One of Australia’s earliest hydro-electric schemes was built at Gara Gorge, to power the nearby gold mines and town of Hillgrove. This walk explores some of that history, including the weir and old dam wall abutments near the picnic area at Blue Hole, and through old cuttings following the flume (aqueduct) route to a lookout over Gara Gorge, near where the power station was built.
The walk is best done anti clock-wise. We recommend starting from Blue Hole, crossing the weir where magnificent river she-oaks shade the river. The dam wall was destroyed by flood. Turn right once across the river, and follow the track to an information board with stories of mines and hydro electric schemes. Beyond here, the walk follows the line of the old 1894 flume. Eventually, you reach the Penstock where the water was piped under pressure to the power station 140 metres below. A short while later you reach the gorge lookout, before circling back through woodland and granite rocks to the start.
Richard Threlfall founded the school of Physics professor in Sydney, and was a leading expert on electricity and a consultant on the building of the hydro electric scheme. Threlfall is an unusual word. Google tells me it means “a place where the trees have been felled”. While the original 1894 flume was laid on a contoured bank, the second 1900 flume took a shorter elevated route. Given the 2.5 km long covered flume was made of wood, curving around the countryside “like a gigantic black snake”, I’d imagine a lot of trees were felled and land cleared for construction.
The scheme was a technical success, with the lights of Hillgrove being turned on late February 1895. Unfortunately, the power station was not a financial success and did not last long. In their exuberance to build the next big thing, engineers overlooked the impact of drought and declining fortunes in the gold mines. The company was liquidated in June 1895. Frank Cotton came to the rescue in 1900 and revived the scheme, and Hillgrove was lit up again in April 1900, this time lasting a bit longer to 1907.