George Bills and his wife Annis made their fortune in manufacturing wire products such as bird cages, door mats and innerspring mattresses, but it is their legacy; hundreds of water troughs for horses and other animals all over Australia, that they will be remembered for.
Mr and Mrs Bills were childless but great lovers of animals. In 1909 the couple donated some water troughs for the benefit of working horses of Melbourne.
When Mr Bills died in December 1927, aged 68, seventeen years after his wife, he dedicated a portion of his estimated £80,000 ($6.23 million) estate, to erect horse troughs “‘wherever they may be of opinion that such horse troughs are necessary or desirable for the relief of horses or other dumb animals either in Australasia in the British Islands or in any other part of the world”.
In the next decade between 500 and 700 concrete troughs were built, mostly to a standard design by Rocla Concrete Pipes Ltd in Auburn Road, Hawthorn. All were inscribed “Donated by Annis & George Bills Australia”. They cost £13 (around $1,018 today) to construct before shipping and installation.
Bills troughs could be found on most busy thoroughfares, outside town halls and pubs, and places such as markets where animals would be gathered, throughout Victoria and NSW, with some making it as far as Britain and the United States.
In later years some were relocated for road widening or were preserved in museums, including one at the Berrigan Showgrounds.
Information sourced from an article by Jamie Duncan, featured in the Herald Sun, February 20, 2017.