Australia’s 500 Large Dams Conserving Water on a Dry Continent (2003) by Bruce Cole


Every organization has some  responsibility for recording the history  both of itself and of the industry in which operates, and the Australian National Committee on  Large Dams  Inc. (ANCOLD)  is no exception.

In 1998  ANCOLD  published The ANCOLD  Story 1937–1995 which sets out  its own  history including its origins, development, activities and  publications over  almost 60 years.

A second book, Dam Technology in Australia 1850–1999, was produced in 2000.  That volume presents the  developments  in Australian dam  engineering for  six  different types  of  dams, as Australian dam  engineers played their part in  the innovations and improvements in  the art of dam  building taking place  all around the world.

As you  will  see, the present book  looks  at Australia’s sometimes desperate need  for water  and how those needs were met progressively by building over  500 large  dams.  A major proportion of these dams were  designed and  constructed by government authorities,  and  the book  outlines the history of these authorities in each  state and  territory.

The  latter two  books had  their origins in the Heritage  Dams  Project,  ably led by Tony Moulds and carried out jointly by ANCOLD and the Institution of Engineers, Australia, with  financial assistance from the National Estate Grants Program. The project resulted in the identification and nomination of 26  dams  for  listing  on the Register of  the  National Estate. In  addition several experienced dam  engineers wrote six historical summaries describing the technological advances in dam building over the last 150 years. These summaries formed the basis for the Dam Technology volume cited above.

At the same time  the present author wrote a non-technical historical overview for the project, and  that account has provided much  of the text for this book.  When  publication was proposed, several ANCOLD members carried out a full review  and made constructive suggestions, including the  need for an early chapter explaining the dam building challenge to the general reader.  Many members have  subsequently responded to appeals for photographs to illustrate the text. Despite the pressures of heavy workloads,  the spirit of voluntary cooperation and assistance is still very much alive in our organization.

For its part the Institution  of  Engineers,  Australia has recognized the engineering heritage significance of particular dams under  its Australian historic engineering plaques program.  Most of the  dams  already  nominated for listing   on the Register of the National Estate have been awarded either a National Engineering Landmark or an Historic  Engineering Marker. These awards take the form of attractive bronze plaques conspicuously placed at visitor viewing areas at the dams.

Details of all the large dams in Australia are recorded  in  ANCOLD’s  Register of Large Dams in Australia which  is updated periodically and can be downloaded from the website The book  relies heavily on the Register for its tabulated data,  and I express  ANCOLD’s debt of gratitude to Bob Wark of Western Australia who, with our state representatives, has maintained the Register for more than 20 years.

Starting in colonial  times, this book unveils the history of dam building in Australia, an important facet of our country’s survival and development.  On behalf of ANCOLD, I congratulate the author on putting this significant story together and  for managing its publication,  thereby bringing the Heritage Dams Project to a useful conclusion.

Phillip Cummins

Chairman of ANCOLD Inc.

September 2003

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