olga alternative

Revisiting Hydro’s history and heritage

25 February 2020



Taking a trip down memory lane is a common pastime, especially in somewhat turbulent times.

 

It might be a drive past our childhood home or the memories evoked by a certain song.

 

But for us at Hydro Tasmania, it’s about bringing the past to life by managing the heritage values of our assets and heritage places, and telling the important stories of our people and places.

 

Among them are the intrepid workers who were prepared to tough it out in some of the state’s most remote and inhospitable regions to conduct exhaustive scientific investigations, with a view to increasing the state’s power generating capacity.

 

By the 1970s, the focus of these investigations was the Gordon River, and a network of about half a dozen bush camps had popped up in the South West.

 

A bush base for booming times

 

Each camp consisted of several timber and tin huts lined with a thin panel and usually constructed as a set of bedrooms off a corridor or landing.  olga

 

The largest of these was the Olga Camp, about 21 kilometres west of Strathgordon and surrounded by the Gordon River on three sides.

 

Considered a ‘high standard camp’ with a capacity for 22 people, the camp was used by crews investigating the limestone terrain and Gordon-above-Olga dam site as part of the Gordon River Stage II power scheme.

 

Like the other camps in the region, the Olga Camp was constructed using prefabricated and transportable materials and was serviced by generators and gas. Because of the remote location, it was accessed by water or by helicopter and few tracks or other infrastructure were developed.

 

Courting controversy

 

But, while the workers roughed it remotely, the winds of change had arrived and a public and political storm was on the horizon.

 

The controversy over the Gordon-below-Franklin plans resulted in the rapid growth of the emerging environmental movement and saving the Franklin River became a national political issue.

 

It led to unprecedented protests on both sides of the debate, and a blockade that brought more than 1000 arrests, international scrutiny, Commonwealth Government intervention and, ultimately, a legal battle and High Court ruling that put an end to the dam’s construction in 1983.

 

It had been a difficult time for the workers who were merely doing their jobs and had put in so much time and effort investigating potential dam sites.

 

Conflicted by conflict

 

When the end finally came, workers were disappointed but accepted the outcome.

 

David Wilson, who worked in the area during those last few years, remembered the feeling of leaving all their hard work behind.  pre-removal olga

 

“In early September, I was on the last boat out of Strahan – we had to go in to retrieve our seismic and geological equipment. That was probably the most depressing bit. Going up in the boat and bringing our equipment back with our tails between our legs, so to speak.”

 

Along with the other camps in the region, the Olga camp was abandoned and, over time, the forest claimed it back, leaving a potentially hazardous ruin in a world heritage area. 

 

Peter Davies, who had run the Olga Camp from 1977, returned in 2005 for scientific monitoring work carried out in the Gordon for Basslink.

 

He found the camp in a state of disrepair, although the nearby helipad was used as an emergency landing.

 

Seeing the past through new eyes

 

This year – 37 years after it was last home to Hydro workers – an assessment was carried out at the Olga Camp and the decision was taken to decommission the site as part of our commitment to environmental restoration.

 

A Bell 430 helicopter capable of lifting 1.6 tonnes happened to be in the state to help with bushfire-fighting efforts. We were lucky to be able to borrow it to lift an excavator in to the site to remove the ferns that had grown around the structures and then the structures themselves.

 

A B3 helicopter used to transport crew members in and out of the area, took the materials to extra-large skip bins at Gordon Dam. post-removal olga

 

When the work was finished, all that remained was a small shelter with a concrete floor, which was repaired and left as an evacuation option for the future, some small pieces of infrastructure deemed significant and safe enough to retain, and a helicopter landing site to be kept and cleared at least once a year.

 

But, before the camp was decommissioned, we recognised it as a fascinating time capsule from a relatively recent but very different time, and made sure to take a detailed photographic record to preserve at least a little piece of that past.

 

That catalogue of photos will soon be available as a 360 degree virtual tour – another opportunity to tell our story and keep us connected to the people and communities who worked to build what we have today.

 

So stay tuned – it’s an intriguing view of a storied time, and well worth a look! And if you were there at that time, let us know. We’d love to hear from you and find more stories to add to the experience.

 

 

*This piece includes material from Ticklebelly Tales and Other Stories From the People of Hydro by Heather Felton.

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