From the early 1800s, European explorers saw the potential of diverting water through the Snowy Mountains for irrigation in the farmlands west of the divide. As time went by, it was realised that the power of this water could also be harnessed to produce hydro-electricity. In 1949, after advancements in engineering and technology, the first blast of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme was detonated in Adaminaby.
Over the next 25 years, 16 dams, 9 power stations, a pumping station, and 225km of tunnels, pipelines and aqueducts were built. The largest engineering project of its time in the world was completed on time, and on budget, and cost the equivalent of $6.5 billion. One amazing fact about the scale of the project, is that only 2% of the scheme’s infrastructure is visible above ground!
Over the same 25 years, over 100,000 people from over 30 countries worked on the scheme. Two thirds of the Snowy Scheme workers were immigrants from post-war Europe. Amazingly, the conflicts and tensions of their homelands were mostly left behind. “…overall there was a very friendly atmosphere at the Snowy….. and there was no murders”! recalls Charlie Salvestro, a Snowy Scheme worker who still lives in Cooma.
The Scheme was not without its downside. There were 121 recorded deaths during construction, often in gruesome circumstances, and some claim there were many more unreported deaths. The damming of many major river systems has had devastating environmental impacts. For example, in 1967, the Snowy River was reduced to 1% of its natural flow.
There is so much more to learn about the scheme and its impact on the history, society, culture, economy and environment of modern Australia. If you would like to know more, come with us on one of our tours through the beautiful Snowy Mountains region. We promise that you won’t be disappointed!OUR TOURS
“The men from the Snowy River Scheme” (2016) Rosie Lewis, The Weekend Australian
All images courtesy of Snowy Hydro