Australia Diary 5 April 2002

We drove from Beechworth to Thredbo, in the snowy mountains today. We took the 'scenic' route round. It was pretty though!

Note for travel on Aussie roads: The road maps normally say how far it is from one town to another - use this figure when planning which road to take. There are roads that on the map look the same distance, but one may be say 20kms, whilst the other could be anything up to 90kms long. In this area there are roads that snake all over the place, but their bends are too small to show up on the maps. Beware!

This area is famous for both skiing and the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric scheme. On the way up to Threadbo, we passed a little town called Tallangatta. It's not much of a town, nothing special, just a fairly typical little Aussie - apart from the sign at its entrance. It proudly states, "Tallangatta, The Town That Moved in the 50's". "Eh? These guys have been taking too many bad drugs", I thought as we drove past. But it's true. Old Tallangatta was flooded to make way for the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Scheme. Many of the town's timber buildings were moved, quite literally, by truck to Bolga, a rail siding eight kilometres away. The brick buildings were demolished and the remains can still be seen when the water levels are low enough. The new town was officially opened in June 1956.

I had to stop in at the Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Scheme visitor centre on the way up to the mountains.

European explorers first came to the Snowy Mountains in 1835. They discovered the snow that melted into sparkling, clear water and rushed down through rocks and gorges to form a river, called the Snowy River. People dreamed about using this pure water for irrigating farms inland. The problem was how to get it there.

Severe droughts in the 1880s made people think hard about how this could be done. But good seasons followed, so everyone stopped talking about it. Early in the 1900s, Canberra was chosen for the new Australian capital and a nearby power source was needed. The Snowy Mountains solved both the power and irrigation problems: the water could be used to produce electricity for the city and it could also irrigate the inland. So construction of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme began in 1949.

Before the Snowy Mountains Scheme was built, an investigation team was established to understand this mountainous country. The team studied the environment, the flow of the rivers and the type of rock that the tunnels would travel through. It took 25 years to build the Scheme, from 1949 to 1974, including 16 major dams, 7 power stations (2 are underground) and 1 pumping station. There are 145 kilometres of underground tunnels and 80 kilometres of aqueducts, which collect and divert the water. In 1967, the American Society of Engineers rated the Snowy Scheme as one of the seven engineering wonders of the modern world.

Even though it is huge, the Snowy Scheme is remarkably simple. Aqueducts and dams collect the melted snow and rain. This water is stored in reservoirs and travels through underground tunnels, dropping 800 metres and passing through a series of power stations. After the water is used to generate electricity, it is released to the dry inland for irrigation.

The Snowy scheme has been mooted as one of the key factors that kick-started Australia's multi-national culture. Thousands of workers from all over the world were drawn together to live and work together as never before.

Snowy scheme map

The journey up into Thredbo passes through some stunning scenery. We saw a few more roos, and a couple of cattleman's huts, one of which was in better condition than the other. Cattlman's huts have historically been used by cattlemen and by walkers as emergency shelters for years. See the Public Land Council of Victoria's page on bush lore for more information.

Thredbo is a small village that owes its existence to the skiing industry. It hit the headlines ins 1997 when a landslip swept through part of the town, demolishing several homes. There was only one survivor, Stuart Diver, who was rescued 65 hours after the initial slide - he was not found until two days after it happened. You can read the whole story from 911 magasine.

These are live webcam images from Thredbo.

Is it snowing yet?

We stayed at Boali Lodge which is right in the heart of the village.

To tomorrow

Created by Dan Leigh 17/04/02