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.