25 August 2023

Engineered to impress: Precious Snowy Hydro lab set for bold transformation

| Gail Eastaway
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lab at hydro heritage museum

The interior of the Fluid Mechanics Lab at the heart of the Hydro1 Heritage Centre. Photo: Hydro1 Heritage.

A passionate and determined group of locals is working hard to develop a unique part of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme into a museum celebrating the original project’s hydro history.

They aim to transform the former SMEC Fluid Mechanics Laboratory in Cooma into a world-class heritage and technological facility, a recognised destination capable of enriching the quality of life for Snowy-Monaro residents and visitors alike.

The Hydro1 Heritage Centre will be a vibrant and enduring social, cultural and economic centrepiece for Cooma and the region, a major resource for tourists, scholars, educators and history buffs.

On Saturday, 2 September, they will present a series of promotional videos at the Fluid Mechanics Laboratory, 226 Sharp Street, Cooma, between 11 am and 1 pm.

The format for the day will be a presentation at 11 am, including the showing of three outstanding new promotional videos for H1HC, filmed and produced by Spinning Reel Audio Visual.

The videos have been produced courtesy of a Boco Rock Community Enhancement Fund grant.

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Morning tea will be provided by Roses Restaurant. There will also be a display of future museum artefacts and ”stories” and repeat showings of the three videos. In addition, Roses Restaurant will provide free coffee from its van at the front of the building.

The development and construction of the Snowy Mountains Scheme was enabled in no small way by the groundbreaking work of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority’s (SMHEA) Scientific Services Division.

Established in the early 1950s at the scheme’s Cooma Back Creek site, this division boasted an outstanding workforce of world-class engineers and scientific staff who cut new ground in technological developments.

Designs and dimensions for major structures were researched, modelled, tested and proven at the Cooma site. Indeed, it has been said that “the incalculable was determined” thanks to the skill, dedication and energy of these engineers and scientific staff.

The fluid mechanics laboratory was one of six specialist laboratory buildings where the research was undertaken. The complex was further utilised by the Snowy Mountains Authority (the successor to the SMHEA) and then the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation (SMEC) from 1970 until 2010.

Five of the laboratory buildings were demolished in 2019, leaving the fluid mechanics laboratory as the landmark reminder of a brilliant past.

The Snowy Technical Centre Working Group was established in mid-2016 to represent community interest in the site. It became an incorporated entity under the Associations Incorporation Act 2009 on 22 March, 2022, and is now known as Hydro1 Heritage Centre Incorporated.

The working group comprised members of the Cooma-Monaro Historical Society, Cooma and Monaro Progress Association, former SMA and SMEC staff, and interested residents of Cooma and the Snowy Mountains region.

The group’s initial intention was to reflect and represent community interest in the preservation of the fluid mechanics laboratory, however, it soon became clear that conservation of the associated cultural, social and technological histories of the building and the region itself was needed.

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In 2018, SMEC and the Snowy Monaro Regional Council cooperated in financing a feasibility study for a proposed heritage centre.

Hydro1 Heritage Centre Inc is proceeding towards the realisation of its vision, in consultation and with the support of SMEC, Australia and New Zealand as the owner.

The next steps include the formation of a not-for-profit organisation, Hydro1 Heritage Centre Limited, for the benefit of the community and public and the advancement of education and culture.

The recent registration of the interim incorporated body, Hydro1 Heritage Centre Incorporated, will allow members to move ahead with further proposals and seek and obtain funding, grants and public donations.

In the medium term, it is proposed to establish a not-for-profit public company limited by guarantee to enter a long-term lease arrangement with the property owner, SMEC Australia Pty Ltd.

Long-term plans are to redevelop the existing fluid mechanics building as a regional technological museum and heritage centre with visitor information, a gift shop and a cafe, optimising adjoining tourist attractions such as the Snowy Discovery Centre and the Snowy Scheme Museum, Adaminaby.

It would also provide a venue for temporary displays from other sources such as regional organisations, the Powerhouse Museum, and individual collectors. Ultimately, the centre would result in the creation of a science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educational hub, with links to tertiary educational institutions including TAFE and universities.

It would also provide local employment opportunities and create a positive workplace culture and training facility.

The centre would become a town and regional hub for organisations such as the Cooma-Monaro Historical Society, the MAGIC Multicultural Group, the Snowy Monaro Arts Council and U3A.

For more information, see the Hydro1 Heritage Centre Facebook page or email: [email protected].

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Excellent. Some of us hoped that the Snowy scheme would be replicated at a number of places up the divide and elsewhere, to divert, store and distribute water into our dry inland – and produce more hydro-electricity.

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