The story behind the Snowy Scheme video (5:58) explains how the Snowy Hydroelectric Scheme became an engineering wonder and put Australia on the map of the world for our ingenuity and sheer determination.

Episode 5

Warning: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following video may contain images and voices of deceased persons.


The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme is enormous. It's a system of dams, tunnels, and power stations that were built for two important purposes. One, to divert the waters of the Snowy and Tumut Rivers to the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers to irrigate the inland farming plains. And two, to create electricity out of moving water and deliver this power to us, our homes, schools, and businesses.

When Europeans first explored the Snowy region, the plains west of the mountains looked promising for productive farming land. The land was relatively flat, and there were some river systems running through the region that could be suitable for irrigation. What these early farmers soon found out was that the Snowy Mountains, like the rest of the Great Dividing Range, created a rain shadow, making these plains further west, very prone to drought. The rivers that ran through this region did not have enough reliable flow for these farmers to irrigate their crops.

The mighty Snowy River had enormous water supply, particularly in the Spring, when the snow from the mountains melted, sending enormous volumes of water down these river systems to the south and east to waste into the sea. Right here, was the potential for irrigation supply to the areas west of the mountains where water was needed most. By diverting water from the Snowy and Tumut Rivers via a system of tunnels to the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers, the effects of severe drought would be counteracted, and farming productivity increased in the Murray Darling Basin.

Archive film narrator

These tumbling waters will be controlled. The Snowy turned from the sea, into the Murrumbidgee and the Murray, westward, to make fertile the arid plains. To make them produce millions of pounds worth more food-stuff per year.


The potential energy from the flow of waters could also be harnessed to create hydroelectricity, an added bonus.

Frank Rodwell

It meant so much to Australia and still does. The fact that it was decided in the 1940s that we needed more electricity for industry, and we needed to control the flow of water over the mountains so that you didn't get flood and then drought.


This huge undertaking could not have been made a reality without clever and innovative thinkers and a solid workforce, all striving for a common goal. The Snowy Mountain's Authority was the organisation that would investigate, design, and build the Scheme. It took 25 years to build the entire Scheme.

Archive film narrator

In October 1972, the Tumut 3 Power Station was officially opened by the Government General, His Excellency, The Right Honourable, Sir Paul Hasluck. This ceremony virtually marks the completion of the Snowy Scheme. The Scheme which has orbited power supplies to cities, and supplied additional water to irrigate thirsty lands. A truly national Scheme which has been described as one of the world's greatest engineering achievements.

Kent Allen

Snowy Hydro started out, back in 1949, when the government decided to create this wonderful Scheme that we have now. That was a pretty bold move back then took a lot of effort across governments to make that happen. Even back then, we were owned by the three, or three governments, Commonwealth, New South Wales, and Victoria, right from '49 onwards. And even now, we're still owned by those three governments.


In total, there are 16 dams, seven power stations, and 225 kilometres of tunnels and aqueducts, all designed to work together to create power for you and irrigation for farming. Snowy 2.0, adds to this impressive achievement.

Frank Rodwell – Looking back over it now, what was on those original plans, there's hardly any of it that was not completely changed as time went by. So, the Snowy Scheme was, sort of evolved. The calibre of the engineers, and designers, and planners, the geologists, and those at the top level who understood exactly what could and should be done, they, amongst themselves, had impromptu meetings which they called, "What if's". "What if we did this? What if we did that?" The associated work that had to go with all that to make it all link up and work, was a huge step for all that, it had to be done, but they did it.


They did it.

Frank Rodwell

But not only did they do it, but they did it on time and on budget.

[End of transcript]

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