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Snowy celebration

Hugh Darby enjoying the Snowy celebrations at Cooma on the weekend.

The 70th Anniversary of the Snowy Hydro Scheme kicked off at the Snowy Hydro lawns in Cooma on Saturday with a reunion event for former workers that involved interviews, information sessions and talks, all of which were designed for those present to reminisce and catch up with former workmates as well as for the general public to learn more about the history of the scheme and the development of Snowy 2.0.

In October of 1949, the ceremonial first blast was fired at Adaminaby to mark the commencement of the hydro-electric construction project that would become known as one of the world’s modern engineering marvels.

Saturday’s event featured a reunion marquee on the lawns with entertainment from local performers on the main stage, food stalls, and a jumping castle.

The Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre opened from 8am and offered a behind the scenes tour of the project as it came to fruition. It was depicted on a brand new, state-of-the-art immersive theatre where visitors could virtually fly over across the Snowy Mountains. 

The Snowy Hydro office was open for short tours and a series of ‘Snowy talks’ about the Snowy Scheme today and Snowy 2.0. 

Jindabyne resident Jim Crocker was a driller on the Talbingo Spillway in 1965 which had comprised of drilling 18-foot holes for setting large steel rods to be anchored into the spillway bedrock. Though his time on the Jounama Dam was relatively brief due to enlisting in the Vietnam war effort, Mr Crocker said that he returned to work on the Snowy Hydro from 1988 until 1991.

He said that the event in Cooma was a marvellous opportunity to reflect on the scheme and catch up with fellow workers he hadn’t seen for some years.

“The weekend was excellent. It was done extremely well and Snowy Hydro looked after us former workers pretty good. I was one of the local boys from the Jindabyne area and Snowy Hydro really bent over backwards to look after the ex-employees. It was all in all very satisfying,” he said.

A direct descendant of the Pendergasts who were one of the first people to venture out into the mountains in the 1820s, Mr Crocker said that the day was an enjoyable way to share stories and reflect.

“My dad started on the Snowy as a plant operator so we moved up into the Jindabyne camp to live in quarters there,” Mr Crocker said.

“As kids, we were probably one of the first in Australia to come in contact with different nationalities regularly. Many were employed from war-torn Europe. Many of the kids couldn’t speak English. It was a very interesting time,” he said.

“Going to school, it was common to have graders rolling past and you got used to the sound of explosions and a lot of noise with the building of the dam. I remember we were the only school kids who got lectured about finding explosives and detonators and what to do if we came across them,” he said.

“When I was old enough, I grew up working on Jounama Dam in the early days but I wasn’t there all that long. I soon returned to Jindy to work for John Holland building the Jindabyne pumping station and then enlisted in the army after,” he said.

Mr Crocker said the most vivid memory of working in Talbingo during those early years was dealing with freezing weather and being loaded onto a semi-trailer with other workers to be sent to Talbingo from Jindabyne for 10 hour shifts.

“It was bloody cold in the winter time. They use to load us up at camp Jindabyne, and away we’d go. They’d dump us off at Talbingo and we’d work nine and half hours a day,” he said.

“Truth be told, I enjoyed working with explosives but being in the war I ended up pretty much getting my fill.”

But this didn’t stop him from going back to work on the snowy later from 1988 to 1991 after completing his duties in the army.

“When I started full time on the Snowy, I started as a labourer off-siding. From there I spent most of my working life managing to work my way up with aqueducts and dams and then went on as a reservoir operator,” he said.

“I also ran a lot of courses for the scheme with a bloke named Mark Buckley in Talbingo and did a lot of them too.”

Mr Crocker said that most people he knew who worked on the scheme had it close to their hearts and that in many ways it belonged to the workers as much as it belongs to the nation. 

“It was a very interesting and challenging job and we all took a great deal of pride in what we did,” he said.

“I think all the workers felt they had ownership of the scheme and I think they still do. I met a lot of friends and had some great times,” he said.

Two more community celebration events are planned for Khancoban and Talbingo, with the Khancoban event to be held at the Lady Hudson Rose Garden on the 26th October between 11am and 3pm.

At Talbingo, a reunion will be held on November 10 between 10am and 2pm. The Talbingo reunion event will provide a rare opportunity to see inside Talbingo’s Tumut 3 Power Station from the viewing gallery.

A barbecue lunch will be available with all proceeds to be donated to a local charity.

Snowy Scheme key facts

• In 1944, a Committee of Commonwealth and State representatives was formed to examine, from a broad national viewpoint, the potential development of water resources of the Snowy Mountains area.

• Construction of the Scheme started on October 17, 1949 when the then Governor-General Sir William McKell, Prime Minister Ben Chifley, and Commissioner Sir William Hudson fired the first blast at Adaminaby, NSW.

• On completion in 1974, the Scheme consisted of seven power stations, 16 major dams, 145kms of interconnected tunnels and 80kms of aqueducts.

• The first power from the Scheme was generated at Guthega Power Station on 23 April 1955, with Prime Minister Robert Menzies flicking the switch.

• The Snowy Scheme averted 47 blackouts in Sydney in its first year of production.

• The Scheme was built by more than 100,000 workers, who lived in eight regional townships and more than 100 temporary camps. About 60,000 of these people were migrants who came from more than 30 countries.

• Over 25 years, 16 major dams with 7,000GL total capacity were constructed – that’s the equivalent of almost 14 Sydney Harbours.

• In 1954 the accepted competition rate for tunnelling was 21 metres per week – American drilling specialists worked on the Snowy and by 1959 they had broken a world tunnelling record with 148 metres in a six-day week.

• The longest link in the entire Scheme is the Eucumbene-Snowy Tunnel at 23.52km. 

• The Scheme’s 33 hydro-electric turbines (including pump-storage capability at Tumut 3) have a generating capacity of 4,100MW (up 9% from 3,760MW at the end of construction)

• The Snowy Scheme has been recognised as one of the civil engineering wonders of the modern world.

Snowy Scheme innovations

• The technique of rock bolting was improved and refined by the Snowy design team. A  horseshoe pattern of rock bolts was devised to support and strengthen tunnels so fewer had to be lined, saving time and money.

• The ‘jumbo’ drill rig was developed for each tunnel – the rig was mounted on rails and carried a crew of drillers and pneumatic drills on several levels.

• The Snowy Mountains Authority led the way by fitting all road vehicles with seat belts and their use was made compulsory about a decade before it became the law in Australia.

• From 1960 to 1967, SNOCOM, Australia’s first transistorised computer (and one of the first dozen computers in the world) was used by Scheme engineers for complex design calculations.