National Heritage List inscription date 14 October 2016
The Snowy Mountains Scheme is widely regarded as one of the engineering wonders of the world. The scheme is the most significant project to be undertaken as part of the post-war reconstruction program and has become an enduring symbol of Australia's identity as a multicultural, independent, and resourceful country.
An engineering wonder of the world
The Snowy Mountains Scheme is the largest public works engineering scheme ever undertaken in Australia. The scheme was constructed over a 25 year period from 1949 to 1974 by over 100,000 workers, many of whom migrated to Australia from Europe after World War Two. These workers were housed in approximately 120 camps and three towns (Khancoban, Cabramurra and Talbingo) during construction. The entire Snowy Mountains region was changed, with the existing townships of Jindabyne and Adaminaby relocated to accommodate the scheme’s necessary infrastructure. The work on the Snowy became a representation of the new multicultural Australia that emerged from European migration post-World War Two.
Completed in 1974, the scheme includes 80 kilometres of aqueduct pipelines, 13 major tunnels measuring over 145 kilometres, seven power stations (two deep underground), eight switching stations and control centres, and a number of large dams. The scheme generates approximately 4500 GW every year and provides nearly a third of all renewable energy fed into the eastern mainland grid, powering major cities like Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra. The scheme also provides over 2300 GL of water annually for irrigation for large parts of inland New South Wales and Victoria to the west of the Great Dividing Range.
Creating a multicultural Australia
The Snowy Mountains Scheme provided opportunities for thousands of migrants to start a new life in Australia after the devastation of World War Two. In the post World War Two period, Australia was asked by the United Nations to accept 100,000 displaced Europeans. The Snowy Mountains Scheme was central to this process, with over 100,000 people employed from 30 different countries. This included approximately 60,000 European displaced persons and migrants who were employed directly by the Snowy Mountains Authority. The majority of those who came to build the scheme stayed, becoming Australian citizens. These ‘New Australians’, with their energy and enterprise, would change Australia’s society and culture forever. Many previous workers and their families still hold strong connections to the scheme that played such a major part in their lives.
The National Heritage listing of the Snowy Mountains Scheme recognises its outstanding significance to Australia. The scheme is the most significant project to be undertaken as part of a post-war reconstruction program, and has become an enduring symbol of Australia’s identity as a multicultural, independent, and resourceful country.
The Father of the Snowy
The ‘Father of the Snowy’, Sir William Hudson, was Commissioner of the Snowy Mountains Authority from 1949 to 1967. Born in New Zealand, Sir William chose a career in civil engineering to the great frustration of his father who wanted Sir William to follow in his footsteps and become a doctor. Luckily for Australia, Sir William was determined and after studying in Britain and France, started work on construction projects, including hydro-electric schemes in New Zealand, Australia and Scotland. When the Federal Minister for Works was asked by Cabinet to provide three candidates for the scheme’s commissioner, he wrote ‘Hudson, Hudson, Hudson’.
Sir William Hudson also had a significant role in the introduction of revolutionary work practices in Australia. The vast workforce that was needed to build the Snowy Mountains Scheme required new management practices, and the mechanisms implemented by Sir William permanently changed the nature of industrial relations and workplace conditions in Australia.
The Snowy Mountains Scheme was a major impetus in the development of Australia’s engineering expertise and industrial relations environment in the post-war period. Many of the construction techniques were developed specifically for the project or had not been used in Australia before. This innovation in engineering technology had an enormous effect on surveying, hydrology, electrical and civil engineering and construction practices in Australia, some of which has also been adopted as standard practice world-wide.