A powerful history
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.