Transcript of Life in the SMA camps

Life in the SMA camps(7:08)

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

♪ Snowy River roll ♪ ♪ Give me a man who's a man among men ♪ ♪ Who'll stow his white collar and put down his pen ♪ ♪ Will blow down a mountain ♪ ♪ And build you a dam ♪ ♪ Bigger and better than old Uncle Sam ♪ ♪ Roll, roll ♪

Narrator - When thousands of workers began to arrive in the Snowy Mountains region to build the Scheme the existing small country towns, such as Cooma and Jindabyne, were not big enough to house all of the new workers. Workers were needed in isolated areas, far away from the towns, where it was simply not possible for workers to get to and from work on a daily basis, due to harsh weather or lack of roads.

Archive film - Men engaged on all these works live in construction townships and camps such as this one at Bella Vista on the Geehi. Only temporary, for they'll be moved to other parts of the Scheme as the works in hand are completed, and new projects commence. Life at Bella Vista, and work on the construction sites would not be possible without the all-weather roads constructed by Snowy men. These opened up an area of great scenic beauty.

Frank Rodwell - Most of us of course had to work out in the mountains. And you have to realise too that there are places out there in the mountains that white men had probably never been in. We had to open it up and build roads.

Archive film - The stillness of the mountain air is shattered as mechanical juggernauts roar into action. The roads to the power station must be capable of carrying loads of up to 120 tonnes.

Narrator - In these areas, temporary camps were built and over time some transformed into permanent towns. In this episode you will explore what life was like in these camps. Camps were built near the construction sites so workers had easy access to the roads, power stations, dams, or tunnels they were building.

Archive film - Here at Guthega, a group of Norwegian contractors live and work. They are constructing the first dam, tunnel, and power house of the Snowy Mountains Scheme. The Guthega project is known as Little Norway and comprises the largest group of Norwegians outside their native land.

Narrator - When work was completed at a site, the camp's buildings were often dismantled and moved close to the next work site. Workers slept in tents or barracks which were temporary structures like huts or cabins. Sometimes the workers arrived before the camp did.

Hans Fischer - When I got there, there were no doors, no windows. We used our blankets to cover the doors and the windows and give us insulation on our beds.

Ervino Bertolin- And the room itself it was a small room. We had a cupboard, and along the wall was about three or four pipes for central heating, where you put your clothes to be dry. There was a dry room in the barrack and a shower.

Archive film - And here was our new home. We were to be strangers in the country of our birth. Where once we looked upon a sun-soaked land baked brown and dry, here beyond our windows lay a world of white, clean and crisp.

Narrator - A sense of community in the camps was created through recreation events to overcome problems of isolation. Food in the camps was an important aspect of life. The Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme brought together people from all over the world who were all used to eating different types of food.

Ervino Bertolin - Those days was all European food. Unbelievable was - minestrone, spaghetti, all that sort of thing because - we were all Italians! There were some Spanish in there - it was European food. It was terrific food. It was enjoyable to work in there because the Europeans, the main thing is food, good food. And after when the sandwich came around, that's when the trouble starts!

Frank Rodwell - You had a cut lunch to take with you. I can still tell you what was in that cut lunch because my stomach was not up to eating some of what was in it. You've got one salami sandwich, one liverwurst sandwich which would kill a brown dog, and one cheese sandwich, which was edible, too, and so I used to live on mainly on cheese sandwiches. But the workforce, some of the Europeans, the Italians they'd do the salami and liverwurst fine! But they must've had stomachs like a truck inner tube, I think, to survive on that. But they reckoned it was good stuff. After work, in these smaller camps that we had, you used the mess as a recreation area. It was all nice and warm. We played draughts. We played chess. We played cards. We wrote letters, whatever you needed to do sort of thing. You learned very very quickly that they're no different to you. Might've come from the other side of the world but they thought of the same type of things, they cared about their people. Yeah, just the same as us.

Archive film - Townships and camps, some above the snowline, have mushroomed in the mountains, housing the workmen, some 2,000 of them, who operate all the year round, even through the long winter months. In winter, the snow itself becomes a major problem. Snow ploughs wage a constant battle to keep the roads clear. There are other problems. Where there are no access roads, various means of transportation are used to get the men to the workings. The job must go on, and it does, under all sorts of conditions.

Narrator - As the construction phase went on, some of these temporary camps became more permanent. In the camp, a permanent shop might be built along with some other permanent structures like offices, workshops, and perhaps some permanent housing for the area managers. Over time, the number of permanent structures increased and more permanent services entered, creating some of the operational towns we see today. You can explore Snowy towns in another episode.

♪ Snowy River, roll on your way ♪ ♪ Roll on your way ♪ ♪ Until judgement day ♪ ♪ Snowy River roll ♪

End of transcript

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