October 2020


Some days it seems like the world was made just for you. My visit to Burrinjuck power-station seemed one such day.

Though I have driven past the sign to Burrinjuck west of Yass many times, in my peregrinations I had only once driven in once, and balked at the entrance fee. So all I got was a sense of how winding and thin the road in is, and a view of a lake on which powerboats cut noisy swathes through the water.

It takes about half-an-hour to wind down into the dam. The last section takes a deep U bend and buildings appear along the side of the narrow road. There are a number of buildings that hang on the steep walls of the valley. I drove through until I came to a locked gate in a two-metre chain link fence. There were many ‘No admittance’ signs, but one said that if you wanted admission you needed to drop into the office about 500m back up the road.

‘Why not’ I thought. They can only say no.

There was a man on a phone outside the office, trying to keep reception perhaps. I waited patiently for his call to finish and then explained that I wanted to get a look at the old power station. Instead of the refusal I expected, he said he’d call his supervisor Brett who was down inside the closed area. He then said Brett would come up and take me down. I could not believe my luck.

While I waited, I took in the view of the bluff opposite on Mount Barren Jack (972 metres). Above me was Black Andrew Mountain (935 metres).  


Brett was a young man and over the next hour I was to realise that he had quite an affection for the building we were about to visit. It is a long way down steps to the power-station. You could see water pumping out of the dam, and the No 2 power-station at the base of the dam wall.

The path passed under a large iron pipe (1.5m diameter). Brett suggested they had used a railway to put it up the hill, pointing out the rails. I imagined a cog wheel had dragged things the very steep slope. As we approached the power-station you could see derelict pieces of rail and an old railway bogey. There were some old wooden signs proclaiming the Burrinjuck Slalom Site.

The Waterways Guide online, a description of every canoe-able river in Australia says there is no access currently to the section of Burrinjuck Dam to Childowlah.

The river here certainly looks like it would be great to kayak, particularly with the large volume of water gushing from the dam. Pale, water smoothed boulders lined both banks, a fast stream running between. Brett pointed out a 20m section of pipe on the opposite bank. He explained that this was the penstock that used to cross the river from the dam’s outlet and that the 1974 flood ripped it away. He said there was an even larger section about a kilometre down the river.

We walked around to the front of the power-station, which strangely faced the river, rather than the way you approached it. It had an impressive art deco façade, geometric squares capping the flat roof. There were dark steps leading up to a platform that ran the width of the building. On the left was a heavy square door, segmented into smaller pink squares. There were three large rectangle windows up high, also segmented into smaller rectangles, two small on the side and a larger one in the middle. The platform looks like the place a government dignitary would come out to and address the crowd, in this case the roiling river.

At the front of the building, just left of the stairs, a rock-filled passageway lead under an arch into the depth of the building. Green slime draped down the sides, and you could see right under the building, but below there were spaces too dark to see into.

The strangest thing was the four metre high obelisk just to the right on the stairs.

We entered the building through a heavy door at the side. We came it at the level of the door, but the floor was lower. A double curved staircase ran from the front door to the floor. There were two turbines in the centre of the space. The floor was covered with a layer of thin mud, which had dried into tessellations. On the far wall someone had written ‘Will Burrows 19’ in letters 10cm tall which was dwarfed by the 50 cm letters proclaiming Trent Wilkie had been here, and the sign, behind a tall ladder that said I (heart) pussy. Elsewhere, John G. had also written his name and left the spray can.

The walls were a pastel green to half height, and a creamy colour above that, the turbines navy blue. A lot of the paint was peeling and there was swallow shit everywhere. And a dead snake in a small drain. There we beautifully decorative brass light fitting. Brett said some of these had been souvenired.  A bright orange crane crossed the room close to the ceiling. Everything was solid, well-made in some English factory. Parts had been souvenired but the bulk of everything was still there, including a bunch of mining lamps and dead batteries in a room behind the curved stairs.

To be continued

Dr Greg Pritchard