The History of the Lake Eucumbene Region

Eucumbene Dam was completed in 1958 and the town of Old Adaminaby was inundated by Lake Eucumbene in that year. The reservoir is the largest in the mighty Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. Several buildings were moved from (original) Adaminaby to the new town of Adaminaby (7km away), others were demolished or left to be inundated. Some residents were reluctant to leave the old town and felt that they had been unfairly dealt with by the Snowy Mountains Authority. Adaminaby was one of two towns flooded during the construction of the scheme. The other was Jindabyne.


The Snowy Scheme commenced in 1949 and was completed in 1974. During its construction, more than 100,000 people from 30 countries worked on the Scheme which, at the time, cost a record $820 million to complete. Today, the scheme is operated by Snowy Hydro Limited, whose head office is located in Cooma. The Snowy Scheme is still recognised as one of the 7 civil engineering wonders of the modern world.

The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme is still the biggest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia. It was the realisation of a long held desire to utilise the 'wasted' waters of the Snowy River for both irrigation and power generation. Commenced by the Chifley Labor Government in 1949, the scheme became the focus of national attention as a symbol of a new, modern Australia, emerging from the war to take its place alongside other developed countries.


The technological aspects of the scheme were frequently commented on in the media. Great pride was taken in the apparent ability of humans to shape the environment for the purposes of national development. The flooding of towns and valleys was widely accepted in the 'national interest'. The profound impact of cultural diversity on the regional towns was often remarked upon. The scheme employed approximately 60,000 workers from overseas, many of whom settled in Australia. It is regarded by many as a forerunner of present day multiculturalism. Working conditions on the scheme also received considerable attention. Modern management techniques, emphasising work, speed and efficiency were introduced by the American contractors. The scheme also pioneered modern workplace safety management. Nonetheless, the harsh working conditions in the mountains and tunnels resulted in many deaths and injuries. More about Lake Eucumbene

New: Read Bryce Huddleston's account of early life at Eaglehawk - the town that 'sprung up' during construction of the Eucumbene Dam. It's a wonderful reflection of the time and a great read. Read the Eaglehawk tale

Original Adaminaby

Old Adaminaby in the 1950s.JPG

The Beginning...

1859 -   Gold was discovered at nearby Kiandra in 1859. At the time, the area that is now Lake Eucumbene, was a cattle station belonging to the Yorke and Cosgrove families. The discovery of gold lead to a sudden influx of miners travelling the tracks from Cooma or Jindabyne and through the area. At the time, only a few huts were located on the banks of the Eucumbene River. This little settlement became a staging post for travellers during the gold rush - the hamlet of 'Chalker's' was born!

1861 -   The first store in the area was built by Frederick Stokes at the end of the Kiandra Gold rush in 1861.

1862 -   The first hotel was built in 1861 and was known as ‘The Travellers Rest’. A second hotel soon followed, but was burnt to the ground in 1862.

1876 -   The area now known as Old Adaminaby was the only place between Cooma and Kiandra where there was a Post Store, with mail being brought to the town by pack-horse. At the time, a trip to Cooma cost five pounds, while the long haul to Sydney cost twenty pounds.

1877 -   The population of the hamlet was 400.

1883 -   The permanent Post Office was completed in 1883.

1884 -   An Agricultural Association was established, predominantly for ploughing.

1885 -   On 25 March 1885, Adaminaby was proclaimed a township. At the time though it was known as ‘Seymour’.

1886 -   On 9 October 1886, the towns name changed to ‘Adaminaby’ to avoid confusion with Seymour in Victoria.

1888 -   In 1888, the Government of the day granted 210 acres, with a cash grant of 100 pounds, to anyone wishing to settle in the area. Within three years the land was fenced and was used as a showground, rifle range, racecourse and recreation reserve.

1901 -   Adaminaby Court House was constructed in 1901.

Early 1900's -   Adaminaby grew rapidly in the early 1990s. It housed three churches (Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian), a public school (which still stands today as a residence), a convent, large general stores, a police station, a court house, a picture theatre and several hotels. There was a ball each Friday night and a dance on Saturday night. The Kyloe Copper Mine boosted the town's economy and Adaminaby was starting to look as if it would rival Cooma in size.

By 1920, Adaminaby had a watchmaker, cafes, tea rooms, cabinet maker, a doctor, a hospital, a newspaper, two schools, a showground and a racecourse.

The population of Adaminaby in the 1940s was 750, although the town also provided for hundreds of people living in the nearby rural areas.

Note:  Over its 100 year history, Adaminaby grew but changed little. It was never connected to the electricity grid, water supply or sewerage system. Residents used kerosene lamps and candles at night, and several businesses had diesel generators. Rain water was collected in tanks and there were a number of wells.

 

Old Adaminaby Public School - 1900.jpg

Almost the End...

1949 -   On 17th October 1949, the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was officially launched in Adaminaby. Soon after, it was announced that Adaminaby would be flooded to make way for the creation of the Snowy Mountains Schemes largest dam – Lake Eucumbene. The Scheme was created to divert the waters of the snowy mountain rivers inland to enhance agricultural production in the drier interior regions, and to provide peak electricity generation for Australia cities, including Canberra.

1954 -   Residents of the old town were given the choice of three locations for a new town, including one that would overlook the new lake (Eucumbene). Surprisingly, the residents chose a site on the main road (its current location), arguing the position would ensure the town had a secure future on the highway and that the site was warmer and more sheltered, being 120m lower than the old site.


In January 1954, the residents endorsed Adaminaby's new location in a referendum.

1956/7 -   Adaminaby was on the move!

The first house relocations to 'new Adaminaby' (7km to the NE and some 120m lower in elevation) took place in 1956 and, within 18 months, all buildings to be relocated to the new town had been removed. These included St Mary's Catholic Church with was dismantled brick by brick in the old town and rebuilt in the new town. In all, 102 buildings were removed from Old Adaminaby. The removal task was painstakingly slow, made even more difficult by one of the wettest years on record and heavy winter snows.

Some farming families were reluctant to leave their properties and some stayed until water was lapping at their doorsteps. People found they had to abandon all sorts of things, including stoves and farm equipment when the water cut off road access to their properties.

A key benefit of the new site was that residents were connected to town water, sewerage and electricity, something that wasn’t ever available in the original town.

Original Adaminaby - before Lake Eucumbe

Lake Eucumbene Completion Timeline... 

1949 -   Snowy Mountains Scheme announced.

1954 -   Residents of (original) Adaminaby chose new site (7km to the NE) in a referendum.
1956/7 -   Relocation of 100 houses & 2 churches from Old Adaminaby.
1957 -   Snowy Hydro Electric Authority demolished buildings that were to be submerged.
1957 -   Flooding of the Eucumbene valley started, to create Lake Eucumbene.
1958 -   Construction of Eucumbene Dam completed.
1959 -   Water level reached the outskirts of Old Adaminaby.
1973 -   Lake Eucumbene at full capacity.
June 2007 -   Lake Eucumbene fell to a record low of 8.7% of capacity.

Lake Eucumbene - The early years...

The new lake provided good opportunities for water sports and a number of tourism ventures were established around its shores. It was also stocked with trout and became a popular fishing location boosted by its proximity to the Murrumbidgee River, already well known by anglers. Several areas around the lake were set aside for holiday cabins.


Unfortunately, as the lake rose, native animals were trapped on islands with the water rising around them. People remember the islands covered with kangaroos and seething with snakes. There were some efforts to relocate the kangaroos but reports were that success was limited.

Sir Edward Hallstrom, benefactor and active trustee of Sydney's Taronga Park Zoo, together with Sir William Hudson, established a kangaroo refuge on one of the islands in Lake Eucumbene, not far from the dam wall. Hallstrom Island, as it became known, was primarily for the seven albino kangaroos which he donated but there were also some Great Eastern Grey Kangaroos there as well.

The Snow Mountains Authority promoted the island, as well as Grace Lea Island which was a refuge for kangaroos and emus, as tourist attractions and people could take a launch from Old Adaminaby over to the islands, feed the animals, continue to the dam wall and then return to Old Adaminaby.

The refuges were closed down in 1987 after many animals were killed illegally by shooters and an attempted relocation resulted in the death of many others.

Old Adaminaby Returns...

 

In more recent times, prolonged years of drought and the subsequent demand for irrigation water releases have had a dramatic effect on the landscape of Old Adaminaby. In July 2007, Lake Eucumbene dropped to just 8.7% of capacity (the lowest it had been since it was filled). As the water fell, many of the building foundations from the old town resurfaced. This brought memories of life in the old town to many of the residents that were moved. See Historical Lake Eucumbene water levels.


It was an emotional time for many, and wasn’t helped as ‘outsiders’ flocked to see the ruins of the old town – taking many pieces of ‘memorabilia’ that lay scattered around the receding shore line. Bottles, cans, bricks and pieces of rusting farming machinery of a past generation proved to be a popular target for ‘scavengers’ – unaware of the effect they had on locals who had lost so much when the lake covered their homes. In an attempt to stop the looters, a conservation order on Lake Eucumbene came into effect on World Environment day in 2007.

Old Adaminaby (Lake Eucumbene) ruins.JPG
Steps of St. Marys Catholic Church - Old Adaminaby
Farm machinary left behind at Lake Eucum

* Photos/commentary: National Library of Australia (Old Adaminaby), Powerhouse Museum, Monaro Pioneers, Environment NSW, Darren Giles.

 

A Mountain of Memories...

 

The following story is published with the permission of Bryson Huddleston.  Bryson recalls his early life at Eaglehawk, a town that sprung to life during the construction of the Eucumbene Dam.  It's a wonderful reflection of the time and a great read.  Thanks Bryson.

My name is Bryson Huddleston, I and my family moved from Port Macquarie in 1951 to Eaglehawk.

My dad had been working on the site of Eucumbene Dam for about 6 months before Mum, my brother and I left on a train from Wauchope station. We arrived in Sydney the next morning where Dad met us, after a few days in Sydney we caught the Cooma mail train. It was early morning when we got to Cooma, what a dismal sight it was and cold, [we were not use to cold]. One of dads mates picked us up in a Landrover , first stop the local café [I think it was called The Bluebird cafe].

 

After a long drive over gravel roads we came to what looked like the start of a town, a two wheel track and 16 houses all very much the same apart from colour. Our house was the first on the block; only one other house was occupied. What a shock, no power, no water and not a stick of furniture, only a couple of mattresses on the floor.

For the first week we ate sitting on the floor as well as sleeping. No water, well there was a creek not too far away, so I had the water boy job as my brother was too young only 3 and I was 8 yrs. old and I was king of the mountain. The house had 3 bedrooms a lounge a bath a kitchen a laundry an another room which contained a white funny looking bowel with a lid connected to a concrete tub suspended on the wall above and a chain ??? What was it? We never knew till we had water connected 6 mths later. Our dunny was an outhouse up the back yard, all’s good till it snowed, and then I had the job of clearing a path to it. Then it had to be emptied, but that is another story.

Dad borrowed a Landrover and we went into Adaminaby the first weekend and were able to purchase some furniture, not much but enough to get by. The table and chairs were all hand made using split timber and hand sewn legs and backs held in place with bailing wire, rough but sturdy.

Most of my free time [no school] I spent roaming around catching rabbits and fishing in the Eucumbene River for trout, which I have caught under where the wall exists today.

I was the only school age kid in town which was growing every day as more houses arrived on semi-trucks. Each house was in 3 parts, lounge and master bed room on one and the other portion on another and the laundry and toilet on a smaller truck. As these arrived they were quickly put into place and bolted together, and so it went day after day with up to 3 houses arriving every day. Each street had 16 houses with a lane half way, all the houses were on street named after Australian trees, Wattle, Ash Walnut, Elm just to name a few. After a few months enough families were established in the town to get us kids to school [our school had not been built as yet]. As no bus was available an old ambulance was used to take us [about 7 or 8 kids] into Adaminaby. The kids in Adaminaby didn’t like us at first, we were strangers, but after a while we were accepted. As more family moved into Eaglehawk, more kids, so a bus was put on the run.

On the front of the house was a porch and my Dad would sit out there having a beer some afternoons, and on occasions would pick up his rifle and shoot a rabbit for dinner . As we had no shops here all our groceries came from Adaminaby. The Dept. of Public Works [who my Dad worked for] started a grocery run with a truck which had boxes up each side, complete with lids. The driver would go to each family in the morning once a week and get the weekly order for the family and deliver it that afternoon; this is how we lived for 6 months or more.

Remember the “no Power”, well we had candles and kero lights and Dad made a drip safe to keep food cool during summer. In winter it snowed, I even seen snow on Christmas day one year, pretty rare in Australia.

There were a lot of single men who were batching and missed home cooking and my Dad arranged for them to come and eat with us as outside boarders. My Mom was a good cook and provided 3 meals a day for these young men, a hot breakfast, and sandwiches and fruit for lunch and a big meal with desert for dinner. Most of these men worked for my Dad. After dinner we would sit around the fire in the lounge and swap yarns , tell stories and read. One man loved comics and kept up a regular supply of them which to our delight read to my brother and I every night.

Eventually we had a town proper, consisting of a Butcher a chemist a store [which sold everything from groceries to clothes and papers and even had a cafe of sorts] next to the store was the post office and across the road was the most glamorous town hall, come picture theater. A few blocks away, about the centre of the town was the school, Down below this was another small hall which was used for scout meetings and a church for the salvation army. A catholic school was on a block further away. We had tennis courts and a rugby league ground as well as a playground with swings and parallel bars and other thing to fall off.

After primary school I attended Monaro High In Cooma for 3 ½ yrs. We traveled 40 mile each way every day, our bus was so unruly that a teacher had to rid with us to keep us under control, but unfortunately she was not too good at her job, only singling out 3 boy almost daily to get the cane from old Smithy the principle, I think In topped the year with the most caned kid, didn’t do me much harm.

While I was in High school I was given two ferrets [named fatty and skinny, I couldn’t tell them apart so I cut the hair off the tail of one ] I was the richest kid in high school as I was making good money catching and selling rabbits [ the whole country around was swarming with them , there were millions.] I also trapped from Friday evening when I got home from school, and ferreted most weekends. I paid a mate to carry rabbits for me , I gave him 1 pound a day [$2.00]. I had a deal with a butcher in Cooma to supply as many as I could. Al the rabbits I caught were kept alive till Sunday afternoon when I killed and dressed them, they then paired and hung on cloths line overnight, and next morning I would pack them into cartons and Dad would deliver them to bus stop. The bus driver then delivered them to butcher and received my money. I was getting 4 shillings and 3 pence [43 cents] per pair, I often sold 30 + pair every week. I don’t know how much in today’s money that is worth, but it was good. I also sold my skins for 5 shillings [50 cents] a pound. I was the richest kid in high school…

 

I spent the best 6 ½ years of my life living at Eaglehawk, but as the project was coming to a close my Dad was transferred to Bourke, western NSW. What a change….

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Lake Eucumbene (Old Adaminaby) at just 8% of capacity in July 2007