Waddamana – wadda town!
by Carol Haberle
Waddamana (Tasmanian aboriginal meaning ‘noisy water’) is a tiny township, a former hydro town, located in the foothills alongside the Ouse River on the southern side of the Central Plateau in Tasmania. Waddamana was established in the early 1900s as a Hydro-Electric generating town, through a vision of a couple of pioneering men to create electricity from running water. The population in its heyday was a little over 100, today the permanent population is but three or four.
The remaining houses and cottages are today used to provide accommodation for schools, families, anglers, back packers and contractor employees. The Tasmanian town is also home to two decommissioned hydro-electric power stations, the original of which today operates as a fascinating museum, filled with original equipment and many other fascinating displays, a tribute to the beginning of Hydro-Electric development in Tasmania.
The origins of Waddamana stem from a mathematics professor Alex McAulay, a landowner and grazier Harold Bisdee, a metallurgist and mining engineer James Gillies and a civil engineer G. Brettingham-Moore. Their vision was to divert water from the Great Lake and Shannon River down into the Ouse River valley, and harness the energy from this to create electricity, to provide power for James Gillies’ newly patented electrolytic process for zinc refining, and a “carbide” smelter to be constructed near Snug. In 1908 they formed the Complex Ores Company, and in 1909 were granted a Government concession to use the water from the Great Lake to produce electricity.
The Hydro-Electric Power and Metallurgical Co. Ltd, a separate company, was formed to build the scheme. Work began in December 1910, but due to difficulties including an extremely severe winter in 1912, the company ran short of money and work stopped for several months. Money could not be raised for the continuing construction and in 1914 the Tasmanian Government bought the hydro-electric assets from the failing company. The Hydro Electric Department was formed to manage the completion of the scheme and over the years went on to become Hydro Tasmania as it is known today. In May 1916 the first two generators came into service, providing the first hydro-electric power to Hobart. Waddamana became the first complete public hydro-electric supply system in Australia, opening in 1916.
Challenges and Isolation…
The pioneers of Waddamana faced many challenges, the first being of isolation. Located at the foot of the southern side of the Central Plateau, surrounded by mountainous forests, the going was tough, the weather was harsh with long cold winters and often snow. No road link to Waddamana added the challenges of transporting materials to the construction site and in 1911 work began to build a 27 kilometre long tramway from Redgate, near Bothwell, to Waddamana. Bridges were built to allow transport over creeks and the Shannon River. The tramway was completed almost twelve months later when a regular service of a return trip every two days began, with teams of up to 15 draught horses pulling loads of which the average was about seven tons. In 1922 a road to Waddamana was completed, the tramway then fell into disrepair. Labourers were required to make their own way to the construction site, a two day walk from Deloraine, and were paid 8/- (around 80 cents) a day, and were provided with a tent and a sack of straw on which to sleep. Times were tough for the pioneers who built Waddamana.
Waddamana Power Stations…
Officially opening in 1916, Waddamana A power station was expanded by 1922 with 7 higher capacity machines, 5 transmission lines and a higher dam. Waddamana A operated at its original capacity of 7 megawatts from 1916-1929. From 1929 it was upgraded in stages to 49 megawatts to cater for increased demand. In 1931, as power demand grew, it was decided to build a second power plant to replace Waddamana A. Due to lack of funds this second plant was built alongside the original plant, and thus from 1944 two power plants were in operation in Waddamana.
The new plant was referred to as Waddamana B and generated 48 megawatts of electricity from six Pelton turbines. Both plants continued to operate through the 1940s and 1950s. In the early 1960s the building of a newer, larger power plant at Poatina began, this one being designed to replace both plants at Waddamana. The Poatina power plant was opened in 1964 with a capacity of 325 megawatts, over three times the combined capacity of both Waddamana plants. Waddamana A was decommissioned in 1964, with Waddamana B continuing to operate until it was too closed in 1994.
An Australian Bi-centennial Project…
After being decommissioned, both plants in Waddamana were left standing, and in 1988, an Australian bicentennial project converted the Waddamana A station into a museum and now operates as a fascinating insight into the history of Hydro Electricity in Tasmania. It is a very befitting tribute to the beginning of integrated hydro-electric development in Tasmania, and features not only the original plant equipment, but also a vast array of machinery, tools, memorabilia, photographs and artefacts including many of the electrical household items used in the early 1900s.
As you turn into the foothills beneath the Central Plateau where Waddamana peacefully lies, from the dense bushland opens a field to your right where native wildlife, kangaroo, wallaby, wombats and echidna are often seen out foraging for food and native birdlife dwells in a haven. This drive leads you to the main street of Waddamana township, houses and cottages dating back to the early days line the street as you drive beneath the old historic streetlights until you arrive at the front of Waddamana A Power Station. The steps lead you into the foyer of the building, still as it was in its heyday, to be greeted by two 1950s paintings of the ‘then young’ Queen Elizabeth and her husband Prince Phillip. Back in those days it was mandatory to have framed photos of the Queen in all Government buildings. From here a knowledgeable and friendly attendant is available for any help needed, as you go on a self-guided tour of this fascinating old museum which will lead you straight back to the early 1900s where Hydro Electricity had its earliest beginnings in Tasmania.
Note: accommodation at Waddamana can be booked via “Penstock Cottage”, Waddamana, TAS 7030 or phone (03) 62596158
All photos strictly ©Carol Haberle, H&H Photography.
You can follow Carol on Facebook at Haberle Photo Cards
Carol writes feature articles for this website about all things Tasmanian.
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