A father and son team of commercial divers have been selected for one of the most hazardous surveying jobs in Australia.
The Public Transport Commission asked Mr Neil Johnson and his son Keith, to map a maze of wells used in the late 1800’s to supply water to steam engines at Bathurst.
The Johnsons, who are partners in Commercial Diving Services Pty Ltd had to explore a system of inter-connected wells before the commission could build on the site.
Mr Neil Johnson founded the company, and he runs it now with his son Keith. He said yesterday the Bathurst job turned out to be one of the most hazardous they had tackled anywhere in Australia.
The wells were driven 21 to 23 metres into the ground, and connected at the bottom by a series of tunnels. They fell out of use In the early part of the century and were partly filled with rubbish before being sealed over.
The commission wanted the stability of the well structures tested before building a new loco system nearby. The new workshops will serve the whole western region.
Mr Johnson remained on the surface directing the work while Keith went down the shafts. Each well shaft was built in stages and the divers found up to 20 tonnes of rubbish on each stage.
They worked in near darkness, hauling lights and gear with them. Keith had to devise tough safety measures for a job which called for working in channels filled with cold water and probing the design of a series of dark tunnels leading to a central water collection point. They found a vacuum at the bottom of one shaft, with about 200 tonnes of waste material, loosely compacted, suspended above them.
Keith, now one of the leading commercial divers in Australia, will return to Bathurst next week for four days of video recording in the maze. The film should tell the engineers what they want to know – whether the site is stable enough for the workshop complex.