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Snowy Scheme collection

At a glance

  • Illustrates one of Australia's most significant engineering feats
  • Helps tell the story of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme
  • Objects collected from Snowy workers and corporate donors
  • Ranges from tunnelling equipment to snow-measuring devices, hard hats to beer trays
Photograph of a woman and a young girl standing inside the open end of a very large pipe at a building site.
Christine Filiamundi's family photos from the Guthega project show the gigantic scale of the vast industrial undertaking that was the Snowy Scheme. Photo: Christine Filiamundi collection.
Model of the Guthega dam and power station.
Guthega dam and power station model. Photo: Matthew Higgins.

The Snowy Scheme

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, built 1949–74, is well recognised as not just an Australian but a world engineering feat.

Producing hydro-electricity and water for irrigation, the scheme includes seven power stations, 16 dams and 225 kilometres of tunnels and aqueducts.

The scheme helped create multicultural Australia: of the 100,000 workers on the scheme, two-thirds of them were from overseas, coming from 30 different countries.

The Snowy Scheme greatly developed Australia's manufacturing and technical capacities, and some of the technical breakthroughs on the scheme have since been exported around the world.

The Snowy also brought in its wake a number of environmental problems, such as greatly reduced flows in the Snowy River and other streams.

Stevens A35 stream height recorder.
This Stevens A35 stream height recorder is an important link with the work done during the investigation phase for the Snowy Scheme. Photo: Matthew Higgins.

The Snowy collection

The Museum has collected Snowy objects as part of a broader targeted collection project focusing on water. The Museum project aimed to collect a wide range of objects which would help to reflect the investigation, design, construction and social aspects of the Snowy.

Objects came from private donors who had worked on the scheme, and from two corporate sources, Snowy Hydro and Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation. Objects were also obtained through auction and purchase.

Covers of two publications. Left: Snowy Review, House Magazine of the Snowy Mountains, Winter 1963. Right: Official ceremony marking the completion of Tumut Pond Dam, 13th September, 1958.
Publications like these, from the Sue Hughes collection, form a significant part of the National Museum's Snowy acquisitions. Photo: Matthew Higgins.

A varied collection

Objects relate to many aspects of the scheme. There is a model of the scheme presented to Prime Minister Ben Chifley when the project began in 1949.

Another large model of the Guthega dam and power station is more than four metres long. In the 1950s it was the first public display model of the scheme's installations.

An image of a worker holding a tool above his head and in a digging stance is in the centre of the medal. 'KWPR 474 FT' is written in the top right corner and 'Snowy Mountains Australia' is written down the left hand side.
Medals like this one were awarded to Snowy workers when world tunnelling records were broken. Photo: Noble Numismatics.

Underground work is reflected in hard hats, a gelignite box, rockbolts (a technical advance subsequently exported overseas), drills and a world tunnelling speed record medal.

Investigation and planning are seen through stream-gauging equipment, engineering reports, an engineer's slide rule and a draftsman's set square.

The workers' social life is glimpsed in a beer tray from the Cabramurra canteen and a cricket trophy. Accomplishment is portrayed through ephemera like invitations to power station and dam openings. Working and living conditions are captured in photographs.

Another Australia

The Snowy Scheme epitomised the pro-development ethos that marked Australia in the 1950s and 60s.

Today many people have a different attitude towards dams and it is difficult to envisage another Snowy Scheme being built without controversy.

The Museum's collection helps to capture this earlier era and will enable the Museum to better tell the Snowy story to future generations of Australians and others.

Topographic model of the Snowy Scheme.
This fine topographic model of the Snowy Scheme was given to Prime Minister Ben Chifley at the inauguration of the scheme in October 1949. Photo: Matthew Higgins.

Landmarks

Material from the Snowy Scheme collection is on show in the National Museum's Landmarks gallery.

Landmarks: People and Places across Australia

More

Collection database records

pdf 'Snowy story: collecting objects from the Snowy Scheme' (PDF 327k) - Friends magazine, vol. 19, no. 3, Sep 2008.

Snowy Mountains Scheme website