The Dams That Changed Australia – IELTS Academic Reading Passage

Inland Australia has had a problem with drought from the time of white settlement in 1788 until today, and this is why the Snowy Mountains Scheme was conceived and founded. Before the Snowy Scheme a large proportion of the snowfields on Australia’s highest mountains (the Snowy Mountains) melted into the Snowy River every year. Hence, Snowy River water flowed, ultimately, into the sea, not toward the dry interior of the country, where people needed it so desperately. This was first recognised by the Polish geologist and explorer Strezlecki in 1840, who commented that there could be no development of the inland without adequate water supply. The rivers would have to be diverted if irrigation were to succeed.

Before Federation in 1901, Australia consisted of a group of colonies, all anxious to protect their own interests. After Federation the states retained rights to the water, and thus to what might happen to the rivers. Arguments between New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia led to a deadlocked Premiers’ Conference in 1947. Despite this serious dispute, the Federal Parliament passed the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Power Act just two years later, on July 7. The project was officially commenced on October 17 that year, barely three months after the act had been passed.

The scheme set out to harness water for electricity and to divert it back to the dry inland areas for irrigation. To do this, thousands of kilometres of tunnels had to be drilled through the mountains, and sixteen major dams and seven hydro-electric power stations built over a period of nineteen years. The first of these was Guthega Power Station, which was commissioned in 1954. and the last one to be finished was Tumut III.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme was to alter the face of Australia forever. One important change was the recruitment of people from outside Australia to work on the scheme. In 1949, while the world was still recovering from the effects of World War II (1939 to 1945), the Australian government needed immense numbers of people to work on the Snowy. It sought labour from overseas, and 60,000 of the 100,000 people who worked on the scheme came from outside the country.

They came from thirty different countries: from Italy, Yugoslavia, and Germany, from sophisticated cities like Budapest, Paris and Vienna, and from tiny hamlets. These European workers left countries which had fought against each other during the war, and which had vastly different cultures, and they found themselves in a country which was still defining itself. They were adventurous young men, some highly skilled, some not, and they came to a place which offered both enormous challenges and primitive conditions. Many were housed in tents in the early days of the scheme, although some fortunate men were placed in barracks. The food was basic, female company extremely scarce and entertainment lacking.

Many new arrivals spoke only limited English, and were offered English classes after work. The men needed primarily to understand safety instructions, and safety lectures were conducted in English and other languages. In fact, a great deal of communication underground was by sign language, especially when the conditions were noisy. The signs were peculiar to the business at hand: for instance, a thumb placed near the mouth meant water, but did not indicate whether the water was needed on the drill the man was using, or for a drink.

The constant reference to the men who worked on the Snowy is appropriate because few women worked on the scheme, and those who were employed usually held office jobs. Women, however, were active in the community, and the members of the Country Women’s Association gave English lessons. Other English instruction was provided by the Australian Broadcasting Commission, which ran daily broadcasts to help the newcomers with the language.

These circumstances could have caused great social trouble, but there were relatively few serious problems. The men worked long and hard, and many saved their money with a view to settling in Australia or returning home. At a reunion in 1999 many were happy to remember the hardships of those days, but it was all seen through a glow of achievement. This satisfaction was felt not only by the men who worked directly on the project, but by the women, many of whom had been wives and mothers during the scheme, and indicated that they had felt very much part of it.

The children of these couples went to school in Happy Jack, a town notable for having the highest school in Australia, and the highest birth rate. In one memorable year there were thirty babies born to the eighty families in Happy Jack. Older children went to school in Cooma, the nearest major town.

The scheme is very unlikely to be repeated. The expense of putting the power stations underground would now be prohibitive, and our current information about ecology would require a different approach to the treatment of the rivers. Other hydro-electric schemes like the Tennessee Valley Authority preceded the Snowy Mountains Scheme, and others have followed. The Snowy Mountains Scheme is the only hydro-electric scheme in the world to be totally financed from the sale of its electricity.

As well as being a great engineering feat, the scheme is a monument to people from around the world who dared to change their lives. Some are living and working in Australia, many have retired there, some have returned to their countries of origin. Every one of them contributed to altering Australian society forever.

Questions 1-5
Reading Passage 1 contains five sections. Choose the correct heading for Sections One to Five from the fist of headings below.

List of Headings
i Using sign language on the Snowy Mountains
ii The workers and their families
iii Development of inland Australia
iv The cost of the Snowy Mountains Scheme
v The unique nature of the scheme
vi Housing the Snowy Mountains’ workforce
vii Why the Snowy Mountains Scheme began
viii Learning new ways to communicate
ix Recruiting people for the Snowy Mountains Scheme
x Social problems of the workers

1. Section One
2. Section Two
3. Section Three
4. Section Four
5. Section Five

Questions 6-10
Complete the table below. Choose ONE WORD AND/OR A NUMBER from Reading Passage 1 for each answer.

1788white settlement begins
1840awareness that the (6)……………….could not be developed without irrigation
1947dispute between the states on the rivers’ future, resulting in a (7)…………………Premiers’ Conference
(8)………………..snowy mountains scheme begins recruitment of (9)………………people from abraod
1954work on Guthega Power Stations begins
(10)……………..Tumut III Power Station completed

Questions 11-13
Complete the sentences. Choose NO MORE THAN THREE WORDS from the passage for each answer.

Communicating using (11)………………..was necessary for the labourers because of the conditions.

The workers reminisced about the (12)…………………endured in the early days at their reunion.

The Snowy Mountains Scheme was considered an (13)………………which altered Australian society thereafter.