The concept of the Snowy Mountains Scheme captured the imagination
of all those involved.
From the beginning, the challenges of the project attracted young
and capable people. They were supported by wise leadership, and encouraged
to accept tasks to the full limit of their capacity. They had access to
the best world experience.
As the work proceeded, new challenges arose. Problems were being
solved as they arose in practice, and innovations were being adopted
without any delays to the overall progress. There was excellent
co-operation within the Snowy team of engineers involved in investigation,
design, and contract administration, geologists and laboratory scientists,
and with the contractors. There was a united focus on achievement.
The scheme evolved in overall concept and was improved in detail.
The project was finally completed not only on time and within the original
estimate, but with much greater installed capacity and electricity output,
and with much greater water storage. That ensured secure water releases
for irrigation in long term drought.
Plan for the Nation
It is now 50 years since the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act
of 1949 was passed by the Commonwealth Government. The time was right.
The nation had almost been invaded during the war. Darwin had been
bombed. Ships had been sunk along the east coast. Enemy submarines had
entered Sydney Harbour. During the war, almost all civil works had been
deferred. The nation now had to rebuild. There was a need for greater
electricity supplies for new industries, and there were blackouts as
supplies failed to meet the demand. The international situation had become
tense again. There was an Iron Curtain across Europe. It was the time of
the Berlin Air Lift.
The Snowy Scheme was a plan for the nation, for national development.
The prospect of diverting the Snowy waters inland had been considered for
over 60 years, very seriously in times of drought, but always leading to
argument between the colonies, and later the states, about the rights to
In 1941, Mr L R East, Chairman of the State Rivers and Water Supply
Commission of Victoria proposed that the Commonwealth and the two states
of NSW and Victoria create a separate authority to undertake the work, on
the lines of the River Murray Commission. However, the allocation of the
diverted waters to the states of NSW, Victoria, and now also to SA,
In 1943 the conflicting proposals for the development of the Snowy
waters led Mr Arthur Calwell, MP, to ask in Parliament that "plans be
formulated for the best use of the waters in the interests of the people
of Australia as a whole."
In 1946, the Commonwealth and State Ministers from NSW and Victoria
finally discussed the national aspect of the project. The engineering
investigations for the project became the overall responsibility of the
Commonwealth Department of Works and Housing, The Director General was Mr
L F Loder (later Sir Louis). The Director of Engineering was Ronald B
Lewis. The detailed work of investigations and evaluation of alternative
proposals was the task of E F Rowntree, Engineer for Major Investigations.
Rowntree had been a courageous aerial observer in WWI, and had won the
DFC for several missions at low altitude in the face of heavy machine gun
fire. He was a member of a Quaker family in Hobart, but the pacifist
Quakers disapproved of his war effort. After WW1 he worked with the
Hydro-Electric Department in Tasmania, where he designed entire
hydro-electric projects virtually single-handedly. His professional
background was ideal for the task of developing a plan for the Snowy
He assessed many possible alternative layouts. Every variation involved
site inspections, estimation of river flows, and calculation of reservoir
capacity and regulation of storages, outline designs and costs of dams,
tunnels and power stations. This task was the sole occupation of Ted
Rowntree over about four years. He alone carried out the development of
ideas, and studies of economic feasibility. It was a remarkable
achievement by one man. Rowntree developed the concept of the diversion of
Snowy water to the Tumut River for power and irrigation in the
Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, thereby gaining NSW support for the project.