Spectrum 811 and Spectrum 812. Power mountain revisited

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Tono kōrero mai

Spectrum was a long-running weekly radio documentary series which captured the essence of New Zealand from 1972 to 2016. Alwyn Owen and Jack Perkins produced the series for many years, creating a valuable library of New Zealand oral history.

The Manapouri hydro-electric power scheme, New Zealand's largest construction project, took from 1963 to 1969 to complete. It was designed to power the Bluff aluminium smelter and contribute to the national grid. As many as 1,500 workers were employed on the scheme at any one time, and 16 lost their lives during the construction.

Jack Perkins attends a reunion of around a hundred or so former project workers, held to mark 25 years since the project's completion. He travels down the West Arm of Lake Manapouri to the powerhouse situated 700 feet underground. There, the seven lake-fed turbines exit their water along a ten kilometre tunnel, into Deep Cove and Doubtful Sound. He will take the mountain route over Wilmot Pass Road, which leads down to Deep Cove where the former Tasman passenger liner "Wanganella" was once home to the tailrace tunnel workforce.

In part one, Jack Perkins attends the reunion of the workers. The Manapouri Hydro-Electric Scheme was New Zealand's largest construction project, beginning in 1963 and the first stage opening in 1969.
A number of unnamed former workmates are recorded on board the catamaran to cross Lake Manapouri, recalling the tough conditions working in the tunnel. Many of the foreign workers were 'new Australians' who had first come from Europe to Australia to work on the Snowy River Hydro Scheme: Latvians, Yugoslavs, Italians. Tom Churchill is interviewed wearing his original wet weather gear, which included hip-high boots as they had to work in all conditions.
A man recalls as an 18 year old he learnt a lot working in the tunnel with the foreign workers, in particular a German named Ziggy. "Arthur" the former Deep Cove postman talks about what his work entailed.

Two men recall how the camp handled any fighting and the restrictions on alcohol which was only available for a couple of hours a night. They remember the bar games played at West Arm. A man explains how he quit because he got sick of having to travel across the lake every day from the worker's village, and he and others talk about the terrible weather and working conditions, working in water with falling rock all around them. However the money was good (for the 1960s) at $40 a week. There was a high turnover of workers as many could not handle the conditions.

Ray Clarke, who was the police officer on board the "Wanganella" hostel at Deep Cove, is interviewed. He talks about the restrictions he asked to be placed on the sale of alcohol, with only draught beer available for limited hours. He talks about the lack of trouble among the workers overall and the entertainment they organised with visiting performers. He talks about the deaths of some workers on the project and the pastoral work he had to do with men who found the isolation difficult.

In part two, Jack Perkins visits the powerhouse, then travels over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove and Doubtful Sound. The programme starts with a hymn being sung at a Te Anau remembrance service marking the deaths of 16 workers who died during the project. The reunion has drawn former workers from as far away as Canada.
Underground, Jack interviews a man about the generators at work in the powerhouse hall and precision required when they were installed. He was in charge of survey crews and talks about the wet conditions which forced the men to work under umbrellas. Clouds would form in the machine hall. He says many of the workers were young, straight out of high school, and saw the work as a great adventure.

At the top of Wilmot Pass a wreath is laid in remembrance of Terence Smith, a surveyor killed in an explosion while building the road. A man who used to drive the project's ambulance remembers driving the road with injured workers taking them to the doctor on the 'Wanganella.' A man talks about the difficulty in putting the road through. A man named Selwyn talks about Terence Smith's death and says it was accepted that there would be a one death per mile due to the nature of the tunnel project. A man explains that the fresh water coming from the tailrace into the sound lies on the surface for many kilometres.

George Brasell who worked on the project for six years, is interviewed. He used to work as a crayfisherman in the area and was asked to help with berthing the 'Wanganella.' George's wife [Olive] is also interviewed and they recall the ship had to be tied up to a tree initially as the wharf wasn't built. George also worked driving barges which took equipment to Deep Cove. He describes a huge slip he saw in the sound, which covered Deep Cove with logs. They recall how when telephone lines were put in, kea ate the wires initially.

Unidentified Australian and Canadian workers are interviewed about their memories of the project and why they came to the reunion.

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Year 1994

Reference number 15082

Media type AUDIO

Collection Sound Collection

Genre Documentary radio programs
Nonfiction radio programs
Radio programs
Sound recordings

Credits RNZ Collection
Perkins, Jack (b.1940), Presenter
CLARKE, Ray, Interviewee
Brasell, George, -2005, Interviewee

Duration 00:57:12

Date 09 Jan 1994

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