Revealed: the Australian town that drowned

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The little town of Adaminaby in Australia's Snowy Mountains was drowned in 1958 to create a massive artificial lake. Buildings were moved to higher ground, where a new settlement sprang up, and what was left disappeared into a watery grave.

Half a century later, the ruins of the abandoned township have emerged, as a result of the prolonged drought crippling much of Australia. Lake Eucumbene has dropped by 36 metres, revealing remnants of the life that Adaminaby residents left behind, petrified in a mud-encrusted time capsule.

The receding waters have exposed rusting machinery, broken bedsteads, old bottles, tyres, smashed crockery, and even the odd shoe. Brickwork, the stone foundations and doorsteps of dismantled houses can be seen. The Catholic church's staircase and two gateposts have reappeared.

Greg Russell, 82, grew up nearby. Two of his children were baptised in the church. In his youth he went to dances in town on Saturday nights. Wandering among the ruins, dotted with the blackened skeletons of trees, has been an eerie experience.

"It makes me feel nostalgic for a place that doesn't exist any more," said Mr Russell, whose family has farmed sheep and cattle in the area for four generations. "Me and my wife virtually grew up there. To see it like that, it makes us feel sad."

Adaminaby, lying in a valley in southern New South Wales, was flooded as part of the Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme, one of the world's biggest civil engineering projects, which employed thousands of post-war European migrants. It took 25 years to complete, and occupies an important place in Australian social history.

About 100 buildings in Adaminaby were moved, and the rest were knocked down. Another township, Jindabyne, was drowned to create a lake, but the buildings were left standing.

Lake Eucumbene, behind the largest earthen dam in the southern hemisphere, can hold eight times the volume of Sydney Harbour, attracting sailors and trout fishermen. But with Australia in almost permanent drought for five years, it has shrunk to 22 per cent of its capacity. The ruins of Adaminaby have appeared gradually, and are now visible in their entirety.

In the middle of a desert-like landscape lies a marooned yacht. Since the township was exposed, so many scavengers have been drawn there that local authorities have employed security guards.

Leigh Stewart, 76, grew up in Adaminaby. In the 1950s they demolished his house and salvaged the bricks. "It's been interesting to walk round, but there's no sorrow. The saddest thing about the level of the lake is the drought. We need rain."