In the geographical centre of Tasmania, up in the highlands, there’s a turn off from the Highland Lakes Road that takes you 30km down a winding dirt road to an unexpected piece of industrial design history – the Waddamana Hydro-Electric Power Station. Or more precisely these days, the Waddamana Power Station Museum.
Construction on Tasmania’s first hydropower station began in 1910 as an ambitious and ultimately unsuccessful private venture, which was taken over by the Tasmanian Government in 1914. Waddamana began generating power in 1916, and if the lovely signage is accurate, this fine building was opened in 1922. It was functional for over 40 years before being decommissioned in 1964, and converted to a museum in 1988. Its twin (Waddamana B), which sits behind it, was functional until 1994.
It’s hard to grasp the volume of water that rushed through these pipes, and it’s even harder to reconcile the knowledge that the first pipelines were made of wooden staves (like a barrel).
These signs are still common on the active lines that criss-cross Tasmania today. They’ve updated the wording a little, but the message is still the same.
We spent a long time in the turbine hall, wandering amongst these giant machines. They’re beautifully crafted, with a lovely attention to detail. The thing we struggled with most when coming to terms with the size and number of them is the knowledge that these giants were shipped to Tasmania from England and the United States, and then transported up into the highland wilderness, presumably by horse and cart. Waddamana isn’t that easy to get to now, and I can’t imagine what it was like between 1910 and 1916.
Tragically the control panel is behind glass, which I suppose is a good thing, because the temptation to play with all the controls would be irresistible if it wasn’t.
The museum also contains exhibits of other electricity related items including household items, and scientific items like this lovely cathode ray oscillograph.
The old office areas are set up as they would have been at the height of the station’s activity, complete with glorious advertisements for electricity for factory, farm and home!
Waddamana Power Station Museum is open daily between 10am and 4pm, every day except Christmas Day and Good Friday. Admission is free.