Snowy Mountains Scheme - Start of Construction

October 17, 2018

On 17 October 1949, construction began on the Snowy Mountains Scheme – a massive nation-building, water, electricity and development-augmenting project that remains Australia’s largest, most ambitious and visionary engineering feat undertaken.

The project was officially opened on 21 October 1972 (just before the Whitlam Labor government came to power) and was completed in 1974 – on time and on budget – at a total construction cost of $820 million (or over $8 billion today – see further details below).

The scheme provides nearly 70 per cent of the National Electricity Market’s (NEM’s) renewable energy and over 2,000 gigalitres of extra water to the Murray-Darling Basin each year, which would otherwise be lost to Australia’s key food bowl. 

The Snowy Mountains Scheme employed over 100,000 people, 70 per cent of which were workers from more than 30 foreign countries, mainly from Europe after the horrors of World War II. Some had to put aside their homeland grievances to work side by side and become part of the Snowy family.

With its new roads, settlements, migrants and increased understanding of the area, the Snowy Mountains also opened up a large scale skiing industry, particularly the leading Australian resorts of Perisher and Thredbo. (Many skiing-proficient European migrants introduced their Aussie co-workers to the past-time.)

By contrast, Malcolm Turnbull's "Snowy 2.0" pumped-hydro project will not provide any new water for the Murray-Darling Basin and will be a net user of electricity (in its quest to supply 2 gigawatts in peaking hydroelectric power to the NEM). Snowy 2.0 is also supposed to level  out largely renewables-driven volatility. Snowy 2.0’s price tag was originally $2 billion but that has now blown out to over $6 billion - fast approaching the amortised cost of Snowy '1.0'.

Celebrate this anniversary of the Snowy Hydro Scheme’s start of construction by:

  • if you are in/near the Snowy Mountains, visiting the Snowy Scheme Museum at Adaminaby, NSW
  • planning a visit to the Snowy Mountains to check out the amazing engineering feats (and ski fields)
  • watching these documentaries on the scheme
  • viewing these clips on this world-class, nation-building project
  • contemplating what other nation-building projects Australia could embark upon to further develop our inland and prosperity, and/or
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, relatives of Snowy 1.0 workers, other patriotic Aussies and those that want to build our nation and its prosperity further.

Further details on the Snowy 1.0 Scheme

The original idea and purpose of the project was to provide extra water to the often dry inland of New South Wales via the Murrumbidgee River – mainly for irrigation and agriculture, but also to better support population, industry and development. This was to be done by diverting the plentiful and largely unused waters of the short, east-flowing Snowy River inland via dams, pipes and pumping stations.

As others came to the table, the idea maturely expanded into a vision and a cogent plan that involved extra water to the Murray River also, more dams, pipelines and pumps, significant hydro-electricity and more tributaries feeding the Snowy River diverted for inland use and national development.

The Snowy Hydro scheme is listed as a “world-class civil engineering project” by the American Society of Civil Engineers, being one of the most complex, integrated water-diverting, hydroelectric power-producing and inland development-enhancing schemes the world has seen.

It includes seven power stations, 16 major dams, almost 150 kms of trans-mountain tunnels, 80 km of pipelines and aqueducts, two pumping stations, around 4 GW of installed hydroelectric peaking-power capacity and 100s of km of transmission lines. (In the 1960s, the scheme also used Australia’s first transistorised computers – one of the first in the world.)

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