Snowy Mountains Scheme gets National Heritage listing

Snowy Mountains Scheme gets National Heritage listing

Tumut's Vern Walsh with photos from his time with the Snowy Mountains Scheme, which has just been placed on the National Heritage List.
Tumut’s Vern Walsh with photos from his time with the Snowy Mountains Scheme, which has just been placed on the National Heritage List.

Tumut resident and former Snowy Mountains Scheme worker Vern Walsh is delighted the scheme has been placed on the National Heritage List.

“It is one of the greatest things that has happened,” he said. “It would be terrible for it to be owned by foreign investors.”

The scheme, built between 1949 and 1974, and the largest industrial development ever attempted in Australia, last week became the 107th place to be added to the list.

The National Heritage Listed area includes 15 major dams, nine power stations and a pumping station, covering an area of 4600 square kilometres.

Tumut born and raised, Vern was working at a wool store in the mid-1960s and when it closed for the winter, he applied for a job with the scheme.

“The problem was, you had to be 19, and I was only 17, so I fudged my age,” he said.

He was then called up for national military service, but managed to avoid this with the help of a solicitor, and started his career with the scheme as a “chainman” for surveyors in a tunnel at Blowering Dam.

“In the early days we worked 10 or 12 hour days, which was fine for a young fella,” he said.

“There were a lot of different nationalities, and although it was not like when the scheme started, soon after the second world war, some had differences which they sorted out in town. But they were very good workers; very, very cluey.”

More than 100,000 people from around 30 countries worked on the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

When work at Blowering petered out, he got surveying work at Talbingo Dam and in the nearby township.

“After this we who had worked on the scheme were asked to go to Queensland for a similar project, but that was cancelled due to environmental concerns,” Vern said.

He returned to the scheme, and after training and qualifications, drove vehicles like graders, dozers and scrapers.

“It was a very good experience for a young fella; I learnt a lot, especially from the Americans working there.”

After finishing with the snowy scheme, Vern worked as an earthmover, putting his snowy scheme skills to good use.

“I’m still in earthmoving now,” he said.

The scheme’s dams, tunnels, aqueducts and power stations are some of the most complex and technical engineering and construction feats in the country and the world.

Significant engineering advancements were achieved during the construction of the scheme, including rockbolting and the use of 330 kV transmission lines.

Importantly, the scheme was completed on time and on budget.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme remains one of Australia’s largest producers of renewable energy, including nearly a third of renewable energy fed into the eastern mainland grid, and water flowing from the scheme supports over $3 billion in agricultural production.