People talk about renewable energy as if it’s something new. Yet, Australia’s largest renewable energy project was begun in 1949. It took twenty-five years to build, cost 121 lives during construction, and produces 10% of NSW’s power needs along with a significant supply to Victoria.
Early last century the high snow-melt flows of the Snowy River were seen as a waste, flowing south through lightly inhabited regions to Gippsland. Serious plans to divert the water into western flowing rivers were drawn up in the 1940s, mainly as a boost to agriculture along the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers.
The planned scheme would see water pumped from the Snowy through huge tunnels, some of the longest in the world, to man-made reservoirs including Blowering, Talbingo, Tantangara, Geehi, Jindabyne, and the massive Lake Eucumbene. Ten power stations now produce 3.772 gigawatts of power from these lakes.
A by-product of the scheme has been an incalculable boost to the Australian trout fishery. The early days of Lake Eucumbene, as the water slowly rose, gave rise to some incredible catches. In 1962-63 accurate records were kept for the lake. Out of 107 000 fishing trips, 184 000 legal fish were caught. The average size rainbow trout caught was 2 pounds 11 ounces and 3 pounds 11 ounces for browns. The biggest trout ever caught at the lake weighed 22.2 pounds (10kg) and was taken in 1969 by Melbourne angler Max Harman on a ‘wonder wobbler’ lure.
In all, more than 100 000 workers from all over the world came to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme. It gave birth to two towns: Cabramurra and Khancoban. Some of the finest engineers of the last century worked on its design, and despite (slowly improving) environmental issues, it stands today as a tribute to what can be achieved when a government with vision plans for the nation’s future.
(Written and researched by GJ Barron Image credit: W Pederson Sources: gregbarron.com/resources/sources)