Heading east through Branxholm towards Weldborough in north east Tasmania, there is a turnoff signposted to Mt Paris Road. A 13 kilometre drive on gravel road, through forests of eucalyptus, myrtle and blackwoods, leads you to a small, low signpost, Mt Paris Dam, then a short drive leads to a ‘pull off parking bay’. A short 100 metre walk will have you standing by the Cascade River, looking upwards in awe at this unique concrete structure now surrounded by wilderness, a sight one must see to believe.
North East Tasmania: Mt Paris Dam
Tin mining was an important feature, the life-blood of much of north-east Tasmania, and made a strong contribution to the Tasmanian economy during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Originally known as The Morning Star Dam, Mt Paris Dam was designed in 1935 for the Mt Paris Tin Mining Company, and built in 1936 to supply water for hydraulic tin mining.
Tin Mining in North East Tasmania
It was connected to The Mt Paris Tin Mine by an 11 kilometre long water race. Geoffrey Davey CBE (also known for his service to the Catholic Church in Australia, and in 1960 was awarded a papal knighthood) and Sir John Proud* engineered the dam during the early part of their careers, and both men went on to become notable figures in Australian engineering history, being honoured nationally and internationally for their engineering contributions.
* Sir John Proud ~ a member of the well known family of ‘Proud’s the Jewellers’ fame, who were also major shareholders in the Mt Paris Tin Mine ~ was a Trustee of the Australian Museum, sat on the Senate of Sydney University and was knighted in 1978.
Morning Star Dam: Built By Hand
The Morning Star Dam was a very impressive structure, known as a reinforced concrete slab-and-buttress dam. It had a length of 250 metres, and a maximum height of 16 metres. The dam covered an area of almost 21 hectares (52 acres) and was a storage dam for about 1300 megalitres of water. The construction of the dam was very unique in that it was built entirely by hand, the only mechanical assistance provided was by petrol-driven concrete mixers and tip trucks which delivered blue metal and sand to the site.
From Mt Paris to Briseis Tin
In 1939, the Tasmanian assets of The Mt Paris Company were sold to Briseis Consolidated NL of Derby. This company ceased operations in 1947, and was sold to new owners Briseis Tin NL. The Tasmanian Government purchased the then Morning Star Dam at this time, and management was handed to the Ringarooma–Cascade Water Board, with maintenance being continued by Briseis Tin NL under an agreement with the Board. This agreement ceased with the closure of The Mt Paris Tin Mine in December, 1961. Very little maintenance was provided at the dam after this. The Ringarooma–Cascade Water Board was disbanded in 1985 and ownership of The Morning Star Dam was at this time transferred to The Rivers and Water Supply Commission. At this time the dam storage had been virtually empty since the 1970s, and it was in June 1985 the Commission blasted a hole in the base of the dam wall to allow the natural flow of the Cascade River to occur once more. Around 1994 further alterations were made to prevent the dam holding water.
Tasmanian History: Heritage Register
Many locals of the area were involved in the construction of the dam, and today the remains are highly valued by the local community. After consultation with Forestry Tasmania and receiving valuable additional information about the dam, the Heritage Council has permanently registered the Mt Paris Dam in the Tasmanian Heritage Register. The dam was the only one of its design in Tasmania, and truly stands as testimony to the skill , craftsmanship and hard labour of its designers and builders.
Engineering Excellence, Cascade River, Wilderness
The day we travelled to view the site of the Mt Paris Dam, we encountered strong winds, rain, hail and snow, but it in no way dampened our experience; if anything it made us realise the forces of nature this dam wall has survived. It also gave us a much deeper respect for those hard-working men, who in 1936 worked through extremes of weather and built this huge structure by hand, which now stands in the wilderness as a magnificent piece of Tasmanian history. On the southern side nature has reclaimed where once 1300 megalitres of water was held.
I stood here amongst the shrubby forest regrowth and found it so hard to imagine it once held so much water. The massive dam wall stands in front of you, four large holes show evidence of blasting and alterations where the Cascade River now runs through. You can walk through the holes (unless river is in flood and prevents this experience) to the northern side of the wall, where the Cascade River meanders beautifully through the wilderness. Here I stood and looked back at the wall, where the huge buttresses reach for the heavens. Standing here I was left to wonder why the name, Morning Star Dam, was ever changed.