A pow­er­ful his­tory

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - Reg A Wat­son

TICKLEBELLY Tales is a huge and an amaz­ing vol­ume. First pub­lished in 2008, and re- re­leased this year to co­in­cide with the Hy­dro’s cen­te­nary next year, it is a sub­stan­tial work on the story of Hy­dro Tas­ma­nia be­gin­ning from early times.

The Hy­dro schemes are an in­tri­cate part of Tas­ma­nia’s his­tory.

The in­ter­est of Ticklebelly goes be­yond those who had an as­so­ci­a­tion with the Hy­dro. It will ap­peal to any­one who has a fas­ci­na­tion with our state’s his­tory.

Its au­thor is Heather Fel­ton, who be­gan her ca­reer with the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment of Tas­ma­nia.

In 2004, she joined the Hy­dro to man­age its Oral His­tory Project and in her own words, “my brief was to twofold in­ter­view a se­lec­tion of past and present em­ploy­ees and write a so­cial and cul­tural his­tory of the Hy­dro on the ba­sis of this first- hand tes­ti­mony”. And, of course, the book is the re­sult. The his­tory of the Hy­dro be­gan in 1883 when the Mt Bischoff Tin Min­ing Com­pany, at Waratah, com­menced op­er­at­ing a hy­dro- elec­tric power plant.

The chronology on page 477 takes the step­ping story from there.

It is prob­a­ble that Heather in­ter­viewed hun­dreds of peo­ple and was for­tu­nate enough to in­ter­view two peo­ple who started work with the Hy­dro in the 1930s at Tarraleah, as well as em­ploy­ees from the ’ 40s to the ’ 90s.

They are all there, from pay- clerks to drillers, im­mi­grants, those in se­nior po­si­tions, me­chan­ics and the en­gi­neers – in short, the whole “ca­boo­dle’’.

The post- war in­flux of work­ers from Europe has al­ways in­trigued me re­gard­ing the var­i­ous in­di­vid­ual strug­gles and back­grounds ex­tend­ing from Brits, Poles and Ger­mans to many other na­tion­al­i­ties.

The beauty was, even though the war was not long over, there was no an­tag­o­nism be­tween the var­i­ous na­tion­al­i­ties in this new land of Tas­ma­nia.

The de­mand for elec­tric­ity had in­creased dra­mat­i­cally and with Allan Knight tak­ing over as com­mis­sioner, the Hy­dro went on a ma­jor ex­pan­sion pro­gram.

There is a spe­cial chapter on mi­grants ( chapter six) and within its pages you will meet 15 mi­grants who tell of their story.

Through­out the book, there are many per­sonal sto­ries and tes­ti­monies from those who worked there and Tas­ma­nia be­ing what it is, many read­ers will come across peo­ple they have ei­ther met or know.

As the decades passed so did the char­ac­ter of the Hy­dro with all its chal­lenges. One was spare parts and break downs: “With Tas­ma­nia be­ing iso­lated from over­seas equip­ment sup­pli­ers we of­ten had to use ini­tia­tive to keep our ma­chines op­er­a­tional.’’ ( Norm Deane).

An­other prob­lem that had to be dealt with was the nat­u­ral el­e­ments such as floods and drought.

In­clud­ing among the chap­ters, of which there are 10, are the Elec­tri­cal En­gi­neer­ing Branch, Work­ing in the Civil En­gi­neer­ing Branch and Grow­ing up Hy­dro. I found it an ab­so­lutely in­cred­i­ble work.

The book con­tains count­less pho­to­graphs, many of which are coloured and are not only of the ac­tual works, but of fam­i­lies and in­di­vid­u­als.

There are sev­eral maps. It is a com­plete book deal­ing with an as­pect of his­tory that per­haps has now gone. The main­land had its Snowy River scheme, Tas­ma­nia had its Hy­dro schemes.

It’s a great cof­fee ta­ble book, with 511 glossy pages.

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