ACT Heritage Library Manuscript Collection

HMSS 0269 Engineering Heritage Canberra Oral History Program - Special Projects Series Cotter Water Supply Project

Scope and Content Notes

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HMSS 0269 Box 3


Engineering Heritage Canberra Oral History Program - Special Projects Series Cotter Water Supply Project

Date Range




Access Conditions


Copying conditions

with attribution

Related Collections

HMSS 0269 Engineering Heritage Canberra Oral History Program

HMSS 0269 ... Professional Career Series 

HMSS 0269 ... Queanbeyan Age Project 

HMSS 0269 ... Kingston Powerhouse Project 

HMSS 0301 Ron Moore Bendora Gravity Main Photographs

The Institution of Engineers is actively engaged in documenting the history of engineering in the Australian Capital Territory.

The Cotter Dams Oral History Project was funded by ACTEW Corporation, the ACT Government 1997/98 Heritage Grants program and the Institution of Engineers, Australia, Canberra Division.

In order to document the engineering achievement represented by the water storages on the Cotter River and the experiences of those involved in their construction, historian Matthew Higgins interviewed 18 men who worked on or were associated with the raising of the Cotter Dam Wall in 1949-51 and the construction of the Bendora Dam 1958-1961 and its gravity main pipeline a few years later, and the Corin Dam 1966-1968.

The project resulted in a publication, Dams on the Cotter, which included the results of Higgins' research, summaries of the interviews and written reminiscences submitted by Jack Purcell, Jim Costigan, Don Campbell, Ron Sherratt and Denis Bauer. A portable display of material from the project was also constructed and was held by Engineering Heritage, Canbera.

This collection is largely comprised of a single DVD.  The DVD contains a scanned copy in pdf format of the project's resulting publication, Dams on the Cotter,  and a file for each of the interviewees.  Each file contains 

  • a scanned photograph of the interviewee, presumably taken by the historian at the time of interview
  • digitised copy of oral history interview in mp3 format in 2006.
  • pdf scan of interview summary, including photograph of interviewee from the publication Dams on the Cotter. This information is attached to this finding aid.  To access, click on the link in the "associated documentation" column of the table below.
  • timed summary of topics covered compliled by Bob Dun in 2012 in Microsoft Word .docx format. This information is also contained within this finding aid.  To access, scroll down or click on the name of the interview in the table below

Please note that there are no permission forms for this project.  The ACT Heritage Library is advised that the continued use and availability of the interviews was understood by all participants.  Brief interview logs have been subsequently created by Bob Dunn for Engineering Heritage Canberra.





Fred Byrne


46:18 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Hugh Crawley


1:02:03 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Bernie Fitzgerald


1:02:04 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Arne Fokkema


1:40:56 (total time in four files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Rom Katauskas


1:14:40 (total time in three files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Graeme Kelleher


1:40:49 (total time in four files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Peter Kobold


39:41 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Peter McDonald


47:09 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Ron Moore


1:01:08 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Tom Pearson


1:00:04 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

George Redmond


33:01 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Alan Rolph


40:34 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Harry Rundle


 48:36 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Albert Shaw


 57:37 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Mike Smith


 1:01:07(total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Eamonn Waldron


 1:22:02 (total time in three files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Arthur Wilson


 1:41:39 (total time in four files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics

Ron Wright


 52:16 (total time in two files)

Scanned photograph;
interview summary (printable pdf)
timed summary of topics


TOPICS for Fred Byrne 7 November 1997 – Labourer raising Cotter Dam Wall and guard at Corin Dam





Raising Cotter wall – labourer 1949 – diverting water to Paddy’s River


clearing for cableway - chainsaws, axes – 4 months work – operation of cableway -


Wind on mountain – riding the bucket – dogman


Accidents riding cableway – 3 people killed – saw one accident -


Jack hammering old concrete – before scaffolding


Good money – enjoyed the different work – great experience -


Other people – Alan Bellchambers (sp?) – Sandy Grant (supervisor) – 10-20 labourers – total 80 men – half “new Australians” – visiting family in Bonegilla fortnightly – Ruben – scaffolding work


Talks of various nicknames of fellow workers – drinking on the job – more descriptions of fellow workers – there was a single Aboriginal guy on job – rodeo rider


Migrants and nationalities – Italians on concrete – English language problems


Women on job


Events – card playing – gambling


Working conditions – pay – generally satisfied


Strikes? – unions would come and check with inspectors from government – more discussion on deaths


More on names/friends – just co-workers – social events – Sunday night – local bands – piano accordions were popular


Huts and tents descriptions – lighting in camp – mess hut – caterers’ names – meals


Weekends in town – Hotels Kingston, Wellington, Canberra – only BYO at camp – hard drinkers – happy camp – no ethnic conflicts – many practical jokes




Transport – many workers had own cars – but others rode with the truckies into town – it was a rough road – 1 ¼ hours’ drive – this ends Cotter job


Corin Dam – security job – MSS – machinery sabotage sugar in tanks (Thiess contractor) – night shifts – perpetrator eventually caught. He was a disgruntled ex worker.


Commuting to site – driving at night on job site – only “tracks” really – 4WD use at night & snow – very frightening – one guy quit because could not handle the stress


Description of the camp and the wet canteen. There were prostitutes from Sydney. He worked in disguise once. The men were pushing him towards the prostitutes who were girls working from caravans (vehicles).


Troubles on whole site – there were some strikes – Fred gives a description of top & bottom camps and mechanics working on shifts. Tunnelers also worked in shifts.


Everything was laid on – grog, food, women were allowed and they good buildings.


Boxing – he trained some people – he had done some sparring with Rex Harris and trained men for bouts in Queanbeyan & Northbourne Oval and the old Drill Hall.


There were terrible flies. Men would wear wide brim hats with corks which was the only way to get any work done. There were many black snakes which terrified the new Australians.




TOPICS for Hugh Crawley – 6 November 1997 – engineer on Corin Dam, Corin Dam Road and Bendora pipeline design





Corin Dam & Bendora Pipeline – Hugh started as cadet with Dept Works – redesign of Bendora Pipeline. This was to lower the cost because original tenders were too high. He and others conducted model studies for the spillway of Bendora Dam to fine tune initial “ski jump” design. Hugh explains why the little slot is in the spillway.


Using the model: Hugh explains where the modelling depot was in Kingston, how the full river flows were simulated. Most damaging erosion was during low flows! He explains why the spillway is “banked”.


Mentions team working for Arne Fokkema (he was part of that team). Team was in the old “Woolshed” buildings in Barton. Hugh replaced Max Ilbury (sp?) Hugh describes the challenges of designing a “side flow” spillway. The model solved these problems. Worked out what pressures would act on the spillway. Discussion of how to allow for scaling effects.  


Discussion of “fun” working with models. Use of confetti and “time lapse” photos to see what flow speeds were.


Hugh designed the culverts on the road to Corin Dam. These were put in by Jack Legg Constructions from Sale, Victoria 1965 – 1966. Hugh only designed the culverts on the road, nothing else.


Hugh did the structural design of the base of American War Memorial at Kings Ave. His anchors did not fit, had to be turned sideways.


Culverts on the Corin Dam road were cast in place, not precast.


He did not do many field inspections, but does recall being impressed with the large compaction rollers being used on Corin Dam. Discusses getting right soil moisture. These days vibrating rollers are used so less mass in the roller. Technical explanation of “pore pressure”.


Corin Dam was seen as “mini Snowy Scheme” for the ACT. There was immense pride in the pioneers work in the mountains. This was the whole reason you were a hydraulic engineer. Working in this section of the Dept was “the most coveted” by cadet engineers.


Relation to NCDC: There was competition within NCDC between engineers & architects to get money. This was a time of real optimism and real achievement. His work was really achieving the objective of getting the City of Canberra “on a roll”. Also competition between Dept of Works and NCDC. Works saw itself as the expert construction engineers and NCDC was merely the provider of money. But NCDC probably saw it the other way around. People Hugh worked with all had a “common purpose” and there were no conflicts.


The views of the public towards dams was very different then: the attitude was that dams “could only do good”. Only in 1970s did environmental issues come up. Hugh claims the environmental impact assessment for Googong Dam was the first in Australia. Graeme Kelleher (resident engineer) had just returned from Canada and coordinated the EIS for Googong.


There was a lot of concern about the rock fill of the dam. Oxidation of the iron in the fill and acidity which might come into the drinking water was the worry. Another concern was whether the rocks would disintegrate entirely. Hugh was not directly involved but studies revealed this would not be a problem.


There were vigorous professional discussions on whether to use concrete or rock fill for the wall. Engineers were writing letters to professional journals on this. Investigations found foundation conditions were NOT suitable for concrete.


Bendora Gravity Main – He had to walk the proposed route. This was very rugged country, with many ups and downs. Important to avoid “suction developing” anywhere along the route. He was young and fit, and chosen for the arduous task of showing potential tenderers along the route. Mentions Ned Spurling (sp?) as the accompanying hydrographer. Ned had trouble along the way (Ned was older than Hugh) they had to take things slowly.




The fun places were crossing the river at Cotter. Surveyors had cleared the route of the pipeline. At the Cotter end of the main – they had to join the new Bendora pipeline to the existing water supply pipeline to Canberra - just uphill Cotter pumping station. Hugh describes where the two pipelines can be seen from the public road.


Problem was that the two pipelines were different sizes and pressures. The pressure from Bendora was extreme. Depending on operating conditions there could be opposite conditions in each pipe – one empty and the other at extremely high pressure. Hugh had to translate a German paper into English to study what to do. He asked a German-speaking typist to help him.


Design was to be “trouser cut” – very apt way to describe it. Also had “horse shoe” shape reinforcement.


Describes cadet rotation and various teams. A downside of the rotation policy was there was not continuity between the designer and construction. Actually missed out on the calling of tenders for the pipeline and missed out showing any actual tenderers along the route.


Hugh covers the story of erosion occurring at one point because an air valve did not close and water poured out on the steep slopes causing erosion. There is a technical discussion of what is a hydraulic grade line.


Ken Harding – Hugh knew him but not well. Ken was the concrete dams expert. Arne Fokkema was the earth and rock fill expert. Ron Moore was the supervising engineer on pipeline. Ron had quite a difficult job because the project was strung out from Bendora to Cotter.


Jack Purcell was Hugh’s boss. Jack had experience on dams from the Snowy Scheme (Eucumbene)


Keith Knuckey was senior works supervisor – for both Bendora and Corin Dams. Huge had a lot of respect for him.  


Don Stockdill was head of major development who supervised the construction of the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre


Hugh did NOT attend official opening ceremony of Bendora or Corin. Tells story of his wife was pregnant at the time of heavy rain in the catchment. He took her up to Corin to have a look. He was disappointed because flow was so small.


Talks of Bureau of the Meteorology’s changing view on what is the “maximum probable flood” and need to upgrade spillways and dams around the world.


Googong Dam construction – Oct 1976 – got a “1:200 year flood” – right over the top of the partially-completed dam wall. But later they realised this was only a “1:20 year flood”.




TOPICS for Bernie Fitzgerald 17 November 1997- engineer who determined the design of Bendora pipeline

TOPICS - Fairly technical discussion




Was hydraulic structures engineer experienced in pipelines. Arrived Canberra April 1964. Did first core samples for Corin dam. (Investigation phase) He cannot recall others involved.


Bendora pipeline – main design parameters – how much water to allow considering the future Googong Dam. Discussion of how to determine how much water is available from the catchment plus population forecasts. Stream gauging stations going back to 1910 were used. Describes how the gauging stations worked and recording the water flows. Talks of changing from clockwork mechanisms to battery power in 1940s.


Bernie describes changing from once a day to continuous chart recordings. How a stream gauge actually measures water. This is fairly technical. Weir design and hand gauging described. Cross sectional areas, velocities of various points, etc. Rainfall records and how they were used.  


Bernie supervised one engineer and one draftsman. He cannot recall their names. As a designer he used the “play” in joints to get around bends and over hills, avoiding too many “special” pipes.


Talks about avoiding collapsing the pipe with a vacuum. “Anti-vacuum valves”. Air valves avoid water hammer.


He determined route of pipeline – went out in bush for days on end to seek out where it should go. Was difficult to find a practical route. Thought the country was pretty tough. Averaged about 1 mile/hr. It’s very pretty country – but not a rugged as his New Guinea experience. It was winter and they had to cross it several times. Compares the relatively safe and easy terrain of Cotter Valley to what he contended with in New Guinea.


Cannot recall why there was only one contractor when originally it was proposed to have two.


Side Two


Purpose of pipe coating was to prevent rust inside and out.


He thinks the pipeline was a good job and that the contractor did a good job under very difficult conditions. This depended on having good tradesmen and then just repetition to get the job done. There is description of problems he faced in PNG.


Welding – Bernie talks about first weld being so important. [the welds were layered up especially with the thicker pipe walls lower down being 1 inch thick.


Bernie describes slopes so steep they had one bulldozer to anchor another dozer.


Valve failure during testing – flooded down the pipeline route and scoured out all the fill in the trench. The same thing happened again later, but there was no damage because they had built diversions for the overflow.


Bernie describes procedure of opening the pipeline from Bendora and avoiding “water hammer”. Talks again of valves to avoid pressure/vacuum and the need to keep the air valve manually opened to avoid water hammer lower down. Describes filling the pipe from both ends – Bendora and Mt Stromlo.


Bernie mentions snakes seen along the way. There are minor anecdotes.


There was no opening ceremony because the pipe was underground. Did not attract attention like visible things. Early 1900s forecast was for population of 100,000 by the year 2,000. But pipe needed to be sized up because actual growth was much quicker.


Bernie mentions the relationship between NCDC and Works – almost as if “you were from the same dept.”


The did not visit the construction camp.  


He considers himself very fortunate to have been on this interesting project. It was probably the most interesting of his career.


The discussion moves back onto the Corin Dam and flood studies which are crucial to avoid overtopping. Bernie studied the “maximum probably flood.”  




TOPICS for Arne Fokkema – 14 November 1997 – engineer who assisted with design of dams and pipeline





Prof Engineer - Dept Works - Bendora Dam – names mentioned – Arne designed from pipeline from Bendora to Canberra. He did not have experience in designing big pipelines. It was very steep & wild country and had been deferred for ten years because NCDC out of money.


He then started helping with designing Bendora Dam. Arne mentions more names of those people working in Dept Works under Ken Harding. He also mentions Keith Jack back in 1958. Keith specialised in thin arch dams with double curvature which was a technology developed for Hoover Dam. There is detailed discussion of “slices” or “finite element analysis” for the design. There was a month’s long calculations assisted by UNSW. They helped with the calculation of 25 equations with 25 unknowns. There were larger than expected stresses which indicated that a trial load and rigorous analysis was required. They did a model study in Rome, Italy where the theoretical factor of safety was found to be 11 so everything was OK.


Following is a description of various loadings for analysis.


Clemenson’s was contractor for dam construction both for the grouting of the sides and the foundations.


There is a description of other studies in Snowy Scheme including overflow dam designs and the danger of scouring including the design of the spillway basin for water overflow to avoid scouring and shape of crest.


The design was tested in model at the Snowy Mountains Authority Hydraulic Lab in Cooma which looked good and hence was implemented. Later, after construction the design was observed in real flood to work beautifully. He was very glad that George Redmond had taken him onto his team.


Arne discusses the weak points of dams and the various key points in dam design and equipment lifetimes.


Decision on concrete arch for Bendora Dam was a Keith Jack decision – site “C” was chosen. The ability to provide water by gravity to Canberra was key feature of the scheme. Ken Harding was an enthusiastic convert to concrete arch dams.


Arne kept in close liaison with the Snowy Hydro Scheme design section – Iver (sp?) Pinkerton was chief designer with Johnny Hunter as understudy. Arne describes what pitfalls to watch out for in dam design.


Arne comments on earth dams and their drawbacks which had become known from European style dams in France/Italy/Spain/Portugal.


Arne describes the collapse of an arch dam in France and its impact on his design team. The failure was due to small foundation error – cleaning issues – just a few small cracks where were not cleaned and grouted properly.


Side 2


In that case water pushed out the clay and scour started to occur in the rock. The whole dam collapsed and “scared everyone”. Later an arch dam in Italy suffered a large earth slip which pushed water over the arch dam and drowned a village of people below. The dam was still structurally sound but other dam types would have failed in such an event.


This accident caused many authorities around the world to look at their reservoirs to see if large landslips were possible but the Cotter Valley was stable so there was no problem.


Arne covers the actual construction period. The Engineer-in-charge was Doug Thomason (sp?) . Problems were discussed on site. He made day trips even though the access route was rough but OK for construction purposes.


Arne comments on formwork for such a complex shape. This was not too difficult as they used pre-fabricated panels. These were checked closely by Bill Tweedy (surveyor) and there was not too much trouble. A cableway brought concrete to construction site. Arne provides a good description of the process. There was a small accident when one engineer got hit by a concrete bucket and wound up with a broken hip. He provides a description of having to catch a heavy bucket of concrete swinging in the wind.


Description of climbing ladders up the dam which was very scary for some people. Some thrill seekers were keen to ride the bucket.


Pollution controls? – For cleaning the abutments a small coffer dam was constructed downstream to catch polluted water. The coffer dam directed water right through the dam while it was under construction. Then the tunnel was blanked off.


There were health inspections for all workers in the catchment(?).


Arne comments on Ken Harding who was a “good bloke” and good to work with. He expected quite a bit from you but was a good engineer. He mentions Doug Thomason (sp?) – Rod Dalgarno was initially in charge, then Doug took over. He was nicknamed the “wild man” but Arne doesn’t recall why, possibly because he always “dressed down” sometimes even with no shirt he looked like one of the navvies, not engineer in charge. Not everyone liked his attitude because he could be very hard on his men. He liked to drink, play cards, and bet on horses.


Workers on the project loved the status of working on such an important project. Doug could drink with any worker and got on with any of the hierarchy of the Department.


The clerk was Val Dunn (sp?) who had a son of eight or nine years old who referred to the project as “daddy’s dam” – a status which rubbed off on everyone.


Keith Jack was mainly involved with design of urban lakes including “Burley Griffin”.


John Dalgarno expected to be in charge of the Bendora project – but ran into trouble with director which Arne thought was related to the use of gravel for the access road which turned out not to be suitable for road making. So John did not get the job. Dug Thomasson replaced him as site manager.   John Dalgarno was a pleasant man but he had a temper and never forgave anything.


Jack Purcell was at Bendora Dam for whole construction period. He worked under Dug Thomasson and came from Snowy Scheme.


Jack Edwards (hydrologist – site “E” which was Corin Dam) was a typical hydrologist who like wading hip deep in streams. He also liked fishing even while measuring the river. Jack had a frying pan in the site office – he was fed up with having to fry his fish in a shovel!


Migrants – most of the labourers were migrants who had worked on the Snowy Scheme.


Women – There were none on site. There were only a few “visiting girls” [prostitutes] – a room was set aside for such visits a few times a month.




TOPICS for Romanas Katauskas – 6 November 1997 – supervising engineer on Bendora and Corin dams



SIDE 1 – Bendora Dam


Rom was an engineer at Bendora and Corin dams. He came to Australia from Lithuania in 1949 and spent two years in a Bathurst migrant camp. He then went to Canberra and obtained a scholarship with the Dept of Works. He then studied engineering at university and went back to work for the Dept of Works.


Bendora Dam was Rom’s first engineering project. Claude Anthony “Dug” (correct sp) Thomasson was the resident engineer. Dug was easy going and down to earth. Dug did not have much time for “formalities”.   Dug mixed well with staff and was a well-respected person.


Rom looked after the concrete lab trial mix tests, and then the continuous testing program once the pour is underway. He monitored the quality of the concrete. Rom also tested slump & temperature of the poured concrete and monitored its cooling after pouring.


Dept of Works staff included 3 engineers, 6 supervisors, 12 staff.
There was no contractor’s staff in his building.


The size of aggregate in the concrete is discussed. Large stones had to placed by hand sometimes rather than dumped into the pour randomly.


The temporary walkways were frightening for uninitiated because they scaled the sheer wall of the dam. Rom discussed the formwork to some extent.


His opinion on Clemensons contractor was pretty good.


Rom provides a very short comment on the cableway and Landrover used to haul the bucket.


Rom is queried on other aspects of the project but provides no comment.


Rom is asked about links with the Snowy Mountains Hydroelectric Authority but provides no comment.


Pollution issues? no comment. The same as fore sanitation.


Public issues re impact on environment? – no comment.


Weather impacts? Rom states there was not much snow, only occasionally and it melted quickly.


Jack Purcell was the next engineer under Dug but Rom does not provide comment on that.


John Muir was the contractor’s representative, and Rom got on well with him.


Migrant workers? Quite a few there and mostly ex-Snowy workers.


The total workforce was about 100. There was only one woman, a young lady in site office for a while doing a clerical position.


Particular events. Rom was injured on job. He suffered a cracked pelvis when he was hit by concrete bucket when it slipped on its track. He was pinned against the wall. An ambulance was sent for and he can’t recall much about the trip into Canberra Hospital. Rom was in hospital for nine weeks. There were other accidents, for example a superintendent was hit by falling tree.


Industrial unrest? Rom doesn’t recall any lengthy disputes. There was once a “food strike” but that did not last very long.


Relations between Clemensons and the workers? Rom does not provide much comment. The Dept of Works did look after its staff pretty well.


Side 2


Had to live on site as he had no transport and only visited Canberra on weekends. There were no special allowances for on-site living (except a small meal allowance) The contractor’s workers had a separate mess. The food he ate was nothing to boast about, mostly stews, shepherd’s pies that sort of thing. But the quantities were good.


Their barracks type accommodation was pretty basic. There was a bed, dressing table, and mirror. There was a small kitchenette in the building, and a lounge room. They had electric heating.


Alcohol played a big role in the off-hours after work drinks were habitual. There was not much to do socially. They mostly played cards, darts, and did reading. There was a wet canteen which was the centre of what social activities there were. It had timber grained panelling on the inside.


Prostitution? Some did occur, although Rom relates that it was not done on a regular visit. There were just random visits. The women used one of the rooms while management turned a blind eye.


For transport at home on weekends a couple of Landrovers were used. He shared a vehicle with other workers. Sometimes Dug would pick him up in Dug’s work car, a VW beetle.


Corin Dam – 1966-68


Rom was involved as soon as the contract was let. He was one of the first on site. A camp was already established and clearing of tracks was in progress. By that time it was mostly a sealed road to job site.


The diversion tunnel grouting was his responsibility. Grouting was done where the curtain of the dam met the diversion tunnel, otherwise there was not much grouting. Rom also supervised the “blanket grouting” for the dam itself where the dam meets the rock. This essentially waterproofed the rock to a depth of 25 ft using holes spaced at five metres. There is some discussion on testing the holes, then varying the mixture of the grout.


Construction of the spillway and foundations of the dam was also his responsibility. This provided good contact for the clay which is used in dam as a waterproof barrier.


Formwork issues? Rom relates that it was the contractor’s responsibility to make the complex shape, so he cannot comment on that.


The heavy machinery was noisy.


Pollution? Rom doesn’t recall.


Weather? There was not much snow.


Peter Charlton was gregarious, but he could be firm when it was required. Peter was a capable construction engineer. Eddie Gilder? Leslie Thiess did visit the site at one time.


Migrant workers? Rom does not recall, as he did not have much contract.


Graham Kelleher was Rom’s supervisor.


Official opening ceremony? Rom did not attend. He cannot recall the circumstances, but assumes it was because he was not invited.


Corin dam was designed by The Dept of Works which also supervised its construction. There was liaison with NCDC.


Side 3


There was no direct supervision of dam works by NCDC which left that job to the Dept of Works. Thiess did a very good job. Rom cannot recall any problem areas. The on-site relationship was very professional. Social and official communications were kept separate. Rom did not socialise too much with contractor’s staff although they shared the same dining room with Thiess staff.


Married quarters accommodation? He cannot comment. Single staff were still in barracks style accommodation. Rom does not provide much comment on weather/wind/snow. He certainly enjoyed his time at both jobs and does not recall any minor annoyances.


Social life at the work site was much the same. It took place in the “mess club” Rom mostly remained in the barracks when he was off duty.


There was no transport provided. Rom only had Sundays at home. He was married in Feb 1967 and his wife just accepted the arrangements.


Does not remember any particular incidents or funny things.


Rom was very pleased to be involved in the major dams projects. It was good career development and now stand like monuments to their work. He was very happy to have been there.




TOPICS for Graeme Kelleher – 7 November 1997 – principal engineer at Corin Dam

TOPICS – NOTE: Much of this interview revolves around the need for strict supervision and quality construction according to the design. Quality control is the overarching theme.


Side 1 – Corin Dam


7 Nov 1997 – Graeme was involved from the very start. He was in charge of major projects in Dept Works. The design engineer was Arne Fokkema who had a lot of input to the design of Corin Dam. Graeme comments on the choice of earth and rock fill structure versus concrete arch. Choosing earth and rock fill made the spillway design critical because earth and rock fill cannot be overtopped with flood waters. There were problems in estimating the 1:10,000 year “maximum probable flood” when only 50 years’ data were available.


Safety Issues? Corin Dam design issues – there were problems with achieving stability. Of the three Cotter River dams, Bendora is by far the safest. Graeme explains differing assumptions about upwards pore pressure on bottom of dams.


Cost control on Corin Dam: He was the resident engineer right through construction. His biggest problem was living away from his family for two years. He had set himself a personal challenge to build the dam for less cost than the estimated/contract cost. He tried to minimise the amount of work in the surrounding bush and limit damage to surrounding environment. The contractor was paid by volume of work on a “schedule of rates”, not lump sum.


Graeme also saved money by not clearing trees, etc. and that did achieve the objective to drive the project under cost. Corin not subject to and EIS (Environmental Impact Statement). Googong was the first dam subject to EIS.


Quality control was the most difficult issue. There is always a great temptation for the contractor to minimise quality to save money. For the clay core moisture and compaction were critical to achieve the required result.   Also the rock filters are critical otherwise fissures in the clay core can occur and the dam will fail. Graeme describes various construction difficulties in laying each layer.


Problems in supervising contractor: Graeme describes various staff under his command. They all lived in the same barracks building. He pointed out that contractors lived in same camp, but had separate living quarters, but the same canteen and mess. There is always a danger that supervising staff could be “captured” by contractor. Some supervisors were corrupt.


The dam was a quality result. There was a very high standard of workmanship due to close supervision and competent design.


Graeme speaks about the grouting of the foundation rock.


Digging the diversion tunnel was a dangerous activity. Graeme gives an example from overseas. There was no hearing protection used by the workers and the noise was incredible. Nobody was killed.


Constructing the inlet tower: Graeme tells story of Rom Katauskas supervising work there. Rom was not friendly with the contractor’s staff and many times Rom was “accidentally” hit by stray sprays of grout when he was visiting the site.


Concreting: cement brought out dry from Canberra and “batched” on site. The critical objective was to avoid corrosion of the reinforcing steel and to maintain strength of the concrete. Compaction of concrete is also critical. Compaction is often a point of conflict between staff and contractor.


Bridge leading to intake tower: This bridge was fabricated on site. Part of it fell down while under construction. A steel girder fell down one night when no one was there. It probably blew over in the wind. Safety during construction is paramount but often overlooked. Kelleher was on leave at the time of this incident.




After the falling girder incident Kelleher was told to not take any more leave until the project was complete.


Spillway: the quality of the surrounding rock was poor and the spillway had to be designed as a buttress wall. The crest shape and quality of concrete is critical to safety. Graeme comments on “cavitation” as a cause of failure. The crest is pre-stressed back into bed rock.


Role of surveyors: Accurate surveying was very important for spillway construction.  


Access road: Graeme built it the way it was designed which upset the contractor [who had planned on shortcuts]. The role of the supervisor is to check that the sub-grade is compacted to specification and that the thickness of the crushed rock surface is more than the specified minimum. The only place where compaction was not adequate was at culverts and drains – which are notoriously difficult. Graeme comments on construction supervision in Australia and gives the example from Corin access road.


Bituminous seal: Graeme discusses meeting specification of the gravel covering in two courses, the first is coarse & then fine. He did not use excess material and he gives examples. He also comments on guide post placement and makes disparaging comments on attitudes of many other engineers that “if it passes inspection, it’s OK”.


Cross links to Snowy Scheme people: Visits to each other’s projects were made. It was a very exciting period, people were very proud.


Graeme’s environmental commitment since that time: He is still interested. The EIS is important. Many engineers lose sight of this. Graeme talks of the prohibition of urinating on site….which was honoured mostly in the breech.


Health tests on workers? Graeme is not aware of any health checks.


Weather: They did have snow and it was very cold, but it was very scenic. It was lovely to see the ranges covered in snow. He comments on views from site office.


Individuals: Thiess project managers were Peter Charleton followed by Eddie Geldart (sp?). Both were “characters”. He had many arguments with them but got on well. There was no ill will. Speaks of one incident on dam wall where there was disagreement on quality of rock. A dozer driver deliberately swung the blade of his machine towards the Dept of Works supervisor, just missing his head. Kelleher demanded the driver be banned from driving dozers. There were threats of strikes.


Eddie Geldart(sp?): a real character. He and Eddie sometimes had drinks together. Eddie had his wife & family there on site. Eddie was “quite aggressive”. Kelleher thought he was reasonably fair. Gives example of trying to change design when a cost savings had been identified but Eddie stubbornly refused, so the proposed savings were not made.


Dug Thomasson (sp?): was the resident engineer on Bendora Dam. He had trouble remembering names. Graeme talks of organising a party for Thomasson. [Thought he was a very interesting personality and a good engineer.] Dug played cards all night at the party. At six in the morning he decided to drive back to Canberra but Dug’s car had been jacked up on blocks as a practical joke. Dug was instructed not to drink any alcohol because of recent vaccinations but he had had many beers over the course of the night. When he got back to Canberra he lapsed into a coma for two days, but then fully recovered.


Don Stockdill: Both he and Dug Thomasson were heavy smokers and died of lung cancer. Both were very dismissive of the idea that smoking was bad for the health. Stockdill was a “really fine person”. A clever design engineer and straight as a die and it was wonderful to work under him. Kelleher looked up to Don Stockdill tremendously. Don kept up a positive spirit even to his final days.


Contacts with Rod Dalgleish and other NCDC personnel: Along with Bill Minty? NCDC staff sometimes visited the site, but not very often. There was rare contact and little technical interplay. There was pretty much a hands-off attitude by NCDC. However, Bill Minty did determine the access road route.




Was Corin Road pegged earlier by Forestry? – yes past Gibralter Falls to Smokers Gap, there was a pre-existing road. But from there on there was nothing pegged. Kelleher loved driving the route because it was an adventure. He would often get bogged and have to winch himself out.


Migrant workforce? The Serbs and Croats hated each other. This spilled over into frequent fights. Many of the work force had come over from Thiess’s work on Geehi Dam which had just finished. They moved from site to site and their whole life was construction, gambling and drinking. Drinking every night was “mandatory”. Graeme talks about the perverse gambling attitudes of the workers. Not much else to occupy your spare time. Kelleher would go for walks, even at night.


Prostitution? – Yes. Rumours were that the prostitution was organised by the Police but was never substantiated. Along with professional girls there were some amateurs. It was thought there was a caravan on site used for the purpose.


Living comfort? It was spartan. There were pre-fabricated huts or “dongas”. They had radiant heaters but these were tiny. There was a TV room in camp where gambling also took place.


Visiting home? He went home on Wed night and Sat night. His absences did have an impact on his children. His son got out of control. Got in with the wrong crowd, never pursued education. There was a high cost to his family with his two year absence.


Sense of isolation in camp? – Not a really. But did become isolated from his wife and family.


Impact on Cotter Valley? - Thinks dams can provide a variety of landscape so long as natural streams and valleys are preserved.


Official opening? He can’t recall. There may have been one. If there was one, it was common to leave out those people who had actually worked on the project.


Weather events: The dam was completed, and a plug for the diversion tunnel was in place, but a butterfly valve was missing its actuating motor when a huge flood came along. If they were unable to get the valve closed, then it might not EVER be able to be closed! Luckily no one was killed and they did get the valve closed.


Describes testing valves in outlet tower – huge noise and vibration of entire outlet tower. The test was successful but an anchor block cracked.


A certain person (a Dept Works supervisor) identified a problem with the concrete but proposed to wait. However, this was found out and problem was rectified immediately. The person’s name has been omitted from the original recording.


Graeme comments on structural failures during construction. He had a friend killed on a bridge project overseas. Specific mention is made of the construction of Commonwealth Ave bridge where there would have been lots of structural failures if they had not checked the design and fabrication of the formwork.


Faulty concrete on Corin Dam? – Graeme did require some re-working of concrete in bottom of outlet tower.


Graeme comments on mental determination and fortitude which is required on such projects. Belief in sound engineering principles will gets one through.


Bendora Gravity Main


Graeme was involved with the supervision of its construction. He gives examples of poor supervision.




One cannot rely even on your own staff. They may relax field standards if they feel the design is overly cautious. He talks of cut-off walls along the pipeline not being constructed according to design. His view is that the pipeline job was “very easy”.   It was a straight forward design with minimal risk.


How does he feel about the projects overall? He is very lucky. But he does not want to stay in civil works all of his career. He reflects on the consequences of mistakes in his profession compared to other professions like medicine.


TOPICS for Peter Kobold -- 5 November 1997 – maintained two-way radios for site vehicles

TOPICS - good story teller




Migration from Germany to Australia – father initiated – came in 1953 in Michelago NSW. They paid their own way. Had an aunt already in Michelago. He describes his first impressions….it was quite a shock.


He describes the rabbit plaque on the land around Michelago. His father found work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme building power lines. Then he moved to Cooma. After graduating from school he went to Sydney to study electronics and communications at University of Technology at Artarmon.


Then he moved to Canberra working for ACTEW. His mother opened a hairdressing salon. His brother also ran the TAB. Peter then travelled overseas especially to Germany to assess whether to move back to Germany. There was
no way”. In Australia “we work to live”. In Germany they “live to work.”


They borrowed money to come to Australia and skip the waiting as a “displaced person” funded by Australia. Their aunty guaranteed them a house and job to meet migration requirements. They lived in a “10 by 10” square room where everything took place – cooking, eating, living and sleeping.


He did not speak English before he came. Describes being in a country school room with all the classes in the one room. Describes playing his first Aussie Football game. Learned English just by “picking it up”…no lessons. They spoke German at home. Describes visiting Germany in 1963 and discovering that he had kept the local home town dialect while the young people had lost it.


He joined a firm called Gibson & Greaves which maintained AWA equipment especially two way radios. He eventually bought his partners out. [Peter, along with Gibson and Greaves also started Canberra Printers.]   The radios were installed in trucks used by the contractor on the Bendora Pipeline.


Nat Harrison had two separate teams at work on the pipeline one at each end. Peter would travel to the work site to maintain or repair the radios. They were AWA MRT 25 models. These were the last of the valve radios. His lecturers told him the transistor was a very “noisy” device and would “never go anywhere”. He describes more about valve two-way radios.


More on radios – their size and weight (19.8 pounds weight – about 9 kg) And what they were used for – breakdowns etc.


Peter describes his impression of the gravity main – and why he thought it was so impressive. Describes steep country and bulldozers losing traction and being chained together. He thinks of how brave the dozer drivers were.


Peter would go out to the work site, sometimes twice a week to repair and replace radios in wrecked vehicles. Aerials would be torn off by the scrub, etc.


American engineers were used by Nat Harrison & Co which was a subsidiary of a US firm. They were “rugged individuals” working in a dirty environment.


He felt there was a sense of isolation. A trip to the Cotter was a “long trip”.


Peter describes conditions during rain and snow.




More on weather: the contractor would bring the vehicles in to Peter for radio repair when they could not work on site owing to bad weather. He would do readio repairs at the same time as the mechanics did their repairs.  


The route he used to access the pipeline was near Pierces Creek. Peter describes the work camps and tin sheds. Many were on three or four levels of ground.


Accidents: Peter remembers some but cannot recall the details.


Environment concerns: there was some disturbance but we did need water. Not much tree cover was disturbed and it was very steep country.


Peter thinks the landscape was quite spectacular. However, he grew up with the Snowy Scheme which was so much bigger and more spectacular. He recalls his amazement that a gravity pipeline could be so “up and down”.


Women? Never saw women on the project. Possibly in the accounts department of the contractor’s offices in Canberra.



TOPICS for Peter McDonald -- 14 November 1997 – Rural police officer for Cotter Projects





Peter was the rural police officer in 1966. He mostly covered all rural areas of ACT including Hall, Tharwa, Corin Dam. He was the only full time officer. He visited the work site two or three times per week. His main duties were executing warrants and serving summons, and making inquiries about thefts and assaults.


There was never a permanent police presence at the work site. Most of his work involved civil cases – custody of children, unpaid child maintenance, unpaid fines, etc. There was a lot of “family” work. When he arrived at the site, certain individuals would suddenly disappear. There were some “pretty rough” workers there.


Road accidents: Describes various car accidents – black ice, driving off the road, alcohol and “disappearing” drivers.


Offences within the work site: At Corin Dam site thefts from rooms within the camp were common, food from the kitchen, and theft of diamond tipped drills (£50,000 worth of drills). There were many assaults, especially in relation to workers’ bar. It was 42 mi and would take over an hour to get up there.


He used a VW beetle to get around the rural back blocks, later he used a Holden ute. He tells the story of a previous rural officer dying from arthritis thought to have been brought on by the cold of driving a canvas topped Landrover. So no 4WDs were being used at the time.


Fire in Corin Camp. Peter arrived one morning to find that one of the accommodation blocks had burnt to the ground. Forty-odd men lost all their equipment and personal items. He found that a Canadian man had put a plastic rain coat on a radiator to warm it up and it had caught alight.


Men were paid in cash each Thursday, he would “stake out” the pay session in a back room in order to conveniently find people he was looking for.


Corin was a very good camp. Very calm, management was on side and wanted a safe environment. But management at that time generally expected to lose “one life per million pounds of expenditure.” However, at Corin there were no lives lost.


Peter describes weather at the site – in winter it could be freezing with ice and snow, in summer there was “bull dust” everywhere.


There were no women on site.   There were “women of the night” [prostitutes] who visited from Sydney. They would fly down, and be taken to the site by taxi. Detectives tried to stop it without success. It was alleged that detectives were being paid bribes to allow it. An investigation by a magistrate was done and one detective was sacked. It was the “talk of the town, because this guy was well known. The story was that “pay-off money” was found in the detective’s “in-tray” while he was away on leave.


There is discussion on prostitution and illegal gambling on large construction sites.


Peter did not view that site as “isolated”. It was only 42 miles from Canberra. His impression was of a ‘very large project’. He was amazed at the clearing of trees and the proposed depth of water. Then they were to divert the entire flow of the river. There is a quick description of a rock fill dam, and noise around the camp.


Mention of various people: Colin Winchester did relieve him from time to time. Colin had a mining family history, and actually worked underground at Captains Flat. Peter describes Colin going undercover at the site but being recognised by someone almost immediately.


Caterers: “Poon” (sp?) Brothers did all the catering.


There is more description of his driving his little VW around the work site, and its performance on snow covered roads.


Bendora Gravity Main


He was amazed at the design and could not understand how it was “gravity fed”. Nat Harrison was the contractor. The machinery seemed very old and shabby.


Accidents: There were a few serious accidents. One day he accidentally found a bloke well off the road trapped underneath an overturned front-end loader. He had been coming down what is known as the “mineshaft hill” and lost control of the machine. That hill is now used in rallying and 4WD training.


There were a few car accidents, one bulldozer has never been recovered.




Describes a rough track used for access. Describes method of serving summonses to people he could not reach because his car would not negotiate the track. He would “deputise” the camp manager who would post a notice on the bulletin board in the mess. Another bloke on site with whom Peter had contact was Axle Neilson who was an administration type on site. Neilson later owned or managed the Cotter Tavern for some years.


John Denholm was Peter’s immediate predecessor and later was the first ranger at Corin Dam.


The Pipeline Camp: Theft was the most common reason for him going to the pipeline camp. Probably 40 – 50 men there. Camp was right on the Cotter River just below Bendora Dam. It was closer to town than Corin and some blokes lived in Canberra and commuted each day. Buildings were timber and fibro. Discussion on types of material in each camp. It was not as bleak as Corin because it was lower in altitude. There was a wet canteen but no real problems.


Corin Dam: Peter tells the story of one day when police were on site and a man attacked the very person the police were talking to with a hammer. It was thought that the attacker did not want the person to talk to the police about a certain matter. The victim suffered a fractured skull.


Peter describes extreme working conditions which were either mud or bulldust.


Health inspection of workers? Peter is not aware of any such inspections.


He liked that job which was his first in the Police Force. The workers were pretty rough lot, but he respected them and they respected him. It was a good education. He loved the bush. It was pristine and lovely. It is nice to visit the Corin Dam now and remember all the activity that took place there. He has no regrets about the damming of the river and compares the value of water versus the lovely valleys of Cotter, Naas and Googong.


Short winding up and pleasantries.




TOPICS for Ron Moore – 17 November 1997 – Construction project engineer for Bendora Gravity Main





Ron describes how he became site engineer and the “horrendous” route. Steepest slope was some 55 degrees (nearly vertical). Access was the biggest problem. It was limited to each end of the job at first.


Work was done from each end using two separate contracts. Before the camp road was completed workers commuted each day from Canberra. Half the working day was used in travel.


He admired people who worked on the job. It was very hazardous but he does not recall any serious accidents. The plant operators especially dozer drivers were very courageous.


He surveyed route from the air. Ron comments on Bob Hawley the contractor’s representative. He was air sick from extreme turbulence and asked for the flight to end.


Construction camp: Bendora Dam was built well before the pipeline and its construction camp was not used for the pipeline. The pipeline construction crew had a corrugated iron shed near the bridge over Murrumbidgee River (near the pumping station).


Weather and its impact – The first few months was very wet and temporary bridges were washed out. It was a very slow start. But towards the end of the job Canberra was in drought so things were better. During the drought water was released from the Tantangera Dam but it never reached the Cotter Pumping Station, just filling in all the dry water holes along the way.


Describes excavation method which was “bench & trench”. Cutting the bench was quite a trick in itself, much less the pipeline trench. The trench was mostly done by drilling and blasting.


Laying of the pipe: Ron describes delivery which was initially laid by cranes but this was very slow. Nat Harrison (contractor) brought in side-beam pipe layers which were better suited to the steep terrain. Ron comments on the contractor being American and doing a few other jobs in Australia.


Welding: Ron describes welding inside and out of the pipeline. There were about 15 welders total. Access was from the open end of the pipe or manholes cut in the pipe. Pipe was not laid in a continuous length. They often worked from separated points e.g. a ridge top or valley in both directions doing temporary tack welds to stabilise the pipe in place. Inside of the pipe was lined with coal tar enamel which was a very slippery surface. If something went wrong inside the pipe it was a long way down for the welder to fall.


Electric welding - inspection and quality. Each welder had to pass a qualification test. Only one welder was actually sacked owing to poor quality. There were two full time welding inspectors, two civil works inspectors, and one surveyor on Ron’s team.


Bends in pipe: Straight connections allowed for 2.5 degree bends, but greater than that had to be specially fabricated. Each “special” pipe length was precisely calculated and fabricated to fit just that section of the route. Ron describes difficulties in actually piecing together each pipe length. Sometimes a rock fall would damage a pipe so it had to be removed and a new piece put in. It was very rare that any great problem occurred with fitting section together.


Concrete – anchor blocks, cutoff walls, and creek crossings. Sometimes minimal supervision caused problems, and a cutoff wall was not built all the way around the pipe. They found an entire section where the walls were not done this way. Nat Harrison had a “very red face” and had to break them out and re-construct them in the proper way (at great expense).


Staffing levels: Each pipe had a unique number and was tracked through to the contractor. Inspectors had to inspect everything – trench, pipe laying, so the job was big for each inspector.


Crossing of the Cotter River: Ron describes the method which was used, which often involved laying half the river crossing in two stages. Luckily the river flows were pretty small.


Ron describes backfilling of the trench over the pipe. There was a re-grassing contract. There was a lot of spoil which cascaded down the steep slope. “Turbidity” in the river was not such a big problem because at that time all of Canberra’s water was filtered (treated) at Mt Stromlo. That is not the case today where most water supply from the Cotter is simply disinfected, not filtered. Health inspectors kept a very close eye on things.


Sanitation – health checks on employees? Ron can’t recall.




More on sanitation – Ron cannot remember any issues.


Ron recalls various people he worked with: Bob Hawley from the USA – was an experienced pipeline contractor and very competent. He gave great impetus to the project. They did not socialise, it was mainly a business relationship. Other Americans? One other but cannot recall details.


Was there a sense of superiority by the Americans? There was none of that.


Carl Clews (sp?) – a gem – very efficient man.


Recalls his admiration for the plant operators and their skill and daring.


Department of Works – Jack Purcell was senior to Ron Moore. Jack asked Ron to be the construction engineer on the pipeline. Jack was an ex-Snowy man. Jack was very experienced.


Women? Ron could not recall seeing any women on the job.


The site camp was about half way along the 16 km length. It was all pre-fabricated. Ron went out to the site each day. The standard of rooms were very basic, there was a long corridor with rooms either side. There were communal bathrooms and a communal mess.


Liquor licence? Ron assumes that the mess had a licence. Certainly beer was available.


Food in the mess? Occasionally Ron ate lunch there.


Beer? Ron did not really socialise. Sometimes he would while in Canberra. There was never any social evenings together.


Violence? Ron is not aware of any details.


Accidents? Ron stupidly stumbled into some wet concrete up to his knees. He had a red face. The workers hosed him down to great hilarity.


More on accidents: One concrete truck fell half-way into a trench. The drivers had only inches of clearance before falling down the steep slope.


Industrial unrest? There probably were some, but he cannot remember. Safety was a prime issue. There were union representatives on the site and some stop work meetings, but nothing he can recall. Ron is not aware of the pay levels of the workers.


Ron’s pay was standard rate only which was not really adequate but just a fact of life.


After completion was there a failure of air valve? Ron was personally involved. Filling and testing of the pipeline was a very drawn out process. Ron describes a radio network which was used to monitor progress of the water filling. Ron describes two “butterfly” valves used to shut water on and off along the line. One valve failed to close and created a torrent of water taking out the access road and “half the hillside”.


Was there an opening ceremony? He cannot recall having one. The pipeline was put into use almost immediately after the first round of testing. The pipeline was commissioned in January 1968. Leakage testing was done just prior to that in Dec 1967. [Ed note: there was drought at that time.]


How does Ron feel about the project? He did NOT feel it was a “mini Snowy scheme”. Has no profound feelings on the project but it was a career highlight.




TOPICS – Tom Pearson – 11 November 1997 – plumber on Corin Dam work camp





Tom arrived in Sydney from London in 1961 on his own looking for work. He had plumbing qualifications and met a man in the pub and was offered work but that fell through. He went to Canberra looking for work.  


Tom met a chap doing work for the Bureau of Mineral Resources who had a vacant government flat in Condamine Court. Tom minded a dog for the friend [dogs were not allowed in a government flat] but he was forced to ship the dog back to Perth to the friend’s parents place and he got thrown out of the flat. He moved into a garage in Queanbeyan. Eventually he got an allocated government house.


Tom started work with a large plumbing firm from Sydney (H L Bartlett) which went broke on the Mint construction project. Then he went into a partnership with Phil Birch but the amount of work was bad. Then he started working for Canberra Plumbing Company which was an offshoot from H L Bartlett. Bartlett’s got a job at Corin Dam.


Harry Curtis and John ____ also got the Corin Dam assignment. His main job was plumbing the new work site camp. It was a pretty rough old road. The main contractor was bringing in stripped-out huts off the Snowy job at Geehi Dam site.


There is discussion on types of huts being used and differences between single and married quarters. Harry Curtis (veteran of Spanish Civil War 1936) had been captured in Spanish Civil War and was interred and learned Spanish. He was an organiser and talked to the Spanish labourers. They put in septic tanks.


Water supply was pumped from Kangaroo Creek to a small tank on a hill near to camp. Tom talks about walking to Kangaroo Creek looking for a platypus. He got lost on his way back to camp and had to backtrack.


Tom also built roofing for offices and work sheds. The St Johns first aid guy was nicknamed “Dr Death”. He was a pretty old fellow, but competent. Assault: Tom describes an incident where a man was attacked with a hammer. Rumour was that a political difference related to nationalities was the problem. The victim appeared to be permanently brain injured. There were other fights after alcohol was consumed. He was not worried because he was brought up in a rough area.


Ranger’s cottage: was built some years after the project and Pearson did plumbing there as well. The ranger first lived in part of the old construction camp before the hut was built. Tom Pearson left the Corin project when they had completed the diversion tunnel and actually started construction on the dam wall.




Electricity: Tom recalls construction of the line. The telephone was a “radio telephone”. He cannot remember TV being there. He recalls the crystal clear water and animal tracks after snow had fallen. It was really beautiful. He does regret that the disturbance had to be done and notes that all dams eventually fill with silt.


Weather: It was very cold. There were floods too. He recalls Harry Curtis driving through Point Hut Crossing when water was lapping at the driver’s door. The only thing that saved them getting washed off was the weight of the pipes in the back of the ute.


Tom tells another story about Harry Curtis’s ute where the brakes had failed. Harry asked Tom to fix it. Tom used heating oil to fill the brake system. But a hose was burst on the back so this did not work. They used the handbrake and gears to slow down on the trip into town. Also the distributor failed just at the bottom of Smokers Gap. He describes getting a tow behind a truck in the mud, but the wipers on the ute would not work. So they had no brakes and no vision with Curtis putting his head out the window to see to steer. (Luckily there were no accidents.)


Georgie Price (jockey): Georgie was labouring [there are various accounts deleted from master tape]. Tom felt sorry for him.


Phone tapping: One bloke who worked at the tracking station at Tidbinbilla was having an affair with a woman working at the Canberra Rex. “Phone tapper no 1 & phone tapper no 2” tapped the line to listen to the conversation between this guy and phone tapper number 2 made a tape recording of this conversation and played it to the wife. She rang the police and the two phone tappers were charged (this was written up in The Canberra Times of the day.)


“Frankenstein’s Munster” – This was the nickname of the guy who looked like the TV show character The Munster. The man claimed it was his brother that played the TV part. “The only person who could have loved him was his mother.”


Many of the workers were running away from something – the law, or the wife, or something. Assumed names were used frequently even on tax forms.


A large number of the men were foreign born, at least 80 – 85%. The main nationalities were Italian, Yugoslavia, Spanish, German, Swiss-German, a smattering of UK. Tom talks about catering by Poon Brothers which also catered for the Snowy Scheme. Poon Brothers also had a general store up there.


Quality of food: The food was pretty good. It was standard fare, but OK. There was only one incident where some meat was contaminated with diesel and the workers revolted about that.


Union officials: The site was not really unionised. There was trouble only if someone wanted to cause a stir. There were not much industrial disputes. Rates of pay were very good. Overtime was available.


The showers: were communal. But one Sunday morning Tom went into the showers and found a woman there, a prostitute from Sydney who had been there overnight.


Prostitution: there were quite a few prostitutes. They brought them up in a caravan. There were no women in the workforce except one in the office. She commuted from Canberra.


Gambling was the most common. There was a Commonwealth Bank office. After the wet canteen went in the Police had to be called for fights. Thefts were common, especially of money.


The hardest job he did was the most manual which was laying drains and man-handling materials.   


Accidents: Tom cannot remember.


He was married but spent the whole week at the job site. He was young and trying to make a quid and did not find it hard being away from his wife.


There was a mixture of ages – very young and older. It was a very mixed bag.


Tom gives a long description of “Dr Death” the older first aid man and his penchant for taking snapshots. The younger workers could be very cruel to him. Tom describes an incident in drying room where the young blokes were verbally abusing Dr Death. Tom never learned his real name and he regrets that.


He comments on pecking order established in such work camps….a bit like in a prison.


He now has a special feeling for the place. He also worked on the Scrivener Dam. He met some nice guys and some “bastards”. It was all part of the great tapestry of life.




TOPICS for George Redmond - 7 November 1997 – Bendora Dam engineer

TOPICS – told mainly from a senior manager’s level describing personnel in charge of the various design and construction elements. George’s initial comments were read from prepared notes.




He was appointed principal engineer from New Guinea for Bendora Dam. He was also appointed executive engineer for major development. When he arrived in Canberra the dams design had been completed. Keith Jack had selected the dam site. He thinks Keith Jack and Ken Harding were not given due recognition for their design efforts. At the time it was believed to be the first thin arch dam designed in Australia. The calculations of the curved wall were done manually as computers were not readily available for such things at that time.


Snowy Mountain Hydroelectric Authority and the US Bureau of Reclamation also assisted. Testing was also done by a professor in Italy who was a world authority on testing hydraulic structures.


Tenders were advertised in May 1968. Clemensons was the lowest tenderer. He interviewed them and had some doubts about their capacity owing to lack of experience on such projects, but this concern was proven to be unwarranted.


Construction of contract was supervised by Dug Thomasson who came from Darwin in 1959. One day Dug had a minor accident on the way home from the dam site, and bent the axle on his VW. He got himself going again with some bush repairs, but was reprimanded for doing mechanical repairs without being a member of the correct union!


Dug also supervised construction of the Scrivener Dam.


Design changes were required during construction – a bridge across the Cotter River was one. George called on Norm Sneath to advise him on that.


George describes the initial design of the dam was without a pipeline because water was to be released into the river to flow to the old Cotter Dam where it could be pumped into Canberra’s water supply. But a pipeline was always intended to be built eventually.


He mentions the NCDC but it was not involved in the design or awarding of the contract. At the time of construction of the Bendora Dam he describes how he asked Arne Fokkema to design the gravity pipeline but NCDC decided to defer the idea.


George left the ACT in March 1962 to take up position of Director of Works in Northern Territory. He was not involved in other dam works like Corin and Googong Dams.


The final design of the pipeline was done by Bernie Fitzgerald not Arne Fokkema.


George offers a collection of papers to Matthew Higgins for his research.


George often visited the site but Dug did not need much guidance. The road was pretty narrow and dangerous. Sometimes snow would block the road. He thought the job went pretty well. He did not find anything that was a concern.


There is a minor response relating to the design of the wall being curved in two dimensions.


Links to the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority? They were not greatly involved, but did some initial drilling for the foundations.


George did find the project interesting and rewarding. He includes an interesting aside about capability of contractors. George also describes the major projects of the day – the mint, the two bridges over the Molonglo and Scrivener Dam.


George does not remember too much about Mr Clemenson as a man. He also describes his impression of Les Thiess who was one of the first contractors to make full use of earth moving equipment.


George cannot recall an opening ceremony for the dam. This is one reason why the design engineers did not get recognition for their work.


George then digresses to a description of Scrivener Dam design issues.


He does not recall any particular events during construction of Bendora Dam.


Working conditions? He thought the camp was “pretty comfortable”. He does remember that all those involved were pretty enthusiastic. That was important.


Safety record? He does not recall any serious accidents.


Further points: George has collected various papers relating to Keith Jack’s career.




Additional points: George makes the point about the design and construction being separate exercises.




TOPICS for Alan Rolph – 7 November 1997 – concrete truck driver for Cotter projects

TOPICS – good story teller


Bendora Gravity Main -   Pioneer Concrete got the job of supplying concrete in 1966 – 1967.   This was from Bulls Head to Cotter and Stromlo. It was terrifying work right through from Pierces Creek end or Bendora Dam end. Alan descibes taking concrete dry to the site and finding the water truck. His truck was lowered down the mountain by bulldozer! – [good description] -


More on winching concrete trucks down slope.


He describes their dry loads and adding water near Pierces Ck settlement.


Alan details how he did it including a 5 hr return trip. He could do three loads per day. There were long hours behind wheel.


Alan describes the routes through Bendora Dam road and return via pipeline road. There was one way traffic alongside the pipeline to Pierces Creek.


Alan describes the construction camp which was very good. But there were frosts and snow and sometimes their pumps froze.


Alan describes hiring additional trucks from Sydney and leading the truck through dust, frost, and mud. The driver gave up after one load!


An American engineer commented they should be using helicopters for job. There were few Americans on that job but plenty of migrants. Those guys worked damned hard.


Storage of pipes – Alan mentions the steepness of the terrain.


The concrete plant was at 20 Lithgow St, Fyshwick. This plant was also used by Bendora Dam supply. Alan gives a good description of concrete mixing.


He describes working various jobs around Canberra for Clemensons concrete.


Welding inside pipes: exhaust fans were used, and the joints were overlapped.


Alan gives his views on Harrison employees. There is a good description of noise on the job. They were not mates. Gunner Peterson (powder monkey). His brother John also did the same runs. Alan mentions other names of those men driving the trucks. In all there were five trucks.


The company was paid $52 for each load of concrete. Alan got $10/day wages. On Sunday wages were even higher.


Alan mentions his marriage and that his wife would sometimes come with him on his delivery runs.


Other names – women – nothing important.


Accidents – Alan’s brother was in truck when a tow cable broke. The truck slid and turned over on its side.


Another incident was where a driver lost a cigarette in the cab and nearly burned the truck out.




Alan further comments on safety on the job including hazards of the unusual aspects – lowering welders on bosons’ chairs inside the pipe.


The food was basic like army tucker.


He comments on the isolation of the camp and the use of two-way radios.


The Corin Dam concrete job was in 1966 – 1968 and was not a problem. It was all wet concrete delivered from Fyshwick but was for pouring slab for engineers’ shed only.


Alan thought the bull dozer drivers were “idiots”. It was just too dangerous. Alan gives a detailed description of a dozer teetering on the brink of rolling down hill. He did not socialise as there was no time for that.


He is glad he did the job and loves Canberra. He was proud to have contributed to the infrastructure and loved the mountains. He did not mind disturbing the bush temporarily.




TOPICS - Harry Rundle – 11 November 1997 – truck driver - Raising the Cotter Wall 1949 - 1950

TOPICS – good stories here including one about Geoff Whitlam at the end




Harry was employed by Dept of Interior as truck driver 1949 – 1950. He carted river spoil – rocks made of granite found mainly found in Murrumbidgee River. The excavated material was taken to Mt McDonald where there was a rock crusher. Then the rock was crushed and mixed with sand and whatever.


The rock was round river stones which were loaded by hand by “new Australians”. At that time migrants were required to do 2 years labour on whatever the Government directed no matter if they were doctors, lawyers or what.


Very few of them could speak any English. Unions required the truck drivers to stay in the cab. They were not allowed to help load. Nor were they allowed to repair anything on the truck. The trucks held four cubic yards. It would take the labourers about 20 minutes to load the trucks.


Sand came from Casuarina Sands area. Harry describes the two ways in which the trucks were loaded with sand. He includes a description of a “Barber Greene” – a machine with an endless chain which scooped sand continuously. He got his truck bogged frequently.


He describes perhaps doing 10 loads per day up Mt McDonald to the crusher/mixer plant. The road was rough and tough on the trucks. They used 1940 or 1942 model Ford trucks and “were always doing axles”. The trucks had not done many miles because they had been brought to Australia by the Yanks and had been stored and not used. There were about six trucks in use at any one time.


Cement: came from Government stores at Kingston. This was carted to the dam site by other truck drivers using semi-trailers.


Cableway: workers would sit on a little seat and ride the load of concrete down to the dam wall. But trucks drivers were not allowed to do that because of union restrictions.


Harry describes the box formwork and steel mesh and recalls that 18 feet were added to the dam’s height.


Flood: Harry describes the flood --- how he camped there with another truck driver. He had just been married and was keen to get home on the weekend. But flood waters had risen so high that a tree had been deposited in the middle of the bridge and they could not get through. They were stuck there until Tues the next week. They spent the time sandbagging the Cotter Kiosk to prevent it from being flooded.


Harry says the damage to the construction site was not as great as he expected. They lost a couple of compressors, one of which they never found again. This was probably because the flood waters had come down from Paddy’s River and the further upstream in the Murrumbidgee River rather than the Cotter River.


Harry describes his relationship with the site boss. He mentions Mr Dalgarno being the site engineer.


Harry tells a story about driving up the hill one day and trying to run over a snake with his truck. The snake “disappeared” and was found wrapped around the tail shaft of the truck. A New Australian saw the snake and hit it with a large hammer. After that the truck had a vibration in the tail shaft. He saw many snakes and New Australians were very frightened of them.


Harry mentions the good reputation that Mr Dalgarno had as an engineer.


He describes his relationship to the migrants. They met socially at the Hotel Kingston. He and the other truckies would transport the migrants (mainly Poles) from the site to town under tarps in the back of their truck. The main worry was the rough ride and the fact they were not insured for that.


The migrants were very reluctant to discuss their experiences back in Europe.


Women on the job? No.


Other events: Jimmy Johnson operated a big compressor on site and once talked to a Maori bloke who was carrying a heavy jack hammer on his shoulder. The Maori bloke would not put the hammer down while talking for 20 minutes and became exhausted.


Discussion on jack picks (jack hammer) – these were used to anchor the cables inside the rock face.


Problems with the original concrete from 1913? Harry was not aware of any such problems.


It was a very good relationship between the Department and the workers. But there were industrial disputes in relation to demarcation between the various jobs and trades.


The pay was pretty ordinary.


Harry describes the dust from the crusher and taking photos from the crusher site of the dam wall.


Accidents? Harry describes one time when the operator of the “Barber Greene” had his hand crushed between the machine and the tailgate of the truck Harry was driving. A chase ensued. The air “turned blue” with invective.


Harry describes one vehicle accident not associated with the dam job: He was driving one morning when he came across the a ute which had run off the road and killed his brother-in-law who was working as a dozer driver at Bulls Head. His brother’s name was Alec Mackenzie (his wife’s brother.)


Harry mentions his father-in-law Dan Mackenzie who worked as foreman on the pine plantations in the Brindabella Mountains.


Camp: Was located near the “swimming hole” where the Paddy’s River meets the Cotter River. There were tents on duckboards for about 200 men.   There were between four and six men per tent and there were mobile kitchens and everything. It was their home.




Harry describes the kiosk and the good food that could be had there. It was a pretty good trade on weekends when Canberrans would come out for the day. There were even dances on the weekends.


He describes meeting his wife at the kiosk.


More on the tented camp: wooden floors, beds, single cabinets, some open racks. They used kerosene lamps for light. The food was repetitious and typical bulk food.  


He found it very hard being newly married and not living at home. There were no women on the job site at all.


Alcohol: There was not supposed to be any on site and the kiosk was not licensed, but alcohol was around. Harry was invited one night to one of the tents and he was given a nip of cherry brandy. He had never had it before. Harry often purchased grog for the men on his trips into town to cart petrol in 44 gallon drums.


Mr & Mrs Leude (sp?) (pronounced “loody”)owned the kiosk but he cannot recall the name of the caterer at the camp. The Leudes lived in a house right behind the kiosk which is right on the present site.


The workers in camp were very musical and some “thought they could sing”. Some workers would walk in their spare time. They really enjoyed their freedom. But fishing was strictly forbidden in the Cotter but was allowable in the Murrumbidgee. Harry thought a lot of them probably did fish to supplement their tucker.


There was a lot of card playing and some gambling. 98% were migrants. The gangers and truckies were the only Australians. Many were originally housed in the big hostels on the south side of the river in “Eastlake”, and Barton just east of Kings Ave.


Harry describes meeting some of the old workers around town. He only knew their first names. Once they finished their two years assigned labour, they moved to better job prospects. He could really understand lawyers/doctors feeling frustrated.


He thought they were very happy to be away from communism but may not have been very happy about being forced into heavy manual labour.


Harry does not have any particular feelings about the job he did – it was just a job.


Harry describes being a Commonwealth driver and driving Malcolm Fraser to Government House just prior to the dismissal of the Whitlam Government. He was instructed to park Fraser’s car around to the side, out of sight. But while he was there waiting, he also noticed Gough Whitlam had arrived at Government House. After returning to Parliament House with Fraser, he mentioned to Gough Whitlam that Fraser had been to Government House before him. Whitlam swore profusely. That was half past eleven in the morning, and by two o’clock “all Australia knew” [of the Whitlam government’s dismissal.]


He continued to drive for Gough Whitlam after he left Parliament because Gough would often come to Canberra in his role at the National Gallery. Harry became good friends of both Gough and Margaret. Harry was also good friends with Lance Barnard.




TOPICS for Albert Shaw – 3 November 1997 – Cableway Operator - Bendora Dam





Albert learned how to drive machinery in the British Army in 1939.    After the war he came to Australia in 1949 looking for work. He started at Bendora Dam in 1959 and worked there about a year.


At first he drove a Caterpillar loader machine which loaded loose rock from blasting operations. Blasting was often done late in the day after the day shift had knocked off. Then the night shift would clear the broken rock.   He would load the rock into a truck.


He was employed by Clemensons [the contractor]. He describes what it was like on night shift driving the cableway for pouring concrete. It was lonely and he was very conscious of the darkness around him. He could talk to other night workers on the two way radio which was good.


Albert describes the construction of the cableway. His role was to control the up and down and in and out of the pouring the concrete. This was done in two shifts, so that the work was shared with one other employee.


There was not much to see from the operating cabin. He could not see down to the river. Albert describes the position of the cabin in relation to the concrete batching plant.


All instructions regarding when and how to operate the bucket were given by radio. Albert cannot recall the name of the foreman who gave the instructions.


Power for the bucket was a large electric motor which drove the winch. Albert describes the operation of the winch with hand levers. There were no foot controls. He was standing up the whole time during the 12 hour shift. With the noise from the electric motor, he had to listen very closely to the directions over the radio.


There was nothing on the walls of the cabin.   It was boring at times but he had to maintain concentration because the safety of the men below depended on it.


There is discussion on cycle times for pouring concrete. Albert emphasises that the size of the pour was variable, and there were plenty of bucket movements.


He talks about the big continuous pours which might go longer than 12 hours.


Before he got the two way radio, the foreman used bells to signal him.


Albert talks about the Norwegian foreman and his accent. They had worked on the Snowy Scheme before coming to Bendora.


Albert describes the pulley wheels and cable which ran on the drums. He estimated the load as six tonnes.


Albert does not know where the cement and sand came from. He describes the concrete mixing process.


Albert is not aware of how many workers came from the Snowy Scheme.


He was not involved with the formwork.


Albert is not aware of any pollution controls. There was not much disturbance of the soil. He did not recall any health checks of the workers.




Albert had the flu vaccination, but afterwards he got sick for a week from the injection.


Accidents? Albert can not recall any accidents. Certainly no deaths.


He could not recall if there were any strikes. The food was OK….satisfactory. “You could eat it.”


Alcohol? There was none in camp. But the boys would buy it in town and bring it in. There was a “liberty truck” that would take the workers into town on Saturday and return later Sat evening.


Albert describes arranging his shifts with the other cableway operator so that he could have every other Saturday night and Sunday off.


Albert did have two children at the time, but he did not find it difficult. His wife worked at Immigration Dept. They were married for 52 years.


Albert describes the camp accommodation: there were wooden huts, one window and a door, with a central corridor. There was a communal shower and wash basin. He recalls that most huts were placed around the shower block.


Shift work: The camp was far enough away from the work site that sleeping while work continued on the dam was not a problem.


He did not see anyone doing bushwalking but some fished in the river below the site. There was a recreation hut.


There was some gambling but he did not engage. Some people had radios.


There were no women working on the site, but he recalled one nurse in the medical hut.


Most of the workers seemed to be Italians.


Weather? The weather did not have much impact. The work site was not that high in elevation to give weather problems.


Albert tells the story of a nearly hitting a large kangaroo on his way into the job.


He does not recall any bad things about working at Bendora.


The best thing was initially when there was a lot of shift work because it was really good pay.


Albert relates that lack of weekend work [with it penalty pay rates] was why he left the Snowy Scheme. Also the living conditions were very difficult on the Snowy. They were living in tents with snow around and had a little smoky kerosene heater. His face was black as smoke.


Albert does not recall what his rate of pay was back then.


People: Managers did not come out onto the site too often. This was because they could see pretty much everything from the office.


Some discussion on the site supervisor (Muir?) and his offsider. Albert concludes that the two weather board houses were for the two site supervisors. This was to keep the bosses separated from the workmen.


Albert does not think there was much union membership and is not aware of other workers’ union memberships.


By the time he left the job the dam wall was not even half way up.


There is discussion on use of electric power on site. Albert is not aware of any blackouts while he was there.


Was this a good job for him? Special in some way? Albert does not think so. His work on the two bridges (Commonwealth and Kings Aves) was the best. They were only 5 minutes from home.


On those bridges he was driving a crane on the back of a truck to drive the piles for the scaffolding.




TOPICS for Mike Smith – 4 November 1997 – Corin Dam – Design Engineer





Corin Dam was his first job with Dept of Works. Mike did the preliminary design for Corin Dam in 1964. He worked on two types of dams – “earth and rock fill”, and “concrete arch”. There was a third design worked on in Melbourne which was earth fill only. Mike describes the difference between the various construction types and the pros and cons relating to them.


Discussion of rock foundation problems on either abutment of the dam site.


More on competing design proposals. Arne Fokkema was proposing the earth and rock fill solution, while Ken Harding was proposing the multi-arch concrete dam. Both were working independently. Ken had designed Bendora and believed that one “needed concrete to build a dam”. But earth and rock fill was the fashion at that time. It relied mainly on cheap material and lots of machinery rather than manpower to build a concrete structure.


Arne and Ken – for Bendora Ken Harding had been in charge and Arne had been a junior, but by 1964 Arne was head of the team and Ken was more junior. (But in the meantime Ken had been overseas working on various dam projects). On his return to Australia and under pressure from NCDC, Ken had been re-hired by Dept Works. Mike thinks this could have been one reason they worked separately.


Mike was a junior engineer working for both men simultaneously. He had one set of drawings on one side and the other on the other side of his desk. Both Arne and Ken were very pushy about what they wanted.


Mike did the stability analysis on each dam. There is a technical discussion on what forces create instability in each type of dam. Earth & rock fill dams can slide down slope while concrete dams are subject to structural failure.


Model studies – Mike and another junior engineer named Max did model studies on the designs. The model work was done at the Kingston “nissan” Huts just east from the Kingston Powerhouse. There was a model of Lake Burley Griffin Dam [now Scrivener Dam] in there as well. The design of the spillway was very difficult. It was known as a “Glory Hole” spillway where they will take a certain amount of flow and then they “chuck”.


Also in the nissan hut was the pottery section, and after that section left they used the space for model studies of the Googong Dam.


Mike thinks playing with hydraulic models was a lot of fun.


These models were only flow models, not pressure models.


Stream gauging stations – they help with estimating 100 year floods, but beyond that it is only statistical calculations. These statistical targets are moving as time goes on. These days the “maximum probable flow” is much greater than originally estimated for those dams.


Field trips – they used to access the site from Orroral Valley then along a new road to a temporary construction camp at the junction of the Cotter and Kangaroo Creek. The camp was pretty primitive. The camp workers were pushing through new roads and assisting with the geotechnical investigations. This involved digging trenches and stripping away top soil from potential “borrow” areas.  


One vehicular track went further up the Kangaroo Creek which is now being restored. There is discussion on the beginnings of the current road which connected to the pre-existing track which stopped at Smokers Gap.


He used a VW beetle to get to the site. There was a slippery hill which sometimes they could not get up. This was a pool car. The site-based people may have had Landrovers.


There is discussion on the purpose of the trips.


Another person he can recall is Eric Best the geologist. There was also John Hill who studied rock stress. There is discussion on the “shear strength” of rocks at Snowy Scheme Labs in Cooma.


There is discussion on who was driving the bulldozers.   Also there is some discussion of separation between the design and construction teams.


Mike mentions his experience with observing dams being under construction. He had also visited Bendora Dam while it was under construction. Mike describes a Landrover being used to pull the concrete skip, but the engine did not last long as the load was too heavy. [Presumably this was before the cableway was built.]




Mike relates the story of a beam falling off the bridge structure out to the intake tower, but that was hearsay to him.


Pollution control measures? Mike thought there was not much consideration, they were probably hoping any sediment would settle out in Bendora Dam. He does not see any undesirable impacts, as they are a “necessary evil”. Trees have grown through the old mullock heaps and you cannot see them anymore.


Official opening ceremony? Mike is not aware.


NCDC relationship? Mike cannot comment.


The early camp – Mike thinks they were there for a week at a time, coming back into town on the weekends.


Discussion on dam failures and who was responsible. Mike gives more examples of difficult sites for dams. The ACT sites were “excellent quality”.


In the early 1970s he was the dam safety officer for ACTEW. He was responsible for each of the three dams in the Cotter. There is discussion on the Cotter Dam and its quality. Mike did some further investigations in the 1980s. The main problem was that the concrete was layered. Water pressure had built up on the inside of the dam. There were also larger rocks (“plums”) thrown into the inside mix. This was the way dams were built back then.


There is discussion on putting joints into dams today. The Cotter is an old dam and it has its problems.


In the early 1980s they found it was not designed for today’s conditions of maximum probable flood. Mike gives examples of different design parameters for Corin, Bendora and Cotter. Mike describes the reason for the construction of the “gallery” – a tunnel inside the old Cotter Dam (to reduce uplift forces by draining water from underneath the dam.)


Mike describes trying to take samples from the old concrete but it was a very weak mix and would crumble. This was no problem because “you were after weight” that was all. Mike discusses design principles of those days, and a reference to “Justin, Heinz and Kreiger” (sp?) a book on dam design.


Mike provides an explanation of uplift pressures and how they affect design.


Bendora Dam: It has performed very well. Mention of the rock bolts on the eastern abutment. Mention of “re-stressable anchors” which are not fully grouted. They would be used today.


Corin Dam: This dam has performed very well. The spillway has been cutting its own little hole at the bottom which was not expected. That is a geological problem. It is not acting as a ski jump because flows are very low. There is also a small permanent drainage through the dam. Discussion on the effect of naturally-occurring iron pyrites on the acidity of the water coming out of the dam.   The wall originally looked blue because of them.


Mike gives a general assurance about lack of problems with any of the ACT dams.




TOPICS for Eamonn Waldron – 10 November 1997 – Bendora Dam – welder/plant operator/caretaker (Dept Works)

TOPICS – A good story teller – from a technician’s perspective – stories not heard elsewhere in the series




At Bendora Dam Eamonn worked for 3 and a half years. He worked for the Dept Works.


His first job was to build the log boom at Bendora Dam site before the dam was actually constructed. [The log boom intercepted floating logs and debris and kept them from impacting the dam].


He briefly describes the construction of the boom and a flood where it worked as intended. There was so much water flowing over the dam wall it was literally shaking. “The whole thing was vibrating.” It was so scary that people refused to go out on the dam wall. He was asked by a supervisor to estimate the height of water going over the wall.  


Eamonn describes the big flood as being in 1963, a couple of years after the dam was completed.


Another job Eamonn did was clean up the site after construction. He used a bull dozer to gather up construction debris – mostly steel - and bury it against the upstream side of the dam wall. He thought the contractor - Clemensons - was close to being broke and so did not clean up the site. There were no railings at the ends of the dam, so Eamonn made a jury-rigged rail out of old timber.


He describes the big crowds of tourists on weekends. The place was packed with cars and he had to erect a sign asking motorists to park away from the dam and walk to view it.


There is discussion on other jobs Clemensons were working on in Canberra.


Eamonn oversaw the removal of the camps. Huts were put up for tender. One small building was relocated to the Lake George Skiing Club site. He thinks it was the mapping building. He kept a diary on what was taken, by whom and when. He thinks this was in 1963 or 1964.


Eamonn describes an incident where he was bulldozing an area and a big rock dislodged from further up the hill and came down and collided with a power pole, causing an electrical line to break and fall right on top of the dozer. He thought he would be “fried”, but luckily it was the earth wire which carries no power. He thinks that rock is still there today, up against the pole.


He lived in the old “salaries block”. He was part of a gang of men doing the clean up of the dam. He describes the gang. Eamonn mentions other team members.


Eamonn describes an incident during dismantling of the cableway where workers cut the wrong cable. The cable came down onto a worker who had the skin ripped from the side of his face. He states, “Fellows were running for their lives. And I suppose you couldn’t blame them.”


There was a big row because the cable was so expensive. Eamonn’s boss was Mark de Platte (sp?) [platter]. His junior boss was Norm Barwick. They were real gentlemen.


Another story: Eamonn was building a raft to take a small bulldozer upstream to construct a stream gauging station. His boss said the raft would take the load, but Eamonn said it would not. Sure enough, the dozer went in the drink with Eamonn at the controls. It took them two or three days with Landrovers and winches to get the dozer back out. Eamonn describes the raft as being of 24 drums and eventually towing the raft upstream while it was very low in the water up to the stream gauging site.


Eamonn describes building the stream gauging site about a mile and half above the back waters of the dam. The job required drilling and blasting rock. It took about eight weeks.


Eamonn discusses the design and position of the gauging station. Eamonn built a little bridge for the walking track to the station, and placed a sign there naming the little bridge “Mark de Platte” bridge. Discussion on naming of some of the upstream tracks for their bosses.


Snakes: He often encountered them. There were a lot of tiger snakes. They would not move from your path. He had them professionally identified as genuine tigers. They were “vicious”. Eamonn describes a snake biting his overalls and then he wrestled with it and killed it.


Red belly black snake: The snake was swimming in the dam…they decided to kill it by flipping it into the boat, but it went right between his legs. He would have killed thousands of snakes. They were not protected back then, and they were vicious snakes.




Weather: The weather was terrible during winter. One time they were snowed in for two weeks. The phone lines were broken with the weight of the snow so they were isolated. Another time his maintenance boat was stopped by ice on the dam. They had to chop their way through it. Eamonn describes the naming of “Siberia Corner” because it was so cold. In summer it was very pleasant.


Individuals: Doug Tyson – Doug was “a very nice man”. Discussion on roads used to get to site. There was an Irish cable driver man. He drove the flying fox. Another man: Tom Ladd. Tom was a supervisor and had come from the Snowy Scheme. Rom Katauskas is also mentioned. There is more discussion: Jack Edwards was doing river gauging. There is mention of Bill Meggat (sp?).


Eamonn loved his time at Bendora – it was the best time of his life. And he had a great team of fellows to work with.


There were a lot of Italians and Spaniards working for Clemensons. There were five Irish blokes who operated cranes and such. They were very good – very level headed. Most of them went to the Snowy Scheme after Bendora wound up.


The only woman was the nurse who was also Irish.


Official opening ceremony: There was not much of one. About a half dozen cars showed up, and the people had lunch and sat in chairs outdoors.  


Wild animals would often drown in the waters of the dam. He would patrol the lake and collect the carcasses. He would haul them up slope and bury them to protect the water quality.


Eamonn spent a lot of time watching birds – especially Black cockatoos.


He describes arriving and not knowing anything about snakes. He was petrified. He also learned the painful way to avoid standing on ant nests.


There are a lot of platypuses in the lake. He describes rescuing one from a concrete chamber. He held it in his hand.


Eamonn describes lyre birds imitating the sound of his cross cut saw and axe chopping.


He cannot recall any industrial unrest when it was under construction.   But it was a dangerous place to work. Some of the blokes told him there were a lot of accidents.


There is discussion of the weather board houses left behind by Clemensons.


He was not married at the time. But some of the other chaps were married. Once someone’s wife and kids drove out to visit on a hot summer’s day.


He did go fishing a lot. He did catch some really good ones. The largest rainbow trout was 7 ¾ pounds cleaned. He normally used lures.


He never got lonely out there. He loved it. It was a great time.


Eamonn describes various jobs he had. Taking water samples, measuring the dam dimensions from inside the dam wall, recording rain gauges. There was never a dull moment.


After he left they decided to have the rangers do those jobs. There is discussion on the names of the rangers.


Most people who bought the old huts dismantled them on site and sold them in Queanbeyan.


What it was like living there: when he first was there he had no vehicle at all. Then they issued a brand new Landrover. He was happy. The huts were comfortable even though it was a very cold place. There were plenty of power blackouts. They used kerosene and candles when that happened. There was one radio for the whole camp. It was very poor reception but still worth watching. The TV was a rented B&W set.


Prostitution at the construction camp: Yes there was prostitution. He heard that the Italians and Spanish men were the first in the queue and then they would immediately rejoin the queue for a second go.


SIDE 3 – Bendora Gravity Main


Eamonn had some involvement with the surveyors and walked with them sometimes. There was just one surveyor and a chainman. It was tough walking, there were snakes everywhere. He left shortly after that.


Eamonn tells the story of placing sand bags around the damage caused by the water leaking from an air valve which had failed to close during testing. It caused quite a big stir at the time. The pipes were actually buckled, stretched on top and wrinkled underneath. Nat Harris had to get all his big machinery back in to replace the pipe supports, cutoff walls, and pipe. Even the engineers were amazed at the damage.


He worked on the connection between the new Bendora gravity main and the old Cotter main. He was the welder for the connection. At the back of the pumping station there is a big “Y” section of pipe.


At the time of interview Eamonn was incapacitated from a dreadful accident where a pipe had fallen on his head. He describes the accident in Dec 1976. There were a lot of crushed disks in his spine. He had three operations and should have a fourth but could not face it.


Corin Dam – valve tower


1969 – Eamonn tells the story that when the dam finally filled there was water spilling into the valve tower from everywhere. The warranty period on the construction had expired. So they called on Eamonn to put on a wet suit and apply quick drying cement and “woolly lead” which he pounded into the cracks with a mallet. He was at it day after day in the middle of winter. That was when they were putting a man on the moon. He knocked off early to have a look at the moon landing on the Corin camp TV. The valve tower job went right through to 1970.


Eamonn comments on the high quality of the Corin Dam camp. Repairing the leaking valve tower was very dangerous. He was nearly tipped out when the work platform snagged on a valve flange.


Finally he reduced the flow to only dampness. But before his work the water was shooting from all angles. Today, it is still his woolly lead which holds the water back. In his opinion the concrete was never vibrated properly when it was laid. There were voids everywhere.


Eamonn has a great sense of pride from being associated with those projects. Bendora especially because he had to work mainly with his hands. He has good memories.


TOPICS for Arthur Wilson – 3 November 1997chainman/geo-technician/maintenance worker – early investigations and early maintenance at Bendora Dam

TOPICS – a good story teller




Arthur came from the UK and got job as Dept of Interior chainman in the 1950s – field work gave extra pay. He was given permission to join Bill Tweedy (surveyor) who was already surveying the dam site (1955). There was another chainman in the work group. They worked on “site A”. He liked field work because of the extra pay.


He loved the bush. It was a big adventure and he did enjoy the work. Bill Tweedy would do all the day’s calculations at night in his own tent. Arthur would go fishing.


Arthur assumes that this work was putting in the lines for the geotechnical investigations. Later he surveyed a route for the power line [for “C” site where the dam was eventually built]. His job was to clear lines of site through the bush. Low down in the valley there was really thick with tea tree.


Bill Tweedy was a good bloke. He did not accept any nonsense. He was ex-Army, a big bloke with a small moustache. There were no frills. E.g. for lunch he never boiled the billy. The designated cook was allowed to fish for one hour before dinner.


The main job: surveying geotechnical lines, top water level, and the power line route. Arthur describes the process of finding a route for the power line. It was very difficult and they did not come out where they wanted. At first they used a compass for the general route, and then a Theodolite.


Arthur was with Bill for 14 months. Then he switched to the geotechnical team. Arthur describes the galvanised iron galley with a huge iron pot which was always kept on the boil over the fire and topped up as it was consumed. It was basically a meat diet.


They never cooked the fish they had caught. They kept them in the fridge and took them home at the weekend for the family.


John Faracre (sp?) – geotechnical investigations. He had one field hand but he was pretty unreliable. Arthur describes the process of switching jobs – it was very simple without any paperwork.


Arthur describes the Roads & Bridges gang as good blokes. They would do the hard digging of the trenches etc. by hand. The Roads and Bridges team was based at Bulls Head. They had a couple of pet dogs and a pet wombat that lived at the two huts at Bulls Head.


Oscar: he was a typical European, very stocky, close cropped hair, maybe Latvian. Arthur describes stopping at Bulls Head on the way home on a Friday and to have a couple of drinks with the Roads & Bridges crew.


When they moved into dam site “C” camp – the R&B crew would drive down from Bulls Head. In the winter of 1956 it was a very wet winter. Arthur describes the Irishman who was supposed to construct a flying fox across the river, but the chap turned out to be an alcoholic and they had to take him back into town.   He never put up the flying fox, but had spent the whole week drinking.


He describes the method of excavating rock for the dam’s abutments. They were looking for bedrock. All of the core samples were photographed. Initially there was only one drill. After his boss, Bill, broke his leg skiing, Arthur became a de facto geologist looking for bedrock in the core samples. The drillers were two Maltese brothers.




Arthur describes the process of bull dozing the steep hillsides for roads, etc. He describes what happens when a freshly-made road collapses under a dozer.


Dynamite: It was kept under Oscar’s bed. Arthur describes blokes lighting sticks of dynamite to use as candles.


More on dozers: The dozers would not reverse up a steep slope. There is an explanation of pushing trees over with a dozer.


There is discussion on where the explosives magazine was built and whether it is still in existence. Arthur describes blowing a large boulder to bits – very gradually.


Arthur describes his views on preserving the bush. He also describes the chap from Sydney who saw snow for the first time in his life.


There were no environmental safeguards in place during construction. He describes drinking water from the creeks nearby. He describes the first toilets as “thunderboxes” which were 44 gallon drums set into the soil. He blew one up trying to burn the contents with diesel.


He describes a different kind of toilet they used known as a “Hygeia Dissolvenator” which was cleaner and did not smell as much.


There is discussion on Arthur being a “Pommy Bastard” and the butt of jokes from the others. He describes his reaction to the ribbing. He also describes the chap from Malta who could not fit in and was so homesick he eventually went back to Malta.


Arthur mentions another Italian who came straight to the dam site and successfully integrated right in. That bloke now has several hair dressing salons in Canberra.


Harry Wark – Arthur describes transport problems – the discomfort of using the open Jeep to drive to the site. He arranged to be collected by a Government vehicle at Harry Wark’s camp. Harry Wark spoke of the “old times” and his walking all around the Brindabella Ranges. The times referred to were probably the 1940s.


Lyn Noakes (sp?) (geologist) – Arthur spent a week in the bush with Lyn. Lyn was the assistant director. Also mentions Norm Fisher and “yarning” in the evening. Arthur describes stories of geological surveying in Papua New Guinea which Lyn told him.


There is mention of Gerry Burton and John Barry. Arthur describes John Barry.




Arthur describes John Barry “rally driving” up the road to camp.


Arthur describes John Barry playing the bagpipes in camp each night at sunset, and the reaction of the Hungarian and Italian workers to the sound of it. This was the only entertainment they had in camp. There were no “transistor radios” back then, only the mens’ conversations.


Arthur comments on Gerry Bate who did not mix well with others. He found out later that he was diabetic, so that probably explained why he did not eat his lunch with the others.


There is discussion on route taken to get to the camp via Warks Road and the forest. There is more discussion on pack horses being used to set up camp at Site “A”.


Vince Cohen: Arthur says he was foreman carpenter looking after construction of the huts. Arthur retells a story from Vince about serving in the war in France and being given the officers’ silver to look after during the retreat to Dunkirk. Cohen eventually buried the silver on the beach while waiting for rescue. Vince Cohen was a great joke teller in camp.


Arthur comments that there was no feeling of being part of a big worthwhile project. Everyone just got on with their job. That was it. Trying to have more feeling than that “is a modern thing”. It was just a job.


There were no women on the site. He describes the snakes they found and accidentally walking over snakes without consequence.


More on dynamite: The men chewing the stuff was just bravado. There were no significant disagreements among the staff in camp. It is drink which causes the problem. Arthur recounts a story from Central Australia where an intoxicated cook caused real problems. There were never any such problems in the Bendora Camp, even though there was some alcohol taken into the camp each week by the workers.


Arthur felt isolated out there especially at first. There was one week where each day was continuous rain and they did nothing but lie in their tents.


When site “C” was chosen and after work was advanced, they moved camp to site “C”. The old camp [site “A”] was on the western side of the Cotter. Arthur describes the floods of 1956 when the Murrumbidgee River rose to the level of the Cotter Road bridge. They drove across that bridge as the flood waters lapped at the wheels of their vehicle.


Arthur was married at the time. It was an adventure for him, but not for his wife. His sons really needed him during their formative years, but he was not there for them. He thinks it was selfish of him to do that. It is not good for the family. Early on, every weekend his wife would ask to return to the UK. They agreed to stay in Australia for two years.




Accidents? Not that he can remember.


Pay and conditions? They were all migrants and just got on with the job. There was no friction. Arthur describes cutting timber with an axe and how to sharpen them. Arthur describes one fellow making a cricket bat with his super-sharp axe while passing the time on wet days.


It was his first experience in Australia and he loved it. On holiday in Europe he missed the “smell” of Australia. But he does not consider himself a “real Australian”.




TOPICS – Ron Wright – 3 November 1997 – The dozer driver constructing Warks Road and Bendora Dam Road. Ron worked for Harry Wark.

TOPICS – a good story teller


SIDE 1 – Warks Road


Employed by the Department of the Interior, Ron started work on Warks Road around 1946 – 1947. Its purpose was for forestry and later for Bendora Dam.


Harry Wark was the boss, the “ganger” for his crew. He was a nice old man to his young work crew. They worked in harmony together. Ron describes being collected by truck on Mondays to go back out to the road construction site. They moved the camp forward as the road progressed. Every five or six miles they would move camp. The camp had to be close to water. They used only tents.


Ron describes their camping equipment and cooking arrangements. They bathed in the creek. Eventually they were supplied with a galley and wooden floors for their tents. They also had a “wireless” radio and lamps for lighting. Then it was “three star accommodation”.


Only at their last camp were huts constructed. This is the site which today is known as “Warks Camp”. It is just before one starts down to Bendora Dam and where the road from Bull’s Head comes in.


He also worked on cutting a road from Bulls Head down to Warks Camp. They used two dozers. They also had a couple of extra dozers and a grader which stayed for a couple of months at a time. Freddie Archer was on one dozer, Hughie Beale on another dozer. The grader driver was Charlie Russell.


Ron describes the method they used. First there was a marked route by the surveyors, then they would clear a route either side. They had a powder monkey – “Paddy” Ryan, also a blacksmith Phil Robertson/Robinson (sp?)


Paddy lived in a hut on Mt Ainslie. Ron tells a story about Paddy using dynamite to blow a huge mountain ash tree into the air. Mention is made of the Collis (sp?) family removing the timber from the tree. Other are names mentioned including the Franklins.


Bendora Dam Road


The road to Bendora Dam: First they put a rough track in so the geologists and surveyors could get in to the dam site. At first the track was only suitable for horses, but he used his dozer to widen it so a “jeep” could get through. Initially it was so narrow the jeep had to drive down to a hairpin corner in one direction then back down to the next corner because no turning circle was available. This was in 1954 – 1955. They reached the dam site in 1956.


There id discussion on the Olympic games being held in Melbourne at this time.


Ron recalls there were three dam sites, “A, B, C”. Corin Dam is at site “E”. He put in the track to the camp at site “A”. Ron describes giving the survey blokes a ride up the hill on his dozer after they knocked off on Friday afternoons.


Ron remembers Bill Tweedy (surveyor), Harold Thompson, camaraderie was “real good” on Bill’s team.


They were excited to be working on such a project. But it was also isolated at first, because they were dropped by truck on Monday and had no transport or communication. Ron describes some “mod cons” they had in their final camp – a kerosene fridge, and a tin bath. They had water and wood brought into camp by horse and dray. This was until 1953 – 1954.


Mention is made of various jobs they did elsewhere. There is discussion of Harry Wark building the Mt Franklin road in the 1930s. A question is posed on the old explosives shed on the Bendora Dam road. There is discussion on other camp sites. Mention is made of old horse trail from Tidbinbilla to the Cotter River which would now be under water.


Ron describes building various exploratory tracks for the surveyors, which were not used afterwards and have returned to bush.


Ron describes the original D7 bulldozer which he used for much of his work.


There is discussion of Paddy Ryan and the gang on the Warks Road project. They were together for eight years, working right through the winter. Ron recalls Billy Johnson who was his offsider. Ron describes where he boarded on the weekends when he was in town.


Rainy weather: They listened to the wireless and cooked individually.   There is talk of Hughie Beale.




All of his team were good bushmen. They would shop for the basics on Monday morning before leaving town. They shared tents without problems. Ron mentions the tent mates. There were often about seven men in camp. One had to like living in the bush. The conditions were too rough for one bloke, he only stayed one week! But it did not worry them.


Alcohol (“grog”) was not in camp. Not because of any rule, but they simply did not bother about it. The culture was to drink only in town at the weekend.


Discussion on origins of the Canberra Services Club at Manuka. Ron was a foundation member. At first it was only the upstairs part that was occupied by the Club.


A lot of the people Ron mixed with while in Canberra on the weekends were ex-servicemen. Ron mentions a few names of the fellows he knocked around with.


Ron enjoyed the peace and quiet out in the bush. He did not really like the city. Sometimes he would stay in the bush on weekends and fish. Nature was very important to him.


There is a philosophical discussion on pine plantations. Ron mentions a bush fire in 1952 that was started by lightning.


Ron looks back at his time in the bush as very important. Ron reminisces about the old Cotter Road (gravel).


The crew at Bulls Head: David Shoebridge, Pat Latin (sp?), Dave Thomas [dozer driver on pine plantation establishment]


Camp conditions: Ron talks about the use of a “Coolgardie Safe” to keep meat cool prior to having a camp fridge. They used fresh meat, and the “pure” water from the nearest creek. Ron mentions using a copper for hot water and hanging a shower bucket from a tree. If it was hot weather they would simply get into the creek and have a splash. For cooking they had an open fire with a “bough shed” to keep the rain off of the fire.


He has been back to the area many times since his work finished. Confirmation that they followed surveyors’ marks for the route of the road.


Accidents: There was one. They were checking rabbit traps at the end of the day, and found a timber jinker which had collided with a tree just near Warks Camp. The driver was dead. He had been driving for Collis Brothers.


Migrant workers: Ron remembers three Italian workers who worked at Bulls Head.


Ron married in 1965: But before that when he returned from the war he had a Catholic girlfriend, but the local priest told him to “join the faith” or forget the marriage. The relationship ended.


Interview signoff: [but continues later]


Ron mentions Jock McCallum who was boss of the plant. Jock was almost like a dad to Ron. Jock got Ron interested in “going to the bush” because many of the younger fellows were getting married and did not want to camp away from home. Ron also mentions Milson Moore who was the first dozer driver of the team.


Raising the Cotter Dam Wall 1949-51: Ron was there for two weeks at most until returning to construct the Warks Road. There was not much going on at the dam site while they were there. Ron and his crew had to knock out a little spillway to allow for equipment access.


Ron mentions other names: Eric England and Billy Johnson were in his old team. Freddie Archer was another dozer driver. Hughie Beale (mentioned before). A truck driver who used to bring fuel to their camps was Billy Keir [one of the founders of Keir’s Coaches of Canberra].   They had been allocated a bicycle to use of they needed to summon help they could cycle down to Condor Forestry Camp where there was a phone. [approx 10 km]


Condor Camp Hut: Ron thinks it was built in the early 1920s.