The wondrous Waitaki

Labour Weekend marks the 75th birthday of the Waitaki hydro dam, which is one of the cornerstones of this nation’s power grid. Built in the 1920s and 30s using old-fashioned hard work – picks, shovels, concrete, steel and blood, sweat and tears, it first generated power in 1935 and was the first of  several dams on the Waitaki River.

A remarkable collection of 185 photos donated by Linton Simmons Payne, a hydro-electrical engineer, has been digitised and made available online in time to mark this occasion. The photos cover all aspects of the the construction of the dam and provide a fascinating glimpse into this massive project and what life must have been like for the workers who toiled in the harsh valley climate.

There are a few books on The Waitaki River and its hydro electric history, and another is set to be launched for this year’s milestone. I wonder what a power project on that scale would look like today? Would we even have the audacity to give it a shot? Reading the book commissioned for the fortieth anniversary of the Benmore Dam, with text by Lloyd Jones, I wonder if we would.

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