Australian Screen

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Snowy Hydro – The Snowy Mountains Scheme (1952)

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clip A river to be turned education content clip 1, 3

Original classification rating: not rated. This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

The first stages of the Snowy Mountains Scheme are detailed, from the survey and hydrology crews measuring river flows at the Snowy headwaters, to the Guthega project (the first project to be completed), now underway.

Curator’s notes

Although black and white, this is rare footage, even within the Snowy Mountains Scheme collection. Shot around 1952, images like the early snowcat and the then mighty flow of the headwaters of the Snowy River are fascinating to see today. Also of interest is the campsite, 'Little Norway’, where workers with the original Norwegian contractor, Selmer Engineering, were housed. Most of the Norwegian workers, unlike the bulk of recruits from overseas who followed, returned to their homeland after completion of the project.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This black-and-white clip shows the early stages of construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme. It includes images of the Guthega Dam under construction and of hydrographers taking measurements in the Snowy River, which was diverted by the Scheme. It also features shots of construction workers, 'snow cat’ vehicles, bulldozers, and the Guthega campsite, which became known as 'Little Norway’ because of the number of Norwegians employed on the project. The clip is accompanied by lively orchestral music.

Educational value points

  • The Snowy Mountains Scheme, part of which is documented here, was built between 1949 and 1974. An integrated water and hydro-electric power project, it was a major post-Second World War construction and engineering feat, consisting of 16 large dams, seven power stations and a pumping station. To divert water from the Snowy Mountains for power generation and irrigation, 145 km of tunnels and 80 km of aqueducts were constructed. The Scheme cost $820 million.
  • The first major project of the Scheme was at Guthega (also known as Munyang), where a 33.5-m concrete dam, a 4.7-km tunnel, a pressure pipeline and the Guthega Power Station were constructed. Work on the project was carried out between 1951 and 1955 and, while it constituted a small part of the Scheme, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority (SMA) hoped that its completion would demonstrate that the Scheme could quickly and effectively produce low-cost electricity.
  • As indicated in the clip, hundreds of men came to Australia to work on the Scheme from northern Norway, where post-War unemployment was high, The Norwegian workers at Guthega were employed by Norwegian company Selmer Engineering, which was involved in the Scheme from 1951 to 1955. All of Selmer Engineering’s key staff were brought to Australia from Norway and most returned to Norway once the job was completed.
  • Selmer Engineering, which won the contract for the first major construction stage of the Scheme at Guthega, was required under that contract to bring 90 per cent of its construction staff to Australia from overseas, clearly revealing the post-War skills shortage in Australia. More than 100,000 people from 32 countries, including Australia, worked on the Scheme during its lifetime.
  • Before construction commenced, investigation teams of geologists, surveyors and hydrologists were sent into the mountains to gather information about topography, rock types and water flows. Hydrographers, shown here at work, were responsible for 'mapping’ or analysing the physical conditions, boundaries and flows of the rivers and streams to be affected by the Scheme. That information was used in the design of dams and tunnels.
  • As explained in the clip, modern machinery and vehicles were essential to the Scheme. In the 1950s, the Scheme was the largest single engineering work ever undertaken in Australia. It required a huge stock of modern heavy plant equipment and vehicles. Trucks and bulldozers moved massive amounts of earth and rock. ‘Snow cats’, which were mainly used for transportation in rugged terrain, had wide tracks instead of wheels to spread the weight of the vehicle so that it did not sink into the snow.
  • This is a clip from a film made to promote the benefits of the Scheme. The SMA had initiated a concerted public relations campaign, one of the first of its kind in Australia, in response to media opposition and tension between federal and state governments over the Scheme’s huge cost. The SMA led tours of the Scheme, produced educational films such as Snowy Hydro – The Snowy Mountains Scheme and distributed thousands of photographs to win over the Australian public.

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  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

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