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Investigating, managing, and building the Scheme
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Sir William Hudson F.R.S (1896-1978): the first Commissioner
Sir William Hudson was the first commissioner of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority (SMA) 1949-67. The Commissioner was responsible for the overall management of the Scheme. He would represent the Scheme at the highest levels of government, welcome international scientists and engineers, encourage scientific and engineering research, as well as involve himself in many social and civic activities. Sir William implemented a scientific management approach to leadership, which stressed cooperation between management and labour and scientific knowledge (facts) over opinions.

Sir William Hudson
Sir William Hudson (SMA, 1962)

Sir William Hudson was instrumental in introducing and developing key aspects of the scheme:

  • construction techniques
  • the contract system of engineering construction
  • industrial relations
  • industrial safety
  • public relations
  • soil conservation
  • communications.

Construction techniques
In the preliminary planning stages of the Snowy Mountains
Scheme (SMS) Australian engineers went to America for short periods of time to study with the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR). In America, Australian engineers were taught all aspects of dam design and construction for land reclamation style projects such as the Snowy Mountains Scheme. The Scheme gave young Australian engineers a start in their professional life.

Before construction work could begin, investigation teams of geologists, surveyors and hydrologists were sent up into the mountains to gather information about topography, rock types and water flows.

diamond drilling
This photograph shows a diamond drilling team assembling core samples of granite in a mountain camp. Samples and data from the investigation teams were analysed in laboratories in Cooma. This information was then passed on to the contractors who were to build the dams, power stations and tunnels. Photo: SMA


The contract system of engineering construction
There were many principal contractors, whose task it was to complete, within time and on budget, the major engineering structures including the dams, aqueducts, tunnels, roads, pressure pipelines, power stations, pumping stations, turbines and generators, and transmission lines on the Scheme.

Although the Scheme was a federal government venture, most of the construction was carried out by public works departments and private firms from Australia and overseas. They were invited to tender for specific works.
Eucumbene Dam, for example, was contracted to the Public Works Department of the NSW Government in late 1949.

The private American contractors Kaiser, Walsh, Perini and Raymond took over the work in 1956 and it was completed in 1958. The Americans also introduced (at the insistence of Sir William Hudson) work regimes that were different to what the Australian worker (especially labourers) was accustomed to. For example, long shifts, short tea and lunch breaks etc, and round the clock, 24 hour, shifts (above and below ground).

The project required high quality documentation of:

  • designs
  • engineering drawings
  • specifications
  • tender documents
  • contracts
  • management schedules
  • planning and investigating documents
  • Gantt and critical path analysis charts
  • maintenance programs
  • work schedules
  • payment systems

During the development of the Scheme, many thousands of contracts were produced. The SMAgained a reputation for the quality of its contracts. These early documents were imported from the United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR). Contract-development training schemes for engineers were developed between the SMAand the USBR.

Schedule of Rates
A standard contract that was developed by the SMA was the Schedule of Rates. These documents were comprised of detailed written text, which set out the work requirements of contractors, and engineering drawings. The Schedule of Rates contract was used for the major civil contracts, starting with Tumut 1 Power Station, Eucumbene-Tumut Tunnel, and Tumut Pond Dam.
Courtesy: SMA

Industrial relations
The arrival of the Americans at Eucumbene signalled the introduction of "modern" work practices. Traditional Australian work customs like the smoko — a break for a cup of tea and cigarette — were abolished and replaced by longer shifts, half-hour lunch breaks and a competitive, more efficient method of work. While they pushed their workforce very hard, American companies were thought to provide a better standard of food and accommodation than other contractors.

A large percentage of the work force was unionised. The effective organisation of labour meant that relatively high rates of pay were awarded to compensate for the difficult conditions. Most work agreements were settled by negotiation rather than strike action.

These are badges from three of the main unions on the Scheme: the Australian Workers Union, the more militant Building Workers Industrial Union and the Amalgamated Engineering Union, whose slogan was Educate, Organise, Control. With many German and Italian carpenters as members, the Building Workers Industrial Union made a particular effort to communicate with workers from non-English speaking backgrounds by printing bilingual articles in its newspaper. One of its most respected representatives, Alec Wren, was given the nickname The Man from Snowy River.

The Amalgamated Engineering Union, the Building Workers Industrial Union and the Australian Workers Union represented most of the Snowy workers. Members sometimes wore badges to indicate affiliation and loyalty. These badges date from the 1960s. Powerhouse Museum Collection.

Industrial safety
Working in the tunnels, driving heavy equipment and stringing high voltage lines were dangerous occupations. On the one hand the SMAand contracted companies introduced comprehensive safety measures, such as the provision of protective clothing, safety signs and the compulsory wearing of seat belts. It was the first time many of these procedures were adopted in Australia.

On the other hand, rigorous schedules pushed many to exhaustion. Workers were encouraged to work long shifts in order to break records and win bonuses for themselves and their employers. Work often continued around the clock. This in itself made work more dangerous.

This photograph shows men employed by the Australian contract company Theiss Brothers drilling hard rock in the Tumut-Tooma Tunnel in 1959. They are wearing standard issue hard hats, rubberised coats and pants and hardened safety boots.

diamond drilling
Photo: SMA

Industrial safety concerns were given special attention by management with the establishment of safety committees and guidelines. However, these innovations were often introduced as a result of accidents. A film on trains in tunnels, for example, was produced as a result of numerous accidents in the tunnels.

The hazards of tunnelling
Tunnelling was considered to be the most hazardous of all the construction operations. The following factors contributed to a concern for the importance of safe working conditions:

  • underground blasting
  • movement of large muckers to scoop the fallen rock
  • constant noise of rock drills
  • cold, damp air
  • standing in water for long hours
  • working hundreds of metres below ground surface.
(Raymond, 1999: 51)

Lives lost
Nevertheless, 121 lives were lost during the construction of the Scheme, 35 in the construction of tunnels and an unidentified number on the roads. Commissioner Hudson made the wearing of seatbelts compulsory in 1960 and this significantly reduced fatalities. The names of all the workers who died during construction of the Scheme are on a memorial in Cooma.

Other workplace issues, such as hearing protection, which are now addressed in safety guidelines, were not fully considered in the early days of the Scheme. During blasting in tunnels, for example, workers blocked their ears with their fingers, and opened their mouth to prevent burst eardrums. Breathing apparatuses were not provided even though the air in the tunnels was thick with dust.


1. Identify and discuss the prime concern for each tunnelling hazard listed above.

Identify examples from the Snowy Mountains Scheme of how the current National Occupational Health and Safety Commission (NOHSC) Hierarchy of controls (the preferred order of control measures for OHS risks) had been applied. The Hierarchy of controls are:

1. Elimination: controlling the hazard at the source.
2. Substitution: for example, replacing one substance or activity with a less hazardous one.
3. Engineering: for example, installing guards on machinery
4. Administration: policies and procedures for safe work practices
5. Personal protective equipment: for example respirators and ear plugs. (NOHAC, 2000)

3. Individual companies develop their own policies on occupational health and safety (OH&S). Look at:
OH&S policy http://www.thiess.com.au/index.cfm/how_occhealth/ of Thiess Bros.
OH&S sub-contractor management

Public relations
The SMA was the body established to initiate and administer construction of the Scheme. Because of the delicate balance of federal and state government interests, the vast costs involved and the opposition of some elements of the press, the Authority quickly realised the need to sell the Scheme to the public.

Sir William Hudson initiated a concerted public relations campaign to make the wonders and benefits of the Scheme apparent. This was one of the first campaigns of its kind in Australia. Authority guides led tours of the Scheme, educational films were produced and thousands of photographs were taken to win over the Australian people. Even today the Snowy Hydro places great emphasis on public relations.

The Authority organised its own car tours of the Scheme. Tourist convoys led by an Authority Volkswagen beetle were a common sight. Private companies were also enlisted. Pioneer Tours conducted popular bus tours of the Scheme in the 1950s and 1960s. This photograph shows visitors disembarking from a Pioneer bus near Lake Eucumbene in the 1950s. bus
Photo: Bayram Ali (Powerhouse Museum Collection)

Film making
This photograph shows Harry Malcolm in the snowfields with his Cine-Kodak movie camera. Malcolm was one of a team of film makers and photographers who documented the Scheme. He began his career with the legendary Australian film maker Ken Hall in the 1930s.

In 1962 the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority produced a short film, Science Serves the Snowy. The film shows scientists and engineers at work during the development of the Scheme.

film maker
Photo: SMA

The film was used in the public relations campaign to convince an initially sceptical public that the Scheme contributed to Australia's development. Science and engineering were activities central to this development.

Holiday destination
Once the two main reservoirs of the Scheme were completed, Lakes Eucumbene and Jindabyne were promoted as popular holiday destinations for boating and fishing. This photograph shows a boat tour on Lake Eucumbene in the early 1960s.
Photo: Bayram Ali
(Powerhouse Museum Collection)

Visual impact
The SMApaid careful attention to the visual impact of the main Snowy constructions. An aesthetics committee was established in the 1950s, which comprised Professor Denis Winston, head of the School of Town Planning at Sydney University, architect Donald Maclurcan and the Authority's own Chief Civil Design Engineer Ivor Pinkerton. Guthega and Murray 1 Power Stations, in particular, reflected the modernist preference for bold expression in concrete, steel and glass. Power station interiors were also important as visitors were frequently guided through them. Turbine halls, like this one at Tumut 1 Power Station, typically featured a viewing gallery at one end so visitors could wonder at the display of high technology.

power station
Photo: Bayram Ali (Powerhouse Museum Collection)

Soil conservation

Senior engineers were always conscious of soil erosion: 'They'd rather see us cut tiny tracks than go in with a dozer. If it looked promising then they'd build the roads in after.' This concern for soil erosion was not always in evidence. Wally Wassermann remembers how in the beginning, the overburden from the construction of the road into Tumut Ponds was just dumped over the side of the very steep incline, causing massive erosion. When the Soil Conservation Service of NSW found out, he recalls they kicked up a stink that the whole Scheme was said to be in jeopardy, and it was subsequent to their intervention that soil conservation measures were applied assiduously throughout the Scheme. (McHugh, 1989: 71)

In June 2000 the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority achieved certification to the International Standards Organisation (ISO) 14001 for ongoing environmental management of the Scheme.

For further information on soil conservation see Roads.

Good communications were vital. The Scheme covered a large undeveloped area. The SMAundertook to provide an effective communications network and in the process used some innovative techniques. See Telecommunications.

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