Dam builders reflect on Pindari’s 55th anniversary

WaterNSW a proud custodian of Pindari Dam

It’s 55 years since Pindari Dam was officially opened by then NSW Premier Bob Askin on 21 March 1969. To mark the anniversary, WaterNSW spoke to two former workers about their memories of the dam’s construction.

General Manager Regional Operations North, Michelle Yeaman, said WaterNSW is a proud custodian of Pindari Dam, building on the legacy of the dam builders and local visionaries who saw the benefits of building this first dam in the north of the state.

“Fifty-five years later, Pindari remains an important part of the Border Rivers system for irrigation, town supplies and environmental flows,” Michelle said.

Today, Pindari Dam is one of 20 major dams across regional NSW operated by WaterNSW. It is situated on the Severn River about 22 kilometres upstream of Ashford and 80 kilometres north-east of Inverell near the NSW-Queensland border.

The Inverell Times reported on its front page in 1969: “At 3.40pm on Friday the Premier of NSW, Mr R.W. Askin, officially released the first regulated water into the Severn River below Pindari Dam.”

In what was described as an “impressive ceremony attended by 560 official guests and members of the public”, Ashford Shire president Cr J.R. Black extolled “the virtues of the first dam in the north”.

The NSW Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission was the constructing authority. Citra, a French civil engineering firm, was the contractor.

It was the first time the Commission had outsourced construction of one of the state’s major dams, adopting a model used successfully by the Snowy Mountains Authority.

Pindari Dam official opening
March 1969: The Inverell Times reported Pindari Dam was officially opened on 21 March 1969 in an “impressive ceremony attended by 560 official guests and members of the public”. (Photo: Jim Bate, Engineer)
Inverell Times front page 21 March 1969
1969: The Inverell Times front page on 24 March featured NSW Premier Bob Askin (right), Federal Minister for Shipping and Transport and Member for New England, Ian Sinclair (left), and NSW Minister for Conservation, Jack Beale (centre).

Len Colbert shares his memories

Len Colbert, 92, of Wauchope, was a contract inspector at Pindari Dam from 1967-69, supervising the Citra workforce.

“A few of us, the first inspectors, were sent across to Snowy, to see how they operated, including how to keep detailed record about contract variations,” Len recalls.

“We had to make a lot of manual calculations ourselves because we were testing the concrete (in an onsite laboratory) to make sure it was up to standard.

“I lived on site with my family. I had three kiddies at the time. The kids rode the bus to school in Ashford. On weekends we’d go fishing or prospecting for sapphires. All that area is sapphire country," Len said.

“The money was good because we were paid overtime. We worked six days a week. On Bastille Day, Citra hired bakery shops in Inverell and closed them down to make a big dinner for local identities all around the area.

“I started out on Glenbawn Dam in 1954 and then moved on to Burrendong and Wyangala where I was an electrical foreman before I went to Pindari. “After Pindari I went to Toonumbar (dam) at Kyogle, doing the same thing there, contract inspector at the batch house and the quarry.

“After that I stopped doing contract supervision work because most of the big construction jobs were closing down. They eventually offered me a job as second-in-charge at Burrinjuck Dam in 1971 – and I ended up spending 20 years there until I retired in 1991 as officer-in-charge. I was with the Commission just under 38 years.

“Dudley and I are quite possibly the last of the half dozen or so contract inspectors who worked on Pindari,” Len said.

Pindari face slab screed
September 1968: This machine placed a layer of concrete over Pindari Dam's rock fill wall to make the upstream side impervious to water. (Photo: Jim Bate, Engineer)
Pindari embankment steel mesh
March 1968: Workers concreted steel mesh into the bedrock to securely connect the concrete face of the dam wall to its foundations. (Photo: Jim Bate, Engineer)

Dudley Tickle shares his memories

Dudley Tickle, of Tamworth, who celebrates his 86th birthday one week after Pindari turns 55, was also a contract inspector at Pindari Dam from 1967-69.

“I’d been married about 5 years and my son was about 3 years old when we lived on site at Pindari,” Dudley recalls. “My daughter was born the day I left Pindari – that was the 28th May 1969.

“The site was virtually all cleaned up by then ready for Operations branch to take over.

“We had a house on site. There was about a dozen married blokes with houses. Those houses were all brought there from another job, and afterwards they were moved over to Copeton.

“It was a hard climate to work in. I remember summer days when the temperatures reached 40. Everyone seemed to mix pretty well. There was a wet canteen where you could have a drink after work.

“I remember how the Commission families integrated with the townspeople of Ashford and Inverell. On Sundays we’d go into Inverell to the pool or for a picnic in the park, or to Ashford to play golf," Dudley said.
Pindari historic aerial from upstream
1969: Aerial view upstream of Pindari Dam. The original spillway (left) became part of the wall when the dam’s height was almost doubled 25 years later from its original 45 metres.
Pindari 2021 aerial from upstream
2021: Aerial view upstream of Pindari Dam showing the taller wall and nearly full reservoir which can store 312,000 megalitres, more than eight times its original size. (Photo: Robert Latham.)

More recollections from Dudley

“I went from Burrendong to Wyangala for its extension and upgrade, then before I went to Pindari I was sent down to Blowering Dam under the supervision of the Snowy Mountains Authority to pick up how to be a contract inspector, as Snowy had done their work under contracts.

“Burrendong and Wyangala were built with day labour with the old Commission workforce but with Pindari it was the first time a contractor was used.

“As contract inspectors we supervised the actual work by the Citra workforce, to ensure it was done to the specifications set down in the contract.

“We never fraternised too closely (with the Citra workers) as you didn’t want people to think you were letting them get away with the things because you were friends.

“Another inspector Len Colbert and I shared alternate 12-hour shifts to check the concrete leaving the batch plant. We took test results, and had to keep control of the water/cement ratio.”

“It’s another era, really.

“After Pindari I went on to a similar role at Carcoar Dam, then Copeton and to Chaffey. Then I went down to Glennies Creek to work on the tunnel but that’s when a job came up in Tamworth in licensing. I set up all the irrigators in the Peel Valley in the early 1980s.

“I worked for Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission for 39.5 years. When I retired I had 499 and two-thirds days of sick leave owing to me – I needed another one-third of a day to make it to 500 days!”

Pindari 1969 aerial from downstream
1969: Aerial view downstream from Pindari Dam. The original spillway (right) became part of the wall when the dam’s height was almost doubled. Workers’ housing, offices and workshops are visible in the foreground.
Pindari 2021 aerial from downstream
2021: Aerial view downstream from Pindari Dam showing the new spillway (left) which was re-located when the dam wall was raised in 1994 from 45 to 85 metres. (Photo: Robert Latham.)

Published date: 18 March 2024

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