MY PART IN THE SNOWY MOUNTAINS
Soon after buying my
first personal computer in 1985 I wrote the following account of my work
and life on the Snowy Scheme for my father. He was 85 years old, stone
deaf and half blind from cataracts but like many old people was content
enough with his life without worrying about his health. I had left home
at 16 to work in a laboratory on the Kiewa Hydo Electric Scheme in September
1941 and thereafter contact with my family was sporadic. My father never
really realised what I did for a living and thought I had a pretty soft
government job. I attempted to show him in this writing something of my
life.I handed him the clear computer printed pages but alas too late. He
took one look and handed them back. "Its too small and not dark enough!"
In later years I told
Noel Gough. He took a look and said "Just what I'm looking for, for my
extracted parts pertaining to the
1950s for Mud Sweat and Snow. This is the unexpurgated version. I hope
it represents for posterity a small social history of the times in the
mountains I love and the people I worked with and respected.
I started work on the
Snowy Scheme at the end of October 1952 after some difficulty reaching
Cooma from Albury. There was serious flooding in the rivers flowing to
the west and I had to deviate from the Hume Highway for some distance near
Tarcutta. I was stopped by water across the road at Blowering and turned
back to Tumut. After lunch I decided to try to get back to the highway
via Wee Jasper on a road which showed on the map as coming out near Yass.
Leaving Tumut I went through a long stretch of road under a few inches
of water on the outskirts parallel to the river but after about 15 or 20
miles was eventually stopped by a large tree across the narrow gravel road.
Turning back towards Tumut I found a road signposted to Gundagai. This
road led to a bridge across the Murrumbidgee, but the deck was a foot under
water, and I had no alternative but to return to Tumut and wait until flooding
had subsided. As I approached Tumut I found the Tumut River was more than
a foot over the road so I was marooned. When a truck came along I locked
up the car and hitched a ride into Tumut and stayed the night at the Winyard
Hotel. Next morning the river had gone down so I picked up the car and
set off again through Blowering where the road was now clear. From the
end of the bitumen at Brandy Mary's Flat, where the dam is now, the road
was rough and even rougher on Talbingo Mountain.
However I had no more trouble with
water until I found two flooded creeks a few miles short of Kiandra. These
I managed to get through though it was only frustration and desparation
that allowed me to even make the attempt. There was little in the way of
habitation at Kiandra; the Patericks ran the Post Office and I think there
was a pub and some accomodation for skiers there, but most of the buildings
were derelict. I was interested to see Kiandra because it was mentioned
in ski journals, but I was unimpressed with the terrain for skiing. I expected
to start seeing evidence of the Snowy works but apart from a truck or two
there was nothing to indicate the nearness of construction.
Adaminaby was a typical country village
but its site on the hillside with hitching rails in front of the buildings
and overlooking open undulating unforested plains reminded me of wild west
films. It seemed that time had stood still for Cooma too.
I went to the head office
and was signed on, then given a room in barracks in East Camp, the
wages mens camp. Staff quarters
had not been completed and overflow accomodation had to be
provided there. I could get meals
at the new Monaro Hostel or in West Camp the old staff quarters.
The laboratory where I was
to work was an old mess hut in East Camp and the first thing I saw as I
went in the door was a sign above
the old kitchen servery stencilled neatly in an arc above the counter:
"He who owes you money hates you for it." As a man who had worked with
me at Kiewa (Hydro Electric Scheme) and who still owed me 20 pounds, had
started work in the lab 6 weeks earlier I found this ironical. He was shocked
to see me but I eventually got my money. Mr Denison Campbell-Allen a young
Englishman (later professor of engineering at Sydney University) was the
engineer in charge with two young assistant engineers, Ken Gray and Don
Kennard. There were two field parties out, Hank van Oyen finding concrete
the Tertiary deposits at Kiandra
and Roly Hall investigating and sampling the diatomaceous earth deposits
near Cooma for possible use as a pozzalon to partially replace cement in
I assisted on trial concrete mixes
in the lab for a month until Aub Hosking returned from a 9 month training
assignment with the Bureau of Reclamation in USA, when I was to go with
him to start materials investigations for a dam on Spencers Creek near
Aub was a bright
open sort of person in his early thirties. As soon as he heard I had worked
soil laboratories before, he said
I would be useful on the Spencers Creek job. We made a trip there to see
what facilities we would have and found that the diamond drillers under
Paul Grech were in residence in the barracks of an old Dept. of Main Roads
Camp. I was rather shocked at the living conditions being freshly from
the highly organised working conditions of Kiewa Hydro Electric Scheme.
All the windows in the barracks, as well as in two smaller huts beside
them, were broken, and this at more than 6000ft altitude. Aub claimed the
two huts for ourselves and the geologists who were also about to go into
residence on site.
Paul Grech was a Maltese about 22
years old and ran the camp in firm manner. Aub though having a senior position
to Paul told him that it was a drillers camp and he expected Paul to carry
out the usual duties as Camp Superintendent. This allowed him to concentrate
on the technology of proving the availability of construction materials
and avoid the everyday problems of running the camp. He was full of the
latest American technology from the USBR and certainly brought me up to
date fast on the methodology of dam construction, although I had had 11
years of experience in proximity to both earth and concrete dams. He had
been in Changi prison-of-war camp in wartime, then graduated from Perth
university before starting with SMA on its inception.
We moved into the camp at
the end of November, but on Thursday, December 4th while we were at a
cabaret event at the Chalet after
work it started to snow and I just got my car out in time to avoid
being snowed in. The road was opened
within a couple of days but it was impossible to work until the snow melted
so Aub moved us out to Island Bend. We moved back in a week later. With
us was a Yugoslav labourer in his early thirties named Alf Marolt. Alf
had fair English and was a meticulously polite person in the European style.
He insisted on calling Aub Mr Hosking despite Aubs protests and explained
that if we were in Yugoslavia under the same conditions he would carry
Aub's notebook for him. This became a standing joke with us. Alf worked
as my offsider doing much of the labouring and direction of labour while
I logged trenches and took samples for testing of soil from prospective
borrow areas. We three occupied one hut. Aub would work most nights on
reports etc., often to 1 or 2am, while Alf would go across to the mess
hut and play cards with the drillers. I sometimes read or talked to the
Alf was a great poker player and
rarely lost. One pay night he won more than 100 pounds on one hand. He
had an unusual insight into other peoples characters based on their card
playing. Often when I asked how he had gone the night before he would say
about a man " he shouldn't play, he is very nervous and I know how good
his hand is so I don't try to win much from him". The geologists were Clive
Wood and Dave Stapleton (later to become professor of engineering geology
at Adelaide university) and their chainmen Gil Shaw and Reg Barnett, two
young English migrants. They all seemed to work to 10 or 11 each night,
particularly Stapleton a tall lanky workaholic. He was married and his
wife worked in Cooma. Clive was a reserved bespectacled chap who had degrees
in geology and engineering. I think he was in constant fear that while
he was in the bush his girlfriend, a librarian in Cooma would be inveigled
away. He probably had cause to worry as another geologist and an engineer
also were interested in that quarter. Gil and Reg were good fun in the
camp and both expected their girlfriends to arrive from Chester England
during that summer.
The left abutment of the damsite
was an old glacial moraine (the David Moraine named after Sir
Edgeworth David.) Professor Brown
from Sydney University on a visit to the area expressed his horror at such
desecration of the only remaining major moraine on the mainland. Aub told
him that this fact also made it unlikely to be used as an abutment, it
being a large plum pudding of unconsolidated soil and boulders. During
that summer Prof Leech, head of our division, ran a field experiment to
determine the feasibility of maintaining a permanently artificially frozen
dam foundation but it appeared the increased cost could not be warranted.
Prof Brown must have been one of the first environmentally conscious people
and made his views known about the David Moraine in letters to the Sydney
Morning Herald during that summer of '53. The alpine vegetation at that
time was also being investigated for its fragility and vulnerability to
the cattle brought up from Jindabyne, as well as the stockmens practice
of burning off the pasture. I think that year was a turning point for the
mountains as the public were slowly made aware of the dangers of interference
to the nature of the area. I think it was about then that Dane Wimbush
from the CSIRO started work on a study of the alpine flora and fauna.
We weren't guiltless of vandalism
either. A short distance away downstream of our huts there was a huge glacial
erratic boulder with a flat top perched on the hillside. Around the edge
of the top there was a
wall of rocks about 2ft high, which
enclosed a pile of soil with grass growing on the top. We were mystified
by it as it was obviously not a natural phenomenon. There was speculation
that it was an aborigines grave or perhaps a garden plot made by early
stockherders. One evening our curiosity overcame us and we decided to dig
a small hole in the middle but I'm still wondering as our efforts turned
On top of the moraine was the SMA
meteorological cottage where Doug and Beth Thatcher lived
through summer and winter. Their
eldest son Stephen was born during that summer and spent his first winter
there. Doug has a great picture of him in a rucksack on his back as he
bends to tighten the bindings of his skis outside their home in the snow.
Beth acted as our communications liason with Cooma as they had a two way
During January '53 there was
a huge snowdrift across the road on the side of Mt Kosciusko and
Doug and I would sometimes go up
there after work to ski. The daylight saving gave us a couple of hours
of light and the wet slushy surface of the snow during the day firmed to
a good texture for practicing turns as the air cooled quickly in the evening
and eventually froze solid. I had met Doug and Beth briefly back in 1950
at Hotham Chalet and in later years lived a few doors from them at Jindabyne.
We finished our work in the
autumn by filling in all except one of the borrow area trenches. The
exception had thick planks placed
over it so that if the dam was built we could uncover it to show prospective
contractors the soil conditions, and thus illustrate the written reports.
We also pulled out the timber supports of the geologists investigatory
adit into the moraine and allow it to collapse back to its natural state.
We retired to Cooma and Aub announced he was going to Imperial College
London for a year to study further under Bishop and Skempton. Soil mechanics
at the time of my working at Hume Weir in 1940 was in its infancy having
seriously started with Terzhagi and others in the 20's and the theory was
rapidly developed while modern earthmoving equipment was produced to build
larger dams of earth and rock after the war. Aub was encouraged to take
a year off by Prof Leech and the progressive upper management of SMA so
that the organisation was assured of up-to-date technical knowledge and
opinion as the scheme projects progressed.
We moved from the temporary
building in North Cooma to the new laboratory complex at Cooma Back
Creek during the winter. Later in
'53 I was sent to Talbingo to take samples of soil insitu from the
prospective site for Cumberland
Dam. I was accomodated for 6 weeks at Talbingo Hotel a friendly place at
the base of Talbingo Mountain and a popular place for trout fishermen,
particularly journalists and artists, from Sydney. Each day I would travel
about 6 miles to the damsite and stand by at the top of a shaft being dug
by 3 drillers labourers. At each increment of 5ft depth I would spend 2
or 3 hours in the shaft cutting a 1ft cube of undisturbed soil, then encase
it in a box sealed with wax. At the weekends I would take these samples
back to Cooma for testing. Most days I had little to do and found the talk
of the 3 men interesting. One was a German who had been in U-boats during
the war, one was a Pole, ex merchant seaman on the Murmansk run, and the
third an Australian named Tom B- from Wagga who had been in the Australian
destroyer Tobruk after the war. Tom was a rough diamond and despite being
married spent most weekends at the Woolpack Hotel in Tumut, (he had mother-in-law
problems) where the drillers generally hung out. They got on well together
and their talk was often about their seafaring days.
Tom came back from Tumut one weekend
with the crabs and complained bitterly about it. He asked me how to get
rid of them, which
I found strange, he being an ex-sailor.
I told him that it was usually treated with Blue Ointment a fact I had
picked up from men I had known at
Kiewa. I said, with tongue in cheek, maybe if he doused himself with petrol,
which was specially dyed blue for the SMA to discourage theft, it would
do the trick. Next morning he told me it worked alright but "Gawd it stung!"
He said he got it from 1 of two girls working at the Woolpack and vowed
he'd find out which one next weekend! He found out alright. I saw him the
following Monday morning standing up to his knees in the river, bracing
himself to tackle the blue petrol cure again!
Life at the pub was
good as there were always a few staying overnight or for a short fishing
holiday. Those were the days of 6 o'clock closing in pubs but it was seldom
that the Talbingo bar was closed before 11pm. A few locals would often
drop in after tea and we had some hilarious evenings. Among the locals
were the Day brothers, Billy and Gordon, whose family had bought Talbingo
Station after leaving the management of Kosciusko Chalet at the end of
the war. Both boys were expert and strong skiers, and Billy was Australian
Champion for years after the war. He competed at one of the Olympics, probably
1952, though I can't remember which now.
One of the people I met was Rufus
Morris an artist and cartoonist with I think The Bulletin. Some years before
he had been held on a bar stool rather inebriated while he drew with charcoal
on the wall
above the fireplace a cartoon of
a fisherman trying to catch a grasshopper while he was
watched disaprovingly at a distance
by his purist friends. Next day he had painted in the bar-length
drawing. It was a well known feature
mural of the pub until the hotel demolition when Jounama Dam
flooded it. The beer on tap was
generally not considered very good but the place was noted for the fact
that if you ordered a whisky and water you were asked if you wanted Jounama
or Tumut water (the pub being at the junction of the two streams.). I think
I put on some much needed flesh over my bony frame while there as Mrs Edna
Anderson was a great cook in the country fashion.
When Aub came back
from England he set to to establish the laboratory complete with the most
up-to-date equipment and I was involved
with much of the triaxial testing for soils. Spring of 1954 arrived and
I was assigned to field investigations for the borrow areas for Tooma Dam.
Initially we made a reconnaissance to the area with the design engineers
and geologists, amongst whom were Ian Sargent and Doug Price a young engineer
who had been transferred from Field Construction to Design and was later
to become the Director of SMEC. We walked all over the damsite and for
a considerable distance upstream into Pretty Plain and to near Wheelers
Hut. This area was on the old route from the upper Murray to the Kiandra
gold diggings, the Ligar track, which we found. We also saw the diggings
near Wheelers Hut in a creek bed where Bluey Murphy a chap I knew at Kiewa
had worked as a teenager goldmining during the depression. (He told me
that he had had to resort to eating wombat at one stage while there.) The
whole area was in the snow lease country (much of it being open grassland)
and showed some erosion due to stock but I was impressed with the natural
I set up camp in tents at the
Water Conservation hut at Toolong Crossing near the Damsite. John
Newbury a young English geologist
and his offsider took over the hut's accomodation but shared the
kitchen with us. I had Alf Marolt
again as offsider and two Calabrian Italian labourers. We had no
refrigerator but bought enough fresh
meat for 3 days and for the rest of the 12 days in camp each fortnight
existed on tinned food, rice, spaghetti and macaroni. We bought the food
on Monday morning and were usually on the job by mid afternoon if the weather
was dry. There was no road from the top of the hill above Tumut Ponds though
it was under construction towards Round Mountain. We turned off at the
top of the rise from the river and followed the old miners track. This
led over Sams Diggings, through the bush and over basalt outcrops which
were mostly of 6 inch boulders and negotiable at very low speed only, down
to a crossing of Ogilvies Creek which became a terrible quagmire, around
the side of Musical Hill and along a bulldozed track to Toolong Crossing.
The bulldozed track had been put in by the Water Conservation Commission
from near Tooma township for river gauging access.
During the spring we were
often bogged in several places and became adept at avoiding bad places
and extricating our vehicles. Roly Hall was assigned to the search for
concrete aggregate and rockfill sources and set up his camp in an old stockmens
hut about a mile away until stock (3000 sheep) were brought in from Holbrook
and the shepherd needed it. Roly went to a lot of trouble to make up special
debogging gear but on one occasion had to camp out by the bogged Landrover.
When the drillers set up camp on the other side of the river from us they
brought refrigerators and had vehicles, mostly Dodge Power Waggons, coming
and going for supplies all the time. With their higher ground clearance
they had less trouble but made it harder for us in our Landrovers. On one
occasion I dropped our borrow area work and spent a day building a secret
bridge at Ogilvies Creek. We managed to conceal this from the drillers
until they could no longer get through the quagmire with their waggons,
but by then the construction forces had reached Ogilvies with the pilot
track and we could get a proper track cut around the bog.
Our work consisted of
setting out a 50 yard grid and manually boring 4 inch diameter holes with
hole digger to about 22ft in the
weathered granite to prove the availability of several hundred thousand
cubic yards of useable soil for rolled earth fill for the impervious core
of the dam. Each auger hole would take about 40 to 50 minutes if we didn't
hit any rock. Sometimes we would hit small boulders, more resistant to
weathering, and we could wriggle the auger past them. If not I would put
a small gelignite charge down the hole. This would slow progress but we
usually managed to do 6 holes per day reaching from 12 to 22 ft deep and
proving perhaps 30 to 50 thousand cubic yards of material. I logged the
holes as we went noting the nature of the soil, variations in soil properties
and difficulties in augering. We would take small samples every 4ft in
airtight jars for moisture tests. At monthly intervals at 6 places we would
bore repeat holes to get moisture samples and so determine the variation
throughout the summer.
When we had proved the
borrow area we then dug 6 trenches to 15ft deep for taking large samples
for lab testing and visible observation of the soil by contract tenderers.
These were about 7ft x 3ft and dug down to 8ft by 2 men with long handled
shovels. We then set up a 2 inch pipe tripod with a pulley block over the
trench and the 3 labourers would work on deepening it to 15ft, hauling
out the soil in a bucket. The soil was usually easy to dig but to avoid
using a pick as much as possible I would use a 1/2 stick of gelignite in
two 3ft deep auger holes in the bottom of the trench. This would just lift
the soil and aerate it with gas breaking up any structure which gave it
strength, and it was then easy work to dispose of it with the shovel. A
trench usually took us about two to two and a half days of solid work.
In the bottom we would then bore an auger hole to as deep as possible.
If the going was good we could reach down to 62ft using the tripod to help
haul the eguipment out of the hole every few inches to dispose of spoil.
I think Aub was in constant anxiety that we would be trapped in a trench
cave-in as he kept warning us to do something about developing a timbering
method but we were all conscious of the danger and kept a close
watch on conditions. However it
was a "boring" job and we didn't waste any more time than necessary on
time consuming trivial jobs. We had hard hats but nobody would wear them
as they were heavy and kept falling off while shovelling. We didn't bother
even to stop for smoko or boil the billy and someone was working all the
Alf and I lived in one
tent and Porco and Savio the Italian labourers had the other. They were
about 12ft square with a central pole on which we hung the Coleman kerosene
pressure lamp. On the ground we laid builders sarking, the tar paper with
aluminium foil on one side used as under-roof insulation. Our beds were
low folding camp stretchers. Alf and I had sleeping bags and two blankets
Italians had only new blankets issued
from Stores. They were pretty disgusted to find they had been fly blown
on return from their first days work; ours being used and previously washed
were unaffected. We spent our after-hours time in the hut, cooking, eating,
talking, playing chess and cards or just listening to the battery powered
John Newbury liked to tease Porco,
without being too offensive, about his body odour (BO) as he and his mate
weren't too fussy about their clothes, and drew his attention to the radio
ads for various soaps. They took it in good part but the message got through.
Porco proudly showed John his new cake of LifeBuoy soap after returning
one Monday. We often played Scrabble and John's chainman, Ivan Kobal, a
studious migrant from Trieste, Yugoslavia, who had studied for the priesthood
was often called on to referee disputes about spelling and meaning of words.
This expertise came from his knowledge of Latin and Greek. He spent most
of his time reading but must have been very impressed with our way of life
as he wrote a book around our circumstances in the '70's. He received a
1000 pound literary grant under the Whitlam goverment's arts subsidy system.
I read the book 2 or 3 years ago but found little literary merit or accuracy
of the events. His memories were clouded as I think a lot now are by the
freedom and enthusiasm for the bush and their new life in Australia. When
the drillers set up camp over the river Ivan and Alf used to visit their
compatriots, but Alf didn't have the opportunities for his poker skills
as at Spencers Creek.
We often saw a small flock of emus near the hut and kangaroos were often
seen during the day in the borrow areas. Now and then a wombat would wander
through the camp on dusk and sometimes I would hear him during the night.
Eventually bush rats found something interesting in our tent and would
wake me with their scurrying feet on the tar paper floor. Alf couldn't
abide rats and shifted his bed to the floor of the hut in anger one night.
I just pulled the sleeping bag up tightly over my head and endured the
comings and goings of the bush creatures. On one occasion I went to Cabramurra
to ring Cooma and on return found the Italians had shot a magpie and were
The constant pace and
"boring" nature of our 12 day stints in the bush eventually affected morale
we started to have arguments in
the camp. I recognised the symptoms as I felt the effects myself of boredom
from the same old routine each day. Despite the dire consequences of being
caught using Snowy transport illegally, I decided that we would make a
trip to Tumbarumba one Saturday afternoon for a pub visit and to buy fresh
food. I asked John Newbury if he wanted to come but he shied off at the
thought of being caught out with a Snowy vehicle. However he allowed Ivan
his offsider to go and I think he spent the afternoon catching up on his
plans and office work. I didn't tell the Italians until 11am but Alf knew
and worked hell out of them that morning.
We left after lunch, going down the
bulldozed track through Greg Greg station to the
Tumbarumba-Tintaldra Road. In Tumbarumba
the shops were open as they had half day closing on
Wednesday afternoons, while shops
remained open all day Saturday. We did our shopping for food and
of course ended up in the pub. The
Italians thought this was a great day out and released their purse strings
for a few drinks. Ivan didn't drink and wandered around town looking at
the few shops. Alf and I had unslakeable thirsts though I had the sense
to keep some driving ability up my sleeve.
In the bar we found Eddy Hundling
a Dutchman who worked in Hydrology. He said he had a vehicle broken down
with transmission trouble on the track into Worlds End where SMA had a
river gauge on
the Tooma(?) River. He said he was
waiting for a mechanic to come out from Cooma to fix it and
had been waiting all day. He asked
me if I could take some food out to his offsiders who were still with the
vehicle. While he went off to buy provisions for them we enjoyed the Saturday
afternoon atmosphere of the pub and bought some liquid provisions to take
back to camp.
About 4pm we set off back to camp
with Eddies map of the Maragle track and eventually found the vehicle.
We took the two men there on about a mile to the hut where we found the
Tumbarumba district dogger or dingo hunter already in residence. I had
heard of this man and we settled in to a long talk with him about his job,
and opened up the newly acquired liquid refreshments. The others weren't
too interested and spent the time talking to Eddies mates. Towards dark
we left for home, and during the winding climb back up to Toolong crossing
were entertained by operatic arias from Savio. John was starting to worry
about us as we got back to camp about 10pm; we brought him back a bottle
of wine and he was pleased to see us. But the problem of morale still hung
The Italians were at me all the time to sign a paper allowing them to claim
tax benefits for their wives and children back in Italy though they knew
their families (if they existed) had to be resident in Australia for tax
concessions. They saved everything they could to send home and finally
started to niggle Alf and me about the cost of food. The total bill each
fortnight for each of us was about 6 pounds but they said it shouldn't
be more than 5 pounds ten shillings and accused Alf and I of extravagance.
In the end Alf said "I've had enough of this argument. Either Porco goes
or I go." I could see things deteriorating rapidly. Alf was a valuable
man to have attached to the laboratory and Aub thought a lot of him so
I took my courage in my hands and told Porco he was sacked. I put him on
the drillers truck next morning. The following Friday on return to Cooma
I found I was the centre of much attention, firstly because everyone seemed
surprised that I could go that far, and secondly because Industrial Relations
Branch were worried about the effects on industrial relations generally.
In no time flat special instructions were handed out to field supervisory
staff. No man could be sacked before having received 2 written and registered
warnings on separate occasions. However I think they knew that if people
were to be worked in small field camps as we were, management had to carry
some responsibility for incidents like this. I stuck to my guns and Aub
supported me, but I was sorry for Porco. Anyway he immediately got a job
with one of the contractors at better money and I don't think he bore me
Aub understood the problems
and told me to take the boys down to Tooma pub now and then.
He set the precedent himself on
one of his monthly visits, and we had a 4 vehicle convoy down the mountain
composed of Roly Hall and his mate Alf Reavely, Geoff Nash the surveyor
who camped nearby, Aub and John Newbury and my gang. Tooma pub was a very
quiet backwater and didn't do a great trade. In fact Roly said he had been
there during the days of the "Temperance Publican" a previous licencee
and been turned away on a hot day after the second glass of beer. They
sold beer that night though but Savio embarassed us in front of the few
locals by insisting on singing, well before any of us were half drunk,
a popular Italian song "Volare". It was the Italian custom to sing he told
us. We told him it wasn't the Aussie custom and the local cop would close
up the bar if he heard him. "Shuttup Savio". Roly and I did a pub-crawl
down to Tintaldra with Nasho one Sunday but we generally kicked over the
traces and took risks with vehicles at night when we were less likely to
be caught. It was a pleasant place to spend the summer but we were glad
to see the job finished.
The following spring 1955
saw us start the same task at Tantangara Damsite on the
Murrumbidgee. A large dam of either
earth or concrete was to be built to divert this river to Eucumbene Dam.
Alf and I camped in snow huts with the drillers just downstream of the
damsite. We explored a possible borrow area on the slopes of the Mt Nungar
ridge in gravelly clay slopewash or hillside debris
deposited in some long ago natural
catastrophe perhaps an earthquake. We couldn't bore with the auger so all
our work was with hand trenches. We had 6 labourers from the drillers who
also supplied men to dig the continuous trenching on the dam axis for the
geologists. The drillers cook gave us each a large slab of rump steak,
6 slices of bread, a 1/4lb of butter and tea and sugar to take for lunch.
We fried the steak on a long handled shovel. Drillers cooks weren't ones
for sandwich making.
Three of the men had earlier worked
on exploratory trenches for the geologists at the saddle between the Murrumbidgee
and Goodradigbee catchments where a small earth dam would have been required
if the reservoir level was more than a certain height. They included the
Pole from the Cumberland job and a Russian. They had shot a wild pig and
tried to smoke it by hanging it in the chimney of the stockmens hut where
they camped. They lit a slow smokey fire under it but found it flyblown
when they returned from work. Tantangara Plain was summer snow lease for
sheep in those days and the flies were worse than I'd seen anywhere else.
Roly was also there exploring
for a quarry to supply crushed concrete or rockfill and spent much time
on Traces Knob, a large dacite outcrop across the creek from our job. It
was eventually decided to build a moderate size concrete dam rather than
a high earth dam and Traces Knob did become the quarry.
However I also had to find filter
zone materials for the earth dam alternative and investigated the large
gravel exposures on the inside of a river bend about 4 miles downstream
of the damsite. This we did with a backhoe on a Ferguson tractor, digging
holes every 50 yards on a grid. We had to ford the river in the vehicle
to reach the area but the water depth was generally only a few inches and
we had little trouble with the solid gravelly bottom.
In the autumn when the concrete
structure had been decided on, we were told to get more samples of
this gravel for testing as possible
concrete aggregate. We filled sample bags with several tons of
representative materials and took
a few back to Cooma. On return the next week to collect the rest we found
the river in flood and not fordable. We returned to Cooma, borrowed a boat
from Hydrology and got 500ft of rope from Stores. As the bags had to be
carried about 500 yards to the crossing we took 6 people, Noel Kiek and
Alec Bacon (engineers), Tibor Kovacs, one other lab asistant, Alf and myself
in a long wheelbase landrover with a winch as well as another utility vehicle.
The river was even higher than the day before, and the current was very
We tied one end of
the rope on the landrover winch. We took the boat about 100 yards upstream
and Alf rowed as I paid out rope from the passenger seat in the stern.
It was a harder job for him than we expected because of the drag caused
by the rope in the water behind us. After we had secured the rope to the
boat we hauled it back and forth to ferry everyone across. I expected that
we wouldn't have any trouble getting a man back across later to use the
winch for hauling the loaded boat back, and so omitted to leave someone
on the right bank.
After we had made several trips
back and forth from the gravel pits to the crossing Tibor volunteered to
go over and start hauling the boat back and forth. I expected that if we
let our rope loose the current would swing the boat back to the other side
but the drag on both rope sections was too great and it stayed in the middle
of the river, anchored to both sides. Tibor who sat in the stern, while
the rope was connected at the bow, tried to move forward to haul himself
across but the shift of weight started the boat to porpoising violently.
It started to take water and sunk beneath him. Fortunately he managed to
swim out a long way downstream. We hauled the boat out but the oars were
gone. Tibor walked back up to us, a much relieved group to see him. Alf
said "Tibor, you did one thing wrong, you should have swum to the other
side" and we all fell about laughing so much, I suppose from relief. We
sat there for 20 minutes in the autumn sun, while Tibor stripped off and
hung his clothes on a fence to dry. Alec Bacon said there was a flying
fox over the river a mile upstream so he went off to see if he could get
across. He came back and said it was locked on the other side.
I said maybe if we weighted
the stern down with a bag of gravel it would allow someone to reach the
bow and haul it across. Noel volunteered to go but although the boat was
more stable in the current he had to come back. We then put two bags in
the stern and I had a go. The boat swung out into the current and the drag
on the rope in the water held it in the middle as before. I gradually inched
forward to the bow and finally managed to get hold of the anchor rope with
a fairly stable craft bobbing about on the current. I tried to pull on
the anchored rope but was surprised at the force on the boat and realised
I was hardly strong enough. I called to Alf to haul up all the slack on
his side and then let go. This made quite a difference and while the rope
was drifting down I could haul the boat upstream a few feet at a time.
Repeating this over and over again I managed to get to the other side,
and secure the boat but I was exhausted and my arms felt as if I'd been
on the rack. I was shaking so much I couldn't manage the Landrover winch
so tied the rope to the vehicle and told the others to haul the boat back
someone else over. I could haul
the boat over by reversing the Landrover. We managed to get all the
samples and men over safely but
someone else had to drive my vehicle.
I think this was the most hazardous
incident I had on the Snowy. We could easily have lost someone in that
flooded river and nearly did. In other parts of the Snowy the surveyors
and hydrologists were not so fortunate with flooded streams.
Two or three years later when
tender documents were being prepared George Donahue, a young
engineer well liked by everyone
for his commonsense and pragmatic attitude towards engineering problems,
asked me to come with him to Mt. Nungar to select a possible quarry site
in basalt, in case a tenderer wanted to consider that area as a rock source.
It was just before Easter and we took sample bags and some explosive to
obtain fresh rock samples. Old Joe Nicholls, the concrete lab labourer,
came with us. We drove on to the slopes of Mt. Nungar and ran into fog
which became very dense as we climbed in the landrover. Reaching a fence
we stopped and had lunch. We all had sandwiches and fruit and I had some
hot cross buns, while George also produced a bottle of rum.
George said he would
scout ahead for the track. Jokingly I waved a compass at him but he said
he knew the area and disappeared quickly into the peasouper. By 2pm I was
starting to worry about him and started to blow the horn. During the afternoon
Joe told me about working before the war as a chainman for surveyors on
a possible canal line between the Murrumbidgee and Snowy catchments on
a feasability study for turning the Snowy River inland. As the afternoon
progressed I became conscious of a lessening chance that George would return
and prepared to camp the night. Old Joe and I gathered together two great
heaps of dead snowgum and lit big fires, one uphill and the other downhill
of the vehicle so that if he was wandering around on this slope he might
I was rather worried that he had
hurt himself, as on a previous occasion we had broken an axle on a track
in Snowy Plain and walked 11 miles into Island Bend, he hobbling slowly
with an old knee injury. Joe and I had a miserable night. We didn't
sleep but stoked the two fires, ate my buns and finished off Georges rum.
In the morning the fog started to lift so we decided to go down and report
the event at the construction camp then being built for the dam contractors.
Halfway down we met George coming up in another vehicle. He had wandered
around in the fog until he heard equipment working on the new road, and
following the sound came out near the camp, where he spent a comfortable
On first of September that
year (1956) Jackie Powis and I were married by Bishop Arthur at St Johns
church in Canberra. She had been
working in Property and Housing Branch and reckoned we would have no trouble
getting a Snowy house on return from our honeymoon. However we heard after
two weeks that the Commissioner had given an edict that no more people
were to be housed until all Electrical and Mechanical Division staff who
worked in Sydney were transferred to Cooma. So we had a housing problem
which we felt pretty bitter about.
Jackie stayed in Sydney while I started
work on the other side of the mountains. After two months we decided that
I would have to work away from home anyway so we accepted a house at Leesville,
Jindabyne on the Ingebyra road. It was a weatherboard two bedroom prefabricated
house set on concrete pillars about 3ft high. We had my Triumph TR2 sports
car and rather little money.
The weekend we prepared to move in
Pauline Byers, Jackies bridesmaid, and her boyfriend Geoff Nash, a surveyor
in camp there helped us clean the house out. Geoff asked me if I would
take his new Holden back to Cooma for service and leave mine with him.
I could bring his back two days later. On the way to Cooma I ran off the
road through inattention and hit a guide post with the rear wheel. The
tubeless tyre (a new innovation) deflated immediately and the wheel locked
causing the car to roll on to its roof. I had to lend my car then to Geoff
to go on holidays to the Olympics in Melbourne. The wrecked car was quickly
removed as the Duke of Edinborough passed through Jindabyne the next day
on an inspection of the works. (Leo Hore the publican tried to organise
a 21 gun salute for him with shot guns in a beery bar conference the same
night, but the copper heard about that!) So we had a disastrous start to
our first home making.
In October 1956 I started
work on the western side of the mountains, in the catchments of the streams
which feed the snow melt to the upper part of the Murray River. This is
in densely forested steep slopes which fall within a few miles from more
than 7000ft to little more than 1000ft. The general scheme was to be able
to transfer water from the Snowy River, dammed at Jindabyne, to the Geehi
River through a tunnel under the mountains, and generate power as it descended
through tunnels and pipelines to the Murray near Khancoban. It was rough
country with no road access and little but a few access tracks.
I camped at Indi in Major
Clewes establishment, a surveyors camp. This was a long line of tents near
the road from Khancoban to the top of the Geehi Walls. Outside each tent
was a "pissaphone" one of the Majors inventions to make life comfortable
in the bush. This was a tin cone about 2ft high with its smaller end stuck
into an auger hole in the ground, and used as a urinal. I don't know where
the Major got the idea, probably the army, but kangaroos seemed attracted
to them at night and were continually waking us as they knocked them over.
We explored for a borrow
area for a possible dam on Khancoban back creek, and I started work on
the closest weathered granite as at Tooma Dam, with Les Jensen a Queenslander
lab assistant and John Hilton a recently graduated engineer sent to us
for experience. John later became Chief Design Engineer for SMEC.
Alf Marolt had left us for the city lights and we had to find another offsider
for field work. We found another Slovene Yugoslavian named Wal Marin who
turned out to be a jewel for the lab and he stayed with us until the late
60's. We again had drillers labourers, this time 5 Irishmen and an Aussie
ex-boxer from Newcastle. He was punchy and would shape up at the sound
of a shovel hitting a stone. They all worked well but the Irishmen were
constantly in some sort of trouble as the result of forays to the pubs
in Corryong. Eventually Paul Grech prohibited any of them from riding in
the ration truck to Corryong across the state border.
On the weekend closest to St. Patricks
day they all took off for Cabramurra. One of them, an old timer around
the Snowy called Blackie, told me he dived under the table in the canteen
at the first sign of a fight and spent most of the night there. They weren't
admitted to the Ball, so held a Brawl. "Sure and it was a great night."
I had no labour until Wednesday.
The prospective damsite on
the Khancoban Back Creek was superceded as the development planning progressed
and we were moved down to Waterfall Farm damsite, where we had more boring
times looking for materials. We stayed in the camp at Indi still. Waterfall
Farm is where the Swampy Plains River emerges from the hills into the broad
open Khancoban Valley, a beautiful place. Here again this dam was eliminated
and it was finally decided to bring the Snowy waters through the Great
Dividing Range at a higher level to a dam at the juncture of Windy Creek
with the Geehi River, thence under the Grey Mare Range to a small dam on
Bogong Creek and via a tunnel and long steep pipeline to Murray 1 power
station on Khancoban Back Creek.
We worked briefly on several minor
investigations in the region including work on the sand and gravel deposits
of the river system. We also spent a spell on sources of impervious fill
for a large dam on Bogong Creek, Wal and I, before our stint at Windy Creek
which came I think in the '58 summer; at least it was the year of the earthquake.
I travelled home every
weekend to Jindabyne to find a wife generally busting to get out of the
place and do things. She found kindred lonely spirits whose husbands were
away; NielmaShallis (Ralph was a
construction supervisor on the Alpine
Way and did see some homelife twice a week), the Mackeev
brothers, surveyors Mike and the
Mexican Bandit, and Eugene Stefanski, a little rugged Polish chainman whose
wife would lock him out of the house, even if snowing, if he came home
drunk. I hope his kids turned out as good as he and his wife expected,
from their incredible industriousness, to overcome their wartime experiences.
He came close to having a heart attack when introduced to Princess Alexandra
at the opening of Eucumbene Dam. Others like Chris Davidson, the security
officer, (dubbed as Carter Brown); Tommy Tomasi next door, the little north
Italian ex-partisan who survived a concentration camp, worked in Hydrology
and reckoned the Czechs and Catholics had everything sewn up in Hydrology
to his disadvantage.
Doug Thatcher, Beth and three little
boys, relieved from the isolation of Spencers Creek. Helga and Herman Ritter,
also next door. He was assistant at the little camp and township power
station. Helga was quite beautiful and gave him much worry by turning up
at the camp before they were married when she couldn't stand being separated,
away in the city, from her beloved Herman who couldn't find any housing.
Geoff and Pauline were married and moved in closeby. Brian and Marie Spain,
newly married, moved in opposite. He was a young engineer who started work
in Cooma and of course Marie was alone all week. She and Jackie got on
well and I was regaled at weekends with their doings. They proceeded to
have a family of eight and, until her death in 1992 Jackie received birthday
greetings from Marie in November each year. Horst Kohlsdorf, boss of the
prefab shop, and the perfect hun. Ocky Wallace the young butcher who liked
a beer with the boys and did everything to stop Marie from finding out.
He stuck his
shotgun out the window one night
and blasted a big snake only to find next morning his hose was riddled.
And of course Noel and Anne Gough
a young couple who had recently lost a child when their house burnt down.
He was boss of the power station and general admin factotum around the
town. He came from Coonamble when about 22 years old and was dumped in
the Three Mile Camp near Kiandra in winter to run a shift in the power
station, dressed in a light suit and dancing pumps. "Can you fight, lad?"
they asked and bedded him down by the thumping big diesel engine which
went night and day. Noel Gough was the operator in charge of the little
deisel power station at New Jindabyne but also did a lot of odd jobs for
other divisions, as well as message carrying, collecting and distributing
mail, and sundry
little electrical maintenance tasks.
This helped the families immensely in their isolation as most didn't have
phones, or transport or didn't drive.
Noel was a willing cheerful
and friendly face to tell troubles to and became a very popular person
to turn to when crises arose. One had to watch him carefully though for
his leaning to gentle sendups and practical jokes. On one occasion he came
to our place one Sunday night, probably to bring a message. He stayed late
talking to us but as I had to get up early the next morning to go back
to the bush I was anxious to get to bed early and started to throw out
hints that prolonged socialising wasn't welcome. He
understood perfectly and needled
me until in the end I told him it was time to go. I got up to go to the
toilet and when I came back to the lounge he wasn't there. "I thought we'd
never get rid of the bastard!" I said to Jackie. " Yoohoo, Fred, I'm still
here" came his voice from, I thought, outside. I went out to see where
he was and I heard him and Jackie laughing inside. I found him laying on
our bed, delighted with my indignation and embarassment at being fooled.
Some time later though I got my own back. He brought his brother-in-law
to see through the laboratories in Cooma, previously arranging with me
to play a joke on him by introducing me as his friend and the youngest
professor on the Snowy. As he introduced us I shook hands and then said
to Noel "And who are you?" For some reason he insisted I was a dog!
Jackie coped quite well on
her own with her new friends. Oliver Weston delivered milk, bread and the
other necessities of life each morning from his shop at Jindabyne and Noel
Gough was there to help with mail deliveries and any problems in his cheerful
chiacking way. I hated the isolation from home but hadn't the self confidence
or bank balance to lash out and leave. She was keen on picnics and camping
so to return home after the Mt Nungar episode and be met by a wife all
ready packed up for a camping trip over Easter was something that sorely
me! She took to feeding a young deserted Cocker Spaniel and this poor dog
adopted her. I never saw such devotion so thats what he was named. He lived
under the house until we had to give him up to the vet in 1968, sick with
One weekend George Donahue
came home for the weekend and we invented an excuse to go to
Eucumbene Dam where George said
he had seen great piles of empty wooden gelignite boxes. We collected about
30 from the quarry and from my share made several articles of furniture.
They were made of pine and dovetailed together without nails to avoid danger
of metal sparks. We bought a used washing machine from Bert Roper (also
ex Kiewa) who lived further down the road. It was a heavy sideloader with
two speeds, one for spindrying. Bert said it had to be bolted down. This
created a problem as the laundry floor was timber and perched on high columns.
Obviously it would not withstand much vibration. I fixed two gelignite
boxes together filled it with concrete and bolted the machine to it. It
worked OK until we tried to spin dry and then it hopped and bumped its
way around the laundry. Jackie descended into despair and retreated to
the bedroom crying "I've wasted your money, its no good." I experimented
with it and we eventually found how to use it.
Our fridge was given to us by Bob
and Edith Furner of the property office. It was an old Silent Knight, converted
from kerosine to electricity, which they had traded on a new compressor
type and the dealer told them to junk it. Years later we sold it as a food
and grog fridge to one of the girls in Monaro Hostel
for 10 pounds. We turned it off
during the winter to keep the milk from freezing, as the house was exceedingly
cold. Often the hot water pipes froze in the bends and we would get water
through perhaps by mid afternoon.
Windy Creek Camp was the
true Siberia of the Snowy, despite the camp of that name near Dead Horse
Gap. The creek descended in falls on the western side of the Main Range,
to join the Geehi, a beautiful trout filled crystal clear stream running
on gravel and bedrock between steep overgrown banks.
There was no road access, and one
reached there by driving from Reids Flat at the Geehi crossing,
past Seven Mile Camp and Olsens
Lookout, along a narrowing windy track on the steepening side of the Grey
Mare Range, parallel to the river, until the dozer track ran out in cliffs.
One then walked down several hundred feet to the suspension bridge over
the river, and up again to the horse track. If you had gear to carry you
hauled in the cage of the flying fox level with the road, dumped in your
load and let it go to run along the steel cable almost to the other
side, where you hauled it in and retrieved the gear.
The horse track was a few feet wide
and wandered around and up and down along the left bank of the Geehi, up
to several hundred feet above the river. About 2 miles along you crossed
the Three Rocks Creek and after another 3 miles reached Windy Creek. Here
was a corrugated iron hut which drillers and hydrologists had used. Wal
and I set up tents beside the hut. Blackie the Irishman from Indi was the
horseboss at first and later
Johnny Crews a jockey like man from out near Bourke. We had 6 horses and
all the food and gear had to be hauled in by horse back. They couldn't
be spared for riding as there seemed to be a continuous stream of supplies
needed.There was a small yard for the horses at Windy Creek but mostly
they were allowed to wander in the bush, staying close to the camp for
hay and oats which seemed to form a very large part of supplies that they
had to carry in.
At one end of the hut which served
as a kitchen was a small motor and generator used to charge the 6 volt
batteries for the radio transmitter?receiver. Inside there was a cast iron
kitchen stove built into one end and a stainless steel sink set on bush
timber. A bushstyle table with benches on both sides were set with their
legs buried in the earth floor. On the wall was a shelf with the transceiver
and a dry-cell battery radio for news, music etc. Lighting was by Coleman
or Tilley pressure lamp. I think we had to carry water a few yards from
the Windy Creek in buckets. Windows were of the flap style hinged at the
top and made of Masonite so they could be propped open from inside. There
was also another iron shack with a copper which could be boiled up for
washing clothes. The toilet was the usual pit in the ground dug on the
uphill edge of the clearing where there was deep soft soil. The setting
was amidst tall gum trees with a few logs still laying around as a result
of the camp clearing. There was a long aerial wire strung up high
over the camp for the transceiver.
Everything for the camp and work
was hauled in on the horses. This included a fridge, kerosine
type, tents, stretchers, motor fuel,
digging tools, the diamond drills, automatic recording river gauge, horse
feed, food and of course beer. It didn't seem to matter what shape things
were they could be hauled in to Windy Creek by the packhorses. The drilling
machines were dismantled first but the heaviest item hauled to Windy Creek
was the head gear of a machine. According to legend it was carried by the
smallest horse; the drillers couldn't lift it high enough to put on the
biggest horse, a big mare called Bess by the horseboss. The horse which
carried the river gauging equipment slipped off the track in slippery conditions,
and ended up 50ft down the hill. The horse coped OK but the equipment may
have suffered a little. It wasn't particularly edifying to find on unpacking
the saddle bags that the meat for the week was flybown but we coped too,
this was Windy Creek!
Our routine for getting to Windy
Creek was something like this. The horse boss who probably spent the
weekend in Geehi Camp would go in
with the drillers in the morning, leaving their gear at the flying fox
and after catching the horses ( they would be around the camp waiting for
feed) would return by early
afternoon and wait for us. On arriving
we had to haul the cage or basket across, no easy task as it was slightly
uphill and there was some sag in the 800ft length. We tried to use the
Landrover winch if we had one but it was very slow. We dumped our rucksacks
and other working gear in the cage and let it roll back. It would stop
about 50ft from the other side and the waiting horseboss would haul it
in and start to load the horses while we walked down a steep track on the
side of the cliff to the river and bridge.The grade up the other side wasn't
so steep. We then met the horseboss and picked up our rucksacks if he couldn't
load them on the horses. A couple of times we found Blackie drunk or sleeping
it off or he didn't turn up, and he was replaced by Johnny Crews, also
with alcoholic tendencies but a little more reliable.
The track became deeply entrenched
in places near the occasional gully crossings where there was a minimum
of sunshine to dry the ground. Initially the track had been cleared and
cut into the hillside by hand labour. Because of the holes and puddles
on the track we would have to jump from one side to the other. At Three
Rocks Creek the track descended to close to the level of the Geehi River.
I don't know the derivation of Three Rocks but for the last 2 hundred yards
before its junction with the river it ran over a large gravelly flood plain
covered with ti-tree and occasional huge gum trees, a beautiful place with
clear stream and bush sounds. When we reached the camp the horse boss would
unload, I would start the battery charging motor and someone would start
the kichen fire for the evening meal. Most of our time there we were by
ourselves as the drillers were busy at Seven Mile.
Roly also spent quite some time there
with us. We were there during the summer and subject to rigorous safety
regulations because of the bush fire danger. Harry Butler, Major Clews
chainman, had a radio session to all bush camps at 6-30am and 6pm when
messages, requests for food or materials and weather and fire danger forecasts
were passed. During high fire danger someone in each camp had to stay close
to the radio all day. At Windy Creek there was a fire refuge dugout, a
cut-and-cover trench through a little ridge of soft soil. We also had a
first aid kit in the camp.
The only serious accident we had
was when Jackhammer Jack (Berzins I think, a Balt who acquired his nickname
at Eucumbene Dam), a drillers labourer working with us, spilt a kettle
of boiling water over himself. We wanted to put him on a horse to take
him out to the flying fox but he said it was less painful to walk out the
5 miles. He was an enthusiastic fisherman and kept the camp supplied with
small trout which abounded in the Geehi. The radio session kept us up to
date with other camps in the area as we awaited our call. One night a surveyor
camped in Watsons Gorge on survey for the acqueduct line, said "Where's
my bloody tucker? I've been camped under a dry waterfall for 3 days and
had nothing to eat but a cabbage!"
In the following year after the road
was almost to the new camp, established by helicopter, a call came one
Sunday night to Khancoban from Windy Creek. An obviously boozed voice said
"This is VL2LZ Windy Creek. The cooks been stabbed. Over and out." Requests
to repeat and give further information were unanswered so the policeman
and first aid officers, full of foreboding of a murderous riot in the camp,
travelled up to the end of the road and walked in to the camp. They found
the cook, a short fat Yugoslav, had accidently stuck the carving knife
into his corporation as he carved ham off a leg bone. The cook and a drillers
offsider were the only ones in camp and had broken in to the grog cupboard
to bury their boredom and slake their thirst. Earlier that season a Bristol
Sycamore helicopter had made about 200 flights from Geehi camp to take
in knocked down sections of snow huts etc to establish a camp for the increasing
numbers of construction workers on the road and drilling investigations
on the dam. The last load or two taken in was canned beer which was doled
out at 2 cans per man per day.
While we were in the old camp
we had an earthquake caused by the effect of the weight of water piling
up in Eucumbene Dam. We had just
arrived in camp from the flying fox, and Johnny Crews and Wal were unloading
the horses at one end of the hut while I was trying to start the battery
charger motor at the other. All of a sudden the hut started to shake and
vibrate. I thought that one of the horses was kicking the chimney. It was
quite violent. Later a surveyor high up on the Grey Mare Range said he
could see the wave of motion through the trees coming from a long way off
across the valley.
We had some trouble
finding good sources of earthfill for the proposed dam. The terrain upstream
of the dam where it was preferable to excavate for fill was too steep and
bedrock was close to the
surface. We roamed the hill sides
everywhere through the bush looking for reasonably sloped areas with deep
rock weathering that could be excavated and hauled to the damsite with
a minimum of environmental and construction problems. We found an area
of deep granite soil on a spur near Verandah Creek high on the left bank
of the Geehi and prospected it but its highly micaceous nature meant that
it would have given problems for compaction and consolidation of a fill,
the platelets of mica being flexible and conducive to a low soil density.
It was while we were here that Aub finally insisted that we develop some
safety measures against trench cave?ins. However the ground was dry and
Wal said it was too much trouble and time consuming, so we never did.
We then started looking at a spur
over the river from Three Rocks Creek and finally found the borrow area
used for the dam. Dick Gilbert and Tony Casacelli another Calabrian who
worked in the concrete lab joined us for the final detailed exploration.
We set up camp at Three Rocks Creek in tents, I think after Xmas during
beautiful hot summer weather. One of our first tasks was to make a river
crossing so we blasted a large tree to fall across the Geehi not very successfully,
but more so on the second try. What would the greenies say these days!
We then climbed up about 800ft on the spur and set out our exploration
grid. The "boring" routine of Tooma started again.
Young Dick Gilbert was the
life of the party. He was about 20, full of energy and chirpy as a cricket.
was full of corny jokes and never
stuck for an answer. His affirmative answer for any request, instruction
or question was "Crazy Dad!".Wal, who was a very quiet selfpossessed person,
came out of his
reserve and teased him for the expected
effects. Soon we were all saying "Crazy Dad". Dick wasn't the
brightest man alive and we sometimes
managed to stretch his leg but not often. He was probably typical of a
thousand kids who were the butt of the group in shearing sheds, factories
and mens workplaces all over the country. We couldn't send him for striped
paint though. He'd heard that one! Dick had a narrow outlook on some things.
One of his pet hates was Steve Liebman the young disc jockey at 2XL Cooma,
which we could receive well down in the gorges. He had gone to school with
Steve but I suppose it was the jealousy of success of ones peers. Steve
is now a big name in television but Dick has nothing to be ashamed of;
the last I heard of him was in Malawi, Central Africa, working on materials
quality control on dam construction. He earlier worked on a project in
Sarawak and was married (for the second time) to a Dyak girl.
We all got on well together
and enjoyed the job. Tony Casacelli didn't speak much English but it
didn't seem to matter. Wal, Tony
and Dick found that they could use the auger extension pipes, 4ft long,
as a trumpet and now and then one
of them would pick one up and give a loud blast that could be heard more
than a mile away across the valley. When we had proved the required quantity
of soil and the limits of the borrow area we started on the 15ft deep trenches.
Hard hats were still not used and inevitably we had an accident. Tony was
down the hole when Dick accidentally knocked the bucket and it fell, hitting
Tony a glancing blow on the head. He had a gash which bled somewhat but
it didn't seem too serious. Anyway we went back to camp and bathed the
wound. I was going to use boiled water but Tony insisted on washing out
the dish first with Methylated spirits. I was worried that I was in for
trouble with the Safety Officer in Cooma and attempted to cover up in the
accident report. I talked Tony into believing that we would all be in trouble
for not wearing hard hats and concocted a story about Tony falling over
in the bush, his hat coming off and hitting his head on a stick. He signed
Tony wasn't happy about not receiving
proper treatment so we packed up early and went to Geehi. The sister wasn't
there so we went back to Cooma, it being a Friday night. At the hospital
we couldn't get a doctor as they all were at a Rotary or some such meeting.
The sister on casualty duty changed the
dressing and told him he'd survive
until Monday. He tried to find a doctor over the weekend without luck but
saw one on Monday. Tony knew he had a power over me for the bodgy accident
report but I managed to keep him fairly happy.
When we had obtained
all our heavy samples we got Johnny Crews to bring the horses up and with
much effort loaded 300lb of bagged soil on each. It took a couple of days
of hard work to get them all out to the flying fox and laboriously hauled
over the river to the landrover, 600 to 800 lb at a time with the winch.
We called the borrow area Sullivans
Spur. We wanted to name it Gilberts Spur to honour(?) Dick but
names of living people were not
acceptable so alluded to him via the musical comedy composer. I
couldn't get a surveyor to tie in
our grid to the official maps for the contract documents, so I got a theodolite
and set out to do this myself. My next door neighbour by then was a Scottish
surveyor who explained how to do a resection by taking bearings on several
distant survey trig stations which we could see on high peaks on the main
During each winter
I worked mostly in Cooma in the lab, where there was plenty to do in clearing
loose ends from the summer work.
This included preparing the final excavation records for each auger hole
and trench and drawing up the plans of borrow areas ready to go to draughtsmen
and tracers for the contract documents. I travelled to Cooma each day if
possible, but kept a room at Monaro Hostel in
case I had to stay overnight. At
weekends we would go skiing at Smiggins though sometimes I went
to Thredbo or Perisher with Tommy
Tomasi and Doug Thatcher.
We also used to ski at Guthega with
the SMA ski club. At a ski club ball in Monaro Hostel in the first year
we were married we rashly invited various friends to call in on us at Jindabyne
for breakfast on their way to the snow after the ball had finished. When
we got home Jackie made up a brew of savoury mince to put on toast before
we went to bed at 2am. We expected 6 or 8 but more than 30 turned up, and
the pot was progressively watered down to a thin gruel. It was a great
way to get an early start on the snow, they claimed, but I was a little
overhung and glad to see the last of them off for a sleep in.
On Sunday mornings Tommy,
Doug and I would go off for the Sunday papers if we were home. We
would then go over to the pub for
"late mass". I remember being unimpressed with the freezing cold Resch's
beer and someone introduced me to Canadian Red Eye, a popular drink with
some of the patrons. This was a glass of beer into which was poured a small
can of tomato juice. The bar was freezing cold usually and I can't say
I enjoyed the drinks much but it was one of those mens social activities
that was done and enjoyed for the illegality and camaradie in our time
off. It sometimes resulted in rows at home after being late for lunch.
On one occasion just before dinner Doug came into our house swinging a
billy of milk insisting we drink rum and milk which we did. Next day Beth
wondered aloud to Jackie if the kids had developed a liking for milk and
were raiding the fridge when she wasn't looking.
We moved to Awa Place
in Cooma North at the beginning of 1960 to a 2 bedroom house
shaded by trees at the bottom of
the cul-de-sac. We had no sooner moved in than I had to start work on
borrow areas for Jindabyne Dam,
so got a room in the camp. We cursed our luck. After this job I did
various other tasks connected with
the Murray side of the mountains.
Then in 1962 I spent some time on
the Cumberland or Talbingo dam as it was now called. The old damsite where
I had taken undisturbed soil samples was found to be an old landslide and
the site was moved further upstream. My work then was to probe the landslide
as a possible source of fill for the dam. Being a landslide of immense
size which had fallen and left the prominent cliffs above, it was a great
plum pudding of soil and boulders so we had to have the drillers bore holes
all over the slope with a percussion drill.
The camp was a collection of snow
huts with a small mess building, situated on Ken Murrays property, "Boraig".
Murray was a prominent Sydney magazine publisher who ran this property
with a manager as an Aberdeen Angus stud. ("Man" magazine was one of his
publications). While there one of the drillers found and caught a brumby
foal in the bush. Its mother had apparently been rounded up for the Tumbarumba
rodeo and it was starving. It lived at the camp and was in poor condition
being weaned too young. We called it Rhubarb and fed it sugar lumps from
the mess which it loved. At the end of the summer Jackie and I decided
to go to Europe on my long service leave. We were away 7 months and I spent
more time at Talbingo damsite on return. Life in the bush had improved
greatly for us; we lived in snow huts, had a cook and could go to the pub
now and then.
After the winter, in Sept
'63, the news came that Blowering Dam would be built immediately, by the
SMA for Water Conservation Commission.
Jackie and I moved into a house in Tumut owned by Bruce Swan, an inspector
at Khancoban. I was to start work on borrow areas and gravel pits for a
large earth and rock dam, while a young American engineer Ken Axtell was
to do the quarry investigations. Barry
Christy a young engineer was to
assist me. They were both single and stayed in a motel in town. We
found Tumut a pretty and pleasant
little town to live in. Jackie soon made friends, meeting ladies at the
swimming pool and through her assistance
with the Learn to Swim campaign for children. She told one of her new friends
that I was looking for some labourers and I soon had two young chaps. One
of them, Dick Crouch, whose family had occupied a property in the Gocup
area, down river from Tumut, for more
than 100 years, worked in the lab
for 28 years with several stints on overseas jobs before buying a news
agency a mile from where we had
The building of Blowering
Dam was a political handout to NSW government in the 1963 Budget.
It was made through use of the SMA
as the consulting design and construction authority, the Water
Conservation and Irrigation Commission
to be responsible as principal for acquisition of all necessary land. State
land acquisition was by resumption, and the owners had to apply for compensation.
This was in comparison to the system of purchase by negotiation of price
by SMA as at Jounama Dam where
"Talbingo" and "Boraig" were taken
over for the Jounama Dam storage. The disparate land prices to those given
as compensation to the nearby Blowering valley landholders were cause for
much bad feeling in the valley and we felt the effects. One landholder
near the damsite warned me off with a gun
when I went to see him about preliminary
borings with a trailer mounted motorised spiral auger rig. I rang
Cooma about it and they contacted
the Commission in Sydney to be told that all necessary notices had
been given to the owner. Dave Svenson
rang me back and told me to proceed with work, but to contact
the police if I had any more trouble.
I didn't like this one little bit, but decided to enter the property by
the back door, a gate into a paddock a long way from the house where I
could see anyone coming from a considerable distance, coward that I am!
The drill trailer got bogged just inside the gate and we sweated to move
it as we watched for any reaction. However nothing happened and we crept
closer by 50 yard intervals and drilled holes to test the weathering depth.
Late in the afternoon I saw a large pile of cut firewood near the track
so loaded it in the vehicle and took it up to the house as a peace offering.
The owner, who was elderly and partially crippled, thanked me for the firewood
and we got to talking. He asked me if he could see the drill as he was
interested in machinery. I took him back and he became quite excited about
the hydraulics system. He had invented a machine some years earlier for
harvesting broom millet, a job still being done manually. We parted on
good terms as I explained that we wouldn't be doing much harm to the land
and he accepted our commiserations for his troubles with the Commission.
I could see that we would be having
a lot of trouble trying to get on to properties where people were suffering
from bureaucratic slowness and miserliness. I resented the fact that the
way hadn't been cleared for my work and that I was in the front line against
people who had a real gripe. I wrote a letter to Dave Anderson the 2ic
of my division and suggested a little public relations effort by SMA. I
knew Mr Hudson, the SMA Commissioner
was keen on this sort of thing and I hit the right nerve. I
suggested that Prof Leech, Divisional
Head, should come out to Blowering and present each landholder
with a copy of SMA's latest map
of the area as a memento, together with our thanks for their cooperation
in our work. This was agreed to and Prof and I had a great day handing
out the maps which were an
unexpected and popular gift, chatting
to people and drinking tea and eating cakes etc. Many considered it a great
honour that a real Professor had taken the trouble to go and see them.
I had no more trouble.
Dave Svenson, an engineering
geologist was now in charge of all field investigations for construction
materials under Aub. He took over
from Pat Tingwell, brother of Charles Bud Tingwell the actor. Dave was
a man with dogmatic opinions about everything and many of his friends and
colleagues including myself delighted in making provocative statements
to get an argument going. He came out once a
week and often stopped with us overnight
rather than at the motel. We proved a borrow area just downstream of the
dam and spent much time on exploration of the gravel deposits along the
river. I roamed over the hills towards Batlow looking for Tertiary deposits
where it was common to find river sand below basalt topped hills. I had
lived at Batlow from 1933 to '36 and knew of the old gold diggings there
in Tertiary sands.
In the hills forming the left bank
of the valley we found "hillbillies", people who seemed to hide out and
distill eucalypt oil for a living. One lived beside a firetrail and he
stopped me one morning insisting I come in and drink rum with him. He was
a German and showed me the setup for making the oil. It looked like it
was pretty hard work and probably not very lucrative, but the overheads
seemed pretty low if you didn't count the cost of rum!
Jounama and Talbingo Dams
We moved from Tumut
to the new Snowy township of Talbingo in early '65 when our part in Blowering
investigations were complete. Jounama Dam, which formed the big "pump sump"
for the reversible powerstation operated from Talbingo dam, was situated
close to the old pub where I'd had a great 6 weeks in the early 50's, and
we did some work for the impervious fill. Our house was one of the early
ones, hauled across from Eucumbene Dam in two halves and assembled on concrete
piers. One half was damaged on the trip and it took a week or two to repair,
fit together again and repaint. The place was hot and dusty but everyone
soon had fine gardens, the result of good soil, plenty of cow manure and
Work on Talbingo borrow
areas, and investigation of material to be excavated for the
channel and spillway, continued
parallel to the work onJounama. After about 18 months there I was almost
out of a job and started to worry about my future. Talbingo Dam was the
last project to be built and there were no more to give me a job on investigations.
It wasn't to be built until the late 60's but I couldn't see much ahead
By now I realised that
I had developed very specialised skills. I had a background of laboratory
work which gave me some insight into the theory of dam design. I had to
consider how contractors thought and used their machines to build the earth
structures so as to decide where to search for materials. I rubbed shoulders
with geologists and design engineers who willingly answered my questions
about any problems. I was filling a gap between the geologists and engineers
where there was litte overlap in the
technique of investigation details.
I had developed techniques to deal with the routine methods of finding
and proving construction materials in large quantities and at a low cost.
All of these skills seemed to happen on me without much conscious thought.
But who else could use me?
Sometime in '66
SMA was asked to do the design and construction for a cooling water dam
for Liddell power station, near Mussellbrook, and Wal and I worked on this
job. It became apparent that SMA was going to be given many jobs as an
engineering consultant. Subsequently we did work on dams and
prospective dams at Emerald, and
on the Brisbane and Barambah Rivers, in Queensland; the Cardinia Creek
Dam for Melbourne water supply; several dams on the Shoalhaven Scheme for
Sydney water supply; reconnaissance work on 5 prospective sites for the
Hunter District Water Board; and the huge Dartmouth Dam on the Mitta River
in Victoria. We were kept busy enough until Snowy Mountains
Engineering Corporation was formed
as a consulting body and I started to work overseas, another story.