Council, we extend our deepest sympathies to the Gilbert family, and acknowledge the city’s extreme gratitude to John’s exemplary service to the community,” said Mr McMahon.  “People don’t often realise what goes into building a city and the need to ‘future proof’ and plan a city’s success.  It’s very clear from John Gilbert’s fantastic 30 year dedication and the achievements made under his direction, that he was a true visionary that guided the success and growth of our wonderful city.”

Mr John Gilbert, died on Thursday (10 September) at the age of 97 years. A private family funeral is planned in Forster this week.

Last Edited: 15 Sep 2020

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