The Snowy Mountains Scheme

Birthplace of Multiculturalism in Australia

The story of the construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme is one of people who persevered through harsh conditions, rugged country and extreme climate.

The Scheme has become a symbol of the alliance between men and nature, harnessing water for agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin, and for clean power for cities and towns in New South Wales, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and South Australia.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme is not just a great feat of engineering, it is also a great social achievement. When the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority was established in 1949, there was a serious national shortage of skilled personnel, equipment and construction materials as a legacy of World War II. The Snowy began an intensive recruitment campaign overseas, concentrating in Europe.

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.

Many newcomers were escaping the privations of war-torn Europe and were eager to start a new life in a new land. They brought with them new ideas, new customs and new cuisines, changing the Anglo-Saxon foundation of Australian society. Working together on the Scheme, they became part of the Snowy family, with former enemies and allies working side by side.

The contribution of these nations is commemorated in the Avenue of Flags in the main street of Cooma, which was unveiled in 1959.

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority assisted the migrant population to settle in Australia by conducting free English classes in all of the Snowy’s camps and townships in conjunction with the Department of Education and supporting the establishment of a branch of the Good Neighbour Council and an International Club in Cooma. Employees were encouraged to form and join other social clubs, including chess, photography and sporting activities. Many new-comers became Australian citizens in well-attended naturalisation ceremonies organised in conjunction with local Shires and Councils.

Adapted from: Snowy Mountains Scheme – A STORY OF PEOPLE

Additional References:

  • Kobal, Ivan The Snowy- Cradle of a New Australia
  • McHugh, Siobhan The Snowy: the people behind the power

Theme: Cultural diversity and multiculturalism