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Engineering wonder
The Scheme is widely regarded as one of the engineering wonders of the world. Teams of geologists, hydrologists, surveyors and engineers, collected, and analysed information about the natural and built environments. Many innovative techniques and pioneering solutions to problems were developed on the Scheme. Because many techniques, including some that were developed specifically for the Scheme, had not been used in Australia before, the project had an enormous impact on the development in Australia of:

  • surveying
  • hydrology
  • electrical and
  • civil engineering and construction.

Comment on the importance of communication between specialist engineers when involved in such a complex project.


Aneroid barometric levelling

Barometric levelling is a method that allows surveyors to find elevations on the earth's surface by recording differences in air pressure.

The application of the barometric method is suited for work in difficult terrain. Wallace and Tiernan altimeters were used by Scheme surveyors to determine the heights of a large number of vertical points.

Universal Theodolite Wild T2
A theodolite is an instrument for measuring horizontal or vertical angles. As the name suggests, this theodolite had many applications. It was also an exceptionally stable instrument, which enabled it to be used during extreme temperature and climatic changes.

A feature of this theodolite is that it is interchangeable with many other Wild instruments. Surveyors could use this theodolite in tunnel alignment determinations and with a sub-tense bar, for measuring distances.

German surveyor
German surveyor using a Wild theodolite at the Island Bend dam site (1951) (Raymond, 1999: 71)

Tellurometer (Model MRA 101, S/N 113) - Electronic Distance Measurement)
The tellurometer was designed by T.L. Wadley in South Africa (1957), and was introduced to the scheme during the same year. It allowed surveyors to determine distances by measuring the time electromagnetic waves travelled between the master and reflector units, and back again. The measuring range was from 200m to 40km.
Tellurometer panel
Tellurometer panel (SMA)

Investigate the role of a surveyor and indicate what assistance they can be to engineers. For example what information do they supply to engineers. The web site for The Institution of Surveyors Australia may be useful.

The chief innovations in hydrology (as distinct from the various techniques used to gather and test water samples) was in modelling the flow of water, and its impact on dam structures, soils, etc. When the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority (SMA) was established, the Scientific Services Laboratory was set up on the southern edge of Cooma. Scientific Services, as the division was known, had a number of laboratories within it, including the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory, where models of dams, watercourses, spillways, etc. were built and where hydrological experiments were carried out. The laboratories have closed, but during the construction of the Scheme (1949-1974) the investigations undertaken in the laboratory were crucial to the construction of the Scheme. The film, Science Serves the Snowy, has a section on the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory, and is probably the best available archive for the visual representation of the hydrologic modelling undertaken by Snowy engineers and scientists.

Guthega: the first power station

The Snowy Mountains Scheme, which commenced in 1949, is located
geographically approximately midway between the two major load centres of
Sydney and Melbourne. Both the states of NSW and Victoria were totally
separate entities in terms of electrical power generation. The first Snowy Power
Station (Guthega, 60 Megawatt output) was connected to the NSW power grid
by a 132 kv transmission line in 1955, providing valuable electrical energy at a
time of great post-wartime shortage.

Tumut 1 Power Station
Tumut 1 Power Station followed in 1959, with an installed capacity of 329 Megawatts. This provided the opportunity for the first significant injection of power into both State power systems.

The transmission distances were significant and future power blocks from Snowy stations were also to be considered. Victoria had already established a 220 000 volt transmission system while the Electricity Commission of New South Wales had the task of linking up many local councils and establishing a state of NSW grid.

A 330 000 volt transmission system
It was the work of Dr Walter Diesendorf (System Design Engineer) for the SMAwho carried out studies using the very earliest of computers to undertake complex calculations. His innovative work resulted in a recommendation to establish a 330 000 volt transmission system, connecting the Snowy Mountains Scheme to Victoria at Dederang where it was then transformed to 220 000 volts, and to Sydney where the new 330 000 sub-stations were established. As a result of this work, a group of SMAstaff transferred to the Electricity Commission of NSW to establish their original Transmission Division.

This was a bold and innovative plan, which faced significant scepticism initially. This extra high voltage level was at the leading edge of technology at the time. The first 330 000 volt cables were manufactured in England and transported to the Tumut 1 Power Station site where they were commissioned and linked to the underground transformers with the transmission line.

Electrical insulation problems
There were many problems to be solved with electrical insulation for the transformers:

  • insulated bushings which are fitted to the transformers
  • oil filled 330kv cables
  • lightning arrestors
  • design of the switchyards to ensure adequate design clearances between conductors.

Extra high voltage
Such innovative and far sighted engineering design, was considered to be at the forefront of technology which challenged designers and overseas manufacturers. Extra high voltage was in its infancy in the early 1950s. Subsequently, in present day design, the lessons learned have resulted in pressing the voltage limits of electrical plant higher and higher. It was interesting that the SMAimposed a 1 000 000 volt test on the 330 000 volt cables prior to them going into service. These cables and the transmission system have been in service now for almost 50 years.

Civil engineering and construction
Rock drilling

Rock drills were used to bore holes in rock in readiness for gelignite insertion, and to cut away rock structures to prepare for the construction of dams, tunnels, roads, and power stations. There were many rock drill designs and drilling techniques. These designs have influenced the design of the modern masonry drill bit.

There were many shapes to the cutting edge of a drill bit. The type of work to be undertaken determined the shape of drill bit to be used.

Rock drilling
(Raymond, 1999: 38)

Sketch and label the parts of a modern masonry drill bit for domestic use. Comment on the shape of the cutting edge. Identify the cutting edge material.

Rock bolting
The technique of rock bolting was one of the many innovative engineering achievements used on the Scheme. Rock instability was prevented by using rock bolting.

The properties and behaviour of rock played a major role in determining the design and construction programs that were adopted. Steel bolts of different lengths and spacing, were inserted into the rock where they were found to be an excellent anchorage for the rocks in tunnels.

Rock drilling
(Raymond, 1999: 49)

Tiltmeter (Galileo, Italy)
This instrument was used by engineers to record the extent to which a concrete dam would tilt during grouting operations and filling with water. It was also used by geologists to measure the abrupt upheaval of strata from the horizontal.

Tiltmeter. Courtesy: Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation

Slide rules
One commentator has remarked that the Snowy Mountains [Scheme] was built mainly with slide rules. The cylindrical rule was developed by George Fuller, Professor of Engineering, Queen's College, Belfast.

In 1970, the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) was established in order to retain the engineering and scientific skills that were gained during the development of the Scheme. SMEC was set up on the site of the old Scientific Services Laboratory on the southern edge of Cooma. SMEC is still there and undertakes work throughout Australia and overseas building dams, tunnels, and carries out geological and soil mechanics investigations. In 1993 SMEC was privatised. It is owned entirely by its staff.

Today SMEC is involved in many projects throughout Australia, the Pacific, Asia, Africa and the Middle East undertaking:

  • studies
  • investigation
  • design
  • project implementation
  • management
  • training. (SMEC, 2000)
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