The Waterman’s success flows

WA businessman Victor Hoile has been making money out of water all his life.

In his twenties he became a founding partner in the successful Perth firm Hugall and Hoile, specialising in drilling water wells and domestic reticulation.

Today, out on his own as one of Australia’s most unusual pioneering businessmen, he has been single-handedly responsible over the past 25 years for opening up vast tracts of the driest parts of WA and the Top End by his uncanny instinct of knowing exactly where to drill for water.

It is a skill that has earned him respect throughout the length and breadth of remote WA, where people know him simply as “The Waterman”.

Mr Hoile is one of only two water and drilling consultants based in the 280,000sqkms of the arid Kim-berley.

Though his Kimberley Water Pty Ltd is based in Broome, clients call on him to sink bores as far away as Queensland.

A satellite phone serves as an office.

“I am paid to find water,” Mr Hoile says simply.

“To a station owner out there with maybe 700,000 hectares and 200 head of cattle needing a dam, water’s everything to them. If you can bring the water to the surface you have it made.”

He reckons he has had a “nose” for finding water since reading about irrigation as a schoolboy in the library of Perth’s Christchurch Grammar School.

He is not a water diviner but he does believe he has a gift in his hands – the centuries old skill of twisting the rods or sticks out in the bush to find water.

“Some clients insist on it. It works. But I personally don’t believe in it,” he says.

“The only way to find water as far as I am concerned is to drill. You drill down and look at your sands.”

The big question is where? That is the answer for which he gets paid up to $300,000 a contract, where he might have to drill 300m for water.

“You might find the water at 115m, but you have to find a strata where it is of suitable formation to allow the water you find to be clean of sand or particles.

“You have to look at the surrounding vegetation to find where you are going to get water – and good water.”

“Once on Rockhamption station, we were at 160m and were about to give up. They had reached their budget limit when we tried just another two metres and we struck the water.

“Its always a great feeling when the water gushes out.”

A call for help to his Broome base usually means a lonely rough drive over red dirt and isolated desert terrain with his heavy rotary top head drive $800,000 drilling rig and his survival kit.

In the old days that consisted of two giant chests of ice - “ enough for a fortnight” and his swag. These days there is a mobile kitchen, generator, freezer and 9000 litres of carted water, though Mr Hoile still sleeps rough.

His wife, Jo, runs the Pearlers Row Art Gallery in Broome’s Chinatown.

“We don’t see each other sometimes for several months at a time. Most of the time he is in really remote desert terrain,” she said.

“It’s always tough.”

Clients range from station owners to remote communities and the proliferation of mining and oil exploration companies.

A French television company who came out to film him at work in the desert first dubbed him “Mr H20.” Europeans do not have water bores.

Looking back at his lifelong fascination with water, the Midland-born man relates how he first got started in Perth.

“Back in 1963 there was no drilling of significance,” he said.

“I spent four years with Perth Wesfarmers in irrigation and windmill parts.

“Then I met up with schoolmate Rod Hugall who was sinking wells with a water boring company. We decided there was scope for setting up a business drilling water wells and domestic reticulation.”

One of their clients was famous Perth film producer Sydney Box.

“We used to clean his pool next door. We were two 20-year-old lads and we needed $25,000 to expand. He saw the potential in our ideas and lent us the money that got us started,” he said.

“Later the company got so huge I felt I had lost contact with the clients and left to start my own business, VR Hoile drilling consultant.”

His first job was providing water bores and reticulation for the growing Shire of Broome. A typical job was providing 12 wells for the desert people of the Pun-mu community, 700km east of Sandfire.

It was the mining development boom in the Canning basin in the Great Sandy desert that prompted a move into using heavy drilling equipment.

These days hydro-geologists frequently consult him.

Mr Hoile’s own prognosis for the region based on his wide knowledge of water is that the Kimberley is on the threshold of becoming a major region in agriculture, through horticulture or through cotton.

“This would open up the coast from Sandfire to Broome,” he said. “It would be all ground water. It is an unknown quantity at this stage through lack of drilling but in my experience there is a massive amount of water there.”

Mr Hoile sounds a warning about the massive Ord irrigation scheme.

“Through damming and using flood irrigation they have increased the salinity,” he said.

“The ground water has risen and the salinity has come up with it. The damming was good but it should have been utilised for pipe work rather than spreading it around.

“They won’t be doing any more flood irrigation in the Ord. They will be putting bores down.”

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