Tag Archives: Hydro Tasmania

Between Wayatinah and Catagunya Power Stations- posting 6 of 6

 

The goal was achieved. It was great to have it done. I am very grateful for Andrew’s generosity of spirit and for his notes and photographs. The walk between Wayatinah and Catagunya Power Stations could be ticked off the list. But a long walk back to the Lyell Highway had to be faced before returning home. Andrew turned north for the 7 km walk on Catagunya Road. He passed a mix of open unfenced paddocks and distant plantations. The Cooma farmstead and outbuildings were the only marker that people had lived in the area.

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For a brief moment he thought he would have company. Andrew had been walking for a while when, in the distance on a straight stretch of road, he could just make out a couple of figures coming slowly towards him.  Someone to say g’day to and have a natter  – but  – on closer inspection they transformed into ambling sheep. After that, Andrew’s company all the way back to the locked gate was a rather large herd of very healthy looking quadrupedal steaks – which, with a spritely step, he kept ahead of. After some 7 hours of pleasant walking, this walk along the Derwent River was over.   There had been time for plenty of stops during the day to take photographs and to enjoy the surroundings.

Hydro Tasmania, TasNetworks and forestry related employees can drive over the convoluted maze of tracks between the two dams, but there are numerous locked gates and no general public access.  Even during the walking, many locked gates with serious double and complicated locks were seen. I have said in earlier postings that landowners and managers in the Derwent Valley and Central Highlands can recite histories of bad experiences with people entering their lands and not treating it appropriately or stealing their wood or livestock. It is a shame that a few people wreck it for the rest, and remove the opportunities for those who care for the land and the property of others and wish to explore more of our wonderful Tasmanian natural environment.

 

Visualising each walk in advance – towards Wayatinah post 1 of 9

The further I travelled inland towards central Tasmania, the less guidance and direction was available. This meant that I needed to scrutinise every piece of available information more intensely because the challenges of the terrain increased and therefore the dangers of walking alone multiplied.  My friends and relatives feared the worst and hoped for the best and we have all been thankful that my walks and returns home have been safe. Apart from the occasional bruise and scratch or two, no physical harm has befallen me.

During my first walks along the Derwent River, I gradually increased the volume of research I conducted in advance, so that I could make the most of each opportunity.  As the project lengthened, I spent more time visualising the walks so that I could be sure my pack contained the appropriate provisions. In addition, I wanted to be sure that I could achieve my goal.

In particular, I invested a huge amount of time imagining a couple of the walks. These were walks about which I knew very little and which I anticipated would be the trickiest.  One was the walk along the river starting near the junction of the Lyell Highway and Butlers Gorge Road close to Tarraleah, and extending to the bridge over the river at Wayatinah.

Using knowledge from my walk along Tarraleah Canal No 1 and from walking beside the Derwent River near the Wayatinah bridge,  I had some understanding of the challenges. My intention was always to start at the Tarraleah end and work my way downstream along the River bed.

The first obstacle was the dense bush between the Canal and the river bed down an exceptionally steep incline. From what I could see at the top, the rainforest was a tightly packed mangle of massive tree ferns with their fronds at face level and above, amidst all manner of eucalypts, myrtles,  celery-top-pines, sassafras trees and laurels.  If I was very unlucky intermingled with these wonderful but tightly packed specimens, I suspected the tree known as Horizontal (Anodopetalum biglandulous), the anathema to bushwalkers, could be a major impediment.

Photos near my imagined starting point show the beautiful but almost impenetrable bush facing the start of my walk along this section.

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I believed I had two options; one was to walk along the plush mossy flat Canal verge until I could spot a ‘gap’ and then plunge into the thicket.  The second option was to walk on the track beside the Canal until I reached the first Hydro Tasmania crossing located about a kilometre westwards along the track,  cross over, and hope there was some sort of clearing through the bush down to the bottom of the hill.  If not, then I would have to make my own way until I reached the Derwent River bed.   The first crossing, in the photo below, shows no sign of tracks extending further.

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From that crossing down to the river, I anticipated the distance would be approximately  one and a quarter kilometres on a slope that dropped around 210 metres.  Unless I was fortunate to find a clearing that Hydro Tasmania had made, something like the following example spotted closer to Clark Dam, I expected to be in for a hard time.

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I knew this was the side of the river that received minimal direct daily sunlight compared to the bush on the other side. I imagined a wet slippery bush environment, that would be dark amidst the undergrowth ( I am short and I realised much of the vegetation would be above me) with interspersed and unpredictable rocky outcrops that would require flexibility and care. If the day was overcast, my ability to see clearly through the dense bush might be limited, so the danger of slipping over a cliff had to be taken into account.

While Michelle’s photo below taken during a flight along the Derwent River shows the vegetation between the Canal and the River bed, the location is further along towards Clark Dam. Nevertheless it does show the density of the bush which needed to be penetrated and walked through.

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My aerial photo below gives a stronger sense of the gradient from the Canal to the river bed in some sections.

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The photo below, which I took during my Canal walk, looks back and clearly shows the steep gradient.

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I imagined slipping and sliding part way, with backpack occasionally getting ‘hooked’ to slow me down. Despite the short distance but considering the possible obstructions and the need to skirt around these,  I mentally allowed at least an hour for the descent.

On the River bed I hoped for a low water level in order to be able to rock hop for much of the 14-15 kilometres down to the Wayatinah bridge. If the water level was low, at best the river bed might look like the following photos as it did near the confluence of the Derwent with the Florentine  Rivers.

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Alternatively it might have limited water something like the following photos of the Derwent near Wayatinah.

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Of course, hoping for minimal water was likely to be a pipe dream and I realised it would not be realistic to expect this situation for the entire length of the walk. I knew from aerial shots, old maps and out of date Google Earth that large pools of water would present challenges and that clambering up any side of the River to avoid these would be part of the walk.

From maps I could see approximately  eleven small creeks and the Counsel River feed into the Derwent. I fervently hoped little rain had fallen in this area in the preceding weeks, that these creeks were low on water, and therefore that the spill into the Derwent River would be minimal. If much water ran down these creeks then the likelihood of more and larger water holes along the Derwent increased. If this was the case then I could imagine fighting my way through vegetation overhangs in order to clamber onto the bank and then negotiate the forest to bypass the water obstruction.  Anticipation of such exhausting activities did not thrill me.

Once on the River bed, rocks that roll were at the top of my list of fears; such as – would I turn an ankle, break a leg, smash my head into another rock, or get weighted down in a deeper pool with the pack on my back.  I could not see how developing any sort of walking rhythm would be possible. My usual opportunities to walk and look around me would be unlikely. I foresaw the absolute necessity to watch the ground/rocks/water and think about and make decisions where to put each footstep would become mentally exhausting over such a distance.  I doubted if it was possible to walk this stretch of the River and, even if it was, I thought the possibility of covering the length in a day even a long day, would be unlikely.  I allowed two days for this leg of the walk.

I always take my tablet for photos and carry this with me to point and click as a record. Typically on a one-day walk I might take 300-400 photos and then pick a selection for the blog posts.  But for this walk I realised that carrying the tablet would not be wise. I could see that having two free hands to clamber over rocks and debris and vegetation would be smart, and I also needed to allow for the unexpected underfoot changes and the need to grab or balance using my hands.  Clearly stopping to retrieve my tablet for photo ops would slow me down. Therefore, I knew that I would not be taking many photos so that the record of this walk would be less than normal.  But my safety had to be paramount.

From aerial reconnaissance and nearby on-the-ground checks and maps, I found it difficult to visualise where I would set up the tent overnight.  Both hill sides were steep but maps did indicate that near some major bends in the river there was sections beside the water bed that might be a little flatter than elsewhere.  On one bend, some larger islands were mapped mid-stream. I wondered whether I might be lucky to find them water free and accessible and not totally tight with vegetation.  Perhaps there I might find a sleeping spot.

Overall I visualised a most unusual journey. One where the only view would be of steep forested hillsides rising above a comparatively tiny water bed, and never a panoramic vista of distant hills or mountains. Rather I could expect to see only the next bend in the river. While that would provide me with curiosity about what might be around the corner, in advance, already I imagined seeing more of the same.  So this leg of the journey along the Derwent River was to be about physical endurance; surviving without becoming despondent about the relentlessness of watching my feet placement.  This was the ultimate chance for me to understand the limits of my capacity and capabilities.  I looked forward to  snatching and enjoying occasional moments when native birds flitted about, the sun sparkled on wet vegetation, and variations of mosses and lichens on rocks appeared in all their glories.

I envisaged this experience would introduce me to a continuous valley that is currently protected, untouched, unvisited, and not normally seen at close quarters.  Simply wonderful, however great the challenge to see it.

Derwent River water passes via the township of Tarraleah

 

Earlier this year the entire town of Tarraleah was on the market for sale.  Refer article 1, article 2 , and article 3.

If you were to follow Derwent River water by walking from the western end of Lake Catagunya at the Wayatinah Power Station inland past the Wayatinah Lagoon to the Liapootah Power Station then follow the Nive River to the bridge next to the Tarraleah Power Station (with the Tungatinah Power Station on the other side of the bridge), you could look up the hill to see massive penstock pipes descending the hill from the township of Tarraleah above.

The water falling down these pipes is Derwent River water which has travelled via Tarraleah Canal 1 and Tarraleah Canal 2 after processing through Butlers Gorge Power Station at the foot of Clark Dam that holds back the waters of Lake King William.

I chose not to walk the route via the penstocks and Tarraleah township when walking from the mouth to the source of the Derwent River,  rather to follow the original river bed albeit a scatter of stones and limited water during the summer, between Wayatinah and Butlers Gorge Power Station.

However, knowing that Derwent River water flowed along the Canals and through the massive pipes, I did visit the township of Tarraleah during the period when it was advertised for sale. I was curious to see what the township of Tarraleah looked like (it had been many years since I last visited). Despite being centred within lush dense rainforest, thankfully no rain fell at Tarraleah and the sky was blue and the day sunny when I visited. I approached the town from the highway and followed the slightly snaking pipes.

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At the point where the pipes arrive at the top of the hill and are about to drop down the hill, I browsed public information boards and plaques.

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The views from the township were dramatic. I am forever in awe at the engineering achievements of the past.

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These days Tarraleah is a place that acknowledges its social history from the early days of Hydro Tasmania. I was amazed to see the row of freshly renovated houses each with their own array of pastel coloured paint finishes. Perfect location for a science fiction movie.  I felt there was something strange about its lollipop colours and perfection.

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Afterwards I travelled out of Tarraleah and down to the bridge over the Nive River. The Tarraleah Power Station was partly hidden in shadow from the afternoon sun. My eyes followed the pipes up the hill knowing the township was there on top.

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The Nive River accepts the Derwent River water after processing for electricity generation through the Tarraleah Power Station.  The water passes through a series of further management processes, and ultimately empties into Lake Catagunya and then continues its long journey towards the sea.

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I have heard rumours the Tarraleah township sold but I cannot find records supporting this.  I haven’t one idea how a buyer could get a return on an investment of $11 million at Tarraleah, so I will be very interested to hear what will happen to this piece of Tasmania’s history.

Floods and water levels rising

 

When I walked  along bodies of water dammed on the Derwent River such as Lake King William, I remarked on the low water levels, showed photos of deep barren shores, and posted about the coming danger to Tasmania’s electricity supply.  You can refer to a range of posts for different views on this topic including the following examples: Tarraleah Canal No 1 walk – where is the water?,  Lake King William, The rocky shore, Looking for a place to camp overnight, Death and Lake King William, Rise and shine, Trackless under the powerlines, and Andrew Hughes has walked, rafted and canoed the Derwent over the past month.

Newspapers recorded some of the extremes; here is one of The Mercury examples.

Hydro Tasmania is the organisation which manages water resources  by selling power not only to Tasmanians but via an undersea link to Victorians and further afield on mainland Australia.  For a very long while Tasmania had an unusually low rainfall, then when the Bass Link failed at the end of last year, this meant Tasmania could not buy power from the mainland if in crisis.  Over half a year passed before the fault was repaired and in that time water levels in dams, lakes and the river dropped steadily. In damage control, as politicians and the community worried about the reducing water levels, Hydro Tasmania released the information that our State could survive and continue to generate sufficient electricity in the local newspaper with dams at an even lower capacity . Nevertheless failure for rains to fall, created a situation where massive banks of diesel power generators were installed.  The operation of these generators cost Tasmania millions of dollars. The photo in this article shows an area being prepared for generators, and then the next article shows the installation outside Catagunya Power Station.  Generators were placed in many locations.  This article shows banks of generators outside the Meadowbank Power Station;  this is the closest power station to Hobart and is one of many that operates using the water from the Derwent River.

The dry situation was desperate.  Cloud Seeding was being practised as an option to bring on the rain.

Eventually the gods or nature heeded the call and the heavens opened.  As winter approached, welcome rain poured and began to replenish our dams and lakes.  The rain was heavy and persisted so that the water levels improved dramatically.  In the process, many parts of Tasmania experienced severe floods.  Dramatic stories were released in the media . The Ouse River, which feeds into the Derwent River, was the site of the death of one man.

These were terrible days for many.

Now the climate seems has returned to some sense of balance.  Our glorious spring time, albeit with some hotter days than normal, has passed and summer has arrived.  We all hope for prudent management of electricity generating water resources and for intelligent planning for extreme events – which we know are now more frequent around the world. In this way, the Derwent River will remain a living and useful flow of water which poses little risk to affecting people, animals and the surrounding landscape.

Meadowbank Dam and Power Station

Meadowbank Dam and Power Station, as part of Hydro Tasmania’s electricity generating facilities, are located the closest of their properties to Hobart.  Access to the Dam is restricted.

East of the Dam, Meadowbank Dam Road makes the connection with the Lyell Highway but this is a locked gate gravel roadway.  Meadowbank Road is a quite different road; this public gravel road exits the Gordon River Road west of the tiny township of Glenora and travels in a north-westerly direction, but mostly not close to the Derwent River – so that it isn’t reasonable to be used as the conduit to ‘walk the river’. Before reaching the Dam, the road passes Meadowbank Vineyard and acres of vines under cultivation. However, access is restricted: there are quite a few lockable gates barring continuation to the Dam.

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The first unit of the Meadowbank Power Station was commissioned in 1967. This was the last such operation to be built in Tasmania.  Photos are on show on Hydro Tasmania’s website and more details are available on their Fact Sheet .  The CSIRO library holds another photo taken from a different vantage point.

I am grateful for Alex driving me as close as we could go by car.

Growing up as a Hydro boy

Thanks to blog follower Mary, I have discovered a series of online stories about past Hydro workers some of whom helped build the Tarraleah Canal No 1 and others who lived near other electricity generating power stations along the Derwent River. These short stories make interesting reading and include photographs of the people and places.

I recommend you look at Hydro Tasmania’s site where the son of Jack Warren records his history.  The photo below from that site shows Jack at Canal No 1 in 1935.

Jack Warren 1935 from Mary

Simon Stansbie’s record of growing up at Wayatinah can be read on the Hydro Tasmania’s website. Ian Berry tells us what it was like to grow up at Butlers Gorge (where the Clark Dam was built to hold back the waters of Lake King William).  You can read this and see photos at Hydro Tasmania’s site.

Collectively these stories give a little insight into the human reality of living and working in remote central Tasmania to create the extraordinary electricity generating infrastructure last century which used the waters of the Derwent River.

Heather Felton published a book, which tells these and other stories of the people of ‘The Hydro’.  Read more about the book: The Ticklebelly Tales.

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Information about the book launch can be read in issues of the Cultural Heritage Program Newsletter ; and at a second site.

I am not sure what the word ‘Tickleberry’ refers to.  Do I have any blog followers with this knowledge?  According to Wikipedia part of Tarraleah, the area for the married quarters of the original community, was known as Tickleberry Flat. In addition, during my walks I know that I have passed an area mapped as Tickleberry Flat which is south east of Curringa Farm, and almost south of the town of Hamilton mid-way along Meadowbank Lake – a long way from Tarraleah.  In New Norfolk Tickleberry Farm grows raspberries.  The name Tickleberry comes up in many internet searches.  The Brighton, Central Highlands, Derwent Valley and Southern Midlands Councils Joint Land Use Planning Initiative – Stage 2 Heritage Management Plan tells us “Hydro-electric power schemes which commenced in the early 1910s saw the development of construction villages across the highlands at Waddamana (from 1911), Shannon (1925), Tarraleah (1934), Tickleberry Flats (1935), Butlers Gorge (1938), Bronte Park (1948) and Wayatinah (1952). As these small communities grew, schools, shops, community halls, medical facilities and offices were established.”

After all of this, I still wonder what the original meaning of Tickleberry is: maybe someone’s name or a common name for a plant.