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A crowd gathers at the erection of the first electric light pole in Mackay on May 3, 1923. The first electric light pole was situated on the river bank side of River Street, opposite the Mackay Customs House: Image courtesy of Mackay Regional Council.

Let there be light!
100 years of electricity in Mackay 1924 – 2024

On the 9th April 1924 electricity was turned on for the very first time in the city of Mackay.

A crowd of about 2000 watched the official switching on ceremony, which was performed outside the power house by the Lady Mayoress, Mrs AF Williams, by pressing a switch which lit up the whole town. 

Streets were brightly lit by street lights and many businesses had their window displays lit up too. 

Prior to electricity, Mackay streets were lit by gaslight, provided by the Mackay Gas Company which had been established in 1884. 

On opening night 350 customers were connected and 100 more were connected within a few days and 110 street lights were turned on.

 

The Cook family of Greenmount Homestead recorded in their diary, that they could see the lights in Mackay for the first time. In the beginning, people mostly used electricity for lighting.  Appliances were mainly irons and fans. 

A plaque commemorating the switching on of electricity: Image courtesy of An Electric Beginning by Raye Williams.

Electricity was provided by the Mackay City Council in their powerhouse in Tennyson St.  A new and larger powerhouse in Hume Street was opened in April 1939. 
 

The Mackay City Council continued to supply electricity until the Mackay Regional Electricity Board took over in 1957. 

Although the electricity was in Mackay city area in 1924, it was not until the 1950s and 1960s that the majority of the rural area was connected.  Walkerston first got electricity in 1950.

The great depression of the 1930s and World War 2 in the 1940s meant a shortage of money and supplies to continue the work.

In the 1950s expansion up the valley continued and by 1957, when the Mackay Regional Electricity Board took over from the Mackay City Council, 69% of the Mackay region had power connected. By 1963, 95.2% of the local population were supplied with electricity. 

By the mid-1930s the Tennyson St power plant, comprising of three steam driven generators, was not able to produce an adequate supply to meet the needs of Mackay.

Lights were dim, and it was said that some residents would be better off striking a match to read by.

Refrigerators and wirelesses were not working in some areas because of weak voltage.

Many of Mackay public had no experience of electrical appliances and needed education in what was available, as in these advertisements in the Daily Mercury in April 1924.

Council built a new powerhouse in Hume Street. The site was close to the railway line, so coal could be delivered, and close to the river, for water for cooling purposes.  The new powerhouse was opened in April 1939.  

Mackay ratepayers complained about the price of electricity, which in 1924 was 1 shilling, (10 cents) per kilowatt.

Today, in 2024, the price is 33 cents per kWh.  However, 1 shilling would buy 2 loaves of bread in 1932, a loaf being sixpence.  Bread in 2024 almost $5 a loaf. So, check your latest electricity bill & multiply the kWh used by $5 and see how much more expensive it was in the past.

By the end of 1962 Mackay was interconnected with the northern power supply, giving Mackay region a more generous supply of power and cheaper tariffs.

In 1977 the Mackay Regional Electricity Board ceased to be, and the Mackay Electricity Board took over, which in turn became Egron in 1999.

Not only did the Mackay City Council generate the electricity, they connected it to your home or business, and could supply and install all manner of electrical appliances.  They also had to educate the public on the dangers of electricity. 

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