Gara River Hydro-Electric Scheme | NSW Environment & Heritage

Culture and heritage


Gara River Hydro-Electric Scheme

Item details

Name of item: Gara River Hydro-Electric Scheme
Type of item: Archaeological-Terrestrial
Group/Collection: Utilities - Electricity
Category: Electricity Generator/Power Station - hydro-electric
Location: Lat: 30.599621962683 Long: 151.8080531643
Primary address: 10km southeast of Armidale, Castledoyle, NSW 2350
Local govt. area: Armidale Dumaresq
Local Aboriginal Land Council: Armidale
Property description
Lot/Volume CodeLot/Volume NumberSection NumberPlan/Folio CodePlan/Folio Number
LOT179 DP723329
All addresses
Street AddressSuburb/townLGAParishCountyType
10km southeast of ArmidaleCastledoyleArmidale Dumaresq  Primary Address
within Oxley Wild Rivers National ParkArmidaleArmidale Dumaresq  Alternate Address


Organisation NameOwner CategoryDate Ownership Updated
Office of Environment and HeritageState Government11 Aug 97

Statement of significance:

The Gara River hydro-electric scheme is of state and national significance because it was the first to light a township in Australia and the first to offer its power for commercial sale. As designed by Richard Threlfall, Professor of Physics at the University of Sydney, it incorporated technological innovations which made it one of the most advanced schemes in the world.

It provides direct physical evidence of the changing economic fortunes of Hillgrove in the face of the 1890s depression, the drop in antimony prices and the drought. For modern Australian society, it provides a time depth for the environmental debates of hydro versus environment (Gojak 1988: 32).
Date significance updated: 02 Jun 09
Note: The State Heritage Inventory provides information about heritage items listed by local and State government agencies. The State Heritage Inventory is continually being updated by local and State agencies as new information becomes available. Read the OEH copyright and disclaimer.


Designer/Maker: Richard Threlfall
Builder/Maker: Crompton Power Company
Construction years: 1893-1895
Physical description: The two ends of the rubble and earth dam at Blue Hole survive although it is not possible to determine which particular parts of the dam were built during the first or second pahses of construction. Approximately 100m below the dam is a low concrete weir which spans the Gara River at one of its narrowest points. This was to divert water from the river into the flume at a certain rate to ensure constant supply. The weir remains intact and does not show any evidence of repair or alteration since its construction (Gojack 1988: 22).

From the eastern end of the weir, a line of V sectioned concrete fluming extends southwards for 500m. After passing through a cutting the flume splits, with one half running on wooden trestles and the other following the fall of the land. The former is the original route of the flume. None of the timber fluming or framing of the trestles survives intact although many lie around the surface of the site. Stone footing supply the best evidence of the route. The second flume is represented by a narrow level surface about one metre across.

At the end of the flume runs, a steep, poorly stabilized slope leads down to the powerstation below. The remains of the powerstation and sections of the power genrating machinery are in various stages of decay (Gojak 1988: 24).
Physical condition and/or
Archaeological potential:
Archaeological potential is high.
Date condition updated:11 Aug 97
Modifications and dates: 1899 - the whole complex is restored and modifications are made to the flumes and machinery.
Current use: National Park
Former use: Hydro-electric plant


Historical notes: The Gara River scheme was the first substantial hydro-electric scheme to reach fruition in Australia. It began to generate power in March 1895 to light the town of Hillgrove, near Armidale in the New South Wales Central Tablelands. The scheme was instigated by the Australasian Rights Purchase Association, when they placed a petition for a bill before the NSW Parliament, requesting the water rights to exploit the Gara River for the purposes of power generation. The bill was passed and on March 10, 1893, the Hillgrove and Armidale Water-Power Electrical Company (Ltd) Act, was passed (Gojack 1988: 15).

Richard Threlfall, Professor of Physics at Sydney University, was brought in as the consultant on electrical engineering. He was regarded at the time as Australia's leading expert on electricity and is now thought to have been one of the first modern pure physicists in the world. He was involved in all phases of the design and construction and became mortgagee of the company (Gojak 1988: 15).

The dam for the scheme was constructed at Blue Hole, a large natural pool of water off the Gara River. The generator site was situated at the foot of the Gara Falls. The site was only disadvantaged by its distance from the power consumers in the next gorge and the township. The system used DC (direct current) generators and briefly became one of the most important DC generation schemes in the world.

Although the scheme was hailed as a technical triumph, it was plagued by financial trouble throughout the 1890's.This may have co-incided with the economic decline that hailed the end of the goldrushes in the area. In 1896 the site was taken over by the Sandon County Electrical Light and Power Company and in 1899, the scheme was substantially rebuilt and reactivated. The population of the area however, was dwindling due to reduced mineral production and the Sandon Company sold the plant to the International Railway Corporation of England (Gojak 1988: 19). By 1905 it was being leased or operated by a Mr Pinto who sold the electricity to local users.

The last mention of the Gara River Hydro-Electric Scheme as a functioning enterprise was in 1907. The history of the site between 1907 and the later part of the twentieth century is unclear. The site now rests within the borders of the Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, under the management of the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

Historic themes

Australian theme (abbrev)New South Wales themeLocal theme
4. Settlement-Building settlements, towns and cities Utilities-Activities associated with the provision of services, especially on a communal basis (none)-

Assessment of significance

SHR Criteria a)
[Historical significance]
The Gara River Hydro-electric scheme provides direct evidence for the early use of electricity in Australia. It was the first scheme in Australia to provide light to a town and the first to make its output commercially available for industry. It represents the only successful venture of the Australasian Purchase Rights Association. It has an association with the NSW parliamentarian, Frank Cotton, who acted as manager for the revived Gara River scheme. It also has an association with Richard Threlfall, Professor of physics at the University of Sydney. (Gojak 1988: 27-8&32-3).
SHR Criteria d)
[Social significance]
The Gara River Hydro-electric scheme, represents a part of the historical heritage of the New England district and still has relevance to the local community. It has long been used as a recreational area by the residents of Armidale. It also provides a time depth for the wider community, for the development of hydro-electricity and its conflict with the environment. This has beome increasingly relevant since the Franklin River dam protests in 1983-4 (Gojak 1988: 26&32).
SHR Criteria e)
[Research potential]
The Gara River Hydro-electric scheme represents several technological firsts, such as the first use of tandem hydro-electric power generating machines in Australia. Technologically it was also a world leader in the use of high voltage power transmission. The overall design, the use of direct current generators and the changes in fluming to improve water flow also have high technological significance. The scheme represents the only known large scale design work carried out by Professor Threlfall, a significant early physicist.

The Gara River Hydro-electric scheme also has research and educational potential. There is enough easily accessible material, visible on the surface to provide for straightforward interpretation. As the records of early hydro-electric development are patchy, the archaeological remains are an invaluable source of information about this technology. A study of the place also reveals how the end of the antimony boom and the collapse of the Australian economy in the 1890s, influenced the local economy of Hillgrove. (Gojak 198827&33)
Assessment criteria: Items are assessed against the PDF State Heritage Register (SHR) Criteria to determine the level of significance. Refer to the Listings below for the level of statutory protection.

Procedures /Exemptions

Section of actDescriptionTitleCommentsAction date
57(2)Exemption to allow workStandard Exemptions SCHEDULE OF STANDARD EXEMPTIONS
Notice of Order Under Section 57 (2) of the Heritage Act 1977

I, the Minister for Planning, pursuant to subsection 57(2) of the Heritage Act 1977, on the recommendation of the Heritage Council of New South Wales, do by this Order:

1. revoke the Schedule of Exemptions to subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act made under subsection 57(2) and published in the Government Gazette on 22 February 2008; and

2. grant standard exemptions from subsection 57(1) of the Heritage Act 1977, described in the Schedule attached.

Minister for Planning
Sydney, 11 July 2008

To view the schedule click on the Standard Exemptions for Works Requiring Heritage Council Approval link below.
Sep 5 2008

PDF Standard exemptions for works requiring Heritage Council approval


Heritage ListingListing TitleListing NumberGazette DateGazette NumberGazette Page
Heritage Act - State Heritage Register 0098602 Apr 99 271546
Heritage Act - s.170 NSW State agency heritage register     

Study details

TitleYearNumberAuthorInspected byGuidelines used
National Parks & Wildlife Service Section 170 Register  National Parks & Wildlife Service  No

References, internet links & images

TypeAuthorYearTitleInternet Links
WrittenDenis Gojak, Grisoula Giopoulos and Gary Dunnett1988Gara River Hydro-electric Scheme Oxley Wild Rivers National Park, New South Wales: Conservation Plan

Note: internet links may be to web pages, documents or images.

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Data source

The information for this entry comes from the following source:
Name: Heritage Office
Database number: 5051463

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