Snowy Mountains Scheme
hydro-electricity and irrigation development
The Great Dividing Range of mountains runs down most of eastern Australia, near the coast. Numerous rivers flow the short distance from the mountains to the sea, and since the 1880s European Australians have dreamed of turning these rivers west, to conquer inland drought.
In 1949 the government decided to dam the snow-fed headwaters of the east flowing Snowy River and divert them into the Murray River, which heads west through farmland along the NSW-Victoria border.
The Snowy Mountains Scheme was the largest construction project undertaken in Australia. Moving the river was a huge and expensive engineering feat of tunnel and dam design and construction. The cost was offset by increased agricultural production downstream and cheap hydro-electric power.
When completed in 1974, the Snowy Mountains Scheme had cost $1.16 billion, employed 100 000 people, and created huge irrigation areas. It now provides 17% of the electricity made in south-eastern Australia. Since water flow from dams is much easier to turn off than a coal-fired power station, Snowy hydro-electric plants supply the additional power needed in morning and evening peak use.
The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation now sells its engineering knowledge overseas. Perhaps there is a more significant legacy. The project is often used as an example for multiculturalism, having employed thousands of migrant engineers and labourers. People from over 30 different countries worked on the scheme. Their influence radically changed Australian culture for the better in the years that followed.
Who Did It?
Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority : design and construction
Snowy Mountains Council : operation and maintenance
William Hudson : commissioner 1949-1967
Trygve Olsen : head investigating engineer
Nelson Lemmon : fostered scheme as minister
The Snowy: the people behind the power
William Heinemann Australia, Melbourne, 1989.
Snowy Mountains Hydro
did it manage without an EIA?
Snowy Water Inquiry
into flow in the Snowy River
Sustainable use of the Snowy Mountains Scheme Possible?
SMEC, Snowy Mountains
Murray Darling Basin Commission
of the Snowy. ACF media release 6/10/00
Questions & Activities
Snowy Mountains Scheme