Furphy water tank

Object: Furphy water tank

Manufacturer: J. Furphy & Sons

Materials: iron

Place: Shepparton, Victoria

Date of Creation: 1898

Darwin Military Museum, Australia

EMu user since 2012

Furphy water tankFurphy water carts were a feature of Australian towns and camps without running water from 1878. Overseas, during World War I, water was transported in horse-drawn trains, and their drivers were a source of gossip and news as they travelled between troop encampments. Inevitably some of this information was wrong and the expression “that’s a Furphy” became synonymous with being of doubtful truth.

The water tanks were invented by John Furphy of Victoria. An experienced blacksmith and wheelwright, he blended these skills in construction. An iron band was shrunk onto the end casting to hold and tightly seal the cylinder or body of the tank, just as an iron tyre was fitted to the wooden body of a wagon wheel. The first end castings were plain, but soon the inscription “Furphy” was imprinted at the top end of the plate. Soon this was changed to read “J. Furphy, Maker, Shepparton”.

The value of advertising was recognised and raised lettering listing the products of John Furphy was added. In 1898 John added a short rhyme with a strong message: “Good, better, best - never let it rest - till your good is better - and your better best.”

John’s son William added a Pitman’s shorthand inscription in 1920, which translated tells the reader that “Water is the gift of God, but beer is a concoction of the devil, don’t drink beer.” In 1942 this was changed to read “Water is the gift of God, but beer and whisky are concoctions of the devil, come and have a drink of water” which has since become the more popular, recited version.

Also in 1942 William added a modified version of a saying attributed to Prime Minister WM Hughes, together with an illustration of a stork holding a baby in traditional fashion. The statement, also in shorthand, reads “Produce and populate or perish.”

While these messages are some of the more notable, there have been numerous variations over the years.