Classic Outback #5

This is the fifth in a series of pictures portraying classical aspects of Outback scenery.


Windmills are a common sight in rural and Outback parts of Australia, converting wind energy into the reciprocating strokes of raising and lowering a rod which works a pump to raise water from under the ground.

The term “windmill” originally referred to a machine using the wind to operate a “mill” to grind grain. The Australian windmill is thus sometimes referred to more accurately as a “windpump”.

The “tail” of the windmill has the function of pointing the “rotor” into the wind, thus ensuring maximum efficiency. However, by “furling” the tail, ie. pulling it around next to the rotor, the windmill is effectively turned off. (This can be important in high winds, to avoid the windmill damaging itself by operating at excessive speed.)

Two of the most common brands of windmill seen in Australia over the years have been Southern Cross and Comet.

The use of electric pumps to replace windmills has become increasingly common, especially when the electricity is supplied by solar panels. However, it’s still hard to beat the efficiency of a good windmill, which with very little maintenance can work effectively for at least 50 years (although one pastoralist has told me that the cost of OH&S regulations on windmill maintenance is threatening to make windmills uneconomical. It seems you can no longer tell young Bill to climb up the windmill unless he’s got a certificate in windmill climbing or some such silly thing.)


About dazzlerplus

Writing about the things that interest me helps me to discover what I think. One of my loves is the Australian Outback, and I travel out there often, and when possible take friends with me.
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6 Responses to Classic Outback #5

  1. Sue Emeleus says:

    Hi Rob, Did you see the cartoon of the windmills in today’s SMH? Each had one wing of the propellor cut off. Love from Sue

  2. Shirley MCINTYRE says:

    Can’t substantiate but have been told by an outback tour guide that the Southern Cross has three legs and the comet has four.

  3. dazzlerplus says:

    Yes, Shirley, I think you’re right! If I’d been designing a windmill, I reckon I would have opted for three legs — that way, you don’t have to worry about getting the base exactly level.

  4. Lavinia Ross says:

    Rob – thanks for these educational posts you do. It’s a good for those who can’t travel far to see what life is like in your corner of the world.

    I haven’t seen any windmills of this sort where I am in western Oregon, but the area along the Columbia River Gorge has many wind farms. I haven’t seen enough of eastern Oregon to know, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see quite a few windmills for pumping water out there, since it is mostly high desert and sagebrush, and sparsely populated.

    • dazzlerplus says:

      The basic requirement for running a windmill — apart from a bit of wind — is of course a practically reachable reservoir of water under the ground. Australia is fortunate in having the Great Artesian Basin which is the largest and deepest artesian basin in the world, covering some 23% of the continent (see . There are more than 9000 bores which require pumping in Australia (in addition to springs and naturally-flowing bores), so there’s plenty of work for windmills.

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