Waitaki Dam’s 75th birthday

The Waitaki Dam was the first of eight to be built on the Waitaki River and the last to be to be built by the pick and shovel method .

Construction started in 1928. The decision to use labour rather than machines was a deliberate one to provide work during the Depression but it wasn’t easy work:

. . . working conditions were hard with cold winters, flooding, and earthquakes to work through. The work force often toiled in knee high water, and lived in temporary housing near the site. 

It was during these construction years that Kurow’s Presbyterian Minister, later to become Sir Arnold Nordmeyer, and local doctor Dr Harold McMillan, saw the working and housing conditions and the many who camped near the site hoping for work.  As a result these two men began the initial thinking around what was to become one of the world’s first social welfare assistance programmes – the Social Welfare Act (passed by Parliament in 1938).

The dam was commissioned in 1934 and Meridian Energy, which now owns it, hosted public celebrations for its 75th anniversary yesterday.

David Bruce  covered the dam’s history and interviewed some of the people who worked on it for the ODT.

Waitaki’s Deputy Mayor, Gary Kircher, blogs on yesterday’s celebrations.

This photo of the dam was taken earlier this year when Meridian was spilling water becasue the lakes were too full.

waitaki 09

3 Responses to Waitaki Dam’s 75th birthday

  1. Paul Tremewan says:

    A nice piece on the Sunday programme last night on the teeve about the last surviving worker who toiled on the dam. A good interview, and a wonderful bloke… who I think was also a centurion. It all looked like bloody hard yakka to me! But a very kiwi project. When we did the Manapouri new tailrace tunnel a couple of years back, that was hard work for the miners and construction teams there… (I had an easy above ground role!), but it was still way short of the tribulations endured by the workers on the Waitaki project.


  2. […] Waitaki birthday The dam turns 75 Built with picks and spades […]


  3. Ray Dobson says:

    I lived in the “Top Camp” (house 316) from about 1929 to 1934. My father (Andrew Dobson) worked there as a plumber and ambulance driver. Other members of the family were Mother, Mavis, Jack and Alan. We kids went to the Kurow school on the train until 1934. If there is anyone else who was there during those years please get in touch. My email address: raydob@gmail.com


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