Warragamba Dam Day Trip

As a primary school aged kid I remember school excursions to Warragamba dam. I don’t particularly remember being impressed with the dam, but I do remember the excursions because Warragamba seemed so far away and such a long drive for a little school kid.

Last weekend Elly and I took the Landcruiser for a drive out through Camden, The Oaks, Silverdale and on to Warragamba. I have to say that for what I considered to be relatively non-descript towns, the drive between The Oaks and Silverdale has some really amazing views. I can highly recommend making the drive.

I had only packed the Nikon D3s with the 50mm f1.4 lens this time. I have been trying to carry less equipment lately, and to try and improve my shooting without the benefit (or the hindrance) of multiple zoom lenses. Shooting with a 50mm lens makes it somewhat difficult to get sweeping landscape vistas, so I cheated a little with the shot below and took 8 images and stitched them together in Adobe Photoshop CS6.

The trick with shooting images that you intend to stitch into a panorama is to shoot in manual exposure mode with a set white balance. This ensures that each image is exposed identically and that the colour temperature of the white balance does not change between images.

As you walk down toward the dam there is a 4 or 5 metre long memorial sign with the names of workers who lost their lives while building or maintaining the dam. I composed various shots but I could not find a happy composition where all of the names were in focus and I did not want to display a shot that didn’t recognise every name clearly as equally important as the next.

I specifically composed the shot below, as a nod to the beliefs and ideals that Elly and I are directing our own life toward. At the core is that life is too short. We could spend our entire lives working in the hope that when we retire we will be able to travel, but there are no guarantees in life. No guarantee that when we retire we will be fit and healthy enough to travel, no guarantee that our money will be worth anything then, and in this day and age of increasing bureaucracy there is no guarantee that much of our country will still be open and free for us to experience.

The engineering feat that is Warragamba dam is very impressive indeed. This is one of the 4 original valve sets. The valves were used to turn the water off from the dam during maintenance or in an emergency.

Of note is that these valves weighed 32.5 tonnes EACH, and were made in England. Unfortunately it is becoming harder and harder to buy quality English or German made products and tools these days.

The valves are called Larner-Johnson needle valves. As mentioned, they weigh 32.5 tonnes each, and were installed into the dam in 1958.

The design of the original needle valve was complex and involved a series of complicated operational procedures to open and close the valves. The original valves reached the end of their working life in the early 2000’s and were replaced with more efficient German made Erhard butterfly type valves in 2004-2006 at a cost of $10 million.

This cutaway valve is on display next to the completed and fully assembled valve. It is great to get up close and see the inner workings of the valve, knowing how immense the force was behind this valve when it was closed.

A bit further down from the valves is the Warragamba dam visitor centre and 2 viewing platforms. I remember during those school excursions that we walked down across the bridge and stood on the top of the dam wall. We couldn’t do that on the day we were there as the access road to the dam wall is closed to authorised personel only.

This was another stitched panorama shot, this time with 10 images stitched together in Photoshop CS6. An interesting note is that the full size version of this image is in excess of 17,000 pixels in width.

This is the lower viewing platform, and the steel bars in the safety barrier provide a good opportunity for some geometric photo compositions. There are actually a number of interesting geometric architectural stuctures out at Warragamba dam for those artistically minded photographers.

As a kid Warragamba dam was impressive in a very simple way. Today as an adult I can appreciate the incredible engineering that went into the construction of Warragamba dam, but I also have mixed feelings about it. Burragorang Valley was a bustling township in the 40’s and 50’s, with beautiful forests and a thriving habitat. The unstoppable march of todays urban sprawl meant that what was a beautiful part of Australia was sent to a watery death, lives were lost building the dam, concrete and electricity pollution further destroyed the landscape, and massive areas surround the dam (the “water catchment area”) are now off limits to all our future generations of Australians.

Instead of being able to take my kids to see a lovely country town (as Burragorang Valley would have been), or sit on a bush rock to overlook the valley, I can only take them to a steel viewing platform to look at a giant concrete structure. And that makes me sad.


Posted on Nov 12, 2012 in Lap of Australia | Tags: TravelAustralia


See Also