Snowy Mountains Scheme

The Snowy Mountains River (hydro-electricity) Scheme was a massive building project in the eastern areas of Australia in the 1950s/1960s which, along with steel/shipping projects like Port Kembla, employed my father and lots of other migrants to Australia – a massive industrial hydro project, which redirected rivers and tunneled through mountains, and – more importantly – effectively invented multiculturalism. More than 120 people died in accidents ‘taming’ the river, and some of the left union organisers for the scheme entered politics, and along with people like Al Grassby, who went on into govt in 1972, under Whitlam, their efforts meant Australia was never the same again. Powered up multiculti, Italians, Balts and Ukrainins learning English as in the pic alongside. Ivan Hutnyk was not well served by these ‘lessons’ and said it was mighty cold in the snowy (yes, there is snow in Australia). He didn’t start speaking good ‘strine till the early 60s. Ahh, the lucky country. Well, lucky but not without the hiccups that goofed Gough out in 1975, and led to the scourges we call PM Malcom pantsdown Frazer, PM silver-bodgie Hawke, PM Paul timepiece Keating and, PM John bumbling battler/razor gang Howard, who led the ultra-right resurgence of the dull in the mid 1990s. Rudd(erless) leadership seems set to continue, the old Left orgs have dried up like the river.

“The Scheme also absorbed many of the migrants who were arriving in Australia in response to the Commonwealth Government’s Immigration Scheme in the post-war years. Overall, 100,000 people worked on the Scheme’s construction between 1949 and 1974 two-thirds of them migrant workers. The workforce reached a peak of 7,300 in 1959.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme is widely recognised as the birthplace of multiculturalism in Australia. Workers from over 30 countries including Australia, Austria, Finland, Jordan, Russia, USA, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, England, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Cyprus, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Switzerland, Turkey, Estonia, France, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Rumania and The Ukraine worked on the Scheme through planning and construction”. Ref

So, of course there have been debates about privatization, ecopolitics of river systems, cheesy films and dodgy poetry, better films, govt reports (and flip flops) and active campaign groups. On the Politics of large dams, see Patrick McCully’s excellent book Silenced Rivers, and an old piece of mine on the Bakun scheme in Malaysia in Left Curve (follow the links from here). The present campaign to restore flows to the Murray river has forced a 6% return. Go fish!

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