Warrnambool's Jan Snaauw tells the story behind constructing iconic water towers

Looking back: Jan Snaauw spent a year building the concrete sections of the east and west Warrnambool water towers in the mid-1970s. Picture: Christine Ansorge
Looking back: Jan Snaauw spent a year building the concrete sections of the east and west Warrnambool water towers in the mid-1970s. Picture: Christine Ansorge

Warrnambool’s Jan Snauuw, 90, has been through a war and set up a new life on the other side of the world, but he says his approach has been simple.

From his early years in Holland to his career working on construction projects in Warrnambool, Mr Snaauw has been driven by good problem-solving and common sense.

When he saw two of the city’s iconic water towers he worked on would be open to the public for tours, he shared the story behind their construction in the mid-1970s.

“My whole life has been a challenge, from being a cabinet-maker I kept on going to different jobs,” Mr Snaauw. “In the building trade, everything is common sense.”

Mr Snaauw left school at 14 and started working at a factory in Rotterdam, before moving on to cabinet-making.

During the Second World War, he lived through Rotterdam being bombed before being kept as a prisoner of war at a work camp in Germany. 

After the war ended Mr Snaauw’s work eventually led him to Australia – and Warrnambool – to build houses, and he decided to make it home with his wife, Margaret.

Mr Snaauw and two other men spent almost precisely a year completing the concreting work on identical towers in east and west Warrnambool between February 1973 and 1974, while another local company, R.A Steel, undertook the steelwork.

He said he was proud of the quality of the work he did on the projects, which he said were difficult to work out a quote for.

“They were wider at the top than the base,” he said.

“You could not use a level instrument, and the tower was also eight-sided which meant eight corners go up in a straight line.

“Later on when we started it, there was only one alteration on the project. The rest turned out perfect and there was no problem at all.”

Mr Snaauw also worked on projects at the Flume and Wollaston Bridge.

This weekend Wannon Water is opening both towers up for tours, with the east tower already booked out.

My whole life has been a challenge, from being a cabinet-maker I kept on going to different jobs. In the building trade, everything is common sense.

Jan Snaauw