Marvel of the modern world - The Snowy Hydro Scheme

27 May 2015

One of the biggest ideas this country ever had was formulated by former Australian Prime Minister Ben Chifley (1945-49). Chifley had a complex but ingenious vision that would inspire the engineering and construction of one 
of Australia’s largest civil projects, The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.

Now more than 40 years on, the Snowy Hydro Scheme is still one of the most complex integrated water and hydro-electric power schemes in the world.

It took over 25 years and more than 10,000 workers to complete and was intended to divert, collect and store waters from the Murrumbidgee, Snowy and Tumut Rivers in south western NSW. This water would then be used to irrigate the western side of the Great Dividing Range and generate hydro-electric power to homes and industries across NSW, VIC and ACT.

A first for Australia, the Snowy Hydro Scheme demanded innovative feats of engineering. The proof is in the pudding, as they say, with 16 major dams, 7 major power stations (two underground), a pumping station, 145kms of inter-connected trans-mountain tunnels and 80kms of aqueducts.

The most significant achievement was the development of the rockbolting technique, a safer and cheaper alternative to the concrete lining traditionally used to support rock in tunnel walls. An individual rockbolt was often used for pinning a piece of rock to the rock wall behind it. But a Snowy Hydro design team discovered that placing rockbolts in an interconnecting pattern across the roof of the tunnel or power station created a structural arch.

Over 40 years on, the Scheme is still vital both to local industry and our everyday lives. It generates 32 per cent of all renewable energy available to Australia’s eastern mainland grid, powers peak hour lighting across many of our country’s capital cities, and the water it diverts underwrites more than $3billion in agricultural produce.

Even before the Snowy Hydro Scheme was completed, it was named as one of the civil engineering wonders of the modern world–quite 
the accolade for Chifley, who first started out as a Bathurst-born engine driver.

Snapshot of the massive construction of the Snowy Mountain Hydro- Electric Scheme:
16 Dams
07 Power stations
145 Kilometres of tunnels
80 Kilometres of aqueducts



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