MY PART IN THE SNOWY MOUNTAINS SCHEME
Fred Vines June 1999
Soon after buying my first personal computer in 1985 I wrote the following account of my work and life on the Snowy Scheme for my father. He was 85 years old, stone deaf and half blind from cataracts but like many old people was content enough with his life without worrying about his health. I had left home at 16 to work in a laboratory on the Kiewa Hydo Electric Scheme in September 1941 and thereafter contact with my family was sporadic. My father never really realised what I did for a living and thought I had a pretty soft government job. I attempted to show him in this writing something of my life.I handed him the clear computer printed pages but alas too late. He took one look and handed them back. "Its too small and not dark enough!"
In later years I told Noel Gough. He took a look and said "Just what I'm looking for, for my book." Noel extracted parts pertaining to the 1950s for Mud Sweat and Snow. This is the unexpurgated version. I hope it represents for posterity a small social history of the times in the mountains I love and the people I worked with and respected.
The Start - I started work on the Snowy Scheme at the end of October 1952 after some difficulty reaching Cooma from Albury. There was serious flooding in the rivers flowing to the west and I had to deviate from the Hume Highway for some distance near Tarcutta. I was stopped by water across the road at Blowering and turned back to Tumut. After lunch I decided to try to get back to the highway via Wee Jasper on a road which showed on the map as coming out near Yass. Leaving Tumut I went through a long stretch of road under a few inches of water on the outskirts parallel to the river but after about 15 or 20 miles was eventually stopped by a large tree across the narrow gravel road. Turning back towards Tumut I found a road signposted to Gundagai. This road led to a bridge across the Murrumbidgee, but the deck was a foot under water, and I had no alternative but to return to Tumut and wait until flooding had subsided. As I approached Tumut I found the Tumut River was more than a foot over the road so I was marooned. When a truck came along I locked up the car and hitched a ride into Tumut and stayed the night at the Winyard Hotel. Next morning the river had gone down so I picked up the car and set off again through Blowering where the road was now clear. From the end of the bitumen at Brandy Mary's Flat, where the dam is now, the road was rough and even rougher on Talbingo Mountain.
However I had no more trouble with water until I found two flooded creeks a few miles short of Kiandra. These I managed to get through though it was only frustration and desparation that allowed me to even make the attempt. There was little in the way of habitation at Kiandra; the Patericks ran the Post Office and I think there was a pub and some accomodation for skiers there, but most of the buildings were derelict. I was interested to see Kiandra because it was mentioned in ski journals, but I was unimpressed with the terrain for skiing. I expected to start seeing evidence of the Snowy works but apart from a truck or two there was nothing to indicate the nearness of construction.
Adaminaby was a typical country village but its site on the hillside with hitching rails in front of the buildings and overlooking open undulating unforested plains reminded me of wild west films. It seemed that time had stood still for Cooma too.
I went to the head office and was signed on, then given a room in barracks in East Camp, the wages mens camp. Staff quarters had not been completed and overflow accomodation had to be provided there. I could get meals at the new Monaro Hostel or in West Camp the old staff quarters.
The laboratory where I was to work was an old mess hut in East Camp and the first thing I saw as I went in the door was a sign above the old kitchen servery stencilled neatly in an arc above the counter: "He who owes you money hates you for it." As a man who had worked with me at Kiewa (Hydro Electric Scheme) and who still owed me 20 pounds, had started work in the lab 6 weeks earlier I found this ironical. He was shocked to see me but I eventually got my money. Mr Denison Campbell-Allen a young Englishman (later professor of engineering at Sydney University) was the engineer in charge with two young assistant engineers, Ken Gray and Don Kennard. There were two field parties out, Hank van Oyen finding concrete sand in the Tertiary deposits at Kiandra and Roly Hall investigating and sampling the diatomaceous earth deposits near Cooma for possible use as a pozzalon to partially replace cement in concrete.
I assisted on trial concrete mixes in the lab for a month until Aub Hosking returned from a 9 month training assignment with the Bureau of Reclamation in USA, when I was to go with him to start materials investigations for a dam on Spencers Creek near Kosciusko Chalet.
Spencers Creek - Aub was a bright open sort of person in his early thirties. As soon as he heard I had worked in soil laboratories before, he said I would be useful on the Spencers Creek job. We made a trip there to see what facilities we would have and found that the diamond drillers under Paul Grech were in residence in the barracks of an old Dept. of Main Roads Camp. I was rather shocked at the living conditions being freshly from the highly organised working conditions of Kiewa Hydro Electric Scheme. All the windows in the barracks, as well as in two smaller huts beside them, were broken, and this at more than 6000ft altitude. Aub claimed the two huts for ourselves and the geologists who were also about to go into residence on site.
Paul Grech was a Maltese about 22 years old and ran the camp in firm manner. Aub though having a senior position to Paul told him that it was a drillers camp and he expected Paul to carry out the usual duties as Camp Superintendent. This allowed him to concentrate on the technology of proving the availability of construction materials and avoid the everyday problems of running the camp. He was full of the latest American technology from the USBR and certainly brought me up to date fast on the methodology of dam construction, although I had had 11 years of experience in proximity to both earth and concrete dams. He had been in Changi prison-of-war camp in wartime, then graduated from Perth university before starting with SMA on its inception.
We moved into the camp at the end of November, but on Thursday, December 4th while we were at a cabaret event at the Chalet after work it started to snow and I just got my car out in time to avoid being snowed in. The road was opened within a couple of days but it was impossible to work until the snow melted so Aub moved us out to Island Bend. We moved back in a week later. With us was a Yugoslav labourer in his early thirties named Alf Marolt. Alf had fair English and was a meticulously polite person in the European style. He insisted on calling Aub Mr Hosking despite Aubs protests and explained that if we were in Yugoslavia under the same conditions he would carry Aub's notebook for him. This became a standing joke with us. Alf worked as my offsider doing much of the labouring and direction of labour while I logged trenches and took samples for testing of soil from prospective borrow areas. We three occupied one hut. Aub would work most nights on reports etc., often to 1 or 2am, while Alf would go across to the mess hut and play cards with the drillers. I sometimes read or talked to the geologists assistants.
Alf was a great poker player and rarely lost. One pay night he won more than 100 pounds on one hand. He had an unusual insight into other peoples characters based on their card playing. Often when I asked how he had gone the night before he would say about a man " he shouldn't play, he is very nervous and I know how good his hand is so I don't try to win much from him". The geologists were Clive Wood and Dave Stapleton (later to become professor of engineering geology at Adelaide university) and their chainmen Gil Shaw and Reg Barnett, two young English migrants. They all seemed to work to 10 or 11 each night, particularly Stapleton a tall lanky workaholic. He was married and his wife worked in Cooma. Clive was a reserved bespectacled chap who had degrees in geology and engineering. I think he was in constant fear that while he was in the bush his girlfriend, a librarian in Cooma would be inveigled away. He probably had cause to worry as another geologist and an engineer also were interested in that quarter. Gil and Reg were good fun in the camp and both expected their girlfriends to arrive from Chester England during that summer.
The left abutment of the damsite was an old glacial moraine (the David Moraine named after Sir Edgeworth David.) Professor Brown from Sydney University on a visit to the area expressed his horror at such desecration of the only remaining major moraine on the mainland. Aub told him that this fact also made it unlikely to be used as an abutment, it being a large plum pudding of unconsolidated soil and boulders. During that summer Prof Leech, head of our division, ran a field experiment to determine the feasibility of maintaining a permanently artificially frozen dam foundation but it appeared the increased cost could not be warranted. Prof Brown must have been one of the first environmentally conscious people and made his views known about the David Moraine in letters to the Sydney Morning Herald during that summer of '53. The alpine vegetation at that time was also being investigated for its fragility and vulnerability to the cattle brought up from Jindabyne, as well as the stockmens practice of burning off the pasture. I think that year was a turning point for the mountains as the public were slowly made aware of the dangers of interference to the nature of the area. I think it was about then that Dane Wimbush from the CSIRO started work on a study of the alpine flora and fauna.
We weren't guiltless of vandalism either. A short distance away downstream of our huts there was a huge glacial erratic boulder with a flat top perched on the hillside. Around the edge of the top there was a wall of rocks about 2ft high, which enclosed a pile of soil with grass growing on the top. We were mystified by it as it was obviously not a natural phenomenon. There was speculation that it was an aborigines grave or perhaps a garden plot made by early stockherders. One evening our curiosity overcame us and we decided to dig a small hole in the middle but I'm still wondering as our efforts turned up nothing.
On top of the moraine was the SMA meteorological cottage where Doug and Beth Thatcher lived through summer and winter. Their eldest son Stephen was born during that summer and spent his first winter there. Doug has a great picture of him in a rucksack on his back as he bends to tighten the bindings of his skis outside their home in the snow. Beth acted as our communications liason with Cooma as they had a two way radio.
During January '53 there was a huge snowdrift across the road on the side of Mt Kosciusko and Doug and I would sometimes go up there after work to ski. The daylight saving gave us a couple of hours of light and the wet slushy surface of the snow during the day firmed to a good texture for practicing turns as the air cooled quickly in the evening and eventually froze solid. I had met Doug and Beth briefly back in 1950 at Hotham Chalet and in later years lived a few doors from them at Jindabyne.
We finished our work in the autumn by filling in all except one of the borrow area trenches. The exception had thick planks placed over it so that if the dam was built we could uncover it to show prospective contractors the soil conditions, and thus illustrate the written reports. We also pulled out the timber supports of the geologists investigatory adit into the moraine and allow it to collapse back to its natural state. We retired to Cooma and Aub announced he was going to Imperial College London for a year to study further under Bishop and Skempton. Soil mechanics at the time of my working at Hume Weir in 1940 was in its infancy having seriously started with Terzhagi and others in the 20's and the theory was rapidly developed while modern earthmoving equipment was produced to build larger dams of earth and rock after the war. Aub was encouraged to take a year off by Prof Leech and the progressive upper management of SMA so that the organisation was assured of up-to-date technical knowledge and opinion as the scheme projects progressed.
Cumberland Dam - We moved from the temporary building in North Cooma to the new laboratory complex at Cooma Back Creek during the winter. Later in '53 I was sent to Talbingo to take samples of soil insitu from the prospective site for Cumberland Dam. I was accomodated for 6 weeks at Talbingo Hotel a friendly place at the base of Talbingo Mountain and a popular place for trout fishermen, particularly journalists and artists, from Sydney. Each day I would travel about 6 miles to the damsite and stand by at the top of a shaft being dug by 3 drillers labourers. At each increment of 5ft depth I would spend 2 or 3 hours in the shaft cutting a 1ft cube of undisturbed soil, then encase it in a box sealed with wax. At the weekends I would take these samples back to Cooma for testing. Most days I had little to do and found the talk of the 3 men interesting. One was a German who had been in U-boats during the war, one was a Pole, ex merchant seaman on the Murmansk run, and the third an Australian named Tom B- from Wagga who had been in the Australian destroyer Tobruk after the war. Tom was a rough diamond and despite being married spent most weekends at the Woolpack Hotel in Tumut, (he had mother-in-law problems) where the drillers generally hung out. They got on well together and their talk was often about their seafaring days.
Tom came back from Tumut one weekend with the crabs and complained bitterly about it. He asked me how to get rid of them, which I found strange, he being an ex-sailor. I told him that it was usually treated with Blue Ointment a fact I had picked up from men I had known at Kiewa. I said, with tongue in cheek, maybe if he doused himself with petrol, which was specially dyed blue for the SMA to discourage theft, it would do the trick. Next morning he told me it worked alright but "Gawd it stung!" He said he got it from 1 of two girls working at the Woolpack and vowed he'd find out which one next weekend! He found out alright. I saw him the following Monday morning standing up to his knees in the river, bracing himself to tackle the blue petrol cure again!
Life at the pub was good as there were always a few staying overnight or for a short fishing holiday. Those were the days of 6 o'clock closing in pubs but it was seldom that the Talbingo bar was closed before 11pm. A few locals would often drop in after tea and we had some hilarious evenings. Among the locals were the Day brothers, Billy and Gordon, whose family had bought Talbingo Station after leaving the management of Kosciusko Chalet at the end of the war. Both boys were expert and strong skiers, and Billy was Australian Champion for years after the war. He competed at one of the Olympics, probably 1952, though I can't remember which now.
One of the people I met was Rufus Morris an artist and cartoonist with I think The Bulletin. Some years before he had been held on a bar stool rather inebriated while he drew with charcoal on the wall above the fireplace a cartoon of a fisherman trying to catch a grasshopper while he was watched disaprovingly at a distance by his purist friends. Next day he had painted in the bar-length drawing. It was a well known feature mural of the pub until the hotel demolition when Jounama Dam flooded it. The beer on tap was generally not considered very good but the place was noted for the fact that if you ordered a whisky and water you were asked if you wanted Jounama or Tumut water (the pub being at the junction of the two streams.). I think I put on some much needed flesh over my bony frame while there as Mrs Edna Anderson was a great cook in the country fashion.
Tooma Dam - When Aub came back from England he set to to establish the laboratory complete with the most up-to-date equipment and I was involved with much of the triaxial testing for soils. Spring of 1954 arrived and I was assigned to field investigations for the borrow areas for Tooma Dam. Initially we made a reconnaissance to the area with the design engineers and geologists, amongst whom were Ian Sargent and Doug Price a young engineer who had been transferred from Field Construction to Design and was later to become the Director of SMEC. We walked all over the damsite and for a considerable distance upstream into Pretty Plain and to near Wheelers Hut. This area was on the old route from the upper Murray to the Kiandra gold diggings, the Ligar track, which we found. We also saw the diggings near Wheelers Hut in a creek bed where Bluey Murphy a chap I knew at Kiewa had worked as a teenager goldmining during the depression. (He told me that he had had to resort to eating wombat at one stage while there.) The whole area was in the snow lease country (much of it being open grassland) and showed some erosion due to stock but I was impressed with the natural beauty.
I set up camp in tents at the Water Conservation hut at Toolong Crossing near the Damsite. John Newbury a young English geologist and his offsider took over the hut's accomodation but shared the kitchen with us. I had Alf Marolt again as offsider and two Calabrian Italian labourers. We had no refrigerator but bought enough fresh meat for 3 days and for the rest of the 12 days in camp each fortnight existed on tinned food, rice, spaghetti and macaroni. We bought the food on Monday morning and were usually on the job by mid afternoon if the weather was dry. There was no road from the top of the hill above Tumut Ponds though it was under construction towards Round Mountain. We turned off at the top of the rise from the river and followed the old miners track. This led over Sams Diggings, through the bush and over basalt outcrops which were mostly of 6 inch boulders and negotiable at very low speed only, down to a crossing of Ogilvies Creek which became a terrible quagmire, around the side of Musical Hill and along a bulldozed track to Toolong Crossing. The bulldozed track had been put in by the Water Conservation Commission from near Tooma township for river gauging access.
During the spring we were often bogged in several places and became adept at avoiding bad places and extricating our vehicles. Roly Hall was assigned to the search for concrete aggregate and rockfill sources and set up his camp in an old stockmens hut about a mile away until stock (3000 sheep) were brought in from Holbrook and the shepherd needed it. Roly went to a lot of trouble to make up special debogging gear but on one occasion had to camp out by the bogged Landrover. When the drillers set up camp on the other side of the river from us they brought refrigerators and had vehicles, mostly Dodge Power Waggons, coming and going for supplies all the time. With their higher ground clearance they had less trouble but made it harder for us in our Landrovers. On one occasion I dropped our borrow area work and spent a day building a secret bridge at Ogilvies Creek. We managed to conceal this from the drillers until they could no longer get through the quagmire with their waggons, but by then the construction forces had reached Ogilvies with the pilot track and we could get a proper track cut around the bog.
Our work consisted of setting out a 50 yard grid and manually boring 4 inch diameter holes with a post hole digger to about 22ft in the weathered granite to prove the availability of several hundred thousand cubic yards of useable soil for rolled earth fill for the impervious core of the dam. Each auger hole would take about 40 to 50 minutes if we didn't hit any rock. Sometimes we would hit small boulders, more resistant to weathering, and we could wriggle the auger past them. If not I would put a small gelignite charge down the hole. This would slow progress but we usually managed to do 6 holes per day reaching from 12 to 22 ft deep and proving perhaps 30 to 50 thousand cubic yards of material. I logged the holes as we went noting the nature of the soil, variations in soil properties and difficulties in augering. We would take small samples every 4ft in airtight jars for moisture tests. At monthly intervals at 6 places we would bore repeat holes to get moisture samples and so determine the variation throughout the summer.
When we had proved the borrow area we then dug 6 trenches to 15ft deep for taking large samples for lab testing and visible observation of the soil by contract tenderers. These were about 7ft x 3ft and dug down to 8ft by 2 men with long handled shovels. We then set up a 2 inch pipe tripod with a pulley block over the trench and the 3 labourers would work on deepening it to 15ft, hauling out the soil in a bucket. The soil was usually easy to dig but to avoid using a pick as much as possible I would use a 1/2 stick of gelignite in two 3ft deep auger holes in the bottom of the trench. This would just lift the soil and aerate it with gas breaking up any structure which gave it strength, and it was then easy work to dispose of it with the shovel. A trench usually took us about two to two and a half days of solid work. In the bottom we would then bore an auger hole to as deep as possible. If the going was good we could reach down to 62ft using the tripod to help haul the eguipment out of the hole every few inches to dispose of spoil. I think Aub was in constant anxiety that we would be trapped in a trench cave-in as he kept warning us to do something about developing a timbering method but we were all conscious of the danger and kept a close watch on conditions. However it was a "boring" job and we didn't waste any more time than necessary on time consuming trivial jobs. We had hard hats but nobody would wear them as they were heavy and kept falling off while shovelling. We didn't bother even to stop for smoko or boil the billy and someone was working all the time.
Alf and I lived in one tent and Porco and Savio the Italian labourers had the other. They were about 12ft square with a central pole on which we hung the Coleman kerosene pressure lamp. On the ground we laid builders sarking, the tar paper with aluminium foil on one side used as under-roof insulation. Our beds were low folding camp stretchers. Alf and I had sleeping bags and two blankets while the Italians had only new blankets issued from Stores. They were pretty disgusted to find they had been fly blown on return from their first days work; ours being used and previously washed were unaffected. We spent our after-hours time in the hut, cooking, eating, talking, playing chess and cards or just listening to the battery powered radio.
John Newbury liked to tease Porco, without being too offensive, about his body odour (BO) as he and his mate weren't too fussy about their clothes, and drew his attention to the radio ads for various soaps. They took it in good part but the message got through. Porco proudly showed John his new cake of LifeBuoy soap after returning one Monday. We often played Scrabble and John's chainman, Ivan Kobal, a studious migrant from Trieste, Yugoslavia, who had studied for the priesthood was often called on to referee disputes about spelling and meaning of words. This expertise came from his knowledge of Latin and Greek. He spent most of his time reading but must have been very impressed with our way of life as he wrote a book around our circumstances in the '70's. He received a 1000 pound literary grant under the Whitlam goverment's arts subsidy system. I read the book 2 or 3 years ago but found little literary merit or accuracy of the events. His memories were clouded as I think a lot now are by the freedom and enthusiasm for the bush and their new life in Australia. When the drillers set up camp over the river Ivan and Alf used to visit their compatriots, but Alf didn't have the opportunities for his poker skills as at Spencers Creek.
We often saw a small flock of emus near the hut and kangaroos were often seen during the day in the borrow areas. Now and then a wombat would wander through the camp on dusk and sometimes I would hear him during the night. Eventually bush rats found something interesting in our tent and would wake me with their scurrying feet on the tar paper floor. Alf couldn't abide rats and shifted his bed to the floor of the hut in anger one night. I just pulled the sleeping bag up tightly over my head and endured the comings and goings of the bush creatures. On one occasion I went to Cabramurra to ring Cooma and on return found the Italians had shot a magpie and were cooking it.
The constant pace and "boring" nature of our 12 day stints in the bush eventually affected morale and we started to have arguments in the camp. I recognised the symptoms as I felt the effects myself of boredom from the same old routine each day. Despite the dire consequences of being caught using Snowy transport illegally, I decided that we would make a trip to Tumbarumba one Saturday afternoon for a pub visit and to buy fresh food. I asked John Newbury if he wanted to come but he shied off at the thought of being caught out with a Snowy vehicle. However he allowed Ivan his offsider to go and I think he spent the afternoon catching up on his plans and office work. I didn't tell the Italians until 11am but Alf knew and worked hell out of them that morning.
We left after lunch, going down the bulldozed track through Greg Greg station to the Tumbarumba-Tintaldra Road. In Tumbarumba the shops were open as they had half day closing on Wednesday afternoons, while shops remained open all day Saturday. We did our shopping for food and of course ended up in the pub. The Italians thought this was a great day out and released their purse strings for a few drinks. Ivan didn't drink and wandered around town looking at the few shops. Alf and I had unslakeable thirsts though I had the sense to keep some driving ability up my sleeve.
The Italians were at me all the time to sign a paper allowing them to claim tax benefits for their wives and children back in Italy though they knew their families (if they existed) had to be resident in Australia for tax concessions. They saved everything they could to send home and finally started to niggle Alf and me about the cost of food. The total bill each fortnight for each of us was about 6 pounds but they said it shouldn't be more than 5 pounds ten shillings and accused Alf and I of extravagance. In the end Alf said "I've had enough of this argument. Either Porco goes or I go." I could see things deteriorating rapidly. Alf was a valuable man to have attached to the laboratory and Aub thought a lot of him so I took my courage in my hands and told Porco he was sacked. I put him on the drillers truck next morning. The following Friday on return to Cooma I found I was the centre of much attention, firstly because everyone seemed surprised that I could go that far, and secondly because Industrial Relations Branch were worried about the effects on industrial relations generally. In no time flat special instructions were handed out to field supervisory staff. No man could be sacked before having received 2 written and registered warnings on separate occasions. However I think they knew that if people were to be worked in small field camps as we were, management had to carry some responsibility for incidents like this. I stuck to my guns and Aub supported me, but I was sorry for Porco. Anyway he immediately got a job with one of the contractors at better money and I don't think he bore me any grudge.
Aub understood the problems and told me to take the boys down to Tooma pub now and then. He set the precedent himself on one of his monthly visits, and we had a 4 vehicle convoy down the mountain composed of Roly Hall and his mate Alf Reavely, Geoff Nash the surveyor who camped nearby, Aub and John Newbury and my gang. Tooma pub was a very quiet backwater and didn't do a great trade. In fact Roly said he had been there during the days of the "Temperance Publican" a previous licencee and been turned away on a hot day after the second glass of beer. They sold beer that night though but Savio embarassed us in front of the few locals by insisting on singing, well before any of us were half drunk, a popular Italian song "Volare". It was the Italian custom to sing he told us. We told him it wasn't the Aussie custom and the local cop would close up the bar if he heard him. "Shuttup Savio". Roly and I did a pub-crawl down to Tintaldra with Nasho one Sunday but we generally kicked over the traces and took risks with vehicles at night when we were less likely to be caught. It was a pleasant place to spend the summer but we were glad to see the job finished.
Tantangara Dam - The following spring 1955 saw us start the same task at Tantangara Damsite on the Murrumbidgee. A large dam of either earth or concrete was to be built to divert this river to Eucumbene Dam. Alf and I camped in snow huts with the drillers just downstream of the damsite. We explored a possible borrow area on the slopes of the Mt Nungar ridge in gravelly clay slopewash or hillside debris deposited in some long ago natural catastrophe perhaps an earthquake. We couldn't bore with the auger so all our work was with hand trenches. We had 6 labourers from the drillers who also supplied men to dig the continuous trenching on the dam axis for the geologists. The drillers cook gave us each a large slab of rump steak, 6 slices of bread, a 1/4lb of butter and tea and sugar to take for lunch. We fried the steak on a long handled shovel. Drillers cooks weren't ones for sandwich making.
Three of the men had earlier worked on exploratory trenches for the geologists at the saddle between the Murrumbidgee and Goodradigbee catchments where a small earth dam would have been required if the reservoir level was more than a certain height. They included the Pole from the Cumberland job and a Russian. They had shot a wild pig and tried to smoke it by hanging it in the chimney of the stockmens hut where they camped. They lit a slow smokey fire under it but found it flyblown when they returned from work. Tantangara Plain was summer snow lease for sheep in those days and the flies were worse than I'd seen anywhere else.
Roly was also there exploring for a quarry to supply crushed concrete or rockfill and spent much time on Traces Knob, a large dacite outcrop across the creek from our job. It was eventually decided to build a moderate size concrete dam rather than a high earth dam and Traces Knob did become the quarry. However I also had to find filter zone materials for the earth dam alternative and investigated the large gravel exposures on the inside of a river bend about 4 miles downstream of the damsite. This we did with a backhoe on a Ferguson tractor, digging holes every 50 yards on a grid. We had to ford the river in the vehicle to reach the area but the water depth was generally only a few inches and we had little trouble with the solid gravelly bottom.
In the autumn when the concrete structure had been decided on, we were told to get more samples of this gravel for testing as possible concrete aggregate. We filled sample bags with several tons of representative materials and took a few back to Cooma. On return the next week to collect the rest we found the river in flood and not fordable. We returned to Cooma, borrowed a boat from Hydrology and got 500ft of rope from Stores. As the bags had to be carried about 500 yards to the crossing we took 6 people, Noel Kiek and Alec Bacon (engineers), Tibor Kovacs, one other lab asistant, Alf and myself in a long wheelbase landrover with a winch as well as another utility vehicle. The river was even higher than the day before, and the current was very strong.
We tied one end of the rope on the landrover winch. We took the boat about 100 yards upstream and Alf rowed as I paid out rope from the passenger seat in the stern. It was a harder job for him than we expected because of the drag caused by the rope in the water behind us. After we had secured the rope to the boat we hauled it back and forth to ferry everyone across. I expected that we wouldn't have any trouble getting a man back across later to use the winch for hauling the loaded boat back, and so omitted to leave someone on the right bank.
After we had made several trips back and forth from the gravel pits to the crossing Tibor volunteered to go over and start hauling the boat back and forth. I expected that if we let our rope loose the current would swing the boat back to the other side but the drag on both rope sections was too great and it stayed in the middle of the river, anchored to both sides. Tibor who sat in the stern, while the rope was connected at the bow, tried to move forward to haul himself across but the shift of weight started the boat to porpoising violently. It started to take water and sunk beneath him. Fortunately he managed to swim out a long way downstream. We hauled the boat out but the oars were gone. Tibor walked back up to us, a much relieved group to see him. Alf said "Tibor, you did one thing wrong, you should have swum to the other side" and we all fell about laughing so much, I suppose from relief. We sat there for 20 minutes in the autumn sun, while Tibor stripped off and hung his clothes on a fence to dry. Alec Bacon said there was a flying fox over the river a mile upstream so he went off to see if he could get across. He came back and said it was locked on the other side.
I said maybe if we weighted the stern down with a bag of gravel it would allow someone to reach the bow and haul it across. Noel volunteered to go but although the boat was more stable in the current he had to come back. We then put two bags in the stern and I had a go. The boat swung out into the current and the drag on the rope in the water held it in the middle as before. I gradually inched forward to the bow and finally managed to get hold of the anchor rope with a fairly stable craft bobbing about on the current. I tried to pull on the anchored rope but was surprised at the force on the boat and realised I was hardly strong enough. I called to Alf to haul up all the slack on his side and then let go. This made quite a difference and while the rope was drifting down I could haul the boat upstream a few feet at a time. Repeating this over and over again I managed to get to the other side, and secure the boat but I was exhausted and my arms felt as if I'd been on the rack. I was shaking so much I couldn't manage the Landrover winch so tied the rope to the vehicle and told the others to haul the boat back and send someone else over. I could haul the boat over by reversing the Landrover. We managed to get all the samples and men over safely but someone else had to drive my vehicle.
I think this was the most hazardous incident I had on the Snowy. We could easily have lost someone in that flooded river and nearly did. In other parts of the Snowy the surveyors and hydrologists were not so fortunate with flooded streams.
Murray-Geehi Region - In October 1956 I started work on the western side of the mountains, in the catchments of the streams which feed the snow melt to the upper part of the Murray River. This is in densely forested steep slopes which fall within a few miles from more than 7000ft to little more than 1000ft. The general scheme was to be able to transfer water from the Snowy River, dammed at Jindabyne, to the Geehi River through a tunnel under the mountains, and generate power as it descended through tunnels and pipelines to the Murray near Khancoban. It was rough country with no road access and little but a few access tracks.
I camped at Indi in Major Clewes establishment, a surveyors camp. This was a long line of tents near the road from Khancoban to the top of the Geehi Walls. Outside each tent was a "pissaphone" one of the Majors inventions to make life comfortable in the bush. This was a tin cone about 2ft high with its smaller end stuck into an auger hole in the ground, and used as a urinal. I don't know where the Major got the idea, probably the army, but kangaroos seemed attracted to them at night and were continually waking us as they knocked them over.
We explored for a borrow area for a possible dam on Khancoban back creek, and I started work on the closest weathered granite as at Tooma Dam, with Les Jensen a Queenslander lab assistant and John Hilton a recently graduated engineer sent to us for experience. John later became Chief Design Engineer for SMEC. Alf Marolt had left us for the city lights and we had to find another offsider for field work. We found another Slovene Yugoslavian named Wal Marin who turned out to be a jewel for the lab and he stayed with us until the late 60's. We again had drillers labourers, this time 5 Irishmen and an Aussie ex-boxer from Newcastle. He was punchy and would shape up at the sound of a shovel hitting a stone. They all worked well but the Irishmen were constantly in some sort of trouble as the result of forays to the pubs in Corryong. Eventually Paul Grech prohibited any of them from riding in the ration truck to Corryong across the state border.
On the weekend closest to St. Patricks day they all took off for Cabramurra. One of them, an old timer around the Snowy called Blackie, told me he dived under the table in the canteen at the first sign of a fight and spent most of the night there. They weren't admitted to the Ball, so held a Brawl. "Sure and it was a great night." I had no labour until Wednesday.
The prospective damsite on the Khancoban Back Creek was superceded as the development planning progressed and we were moved down to Waterfall Farm damsite, where we had more boring times looking for materials. We stayed in the camp at Indi still. Waterfall Farm is where the Swampy Plains River emerges from the hills into the broad open Khancoban Valley, a beautiful place. Here again this dam was eliminated and it was finally decided to bring the Snowy waters through the Great Dividing Range at a higher level to a dam at the juncture of Windy Creek with the Geehi River, thence under the Grey Mare Range to a small dam on Bogong Creek and via a tunnel and long steep pipeline to Murray 1 power station on Khancoban Back Creek.
We worked briefly on several minor investigations in the region including work on the sand and gravel deposits of the river system. We also spent a spell on sources of impervious fill for a large dam on Bogong Creek, Wal and I, before our stint at Windy Creek which came I think in the '58 summer; at least it was the year of the earthquake.
I travelled home every weekend to Jindabyne to find a wife generally busting to get out of the place and do things. She found kindred lonely spirits whose husbands were away; NielmaShallis (Ralph was a construction supervisor on the Alpine Way and did see some homelife twice a week), the Mackeev brothers, surveyors Mike and the Mexican Bandit, and Eugene Stefanski, a little rugged Polish chainman whose wife would lock him out of the house, even if snowing, if he came home drunk. I hope his kids turned out as good as he and his wife expected, from their incredible industriousness, to overcome their wartime experiences. He came close to having a heart attack when introduced to Princess Alexandra at the opening of Eucumbene Dam. Others like Chris Davidson, the security officer, (dubbed as Carter Brown); Tommy Tomasi next door, the little north Italian ex-partisan who survived a concentration camp, worked in Hydrology and reckoned the Czechs and Catholics had everything sewn up in Hydrology to his disadvantage.
Doug Thatcher, Beth and three little boys, relieved from the isolation of Spencers Creek. Helga and Herman Ritter, also next door. He was assistant at the little camp and township power station. Helga was quite beautiful and gave him much worry by turning up at the camp before they were married when she couldn't stand being separated, away in the city, from her beloved Herman who couldn't find any housing. Geoff and Pauline were married and moved in closeby. Brian and Marie Spain, newly married, moved in opposite. He was a young engineer who started work in Cooma and of course Marie was alone all week. She and Jackie got on well and I was regaled at weekends with their doings. They proceeded to have a family of eight and, until her death in 1992 Jackie received birthday greetings from Marie in November each year. Horst Kohlsdorf, boss of the prefab shop, and the perfect hun. Ocky Wallace the young butcher who liked a beer with the boys and did everything to stop Marie from finding out. He stuck his shotgun out the window one night and blasted a big snake only to find next morning his hose was riddled.
And of course Noel and Anne Gough a young couple who had recently lost a child when their house burnt down. He was boss of the power station and general admin factotum around the town. He came from Coonamble when about 22 years old and was dumped in the Three Mile Camp near Kiandra in winter to run a shift in the power station, dressed in a light suit and dancing pumps. "Can you fight, lad?" they asked and bedded him down by the thumping big diesel engine which went night and day. Noel Gough was the operator in charge of the little deisel power station at New Jindabyne but also did a lot of odd jobs for other divisions, as well as message carrying, collecting and distributing mail, and sundry little electrical maintenance tasks. This helped the families immensely in their isolation as most didn't have phones, or transport or didn't drive.
Noel was a willing cheerful and friendly face to tell troubles to and became a very popular person to turn to when crises arose. One had to watch him carefully though for his leaning to gentle sendups and practical jokes. On one occasion he came to our place one Sunday night, probably to bring a message. He stayed late talking to us but as I had to get up early the next morning to go back to the bush I was anxious to get to bed early and started to throw out hints that prolonged socialising wasn't welcome. He understood perfectly and needled me until in the end I told him it was time to go. I got up to go to the toilet and when I came back to the lounge he wasn't there. "I thought we'd never get rid of the bastard!" I said to Jackie. " Yoohoo, Fred, I'm still here" came his voice from, I thought, outside. I went out to see where he was and I heard him and Jackie laughing inside. I found him laying on our bed, delighted with my indignation and embarassment at being fooled. Some time later though I got my own back. He brought his brother-in-law to see through the laboratories in Cooma, previously arranging with me to play a joke on him by introducing me as his friend and the youngest professor on the Snowy. As he introduced us I shook hands and then said to Noel "And who are you?" For some reason he insisted I was a dog!
Jackie coped quite well on her own with her new friends. Oliver Weston delivered milk, bread and the other necessities of life each morning from his shop at Jindabyne and Noel Gough was there to help with mail deliveries and any problems in his cheerful chiacking way. I hated the isolation from home but hadn't the self confidence or bank balance to lash out and leave. She was keen on picnics and camping so to return home after the Mt Nungar episode and be met by a wife all ready packed up for a camping trip over Easter was something that sorely tried me! She took to feeding a young deserted Cocker Spaniel and this poor dog adopted her. I never saw such devotion so thats what he was named. He lived under the house until we had to give him up to the vet in 1968, sick with ear canker.
One weekend George Donahue came home for the weekend and we invented an excuse to go to Eucumbene Dam where George said he had seen great piles of empty wooden gelignite boxes. We collected about 30 from the quarry and from my share made several articles of furniture. They were made of pine and dovetailed together without nails to avoid danger of metal sparks. We bought a used washing machine from Bert Roper (also ex Kiewa) who lived further down the road. It was a heavy sideloader with two speeds, one for spindrying. Bert said it had to be bolted down. This created a problem as the laundry floor was timber and perched on high columns. Obviously it would not withstand much vibration. I fixed two gelignite boxes together filled it with concrete and bolted the machine to it. It worked OK until we tried to spin dry and then it hopped and bumped its way around the laundry. Jackie descended into despair and retreated to the bedroom crying "I've wasted your money, its no good." I experimented with it and we eventually found how to use it.
Our fridge was given to us by Bob and Edith Furner of the property office. It was an old Silent Knight, converted from kerosine to electricity, which they had traded on a new compressor type and the dealer told them to junk it. Years later we sold it as a food and grog fridge to one of the girls in Monaro Hostel for 10 pounds. We turned it off during the winter to keep the milk from freezing, as the house was exceedingly cold. Often the hot water pipes froze in the bends and we would get water through perhaps by mid afternoon.
Windy Creek - Windy Creek Camp was the true Siberia of the Snowy, despite the camp of that name near Dead Horse Gap. The creek descended in falls on the western side of the Main Range, to join the Geehi, a beautiful trout filled crystal clear stream running on gravel and bedrock between steep overgrown banks. There was no road access, and one reached there by driving from Reids Flat at the Geehi crossing, past Seven Mile Camp and Olsens Lookout, along a narrowing windy track on the steepening side of the Grey Mare Range, parallel to the river, until the dozer track ran out in cliffs. One then walked down several hundred feet to the suspension bridge over the river, and up again to the horse track. If you had gear to carry you hauled in the cage of the flying fox level with the road, dumped in your load and let it go to run along the steel cable almost to the other side, where you hauled it in and retrieved the gear.
The horse track was a few feet wide and wandered around and up and down along the left bank of the Geehi, up to several hundred feet above the river. About 2 miles along you crossed the Three Rocks Creek and after another 3 miles reached Windy Creek. Here was a corrugated iron hut which drillers and hydrologists had used. Wal and I set up tents beside the hut. Blackie the Irishman from Indi was the horseboss at first and later Johnny Crews a jockey like man from out near Bourke. We had 6 horses and all the food and gear had to be hauled in by horse back. They couldn't be spared for riding as there seemed to be a continuous stream of supplies needed.There was a small yard for the horses at Windy Creek but mostly they were allowed to wander in the bush, staying close to the camp for hay and oats which seemed to form a very large part of supplies that they had to carry in.
At one end of the hut which served as a kitchen was a small motor and generator used to charge the 6 volt batteries for the radio transmitter?receiver. Inside there was a cast iron kitchen stove built into one end and a stainless steel sink set on bush timber. A bushstyle table with benches on both sides were set with their legs buried in the earth floor. On the wall was a shelf with the transceiver and a dry-cell battery radio for news, music etc. Lighting was by Coleman or Tilley pressure lamp. I think we had to carry water a few yards from the Windy Creek in buckets. Windows were of the flap style hinged at the top and made of Masonite so they could be propped open from inside. There was also another iron shack with a copper which could be boiled up for washing clothes. The toilet was the usual pit in the ground dug on the uphill edge of the clearing where there was deep soft soil. The setting was amidst tall gum trees with a few logs still laying around as a result of the camp clearing. There was a long aerial wire strung up high over the camp for the transceiver.
Everything for the camp and work was hauled in on the horses. This included a fridge, kerosine type, tents, stretchers, motor fuel, digging tools, the diamond drills, automatic recording river gauge, horse feed, food and of course beer. It didn't seem to matter what shape things were they could be hauled in to Windy Creek by the packhorses. The drilling machines were dismantled first but the heaviest item hauled to Windy Creek was the head gear of a machine. According to legend it was carried by the smallest horse; the drillers couldn't lift it high enough to put on the biggest horse, a big mare called Bess by the horseboss. The horse which carried the river gauging equipment slipped off the track in slippery conditions, and ended up 50ft down the hill. The horse coped OK but the equipment may have suffered a little. It wasn't particularly edifying to find on unpacking the saddle bags that the meat for the week was flybown but we coped too, this was Windy Creek!
Our routine for getting to Windy Creek was something like this. The horse boss who probably spent the weekend in Geehi Camp would go in with the drillers in the morning, leaving their gear at the flying fox and after catching the horses ( they would be around the camp waiting for feed) would return by early afternoon and wait for us. On arriving we had to haul the cage or basket across, no easy task as it was slightly uphill and there was some sag in the 800ft length. We tried to use the Landrover winch if we had one but it was very slow. We dumped our rucksacks and other working gear in the cage and let it roll back. It would stop about 50ft from the other side and the waiting horseboss would haul it in and start to load the horses while we walked down a steep track on the side of the cliff to the river and bridge.The grade up the other side wasn't so steep. We then met the horseboss and picked up our rucksacks if he couldn't load them on the horses. A couple of times we found Blackie drunk or sleeping it off or he didn't turn up, and he was replaced by Johnny Crews, also with alcoholic tendencies but a little more reliable.
The track became deeply entrenched in places near the occasional gully crossings where there was a minimum of sunshine to dry the ground. Initially the track had been cleared and cut into the hillside by hand labour. Because of the holes and puddles on the track we would have to jump from one side to the other. At Three Rocks Creek the track descended to close to the level of the Geehi River. I don't know the derivation of Three Rocks but for the last 2 hundred yards before its junction with the river it ran over a large gravelly flood plain covered with ti-tree and occasional huge gum trees, a beautiful place with clear stream and bush sounds. When we reached the camp the horse boss would unload, I would start the battery charging motor and someone would start the kichen fire for the evening meal. Most of our time there we were by ourselves as the drillers were busy at Seven Mile.
Roly also spent quite some time there with us. We were there during the summer and subject to rigorous safety regulations because of the bush fire danger. Harry Butler, Major Clews chainman, had a radio session to all bush camps at 6-30am and 6pm when messages, requests for food or materials and weather and fire danger forecasts were passed. During high fire danger someone in each camp had to stay close to the radio all day. At Windy Creek there was a fire refuge dugout, a cut-and-cover trench through a little ridge of soft soil. We also had a first aid kit in the camp.
The only serious accident we had was when Jackhammer Jack (Berzins I think, a Balt who acquired his nickname at Eucumbene Dam), a drillers labourer working with us, spilt a kettle of boiling water over himself. We wanted to put him on a horse to take him out to the flying fox but he said it was less painful to walk out the 5 miles. He was an enthusiastic fisherman and kept the camp supplied with small trout which abounded in the Geehi. The radio session kept us up to date with other camps in the area as we awaited our call. One night a surveyor camped in Watsons Gorge on survey for the acqueduct line, said "Where's my bloody tucker? I've been camped under a dry waterfall for 3 days and had nothing to eat but a cabbage!"
In the following year after the road was almost to the new camp, established by helicopter, a call came one Sunday night to Khancoban from Windy Creek. An obviously boozed voice said "This is VL2LZ Windy Creek. The cooks been stabbed. Over and out." Requests to repeat and give further information were unanswered so the policeman and first aid officers, full of foreboding of a murderous riot in the camp, travelled up to the end of the road and walked in to the camp. They found the cook, a short fat Yugoslav, had accidently stuck the carving knife into his corporation as he carved ham off a leg bone. The cook and a drillers offsider were the only ones in camp and had broken in to the grog cupboard to bury their boredom and slake their thirst. Earlier that season a Bristol Sycamore helicopter had made about 200 flights from Geehi camp to take in knocked down sections of snow huts etc to establish a camp for the increasing numbers of construction workers on the road and drilling investigations on the dam. The last load or two taken in was canned beer which was doled out at 2 cans per man per day.
While we were in the old camp we had an earthquake caused by the effect of the weight of water piling up in Eucumbene Dam. We had just arrived in camp from the flying fox, and Johnny Crews and Wal were unloading the horses at one end of the hut while I was trying to start the battery charger motor at the other. All of a sudden the hut started to shake and vibrate. I thought that one of the horses was kicking the chimney. It was quite violent. Later a surveyor high up on the Grey Mare Range said he could see the wave of motion through the trees coming from a long way off across the valley.
We had some trouble finding good sources of earthfill for the proposed dam. The terrain upstream of the dam where it was preferable to excavate for fill was too steep and bedrock was close to the surface. We roamed the hill sides everywhere through the bush looking for reasonably sloped areas with deep rock weathering that could be excavated and hauled to the damsite with a minimum of environmental and construction problems. We found an area of deep granite soil on a spur near Verandah Creek high on the left bank of the Geehi and prospected it but its highly micaceous nature meant that it would have given problems for compaction and consolidation of a fill, the platelets of mica being flexible and conducive to a low soil density. It was while we were here that Aub finally insisted that we develop some safety measures against trench cave?ins. However the ground was dry and Wal said it was too much trouble and time consuming, so we never did.
We then started looking at a spur over the river from Three Rocks Creek and finally found the borrow area used for the dam. Dick Gilbert and Tony Casacelli another Calabrian who worked in the concrete lab joined us for the final detailed exploration. We set up camp at Three Rocks Creek in tents, I think after Xmas during beautiful hot summer weather. One of our first tasks was to make a river crossing so we blasted a large tree to fall across the Geehi not very successfully, but more so on the second try. What would the greenies say these days! We then climbed up about 800ft on the spur and set out our exploration grid. The "boring" routine of Tooma started again.
Young Dick Gilbert was the life of the party. He was about 20, full of energy and chirpy as a cricket. He was full of corny jokes and never stuck for an answer. His affirmative answer for any request, instruction or question was "Crazy Dad!".Wal, who was a very quiet selfpossessed person, came out of his reserve and teased him for the expected effects. Soon we were all saying "Crazy Dad". Dick wasn't the brightest man alive and we sometimes managed to stretch his leg but not often. He was probably typical of a thousand kids who were the butt of the group in shearing sheds, factories and mens workplaces all over the country. We couldn't send him for striped paint though. He'd heard that one! Dick had a narrow outlook on some things. One of his pet hates was Steve Liebman the young disc jockey at 2XL Cooma, which we could receive well down in the gorges. He had gone to school with Steve but I suppose it was the jealousy of success of ones peers. Steve is now a big name in television but Dick has nothing to be ashamed of; the last I heard of him was in Malawi, Central Africa, working on materials quality control on dam construction. He earlier worked on a project in Sarawak and was married (for the second time) to a Dyak girl.
We all got on well together and enjoyed the job. Tony Casacelli didn't speak much English but it didn't seem to matter. Wal, Tony and Dick found that they could use the auger extension pipes, 4ft long, as a trumpet and now and then one of them would pick one up and give a loud blast that could be heard more than a mile away across the valley. When we had proved the required quantity of soil and the limits of the borrow area we started on the 15ft deep trenches. Hard hats were still not used and inevitably we had an accident. Tony was down the hole when Dick accidentally knocked the bucket and it fell, hitting Tony a glancing blow on the head. He had a gash which bled somewhat but it didn't seem too serious. Anyway we went back to camp and bathed the wound. I was going to use boiled water but Tony insisted on washing out the dish first with Methylated spirits. I was worried that I was in for trouble with the Safety Officer in Cooma and attempted to cover up in the accident report. I talked Tony into believing that we would all be in trouble for not wearing hard hats and concocted a story about Tony falling over in the bush, his hat coming off and hitting his head on a stick. He signed the report.
Tony wasn't happy about not receiving proper treatment so we packed up early and went to Geehi. The sister wasn't there so we went back to Cooma, it being a Friday night. At the hospital we couldn't get a doctor as they all were at a Rotary or some such meeting. The sister on casualty duty changed the dressing and told him he'd survive until Monday. He tried to find a doctor over the weekend without luck but saw one on Monday. Tony knew he had a power over me for the bodgy accident report but I managed to keep him fairly happy.
When we had obtained all our heavy samples we got Johnny Crews to bring the horses up and with much effort loaded 300lb of bagged soil on each. It took a couple of days of hard work to get them all out to the flying fox and laboriously hauled over the river to the landrover, 600 to 800 lb at a time with the winch.
We called the borrow area Sullivans Spur. We wanted to name it Gilberts Spur to honour(?) Dick but names of living people were not acceptable so alluded to him via the musical comedy composer. I couldn't get a surveyor to tie in our grid to the official maps for the contract documents, so I got a theodolite and set out to do this myself. My next door neighbour by then was a Scottish surveyor who explained how to do a resection by taking bearings on several distant survey trig stations which we could see on high peaks on the main range.
Snowy life - During each winter I worked mostly in Cooma in the lab, where there was plenty to do in clearing up loose ends from the summer work. This included preparing the final excavation records for each auger hole and trench and drawing up the plans of borrow areas ready to go to draughtsmen and tracers for the contract documents. I travelled to Cooma each day if possible, but kept a room at Monaro Hostel in case I had to stay overnight. At weekends we would go skiing at Smiggins though sometimes I went to Thredbo or Perisher with Tommy Tomasi and Doug Thatcher.
We also used to ski at Guthega with the SMA ski club. At a ski club ball in Monaro Hostel in the first year we were married we rashly invited various friends to call in on us at Jindabyne for breakfast on their way to the snow after the ball had finished. When we got home Jackie made up a brew of savoury mince to put on toast before we went to bed at 2am. We expected 6 or 8 but more than 30 turned up, and the pot was progressively watered down to a thin gruel. It was a great way to get an early start on the snow, they claimed, but I was a little overhung and glad to see the last of them off for a sleep in.
On Sunday mornings Tommy, Doug and I would go off for the Sunday papers if we were home. We would then go over to the pub for "late mass". I remember being unimpressed with the freezing cold Resch's beer and someone introduced me to Canadian Red Eye, a popular drink with some of the patrons. This was a glass of beer into which was poured a small can of tomato juice. The bar was freezing cold usually and I can't say I enjoyed the drinks much but it was one of those mens social activities that was done and enjoyed for the illegality and camaradie in our time off. It sometimes resulted in rows at home after being late for lunch. On one occasion just before dinner Doug came into our house swinging a billy of milk insisting we drink rum and milk which we did. Next day Beth wondered aloud to Jackie if the kids had developed a liking for milk and were raiding the fridge when she wasn't looking.
We moved to Awa Place in Cooma North at the beginning of 1960 to a 2 bedroom house shaded by trees at the bottom of the cul-de-sac. We had no sooner moved in than I had to start work on borrow areas for Jindabyne Dam, so got a room in the camp. We cursed our luck. After this job I did various other tasks connected with the Murray side of the mountains.
Then in 1962 I spent some time on the Cumberland or Talbingo dam as it was now called. The old damsite where I had taken undisturbed soil samples was found to be an old landslide and the site was moved further upstream. My work then was to probe the landslide as a possible source of fill for the dam. Being a landslide of immense size which had fallen and left the prominent cliffs above, it was a great plum pudding of soil and boulders so we had to have the drillers bore holes all over the slope with a percussion drill.
The camp was a collection of snow huts with a small mess building, situated on Ken Murrays property, "Boraig". Murray was a prominent Sydney magazine publisher who ran this property with a manager as an Aberdeen Angus stud. ("Man" magazine was one of his publications). While there one of the drillers found and caught a brumby foal in the bush. Its mother had apparently been rounded up for the Tumbarumba rodeo and it was starving. It lived at the camp and was in poor condition being weaned too young. We called it Rhubarb and fed it sugar lumps from the mess which it loved. At the end of the summer Jackie and I decided to go to Europe on my long service leave. We were away 7 months and I spent more time at Talbingo damsite on return. Life in the bush had improved greatly for us; we lived in snow huts, had a cook and could go to the pub now and then.
Blowering Dam - After the winter, in Sept '63, the news came that Blowering Dam would be built immediately, by the SMA for Water Conservation Commission. Jackie and I moved into a house in Tumut owned by Bruce Swan, an inspector at Khancoban. I was to start work on borrow areas and gravel pits for a large earth and rock dam, while a young American engineer Ken Axtell was to do the quarry investigations. Barry Christy a young engineer was to assist me. They were both single and stayed in a motel in town. We found Tumut a pretty and pleasant little town to live in. Jackie soon made friends, meeting ladies at the swimming pool and through her assistance with the Learn to Swim campaign for children. She told one of her new friends that I was looking for some labourers and I soon had two young chaps. One of them, Dick Crouch, whose family had occupied a property in the Gocup area, down river from Tumut, for more than 100 years, worked in the lab for 28 years with several stints on overseas jobs before buying a news agency a mile from where we had retired to.
The building of Blowering Dam was a political handout to NSW government in the 1963 Budget. It was made through use of the SMA as the consulting design and construction authority, the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission to be responsible as principal for acquisition of all necessary land. State land acquisition was by resumption, and the owners had to apply for compensation. This was in comparison to the system of purchase by negotiation of price by SMA as at Jounama Dam where "Talbingo" and "Boraig" were taken over for the Jounama Dam storage. The disparate land prices to those given as compensation to the nearby Blowering valley landholders were cause for much bad feeling in the valley and we felt the effects. One landholder near the damsite warned me off with a gun when I went to see him about preliminary borings with a trailer mounted motorised spiral auger rig. I rang Cooma about it and they contacted the Commission in Sydney to be told that all necessary notices had been given to the owner. Dave Svenson rang me back and told me to proceed with work, but to contact the police if I had any more trouble. I didn't like this one little bit, but decided to enter the property by the back door, a gate into a paddock a long way from the house where I could see anyone coming from a considerable distance, coward that I am! The drill trailer got bogged just inside the gate and we sweated to move it as we watched for any reaction. However nothing happened and we crept closer by 50 yard intervals and drilled holes to test the weathering depth. Late in the afternoon I saw a large pile of cut firewood near the track so loaded it in the vehicle and took it up to the house as a peace offering. The owner, who was elderly and partially crippled, thanked me for the firewood and we got to talking. He asked me if he could see the drill as he was interested in machinery. I took him back and he became quite excited about the hydraulics system. He had invented a machine some years earlier for harvesting broom millet, a job still being done manually. We parted on good terms as I explained that we wouldn't be doing much harm to the land and he accepted our commiserations for his troubles with the Commission.
I could see that we would be having a lot of trouble trying to get on to properties where people were suffering from bureaucratic slowness and miserliness. I resented the fact that the way hadn't been cleared for my work and that I was in the front line against people who had a real gripe. I wrote a letter to Dave Anderson the 2ic of my division and suggested a little public relations effort by SMA. I knew Mr Hudson, the SMA Commissioner was keen on this sort of thing and I hit the right nerve. I suggested that Prof Leech, Divisional Head, should come out to Blowering and present each landholder with a copy of SMA's latest map of the area as a memento, together with our thanks for their cooperation in our work. This was agreed to and Prof and I had a great day handing out the maps which were an unexpected and popular gift, chatting to people and drinking tea and eating cakes etc. Many considered it a great honour that a real Professor had taken the trouble to go and see them. I had no more trouble.
Dave Svenson, an engineering geologist was now in charge of all field investigations for construction materials under Aub. He took over from Pat Tingwell, brother of Charles Bud Tingwell the actor. Dave was a man with dogmatic opinions about everything and many of his friends and colleagues including myself delighted in making provocative statements to get an argument going. He came out once a week and often stopped with us overnight rather than at the motel. We proved a borrow area just downstream of the dam and spent much time on exploration of the gravel deposits along the river. I roamed over the hills towards Batlow looking for Tertiary deposits where it was common to find river sand below basalt topped hills. I had lived at Batlow from 1933 to '36 and knew of the old gold diggings there in Tertiary sands.
In the hills forming the left bank of the valley we found "hillbillies", people who seemed to hide out and distill eucalypt oil for a living. One lived beside a firetrail and he stopped me one morning insisting I come in and drink rum with him. He was a German and showed me the setup for making the oil. It looked like it was pretty hard work and probably not very lucrative, but the overheads seemed pretty low if you didn't count the cost of rum!
Jounama and Talbingo Dams - We moved from Tumut to the new Snowy township of Talbingo in early '65 when our part in Blowering investigations were complete. Jounama Dam, which formed the big "pump sump" for the reversible powerstation operated from Talbingo dam, was situated close to the old pub where I'd had a great 6 weeks in the early 50's, and we did some work for the impervious fill. Our house was one of the early ones, hauled across from Eucumbene Dam in two halves and assembled on concrete piers. One half was damaged on the trip and it took a week or two to repair, fit together again and repaint. The place was hot and dusty but everyone soon had fine gardens, the result of good soil, plenty of cow manure and hard work.
Work on Talbingo borrow areas, and investigation of material to be excavated for the channel and spillway, continued parallel to the work onJounama. After about 18 months there I was almost out of a job and started to worry about my future. Talbingo Dam was the last project to be built and there were no more to give me a job on investigations. It wasn't to be built until the late 60's but I couldn't see much ahead for me.
By now I realised that I had developed very specialised skills. I had a background of laboratory work which gave me some insight into the theory of dam design. I had to consider how contractors thought and used their machines to build the earth structures so as to decide where to search for materials. I rubbed shoulders with geologists and design engineers who willingly answered my questions about any problems. I was filling a gap between the geologists and engineers where there was litte overlap in the technique of investigation details. I had developed techniques to deal with the routine methods of finding and proving construction materials in large quantities and at a low cost. All of these skills seemed to happen on me without much conscious thought. But who else could use me?
Sometime in '66 SMA was asked to do the design and construction for a cooling water dam for Liddell power station, near Mussellbrook, and Wal and I worked on this job. It became apparent that SMA was going to be given many jobs as an engineering consultant. Subsequently we did work on dams and prospective dams at Emerald, and on the Brisbane and Barambah Rivers, in Queensland; the Cardinia Creek Dam for Melbourne water supply; several dams on the Shoalhaven Scheme for Sydney water supply; reconnaissance work on 5 prospective sites for the Hunter District Water Board; and the huge Dartmouth Dam on the Mitta River in Victoria. We were kept busy enough until Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation was formed as a consulting body and I started to work overseas, another story.
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