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2.3 1949 ‘Snowy People’: Chifley Government begins the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme

Tunnel workersfrom six different nations at workon the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme.

National Archives of Australia: A12111, 1/1960/16/55

Tunnel workersfrom six different nations at workon the Snowy Mountains Hydro Scheme.

In 1949 the Australian Government announced that it would be starting a huge infrastructure project: the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electricity Scheme. The scheme was one of the main sources of employment for postwar migrants.

Read the information in the Defining Moments in Australian history: 1949 Chifley government begins Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme and use it to answer these questions.

1. One of the main sources of employment for postwar migrants was the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electricity Scheme, commenced in 1949. Explain how the scheme would achieve its two aims of providing power, and supporting agriculture.

2. Why was it important for the Commonwealth to be in control of the project rather than the states affected by it?

3. Which states and territories would directly benefit from the scheme?

4. How did the postwar government immigration drive help make the scheme possible?

5. What problems might have been caused by the mix of cultures in the labour force?

6. What problems might the newcomers have faced from the existing residents?

7. The manager of the scheme, William Hudson, said:

‘We knew that the progress of the scheme depended on the people being contented, being happy and working together as a team, so we used to take great pains to see that people felt at home with us … The whole objective was to make them feel at home in the Snowy and to feel they weren’t any longer Czechs or Lithuanians or Germans, they were Snowy People.’

Siobhan McHugh, The Snowy: The people behind the power, Angus & Robertson, Sydney, 1995 p.45

Suggest ways in which potential problems might be avoided or overcome.

8. How might the existence of the Snowy scheme have influenced Australian identity?

9. Some people have said that the Snowy project would not be possible today, because of its environmental impacts. What environmental impacts do you think the scheme might have had? Do you think the advantages of the Snowy scheme outweigh these impacts? Or do the impacts outweigh the advantages?

10. The Australian Government claims that ‘Snowy 2.0’ is an important project. Research and present a mini-report on whether you think this extension to the Snowy Hydro Scheme has merit, is concerning or both.

Look back at the Key questions. Which of these questions do you think you can now answer fully? Which need more research?

11. Now complete this sentence:

Exploring further

The Australian Constitution lists the areas where the Commonwealth Parliament is able to make laws. All other areas of law making belong to the State and Territory parliaments.

Law making in relation to power, water and agriculture are not listed in the Australian Constitution so in theory the Commonwealth could not be involved with the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme.

Nevertheless, the Commonwealth could take over the project if it could make the argument that the scheme was relevant to the Commonwealth’s defence power under section 51 (vi) of the Constitution:

The Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order, and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to …

(vi) the naval and military defence of the Commonwealth and of the several States, and the control of the forces to execute and maintain the laws of the Commonwealth

It is 1949 and you are a legal expert working for the Commonwealth Government. Your task is to create an argument to put to the High Court judges — whose job it is to interpret the meaning of the Australian Constitution — that the Snowy scheme should come under the Defence powers of the Commonwealth Parliament.

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