Era: 1945 - 1965 Cultural background: German Collection: Powerhouse Museum Theme:Snowy Hydo-Electric Scheme
Powerhouse Museum, Sydney, Australia.
Snowy Hydro German Carpenter’s Guild Scarf.
German carpenter’s guild scarf, Hagama, Germany, 1945. Large scarf owned by Karl Rieck in which he carried his carpenters tools. The scarf is made from white cotton with printed red and black illustrations with a red border and a guild insignia at each corner. Insignia of German bricklayers are in the top corners and carpenters’ insignia at the bottom. Next to each of these is an image of a carpenter or bricklayer and the European cities and towns in which these guilds worked. Dimensions: 760mm wide x 770mm high.
The building of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme was a pivotal event in Australia’s history. Not only did it create one of the engineering wonders of the modern world, it also laid the foundations of a uniquely multicultural modern nation.
Between 1945 and 1965 more than two million migrants came to Australia as the Australian Government embarked on an intensive international promotional campaign to encourage migration to Australia.
In 1949 many migrants with engineering or construction skills and experience in working alpine conditions were targeted for the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme. Dams, power stations and tunnels were built so that the water from the Snowy River could be used to provide power and irrigation.
German migrants arrive onboard a T.A.A. Viscount flight, c.1956. These migrants flew from Hamburg, Germany, under the assisted passage scheme sponsored by the Inter-governmental Committee for European Migration. Courtesy National Archives of Australia
The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme is the most complex, multi-purpose, multi-reservoir hydro scheme in the world with 80 kilometres of aqueducts, 140 kilometres of tunnels, 16 large dams and seven power stations, two of which are underground. The project commenced under an Act of Federal Parliament in October 1949 with the goal of diverting the Murrumbidgee, Snowy and Tumut Rivers in south western New South Wales to provide irrigation water for the western side of the Great Dividing Range, and in the process generate hydro-electric power.
Karl Rieck was recruited in Germany by the Snowy Mountains Authority. Despite his Carpenter’s Guild membership, he had to pass a Snowy Mountains Authority carpentry test by making wooden louvers. When Karl arrived in Sydney he had to sit another test by the Building Workers Industrial Union. Like most other carpenters, Karl joined the union which represented all carpenters and bricklayers on the Snowy Scheme.
On its completion in 1974 the Snowy Hydro Electric Scheme had employed over one hundred thousand workers. In harsh and dangerous conditions, they built a new future for themselves and for the nation. Many families were raised on the scheme with children born and growing up in the mountains. The majority of the workers stayed on to live in Australia making a valuable contribution to Australia’s modern multicultural society
The scarf has historical significance as evidence of the recruitment of skilled migrants to work on the Snowy Hydro Scheme, specifically the recruitment of German tradesmen. The Snowy Hydro Scheme is the point in Australia’s post war history where the burdens and shackles of the war were thrown off and the Australian Government initiated a plan of national building where skilled migrant labour was pivotal.
The scarf has intangible significance to the German Australian community as a symbol of traditional German industrial skills and the recognition of the value of German migrant to the post nation building of Australia.
The scarf represents a time when having endured the World War II Australia sought a bright new future of modernisation and an increased population to build a prosperous nation. Ironically non European people were not included in this vision.
The scarf has interpretative significance in the presentation of the story in the creation of ‘New Australia’, and the role of skilled migrants in major infrastructure projects such as the Snowy Hydro Scheme.
Heritage Office & Dept of Urban Affairs & Planning 1996, Regional Histories of NSW, Sydney.
Heritage Collections Council 2001, Significance: A guide to assessing the significance of cultural heritage objects and collections, Canberra.
Written by Stephen Thompson
Migration Heritage Centre
Crown Copyright 2011©