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Snowy workers reminisce

Bunny Brown and Bob Gutesa at Talbingo’s T3 for Snowy Hydro’s 70th reunion

The Tumut 3 power station opened to a steady stream of visitors on Sunday morning as part of Snowy Hydro’s 70th reunion celebration in Talbingo.

An array of both local faces and those from afar came to share stories over a barbecue lunch. It was also an opportunity for people to marvel at the inside of the Tumut 3 power station from the viewing gallery as well as to learn about how the scheme functions and to learn some of the history.

People came from as far as Melbourne, Mackay, and various localities along the coast. Many former workers were able to reminisce and catch up, with many having not seen each other in decades. Camaraderie, mateship and nostalgia were all underlying themes on the day.

Local truck driver Bunny Brown, who was sporting the same silver hard hat he had worn many years before whilst working on the scheme, reflected on the years that he had spent hauling sheets of steel from Melbourne which were used to make the pen-stocks (pipes) at the back of T3 which would channel water into the hydro plant.

“It was hard work with long hours but it was close to home near Adelong and the money was good,” Mr Brown said.

“We could really only carry two or three sheets per load because it was very thick and large.”

Mr Brown said that the plates were taken to a factory up the road from the Hydro site where they were formed into the iconic pipes that stand today.

“By the time I left there to go and work for Deans, they just about had it built,” he said.

Mr Brown was fortunate enough to meet up with an old friend he had worked with on the scheme who he said he hadn’t seen for 30 years, Bob Gutesa.

“He was a bloke who could drive just about any sort of machinery on site,” Mr Brown said.

A recurring story brought up by several people present was that at one stage, a double-decker bus was driven through one of the pipes prior to its assembly, highlighting the sheer size of each of them. Considered by some as something of a folk-lore tale, many agreed that it had happened and claimed that there was a photo in existence.

Snowy Hydro Area Manager of lower Tumut Guy Boardman said the informal event was a particularly good occasion for those who were unable to make it to the main event in Cooma.

“Many of the workers present had worked on the scheme during the late 60s and early 70s, just prior to T3’s completion,” Mr Boardman said.

“This hydro station was commission in 1972 and completed in its entirety in 1974. Of all the sites, it is the largest capacity hydro power station in Australia and one of the largest in the world. 

“The whole scheme was built around the idea of water diversion for inland food bowl. The idea was to collect the snow and rain in the mountains and have it diverted into both the Murrumbidgee and Murray rivers while at the same time being able to generate enough electricity to power the nation.

Mr Boardman said that unlike solar energy, which relies on wind and sunlight to generate power that isn’t always available, water was always a commodity that could be relied upon to generate electricity.

“The understanding at the commencement of the scheme was that as long as there was water, there could always be a way of creating energy. Solar is considered an intermittent source of energy whereas the hydro’s output is quite stable,” he said

“The understanding at the commencement of the scheme was that as long as there was water, there could always be a way of creating energy. Solar is considered an intermittent source of energy whereas the hydro’s output is quite stable,” he said.

Construction of Tumut 3 power station commenced in January of 1968 and was opened in 1972 with a final completion in 1974.

Brungle’s Kevin Annetts said that he had been a driver at Talbingo during construction and that many of his trips had seen him delivering materials such as concrete to hydro plants at Khancoban and Cabramurra.

“There’s that many things that stand out to my mind about working on the scheme. I started on it back in 1966. Sometimes you’d be taking inspectors to the dam and going backwards and forwards you’d sort of get to watch the dam being built. Other times you’d have to take your truck up there so they could do tests on it too. If you weren’t doing that you’d be making trips to Cooma with loads of materials and other spots on the scheme. Sometimes you’d be doing wide loads from Talbingo up to Cabramurra and places like that,” he said.

“At later stages I’d go up to a place called ‘Veranda Camp’ near Khancoban. We use to have to go the long way around up through Batlow and Tumba but on the way back you could take the shortcut along the power line track and have a load hooked up and ready to take the next morning,” he said.

The seventy-nine year old said that of all the memories he had on the scheme, the most vivid was of 1968 during the flooding of the dam. 

“By 1969 they thought it was going to be three times the size it was in a hundred years but the next year it was overflowing,” he said.

The Talbingo event marked a wrap up of reunions with preceding events in Cooma and Khancoban.