The Snowy Mountains Scheme was a massive undertaking. With its 7 power stations, 16 major dams, pumping station, 145km of interconnected tunnels and 80km of aqueducts, it covered an operating area of 5,124 sq kms in the Southern Alps. As a publicly funded infrastructure project, it was unprecedented. However it was not without its critics. To both record the progress and to advance the cause of the project, a special photographic section, including moving image, was set up. Harry Malcolm, at the time an established cinematographer of documentary and drama, was contracted by the Commonwealth on behalf of the SMHEA to make films on all aspects of the construction of the scheme. Malcolm’s film unit documented construction and related subjects and events from about 1951 through to completion of the scheme in 1974.
For Malcolm it was a welcome appointment. His career had commenced in the early 1930s and he’d worked with the likes of Ken G Hall and Charles Chauvel. By the early 1950s the Australian film industry had virtually collapsed and he, like others, was finding his only work on newsreels and documentaries. The Snowy film unit job saw him right through the tough times to the beginnings of the renaissance.
The National Archives of Australia’s Snowy Hydro collection consists of about 300 titles produced by the unit. About 130 of these are edited and completed films. These range from training and information films for scheme personnel to broadly informative public education programmes. They vary in length – some as short as two-minute-long safety messages. Most follow a conventional instructional documentary style and format, with authoritative narration typical of the period. Many of the safety titles are humorous. The remaining 170 titles are collections of rushes or unedited footage, some with sound and some mute. They contain material such as engineering and technical tests (surge tanks, spillways, explosives, power stations, wind studies, etc), royal visits to the scheme, stock shots for use in specific productions, recorded milestones in the scheme’s construction, and collections of outtakes from other titles. In all titles the technical standard of the cinematography and camera work is excellent, almost everything being shot by the highly-trained Malcolm. Sound quality in the earlier titles, produced when location recording was still very constrained, is more variable, but improves vastly in the later titles.
Titles in this collection
This 1969 film makes a concerted effort to explain the many facets of the Snowy Hydro scheme to the public, including how the system was being built.
This 1974 documentary examines the multicultural workforce and its achievement in building one of the world’s largest hydroelectric schemes to that date.
The film spends a lot of time singing the praises of the TD-24 bulldozer, but it’s also interesting as a recruitment tool for genuine high country bushmen.
This film is a fascinating depiction of the national ideal of postwar masculinity, looking at the spectrum of workers involved in the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
This is essentially a recruitment film, targeting the types of workers whose adaptability and skills base would well serve the Snowy Hydro scheme’s requirements.
This film traces the history of soil erosion in the Snowy Mountains and demonstrates the approach taken by the Snowy Mountains Scheme to counteract the problem.
This Snowy Hydro film encourages visitors to the area to take a wider look around, but also counters any criticism of the vastly expanded settlement of the region.
In an extraordinarily florid finale, reminiscent of wartime propaganda, the film pays tribute to the residents and their noble act in moving the town of Adaminaby.
The culture of the all-male workplace was one where risk taking and daring were highly valued, an environment intensified by the experiences of two world wars.
Produced in 1963, this safety film focuses on 'drill and blast’ tunnelling on the Snowy Mountains Scheme in an effort to save lives and prevent injury.
This film is a fairly technical description of the construction of Geehi Dam in the Snowy Mountains Scheme, located in a remote area of Kosciuszko National Park.
Although the film talks about the potential loss of the history of the region, the prevailing sense is that the new town of Jindabyne will do very well.
Most of the Snowy Hydro productions followed the format and style of this film – a conventional instructional documentary complete with authoritative voice-over.
Interesting as an early document on the Snowy Hydro scheme, it’s an unabashed celebration of the entire endeavour, depicting it as a model of postwar reconstruction.
There’s no exciting dramatic structure here, but to watch it is to gain an insight into the size and complexity of such a large-scale civil engineering venture.