An engineering feat built by 100,000 people over 25 years
The Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre is located an hour from Canberra, on the Monaro Highway to Cooma. Although a long drive from Canberra, this highway is regularly used by people on their way to the Snowy Mountains or over the ranges to Merimbula on the coast, so it is an interesting place to stop off whilst on route. The Discovery Centre is only a few minutes from the alpine town of Cooma, so after your visit why not continue on and explore this village, steep in multicultural history as a result of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme.
The Discovery Centre explains the technical details behind The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme - a large scale engineering and energy plan never seen before in Australia or the world. The Scheme included the construction of 16 major dams, 7 major power stations (2 underground), a pumping station, 145kms of inter-connected trans-mountain tunnels and 80kms of aqueducts. It took 25 years to build between 1949 and 1974.
The Scheme harnesses the power of water from two fast-flowing rivers (which would normally just run out to sea) and used the energy created by their force to make renewable energy for the nations electricity grid. The water is then used to irrigate the Murrumbidgee River downstream so that farms could flourish and produce crops that would feed the nation. This huge project needed more than 100,000 people from over 30 countries, mostly European, to come and build it.
Graphs, diagrams, historical photos and more to explore
If you are an engineering student, or have an interest in construction and engineering feats, there is a lot of scientific detail to read at this centre. Our visiting group found it interesting, if not a little overwhelming, with all the information to take on board. There is a DVD to watch the history of the scheme and also bikes to ride which illustrate how pedal power can create enough energy to start a kettle, or light a lamp.
The Snowy Hydro Discovery Centre opened my eyes to the engineering feat that is the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme and the history of Cooma nearby. Although I have a vague memory of learning about this in school, the magnitude of the project is clear as you walk around the centre. The Discovery Centre is ideal for visitors who have plenty of time to read and digest the information in the detailed displays. We visited with our young daughter, who became bored after pressing the few buttons available, so we found it more suited for adults to browse at leisure.
At the Discovery Centre there is also a café and gift shop, if you need to pick up maps or children's books for the drive ahead. If you are interested in exploring the Scheme and visiting the various dams and structures, take a map and ask the friendly staff more information about how to get there. Also check out the Snowy Hydro Scheme website for safety details and how to travel to the different structures.
After you leave, take a drive through Cooma and imagine what it would have been like with thousands of Europeans and migrants who would visit the alpine town centre, socialising and buying supplies to take back to their remote camps. With 100,000 people descending on the town over a 25 year period, it was a central hub of activity for decades. With so many European cultures combining in the one place, the sleepy town of Cooma soon opened nightclubs, hotels and delicatessens with new and exotic foods which the locals also enjoyed. The Italian café culture came to Cooma and can still be found there today. With a current population of just over 6000, Cooma has quietened down somewhat, however it is still an interesting place of history and variety of cultures to explore.
Multicultural Cooma - The Festival of Snows Street Parade, 1958. Source: National Archives. •PhotoSearch: NAA: A12111, 1/1958/17/13