Bills Troughs in South Australia

From a article is copied from a book, Curiosities Of South Australia number 4 by the late Russell Smith who passed away earlier this year. Russell and his wife Pam had spent a lot of time trying to find evidence of Bills water troughs in South Australia without any sightings.

I would love to know if there is a”Bills Trough “Still existing anywhere in South Australia. I have not been able to locate any, yet just across the border in Victoria they are everywhere for our neighbouring state boasts about 500. They can be found there in large cities, Small country towns and tiny roadside whistle-stops. Bills troughs are not confined to Victoria for they were also placed through New South Wales Central Australia [for camels] and possibly Queensland. Overseas countries benefited as well –England Canada, Switzerland, Bulgaria, South Africa, Japan, and who knows where else.

Most of those surviving in Australia are or the same standard design—made of concrete, standing on three concrete blocks a small tray down one end for dogs and attached drinking fountain for humans. On the raised panel backing each trough can be found a memorial plaque. “Donated by Annis and George Bills Australia”.

Who then were George and Annis Bills and what is the story behind this remarkable donation and distribution efforts?

George Bills was a mattress maker of Sydney and Brisbane so the influencing factor was not his occupation. He did however have a great love of animals and he gave considerable time to serving the RSPCA, an activity he shared with his wife Annis. Both were granted Life membership of that organization. Annis died in England while on holidays in 1910, after which George returned to live in retirement in Melbourne where he carried on with the voluntary work.

When George died in 1927 he left a will that surprised many. His estate amounted to over 80, 000 pounds  and apart from some small legacies the bulk of that huge sum was to be used for the benefit of horses and other dumb animals, anywhere in the world, wherever the need was the greatest. The “Bills Trust” was set up to carry out the former mattress maker’s wishes. In England the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association of London was subsequently appointed to find locations as were similar organizations in other countries. Here in Australia the troughs were first individually designed and constructed at Hawthorn by jack Phillips, a nephew, of George Bills. Before long a standard design was adopted and eventually Rocla of Melbourne gained the manufacturing for the troughs, which, subject to approval, was then despatched by a most suitable mode of transport   and installed by a special team of men, all courtesy of the Bills Trust. Assurances had to be given to the Trust that a sufficient water supply was on hand and that the recipient body would have a foundation prepared. The attached drinking fountain for humans was not always installed because many country towns, particularly in Victoria‘s Mallee, could not guarantee that their water was fit for drinking. Toward the end of the 1930s the steel and concrete moulds were moved to a factory in Junee NSW and later to Sydney. Considering the large number in our neighbouring states and the many that can be found just across the border it remains a puzzle why Bills Troughs did not come to South Australia __ or did they?

If anyone have knowledge of Bills Troughs in South Australia please  let me know and if you sight a Bill trough anywhere in you travels please send me a photo to

Thanks George Gemmill  Stanhope Victoria

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