The Architecture of Water

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The first people to build roads into the high country of Tasmania’s Central Highlands did so for one simple reason – to seek power, to harness the power of falling water.
Story by Chris Viney.

Great Lake water first turned the turbines at Waddamana in 1916. It was the beginning of a remarkable eight decade-long era of construction by the organisation that Tasmanians know simply as ‘the Hydro’.

New schemes followed quickly – Tarraleah was the first of a cascade of power stations that harnessed the waters of the Derwent River from its source in Lake St Clair, then again and again, all the way downriver to within a few kilometres of Hobart.

The early buildings of the hydro-electricity schemes are classic examples of industrial architecture from the Art Deco era. As you travel through the island’s high country, take the time to explore a little way of the beaten track and admire them for yourself.

Pumphouse Point, Lake St Clair

No, it’s not a Grecian temple, but a 1940s industrial pumping station, although certainly designed by an architectural engineer with a fine aesthetic eye. The pumps are long since silent, but now this lovely building that seems to float on the surface of Lake St Clair has been transformed into a new wilderness retreat, welcoming visitors to the World Heritage Area.


The original pipes that delivered water from Penstock Lagoon, down the steep hill face and into the Waddamana Power Station were made of wood – thick staves of Baltic pine, strapped by steel bands. The original power station now houses a museum, with displays highlighting the early years of the Hydro’s history. The first megawatts generated were transmitted south to Hobart, as an essential component in the electrolytic refining process that produces zinc, the metal that is sometimes described as ‘frozen electricity’.

Tarraleah Lodge

This highland village was once home to three generations of men and women who built a series of power schemes in the highlands. Today the Art Deco staff house is home to luxury accommodation and fine dining in The Lodge, with more accommodation available in the original cottages and workers’ quarters.

The Mercury building, Hobart

Tasmania’s leading daily newspaper was founded in 1854 and is just as much an icon of the state as the Hydro. For more than 160 years, The Mercury was printed in a fine Art Deco building opposite the Town Hall in Macquarie Street. Since the move of the press to a new location, the Mercury building is now in the process of finding a new life as a focal point for the creative arts, entertainment and hospitality.

The Wall in the Wilderness, Derwent Bridge

In this monumental project, self-taught sculptor Greg Duncan is engaged in the work of a lifetime – carving the history and heritage of the highlands in 100 Huon pine panels, each three metres high and a metre wide. Through his knives and chisels, Greg is telling the stories of the first Aboriginal inhabitants and the pioneer settlers, bushmen, graziers, miners and Hydro workers who came later.

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