The summer of 1957  in north west Tasmania was unusually dry.  My father was forced to harness up  our draught horses Bell and Nugget  and use a sled to transport water to our  farmhouse from a back paddock  dam. He used 44 gallon drums covered with wet chaff bags for the journey of perhaps 500 metres.   I was only  six years old, but I can still smell that wet hessian, and  hear the sound of the sled’s iron runners slithering over our gravel road.  It was  all quite a novelty.

This period of drought  led my very pragmatic father  to take what for him was an extraordinary step. He hired a local water diviner. On February 9th his diary records,  ‘Mr Hardy diviner here looking for spring, pegged spot to dig well.’

Diary Extract...full of promise.
Diary extract…full of promise.

Now Mr Hardy didn’t use the wire dowsing rod my parents expected. He simply broke a forked stick from our lucerne tree and  began to pace around the homestead.

Allen children in lucerne tree. The divining  for the well came from this tree.
The author (left) and siblings in the old Lucerne tree.
Dowser's rod
Ready to go.

Eureka! It swung to earth at a spot behind the house and the diviner  declared  there would be water at twenty  feet.  There was  another dam further down the hill, so it appeared Mr Hardy had located an underground spring.  Twenty feet seemed a feasible project. A month later, when my big brother Ken was home on leave from the navy, he and Dad  started digging the well.  Here is another extract from the farm diary;

Diary entry re digging well.
The long job begins.
Farm homestead Tasmania, where the well was dug.
Rear of the old homestead . The well was dug in the foreground of this photo. Note the Lucerne  tree behind the water tank.

Our neighbors the Dobsons  came to help.  The men set up a windless to lower themselves into the  deepening hole….sending up buckets of red topsoil, gravel, then  sand. The latter was a great joy to we kids; Dad put some in a frame to make  a sandpit for us. It was nearly as good as a trip to the Ulverstone beach.

Sadly, I don’t  have any photos of the work being undertaken, but I found one on the internet taken in Transylavia; oh well,  close enough to Tasmania 😜!

Digging a well by hand.

The twenty foot mark  was reached fairly quickly, but there was no sign of water.  Never mind, must be nearly there.  The danger of  the sides collapsing doesn’t bear thinking about, but on they went. At forty feet it was still dry and Dad was losing hope.  Still, having gone so far there seemed no alternative except to keep digging.  At sixty feet he gave it up as a bad job. There was  only a puddle of brackish water in the bottom.  ‘It might slowly fill’, he said, but it never did. He put a fence around it, and later a cover of logs with a trapdoor.

Trying to make the best of a bad situation, he briefly considered building a toilet over it….the deepest  ‘drop dunny’  in the world.  My grandmother was appalled and I suppose it wasn’t the most sensible idea..

Update on the well from my father's diary.

Instead, water from the kitchen was redirected to  drain into the  well.   It  also became our rubbish tip. The history of our family is there; an unintended  time capsule.  The first layer contains all the discarded treasures of childhood; trikes, go-carts, armless dolls, deflated beach balls. It was  also the perfect place for we kids to hide broken china from Mum…. and  a few years on, cigarette  butts.

Slowly it began to fill. I look back now and realize it probably holds valuable antiques….well, sought after vintage pieces. Why oh why didn’t we keep the butter churn, or that old bakerlite radio?   I have to confess (sorry Dad)  that the well also contains something we were warned never to mention in Grandma’s hearing.

When the well had filled to about  25  feet deep there was a tragedy. A young pig rooting about in the paddock managed to create a gap under the logs. It fell in, landing unharmed on an old mattresses. For days my father tried to rescue it, lowering down a crate ‘baited’ with turnips. But no, the pig refused to co-operate.  By the this time the walls were far too unstable  to send anyone down. In the end Dad had to send us all away and finish the sorry business with his rifle.

There was another ‘well’ incident that occurred when  my parents did a favour for the local Girl Guides Association. I think it’s best if this  story remains unpublished, even though my writery spirit longs to share it.  All I will say is, RIP  poor creature, in retrospect you deserved a better send-off.

The old place remains in our family.  Due to development, it has  reduced in size to a hobby farm.  The well  completely filled up many years ago. Oddly enough, my  father never once  expressed  criticism of the water diviner.  I think he just put the failure  down to bad luck in missing the spring.

To be honest, I don’t think there is any scientific basis for dowsing.  Some people say that practitioners succeed  because  there is  water everywhere under the ground. Hmmm, that doesn’t say much for Mr Hardy, does it?



  1. Hi Pauline. Lost my remark again. I have never seen anyone use anything but wire for devining. My daughter in law’s father is pretty good at it. I also had an old friend that was the best diviner around. He very rarely came away from a place without telling them where their water was. Except where they expected him to find anything on ground that was hopeless. I also had a few goes at it. It is a weird feeling walking along and letting a bit of wire tell you which way to go. Also had some tried with death. That is another strange feeling. You kneel on the ground and hold the wire just above the ground where you reckon the water is and the wire will Bob. The number of bobs is the number of feet down the water is. It just bobs then stops. They are very definate bobs. All a looking thing that was commonly done.

    • Pauline

      Oh dear Diane, I so appreciate that you persevere with leaving a comment. I think I will have to have a go at this divining. I’ll let you know if the wire bobs for me.

  2. A few phone spell problems again. Sorry. It is also had some tries with depth. Also, all a loosing thing that was commonly done. Think that is it.

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