Built on the historic legacy of the world-leading Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme, Snowy Hydro 2.0 is forging ahead with the longest tunnel of its type in the world.
Story + Photos Ken Eastwood
Getting there involves a drive through one of Australia’s most iconic, historic and scenic areas. Cruise along the Snowy Mountains Highway between Adaminaby and Cabramurra, NSW, once the highest town in Australia and past the remains of the gold-digging area of Kiandra (and birthplace of Australian skiing), through rolling alpine grasses, yellow billy buttons and rise after rise of skeletal mountain ash destroyed by bushfires.
Mobs of brumbies and the occasional roo peer through a slight smoky haze created by hazard reduction burning somewhere in Kosciuszko National Park, but the morning air is crisp.
After security gate checks, there’s a descent down an old dirt 4WD route called Lobs Hole Ravine Road towards a spot on the Yarrangobilly River near the Talbingo Reservoir. Pretty, dome-like hills tower above with striped purple rock bands, yellow grass and olive gums.
And then, suddenly, Lobs Hole appears – a thumping industrial hive of hard hats and high vis. One of the main sites for the building of Snowy 2.0, it has an 11-storey structure to hold a giant conveyor belt, huge water treatment vats, and an enormous 750-tonne crane. Moxy articulated trucks carry tonnes of dirt along tracks lined by dongas for accommodation and offices, and kept damp by a water cart. Diggers, buses and vehicles with flashing lights come and go with intent.
Farmer Todd Weston, from Ladysmith near Wagga Wagga, is here among it all, sitting on a digger working away with a smile on his face. Like most people here, he lives and works on site doing 12-hour shifts for two weeks, then gets a week off, when he drives the three hours back to his four children and a mixed grain, fat lamb and Angus cattle farm being looked after by his wife Hayley. “A big job this close to home doesn’t happen very often, and this is a massive job,” Todd says, having started as a labourer here in October 2019. “I’m a licensed builder but I just wanted to get on. I love being around big machines.”
As well as working on the scheme himself, Todd decided to invest in a big way, buying two new 5-tonne diggers, a 9-tonne digger and a tipper (each worth more than $100,000), which he hires by the hour to the main contractor on this huge job, Future Generation Joint Venture. “It was a big risk. I only started off with a three-month contract, but it’s paying off,” he says.
This story excerpt is from Issue #142
Outback Magazine: April/May 2022