Construction of Hume Dam, 1919-1936 – Part 1
In November this year, we will be celebrating 100 years since construction started on the Hume Dam. To prepare to commemorate the anniversary, Albury and District Historical Society will be providing a number of articles outlining stages and details of the project. These articles will appear every four weeks until the end of November.
Even by world standards, damming the Murray was a massive undertaking. Officially, it took seventeen years from Governor-General Sir Ronald Munro-Ferguson turning the first sod on November 28, 1919, until November 23, 1936, when Governor-General Lord Gowrie symbolically opened a valve to signify its completion. It matters little, but work began well before 1919 with the dam functional much earlier than 1936.
Countless images of construction exist. A few will be used in a series of articles to give people a layman’s view of what began 100 years ago. The terms reservoir, dam, lake or weir have all been used in that time and seem likely to continue.
Part 1 – The Concept
From the mid-1850s, colonial friction and intractable differences produced decades of delay in utilising the waters of the Murray. South Australia wanted a guaranteed flow for navigation and stable water supply, while the upstream colonies saw building water storage for irrigation as their priority.
To be fair, it was not the government but private enterprise who plied the river system travelling huge distances with their paddle steamers and barges, bringing cargo to and from the inland.
Both Victoria, with tributaries including the Mitta, Ovens and Goulburn Rivers, and NSW with the Murrumbidgee, Edward and Darling etc were not prepared to have their water simply flow to the sea, thus allowing South Australia to use the inland waterways for trade. Despite a number of conferences and three Royal Commissions, little changed until after Federation.
In April 1902, a conference in Corowa, attended by all parties and Prime Minister Edmund Barton, was held. The outcome? An interstate Royal Commission was ordered to enquire into the conservation and distribution of the waters of the Murray and its tributaries for the purpose of irrigation, navigation and water supply. This, in turn, led to a proposal for a Capital Works Program.
This entailed building weirs and locks on the Murray from Blanchetown in South Australia to Echuca and to Hay on the Murrumbidgee, a major storage on the Upper Murray and utilise Lake Victoria as a storage basin.
On September 9, 1914, the Prime Minister and three Premiers established the River Murray Waters Agreement and the River Murray Commission. This entailed one member from each state with the Federal Appointee as Chairman.
All decisions had to be unanimous. Responsibilities included acquisition of land and approval of all state projects, the cost of the works to be borne equally by the four governments. The states had the responsibility to design and construct all works in their jurisdictions.
This led to the River Murray Waters Act 1915.