Online Catalogue last updated 15th of August 2015
The Snowy Mountains Scheme changed Australia forever. A country founded on stolid British stock almost overnight became one of the world’s great pancultures. Tens of thousands of workers from more than 30 lands poured into what was the undisturbed pastoral realm of the high country stockman, the southern Outback. As they drilled and tunnelled into the mountains their energy and skills gave the country a mighty push into the vanguard of the twentieth century. The vibrant interaction of their many diverse cultures and the scale of the project in terms of technology made the Scheme an engineering wonder.
In 1967 and again in 1997 the American Society of Civil Engineers ranked the Scheme as one of the great engineering achievements of the twentieth century.
Most of the people who built the Snowy Scheme came from war-torn Europe and many had been recent and bitter enemies. But by and large they left their hatreds behind in their determination to grasp this opportunity of a second chance. Dispossessed by war, they worked with great energy and entrepreneurial drive to better themselves and their new homeland.
The building of the Snowy Mountains Scheme put Australia at the forefront of world construction technology; an incredible feat for a young country with an economy then based primarily on agriculture. If ever there was a national monument from which a people could draw pride and confidence it is the Snowy Scheme. It has been admired the world over for its political vision, its social achievements and its engineering excellence - yet recent generations of Australians have grown up barely conscious of its existence. Perhaps this is because it has operated faultlessly and without fanfare for more than half a century and perhaps also because its most extraordinary features are hidden beneath the mountains - out of sight of the thousands of people who annually flock along its access roads to ski slopes.
The Snowy Scheme was the product of people with vision, from a time when people had the courage to dream and build on those dreams. The imagination and strength of Prime Minister Ben Chifley, his Minister for Works, Nelson Lemmon and Sir William Hudson, the engineer, gave wings to a vision that emerged in the nineteenth century and which is now projecting into the twenty-first century.
As humanity faces an uncertain future from global warming through the Greenhouse consequences of burning fossil fuels, hydro-electricity remains one of the cleanest renewable sources of power. In the first decade of the 21st Century the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was offsetting an estimated five million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions a year and was crucial to Australia’s initial efforts to meet its international obligations on greenhouse reductions.
The Snowy Scheme’s two main elements, one based on rivers feeding the Murrumbidgee River and the other based on those feeding the Murray River, involved the blasting of 12 tunnels through the mountains, the building of 16 dams and seven power stations - two of them deep underground. Today almost nothing remains of the settlements where men and women lived, worked, dreamed and died, and built not just dams and installations, but the foundations of a new nation. Their homes and workplaces have been returned to the bush. But there remains a powerful human legacy. The Snowy was unique in bringing together people of every creed and culture and calling them all, Australian. The lesson of the Snowy is that when the dispossessed are given the chance to rebuild their lives, they enrich and advance their host society.
The construction of the Snowy Scheme changed Australia from a country that was agricultural and British to a country that was industrial and multicultural. That legacy lives on as the Scheme continues to provide a historical, technological, and intellectual measure of Australia’s progress as a nation.
In the last decade of the twentieth century the Snowy Scheme went through a painful cultural change. Its workforce was slashed by 70 per cent, and its operations and its future were intensely scrutinised after the Commonwealth, Victorian and New South Wales governments set in motion the Scheme’s corporatisation as part of a new, competitive, national electricity market. Snowy Corporatisation was a simple idea, but it unleashed an extraordinary sequence of events just as dramatic and politically fraught as the initial efforts to construct the Scheme. Corporatisation became the catalyst for the first serious attempt to resolve some of the country’s most pressing and complex environmental issues. The subsequent inquiries, negotiations and heated public debate - which contributed to a change of government in Victoria - became a turning point for Australian public policy-making.
In this edition, two new chapters have been added to cover this fascinating period. To corporatise the Snowy, people had to leave their ideological trenches, bureaucrats had to surrender empires, and river communities with diametrically opposed demands had to acknowledge each other’s rights. The debates, the issues, the frustrations and despair arising from the corporatisation process brought the resolution of some of Australia’s most pressing environmental challenges a little nearer. It became in many ways a ‘right of passage’ for the country as it entered the new millennium. It changed the way in which Australian governments, their departments, agencies and constituencies deal with each other on complex national issues.
The old Snowy was a triumph of physical and engineering prowess; the new Snowy is a monument to a nation starting to come to terms with its most challenging socio-economic and environmental issues.The authors aim has been to draw all the threads together; to offer a picture of the Scheme as a whole - its people, its political and industrial dramas, the tragedies, and achievements. In earlier editions the author said the story of the Snowy Scheme had no ending - a comment born out by the manner in which it continues to influence the course of Australian history.
Brad Collis is one of Australias most credible historical writers. In addition to the enduringly popular SNOWY history, he is also the author of the acclaimed history of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation -- Fields of Discovery, launched in 2002 by the Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who noted at the time that Collis had mastered, compellingly, the history of the two most dominant influences of Australias development as a modern nation; the Snowy Scheme and the CSIRO.
Code No. 016930, 336 pages, ISBN 9780977502936, $39.95