Drowned towns

In 2007 the water level of Hume Dam was 1%- low enough to reveal the township of old Tallangatta. The foundations of the bank were exposed and a clear line was visible where Towong Street and the Murray Valley Highway ran through the valley- the buildings themselves had rotted and washed away after 50 years under water.

In 1902 a group of people concerned with the management of the Murray River came together for a conference at Corowa. South Eastern Australia had experienced a devastating drought between 1895 and 1902 and it had had a dramatic impact on the way the new nation understood both water and water management.

The Murray River was suffering. Farmers had been taking water for irrigation since the 1880s. This affected the river’s other use as a major means of transport. Just as they are today, the governments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia were in conflict over water rights.

The Murray-Darling Basin Agreement was outlined at the Corowa conference. But it was not until 1915 that the official agreement was signed. The centrepiece was the Hume Dam. This huge project began in 1919, it employed thousands of men and women and required a new train line and road diversions to be built. The dam was completed in 1931.

The little town of Tallangatta was outside the bounds of the new Lake Hume but any expansion to the dam would see it go under. For decades Tallangatta lived under this threat:

[T]he chairman of the Water Supply Commission (Mr. Cattanach) said yesterday that it was originally intended that the total capacity of the Hume weir should be 1,100,000 acre feet. With the foundations provided, however, it would be possible to increase the capacity to 2,000,000 acre feet. When that was done further areas of land would have to be inundated, and portions of Tallangatta might be affected.

- The Argus, 16 November 1926

The Argus, 16 November 1926.

With an increase in the amount of water flowing into the Murray River following the building of the Snowy Mountains Scheme; the authorities decided to increase the capacity of the Hume Dam in the 1950s. Tallangatta was inundated. By 1961 the Hume Dam could hold more than six times the amount of water in Sydney Harbour. It also generated electricity through hydroelectric turbines and would eventually regulate the flow of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.

The Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme was the largest engineering project ever undertaken in Australia. Work started on the scheme in 1949 and was finished in 1974. More than 1,000,000 people came from over 30 countries to work on the project.

It was not unusual for towns to be moved. This was the fate of the first settlement of Bonnie Doone in Victoria, Jindabyne in New South Wales, and Happy Valley in South Australia. Most believed that homes and history were a small sacrifice for dams that would provide power and water to the new nation. It is unknown how many sites of importance to Indigenous Australians have been covered by these massive projects.

Photographic records of the town of Tallangatta, before it was submerged by the Hume Dam.
Photograph of a house being transported on a truck form the site of Tallangatta.
Feature article form The Argus Weekend Magazine on the flooding of Tallangatta.
Photograph of the new site of Tallangatta, following the construction of the Hume Dam.