Siobhán McHugh, The Snowy: A History (Anniversary edition)

Paperback, May 2019, NewSouth, ISBN: 9781742236223, 368pp., AUD$34.99

This month marks the 70th anniversary of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme, the largest engineering project in Australia. This anniversary edition is updated from the 1989 original by its author, award winning writer, audio producer, oral historian, and academic Siobhán McHugh.

In the 1990s McHugh spent almost three years conducting hundreds of oral history interviews with migrant workers and personnel involved with the Snowy Scheme, which would later become a radio series for the ABC and documentary.

Their stories are skilfully woven throughout, together with research expertly examining both the triumphs and tragedies of the scheme – there were 121 officially recorded deaths (the youngest aged only 16 years old) during construction and unknown numbers of injuries. Key players including the role of the Australian Workers Union, politicians, and the arrival of the American construction companies that would radically change the civil engineering procedures of the scheme are also looked at.

McHugh’s writing, particularly viewed in light of recent anti-immigrant sensibilities, is as much a celebration of these hardworking men and women who came from all over the world looking for ‘a better life’ and the positive and lasting contributions of migrants to Australian society, as it is about this extraordinary feat of civil engineering. It’s this love song for the people that built the Snowy that really brings the enormity of it to life.

The Snowy broke records and helped create a truly diverse and multicultural Australia – for 25 years (1949 – 1974) a hundred thousand men and women from as many as 70 countries were involved in carving out the Australian Alps, bringing irrigation to the inland and providing energy to the East Coast. This edition notes the political and environmental changes affecting the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority in the 21st century, and its historical impact today.

Review by Maria Savvidis, October 2019

Visit the NewSouth Books website here.

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