Dust Bowl pp 237-283 | Cite as

“Battle of the Rivers,” Battle of the Stories: Dust Bowls, Dams, TVAs, and a Snowy Mountains Scheme

  • Janette-Susan Bailey
Part of the Palgrave Studies in World Environmental History book series (PSWEH)


This chapter describes how the concept of “Australia’s Tennessee Valley Authority” became central to a fourth transnational narrative emerging in 1940s Australia during fierce debate between New South Wales and Victoria over a post-war, nation-building water conservation scheme for the waters of the iconic Snowy River. Campaigners, writers, film-makers—G.V. Lawrence, Mervyn Weston, Murrumbidgee Valley Water Users’ Association, Ken Hall, Murray Valley Development League, John Heyer—drew “dust bowl” imagery into contrast with imagery evoking US Bureau of Reclamation and TVA dams and planning achievements. However, neither Australian dust bowl nor Australian TVA narratives endured as national myths. They contributed to national debate that reinterpreted Australia’s existing Snowy River mythology and changed the Australian landscape forever when the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme construction began in 1949.


Soil Erosion Water Conservation Dust Storm Soil Conservation Dust Bowl 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.
The preceding chapters have told the story of how one idea of a “dust bowl” evolved, accumulating new meanings as it wove its way through Australian narratives of the 1940s. 1 Often dramatic, often nationalistic, “dust bowl” narratives cultivated the idea of human erosion in expanding man-made deserts, to raise Australians’ awareness of serious wind erosion and to buoy various political, social, and conservation agendas. Writer Hazel Hogan, journalists Howard S. Palmer, Noel Adams, Bruce Miller, Bill Moore, Crayton Burns, popular magazine the Australian Women’s Weekly, each wrestled the idea of a “dust bowl,” and its complex and often contradictory narrative possibilities, into stories. And these were often aimed at achieving a national soil conservation service. Signifying the potential threat of a terrible future for a nation overcome by “desert,” “dust bowl” narratives attempted to connect to, and capitalize on, fears over climate fluctuation and related catastrophe, which Australians already held in their imaginations. Among them was Ken Hall who enters the story again here, while the work of Australian documentary film-maker John Heyer is introduced and Mervyn Weston and Keith Newman’s work again briefly features. Their storytelling reflects another set of ideas that emerged to co-exist with “dust bowls” in stories of the same period. This was a time when a sense of national identity was evolving in line with optimistic post-war dreams of river diversion, dam-building, irrigation, and hydro-electric schemes, all understood as “water conservation” at the time. Australians tried to motivate support for a post-war, nation-building scheme centered around diverting the waters of Australia’s Snowy River which flowed from the Australian Alps in New South Wales and south into the state of Victoria (Fig. 7.1). All of this occurred as the Commonwealth Government strenuously sought to extend its constitutional powers through national works projects. 2 They had not only soil but also water conservation in their vision while it was water agencies that dominated debate over soil conservation and regional planning developments. 3
Fig. 7.1

Janette Susan Bailey, “Snowy, Murrumbidgee, Murray 1946. Adapted from the Department of Post-war Reconstruction’s 1946 hand-drawn original, The Snowy River Scheme: Region Affected by the Diversion Proposals,” Sydney, 2013. Irrigation areas are marked in diagonal stripes. In New South Wales, these areas include Narrandera, Leeton, and Griffith in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area to the north (Riverina region). The Murrumbidgee waters eventually meet the lower Murray River. The Murray marks the New South Wales/Victoria state border. In Victoria, the Lodden and other rivers are marked. The Murray flows for 2530 km rising in the Australian Alps, flowing through New South Wales and Victoria, then through South Australia to the Southern Ocean. The Snowy River can be seen rising in New South Wales in the Australian Alps. In the far lower right corner, the Snowy can be seen to drain through East Gippsland to Victoria’s south-east at Orbost, and into Bass Strait (then the Tasman Sea). Eventually, 99 % of Snowy River waters were diverted west.

There has been debate over diversion of Snowy River waters before—as early as in 1884. 4 But the story of the “dust bowl” idea, the Snowy, and a post-war plan for the nation began in 1941, with William McKell. As Premier during the 1940s, McKell became an influential character in the Snowy debate, urging for control of the river to remain in his state’s hands. While New South Wales Labor opposition leader, he made water conservation a key election priority at the state election of 1941. McKell campaigned for a “twenty-year program of construction to transfer westwards the water that flowed to the sea from the Great Dividing Range.” 5 This included the waters of the Snowy River. 6 That same year, John Curtin was sworn in as Australia’s 14th Prime Minister. 7

After the fall of Singapore to the Japanese in 1942, Prime Minister Curtin declared the “battle for Australia.” 8 Following his announcement, Japanese attacks on the Australian continent began at Darwin on February 19, 1942. The events of 1942 magnified Australia’s fear of “vast empty spaces” turning to desert, of existing desert going to waste, of their relative isolation, and of further foreign invasion. As Australians entered the drought period, these fears combined with perceptions of an “end” to the US Dust Bowl and dreams of watering and powering arid lands with US style, large-scale engineering schemes. 9

In May 1943, the Commonwealth Minister for Post-war Reconstruction, J.B. Chifley, called for proposals from the states for a post-war national works program with the twin goals of “water conservation and the extension of electrical facilities,” while in August, the Curtin government was returned to office with a majority. In response to Chifley’s call, New South Wales was the only state government to submit a proposal to the National Works Council, and it was a plan created by their own Water and Soil Conservation Advisory Committee. 10

In response, major campaign arguments erupted over the best way to utilize Australia’s water resources for national development. Among rival proposals was Victoria’s vision for the waters of the Snowy River, while a Queensland vision promoted by popular writer Ion L. Idriess and Fred Timbury (Mayor of Roma in south-western Queensland) involved watering a vast area of inland Australia through the Bradfield/Idriess Scheme to “kill the dust bowl of Australia.” 11 Their plan was based on Australian civil engineer J.J. Bradfield’s 1938 design, while their evocation of “dust bowls” to try and sell it bordered on the fanatical. However, the meteorological and soil science as well as the economics stood against their claims, with renowned geologist Cecil T. Madigan warning as others would, that “Idriess is a journalist of whom no notice should be taken at all. He just takes other people’s ideas and writes them up.” 12 These and other schemes vied for Commonwealth funding and public support. 13 Each campaign generated print, film, and broadcast media narratives and lobbied the Rural Reconstruction Commission to promote their cause. They each coupled “dust bowl” symbolism with that of enormous dams, in imagery that often romanticized the possibilities for engineered control over nature. 14 But the Commission decided that a plan for the Snowy River would be the most worthwhile for national development. 15 The New South Wales vision for Snowy River waters was to divert them west to alleviate drought impacts in the Murrumbidgee and expand its irrigation area (the MIA), established at Yanco in 1912. This was the proposal that began a “battle” over Snowy River waters between New South Wales, Victoria, Snowy shires, and the Commonwealth. 16 The Murrumbidgee Valley Water Users’ Association (MVWUA, established 1939) supported the New South Wales plan. 17 The Victorian Government opposed diversion of the Snowy into western New South Wales for irrigation purposes. They prioritized regional planning and hydro-power for Murray River Valley development. That campaign was supported by the Murray Valley Development League (MVDL, established 1944) and it aligned with the interests of Snowy River communities in both states, who were also strident opponents McKell’s Murrumbidgee vision (Fig. 7.1). As Premier of New South Wales, McKell established the Snowy River Investigation Committee, which in 1944 advised that the national priority should be just as he had envisioned it. They advised rural production and settlement achieved via irrigation and water supply by diverting the Snowy westward and not, as the state of Victoria would argue, to the Murray River to the benefit of both states.

Debate raged across the decade until 1949 as the Commonwealth tried to settle on the nature of a final Snowy Scheme. 18 All sides drew on US national narratives to endow Australian myths and ideas with significance that would bolster their agendas and fortify their Australian nationalist credentials. This generated a set of transnational imagery that was set to a nationalistic purpose including that created by the MVWUA and MVDL. Highly influential, the campaigns of both of these organizations contributed to negotiation establishing the final Snowy Scheme, an agreement that challenged the constitution, and changed the course of a river and a nation.

Ideas Converge: Dust Bowls, Dams, TVA’s, Snowy Myth, and the Anzac Legend

Australians on all sides of the Snowy campaign drew into their imagery, references to the US Dust Bowl and Dust Bowl refugee—both of these, variations on the idea of American national exceptionalism and frontier myth. Australians drew in paradoxical inferences to their nation riding on the sheep’s back (sheep were dying), the Australian constitution, federalism, and state and rural politics, as well as the idea of Australia’s “vast empty spaces.” 19 This myth treated the inland as a potentially fertile oasis waiting to be filled with people, industry—and plentiful water, by which the problem of a too sparse population could be overcome. 20 “Empty spaces” implied a deserted place, and the need to settle it with huge white populations as opposed to aboriginal people and other races, while during the war-time decade, British settlers particularly were desired. 21 The irrigation dream had become manifest through the Victorian Water Supply and Irrigation Bill of 1886 and, after record drought in New South Wales, particularly through the Victorian Water and Drainage Act of 1902. 22 In the 1940s, this dream was revived at a time when “anxiety about water supplies had continued to mount, especially in N.S.W., as nation-wide drought tightened its grip.” 23 Just as Pick and McKell had done with soil conservation, water conservation stories also drew on the emotional power of the Anzac story, while echoes of bush and Snowy River legends can also be traced in them. Part of bush mythology, ballads such as A.B. Banjo Paterson’s The Man from Snowy River (1895) have been celebrated as expressing the essence of Australian national identity—supposed to be the bush, the pioneer, the stockman, brumbies, the Anzacs—the Light Horse, the “mighty” Snowy River, the rugged Snowy Mountains, and again, masculinity and egalitarianism or “a fair go”—Paterson’s scenes were set within the middle catchment described as “wild and rough and grand in the extreme.” 24 Its aboriginal groups have a long history and mythology, and while the region has produced aboriginal horsemen famous for their riding, their stories did not form part of the construction of this national mythology. 25

Snowy narratives also portrayed the idea of an organic machine-like nature, an idea connected closely to the irrigation dream and inspired by the dam-building achievements of the US Bureau of Reclamation in the American West and the TVA ( established 1933). 26 In the USA, debate over irrigating so-called desert wastes had taken form in the US National Reclamation Act (1902) which in turn brought the US Bureau of Reclamation into being. Three years later, in The Conquest of Arid America, William E. Smythe described irrigation as a “national movement” that would peacefully conquer the barren desert, turning it into a green garden. 27 But many lost their lives working on the “gigantic” dam-building projects that ensued in decades to come. 28 Encouraged, however, by Hollywood films of the 1930s such as Warner Bros’ Boulder Dam, seen in Australia, dam-building was promoted as a daring act of physical sacrifice for the nation, where heroic, fit, able-bodied men risked their lives for the sake of national progress. 29 Burrinjuck Dam on the Murrumbidgee, the fourth largest dam in the world when construction started in 1907, had already been completed in 1928. 30 And while New South Wales used Burrinjuck to promote the viability of their plan to further develop the MIA, on all sides of Snowy politics, campaigners told stories that celebrated the dam-building achievements of the US Bureau of Reclamation and the TVA. Across the 1930s and 1940s, both these US agencies utilized engineering and federal government regulated initiatives to meet the related challenges of flood, drought, erosion, and aridity. Like Burrinjuck Dam, these schemes were described as dual purpose when they provided for both water conservation and hydro-power development.

The TVA made an appearance in Australian narratives too. Initiated in 1935, the TVA was a New Deal planning model for multi-purpose resource use aimed at achieving a maximum sustained yield of the water resources in the Tennessee Valley. Its influences could be found not only in “other major valleys in the United States” but also in “proposals for ‘TVA’s’ on the Jordan, in India, China, South America, and Scotland,” on Russia’s Volga and Australia’s Snowy River. 31 The TVA model signaled a shift in focus away from merely watering deserts, aiming to free the US economy from an over-reliance on erosion-prone farms.

The TVA idea was about the Tennessee Valley Authority, a New Deal planning model for maximum use, multi-purpose resource use across the entire Tennessee River basin. In Rich Land, Poor Land, Chase described the TVA’s functions as developing improved navigation, flood control, maximum generation of affordable hydro-electric power consistent with flood control, dealing with deforestation, investigation of the use of marginal lands, and studies on reforestation. By producing affordable hydro-electric power, TVA would improve rural living conditions and develop secondary industry across the entire Tennessee River watershed where water erosion was a major focus. 32

For many, however, the TVA idea was about more than the application of a planning model. It was a concept which has been described by Neil Maher as “total conservation,” while the TVA was described at the time as a testing ground for American democracy and its institutions. 33 The title of TVA Chairman David E. Lilienthal’s TVA: Democracy on the March made that clear. 34 As American economist Stuart Chase noted in Rich Land Poor Land (1936), cross-state river basin planning was a concept as yet unheard of and certainly not reflected in the nation’s constitution. 35 There was also a human aspect to the TVA idea. When President Roosevelt suggested “legislation to create a Tennessee Valley Authority” in a 1933 address to Congress, he stated that the TVA model would improve the “social and economic welfare of the Nation.” 36 Sarah Phillips has confirmed that the TVA became “the most potent symbol of the new rural conservation,” while Stuart Chase summed it up—“let the valley people stay in their homes and recondition the resource base. That is what makes it so important and so human.” 37 From a legal perspective, there were questions raised over the constitutional validity of a TVA-inspired scheme in Australia, and solutions were inspired by the American example, while most influential in the Australian case was the TVA idea as an expression of ideas about nature. 38 Not only Richard White and Neil Maher but also Paul Sutter has made clear that during this period, it was unusual for people to feel any sense of contradiction in supporting the idea of an organic yet machine-like nature where projects such as the TVA were simultaneously described as preserving nature, while also conserving it by developing its resources. 39 This understanding is clear in expressions of the TVA idea. Chase described it in 1936. With TVA’s multi-purpose dam-building projects planned across a watershed, America would see “a new kind of civilization,” operating “like one unified machine, one organic whole.” 40 He declared that TVA “intoxicates the imagination” and would refresh the continent. 41 In unmistakable New Deal rhetoric, Lilienthal described “a seamless web: the unity of land and water and men,” and machines. Working “in harmony with the forces of nature,” TVA would neither “despoil” nor waste its resources. 42 Lastly, the TVA idea and its proliferation through media imagery was a measure of American, and later, Australian hopes for a future, modern utopia. 43 For Chase, the TVA heralded the coming of a new world “replete with more freedom and happiness than mankind has ever known.” 44 However, in the USA, the issue of the government control of electricity was a political one. Opponents described it as a state socialist threat to American freedoms. 45

Australians embraced the TVA concept and connected it to “dust bowls,” proposing the former as a solution to the latter in a way greatly different from the American circumstances. This strengthened what Finis Dunaway has described as “the symbol of the dam” in narratives envisioning a nation-building project for a modern post-war Australia. 46 Technology, government regulation, and regional planning, all came together in this set of “dust bowl” imagery at a time when dams were being hailed by many as wonders of modern development.

Snowy imagery was full of contradictions. As the writing of Stuart Chase shows in the US case, humans and nature were portrayed as one machine working in harmony, while in reality, the construction of these projects actually meant human domination and control over the environment. Experts at the time warned that too much enthusiasm for constructing giant dams and hydro-schemes would bring major environmental problems of its own and the state of the Snowy River today shows that many of their fears were justified. To try to avoid damaging impacts, experts called for more attention to be paid to forestry, soil survey, and soil conservation rather than engineering dreams, but ironically, when they did, they often turned to “dust bowl” imagery to make an impact on their audience. This set of imagery simplified the reality of river ecology (water flowing to the sea was “wasted”), climate fluctuation (droughts would be “banished”), aridity, and soils (water alone would create fertile soils and a permanent green oasis). Despite this, its proliferation became a measure of the determination to “resolve” aridity and drought, seen as environmental “defects.” In turn, while this imagery played down the possibility of future environmental impacts, including upon the Snowy River itself, it portrayed the achievements of both US agencies as solutions to “dust bowls.”

However, neither US agency applied such projects as a remedy to the US Dust Bowl—the TVA is not even in the region, while Australian environmental conditions, such as rainfall, and political conditions differed to those in the east and west of the USA, where these American agencies established their projects. 47 Finally, this imagery generated by Snowy debate masked the political realities of establishing US-style river authorities, even while Australians were embroiled in a decade of heated political debate of their own. But this was at a time when Australian water agencies were dominating discussion over soil conservation and regional planning developments. And despite expert concerns, for many, the dam represented an alternative future-world, one that had already begun not only in Australia with Burrinjuck but also the building of enormous dams in the USA by the Bureau and the TVA. 48 As Richard White has explained it in the US case, in Australia, it was also believed that large-scale dam-building projects were capable of “mimicking nature” on a grand scale, to make “dust bowls” and “wasted water” a thing of the past. 49 When storytellers drew on this group of ideas in Snowy River “dust bowl” narratives, they were giving Australians a simple choice, asking: what kind of future do you want? The suggestion was that technological salvation from a bleak future of US-style “dust bowls” was possible—all Australians had to do was uphold the technological ideal through the TVA model and the dam-building achievements of the US Bureau of Reclamation in the American West. 50 In 1946, newspapers reported on McKell’s diversion plan and his continuing fear of a US-style tragedy at home. McKell stressed that if his plan “was not carried out soon, this land would become a new dust bowl.” 51

“The Magic Wand of Water”: The New South Wales Campaign and One Image of a Dam

Australia’s national film-maker took up the narrative of irrigation salvation in New South Wales. 52 Directed by Ken Hall for Cinesound, newsreel films such as Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl (1943) and Conserve Water supported the New South Wales campaign. 53 Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl reflected the mix of ideas which gave meaning to the image of the dam during this campaign.

Hall has been described by film experts as a “brilliant propagandist,” his films strongly nationalistic and exhibiting “a palpable love of rural Australia and the environment.” 54 Unlike films made by Movietone, Cinesound are said never to have used an imported story, while all their content was created by Australians. 55 However, Hall modeled the narrative structure of Cinesound films on the techniques of the Hollywood studio system. And although Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl is full of both textual and visual US references, Hall was expressing a nationalist Australian perspective. As Australian historian Frank Bongiorno has recently made clear in his discussion of 1940s politics, “there was more than one way of being nationalist.” 56 Using transnationalism as a storytelling strategy, Hall loaded his films with American referents to help him to pose a question for his audience. With imagery contrasting dams against “dust bowls,” he promoted the New South Wales scheme, strengthened a nationalistic message about the Australian environment, and tapped into the fears, hopes, and dreams of his war-time audience, asking what kind of post-war future they really wanted. Did they want to live in a US-inspired modern utopia that the Riverina could readily provide by expanding on the existing achievement of Burrinjuck? Or would they prefer a bleak future of US-style “dust bowls” bringing drought and wind erosion that would eventually lead sheep and even humans becoming extinct? His message was emotive and one reiterated at a 1944 MVWUA meeting, where members argued that diverting Snowy waters “as far westward as is humanly possible” would save sheep from “extinction” and prevent soil erosion. 57 Contrasted against the dam, such a powerful symbol of modernity, Hall’s portrayal of “dust bowls” only accentuated the meaning of large-scale engineering projects and what, with “the magic wand of water,” one ambitious state could do for the nation. 58 But how was this contrasting imagery incorporated into Australian films, and what was the quality of that visual expression?

At a 1941 Conference between Commonwealth and State Governments on non-theatrical exhibition of films, attendees expressed concerns over the quality of Australian films. Viewers had complained there were “too many pictures” in the films (they felt the editor was cutting from one image to the next too often and possibly too suddenly, and without explanation). 59 Reflecting such concerns, the Cinesound films discussed here often jump suddenly to and from one image—that of a dam—without explanation. From a transnational research perspective, however, this technical awkwardness is illuminating. Rather than presenting a seamless integration of ideas, it highlights attempts to connect US-inspired ideas about dams to US-inspired ideas about “dust bowls”—and give that connection Australian meaning. Hall’s dam image appeared in a number of Cinesound newsreel films concerned with soil erosion. Symbolizing the progress of the nation, his dam was actually a “scale [scaled down] reproduction of the Woronora Dam”—originally created so that it could be blown up in the comedy, Dad Rudd M.P. (1940), the last film Cinesound were able to make before World War Two. 60 War, however, did not mean an end to all film-making. Rather, it facilitated the development of a documentary movement first established in the 1930s, and Australian Government film propaganda proliferated and developed. 61 During the process, motion picture footage, such as Hall’s dam sequence, was often cut and pasted into Australian newsreels. This accounts for the rather out-of-place and often “sudden” appearance of Hall’s dam in various newsreels. 62 It featured in Conserve Water, in Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl (1943), and earlier in Soil Erosion: The Enemy Within (1942), where the dam conveyed a simple message of salvation: “water brings life to the soil.” 63

In August 1944, the Commonwealth Government’s agenda to achieve extended constitutional powers over water and soil conservation via a referendum had failed and in the same month, the MVDL had formed and were armed with a rival proposal for Snowy waters. 64 Dust storms continued. Newspapers reported that a blanket of dust sweeping across Canberra in November that year was giving Labour parliamentarians a “lesson” in the realities of wind erosion. 65 At the same time that this actual dust pall was impacting on the imaginations of parliamentarians and officials, they witnessed very similar imagery on film, at a private screening of Hall’s Drought Grips Riverina and Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl. And when they witnessed it, they saw it contrasted against Hall’s image of the dam. Crayton Burns reported for the Argus that urgent discussions followed the screening, and they reflected Hall’s combination of imagery. While the emergency needs of graziers, provision of relief fodder, and the agistment of surviving stock were discussed, so was the New South Wales Snowy waters proposal. 66 Newspapers described the “erosion menace” quoting the Federal member for Darling, J.J. Clark, who stated “my electorate is being blown into sea.” Visiting Canadian High Commissioner Thomas C. Davis had just returned to Canberra from a visit to the Riverina. The press reported his “alarm and distress at signs he had seen of the dust bowl in Australia.” Davis encouraged the Murrumbidgee Irrigation plan. He stressed that with water, “many difficulties of drought and soil erosion by wind can be overcome,” particularly in Australia, where topographical conditions were “more friendly” to irrigation. Minister for Commerce and Agriculture William Scully argued that “£25 million would be needed for water conservation and irrigation schemes for the eastern areas of Australia.” Having made an appearance himself in Drought Grips Riverina, Scully now called on the government to support the “huge” post-war water conservation scheme being planned by New South Wales. He warned that “any form of post-war rural development was worthless” without this kind of “proper water conservation scheme for inland areas.” 67

As seen in preceding chapters, in the opening scenes of Australia Is Developing a Dust Bowl viewed by parliamentarians in 1944, we hear a warning, so often reiterated in New Deal narratives, that “the land of milk and honey can become a desert.” 68 We see the carcasses of dead animals, windswept deserted homesteads, and huge tree roots exposed by the wind. We hear the howling wind as it raises sand and dust into the air and omniscient narrator, Peter Bathurst, warns:
That was a crop in the drought area. But now it is part of a potential dust bowl. Wind whips the surface soil away from the roots of the stunted crop…Farmlands are literally blowing away. (Fig. 7.2) 69
Fig. 7.2

“Now it is part of a potential dust bowl.” Airborne dust captured on film creates a bleak grey haze in imagery suggesting salvation urgently needed for the nation’s Riverina food-bowl. In the far background, trees bend and sway in the rising wind as a layer of sand sweeps across a desert-like landscape. Cinesound Productions, Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl (1943). National Film and Sound Archive, Australia

The work of Noel Beadle in the battle against this “dust bowl” is shown. But how else, Cinesound asks, could this “potential dust bowl” be stopped? The “dust bowl” sequence unfolds with a series of images showing the decline of civilization. Huge sand dunes engulf homesteads. We see images still shocking today of a bullock, greatly valued for its contribution to rural life and significant physical strength. He lies dead, curled up as if asleep. Now fragile. Also valued sheep and horses and rabbits (a sign of European settlement, and often blamed for erosion), lay dead surrounded by scenes of desolation. Stock images repeated across Cinesound erosion films of the time are seen here of “crumbling ruins.” These ruins suggest that the process of the decline of Australian civilization to desert is underway. All of this is classic “dust bowl” imagery, sound, visuals, and text.

The next combination of images comes as a bit of a surprise to the viewer. This is not a story ending in decline. There is technological salvation. This terrible future can be avoided by “water conservation plus land conservation. Undeniably” we are told, “that is the major post-war job for Australians.” We see gallons of fresh water gushing over a dam spillway (Fig. 7.3).
Fig. 7.3

Ken Hall’s image of a scaled-down model of Woronora Dam as seen in Cinesound Productions, Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl (1943). National Film and Sound Archive, Australia

In Australia Is Developing a Dust Bowl, along with this brief but dramatic dam scene, there is no text, no narration, no character that mentions methods of water conservation, federal planning authorities, engineering schemes, New South Wales plans for the Snowy, or political campaigns of any kind. The image of the dam is brief. Yet contrasted against “dust bowl” imagery, when screened to parliamentarians, it generated expressions of a real faith in engineering as the answer to erosion and drought. We see the dam (Fig. 7.3). Then, as quickly as it flicks across the screen, the film jumps back to images of “desert” and “ruined civilizations.”

What does this sudden switch from dam to “desert” mean? Was Cinesound predicting that without dam-building projects, the nation would see its food-bowl turn to desert? Yes, narrator Peter Bathurst warns: “in north-west New South Wales, the sands of the desert creep eastward, creep up to good properties, creep over them, forced inexorably on by the wind that comes from the west”(Figs.  6.4 and 7.1). If the New South Wales water conservation proposal does not go ahead, more of civilization will disappear just like this, he adds as we see crumbling ruins take the place of townships. Sand appears to bury homesteads where the fertile soil has “gone in a red pall blowing towards the sea and the men and women who had wrestled with this country have moved on.” This imagery is almost identical to that of Lorentz and Rothstein (Fig.  3.2). The message is that dust bowl migration has begun in the north of the state, and now this dust bowl is spreading into the food-bowl of the Riverina. Dust rises. Treetops bend and sway, as “back in the Riverina,” we are warned, “a dust storm is gathering” (Fig. 7.2). Here, the surface soil is “gone. Not temporarily, but for good.” The symbol of the dam is now pertinent to all that follows. The music whips into a frenzy as a storm sweeps away topsoil. An image of a little lamb replaces images of hundreds of sheep, dead, dying, or caught in the swirling dust as a storm stirs. The little lamb struggles to its feet. It symbolizes Australian prosperity but it also has a double meaning. The newborn lamb symbolizes “America’s effort,” which, if emulated by the Australian nation, would see Australia and its great symbol of economic progress—the sheep—again rise to its feet. Cinesound tells us that although the USA has “not yet conquered the evil,” they have made “great forward strides” in the battle against erosion. By “rising up unitedly,” Bathurst explains, “America” has “fought its Dust Bowl problem.”

Soil conservation is promoted in this film—the image of the dam, however, indicates that the American “great forward strides” against the Dust Bowl involved the building of enormous dams. The US Bureau of Reclamation did build dams in the arid west such as Boulder Dam and Friant Dam in San Joaquin Valley, California. But it was a distortion to suggest—as this and other circulating imagery did—that these dams “beat America’s Dust Bowl problem” on the Southern Great Plains. 70 Hall’s film promotes New South Wales’ plans for the Snowy. It argues of the USA that “we Australians must do the same because we have exactly the same problem.” We see that “millions and millions of sheep on the move powder the dry soil into dust.” 71 The rest, we are told, “is easy for a high wind.” The New South Wales problem of overstocking was not “exactly the same” as the primary issue of overploughing for wheat on the Southern Great Plains, and huge dams were unlikely to solve either problem—but the meaning to Australians and Americans of that much-feared concept of “desert” was very much “the same problem.” This is clear in Hall’s overarching message: permanent civilization is doomed to fail in Australia if the New South Wales plan to divert Snowy waters westward to the MIA for irrigation is not adopted. Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl closes with a warning:

We and our descendants want to live here permanently and found the good earth for permanence. For the earth in the long run supports our cities and our secondary industries too. It is not too much to say that if we do not face up to and meet this problem determinedly, then the future of our nation is at stake. 72

Conserve Water also reminded Australians that “dust bowls” needed to be killed off if the Australian Government was to attract thousands of migrants to the country and build a post-war population. The grand plan for the state was “still a long way from reality.” But the potential could be imagined, because the multi-purpose Burrinjuck Dam, a “remarkable investment,” already “gave life” to the MIA. We see the multi-purpose potential of this “life giving water.” It has even filled swimming pools that couple as reservoirs for farmers, where children play and returned soldiers are seen rehabilitating. An animated map sequence shows all current and planned irrigation areas for the state gradually extending across the entire south-west corner and into the north-west. “Parched” land is described as unproductive, simply for lack of water. Soil types or soil survey for irrigation suitability are not mentioned. We see a “dust bowl.” The camera pans across miles and miles of sand—a windswept, treeless, landscape scattered only with dead wood. However, the alternative future we see is one of a flourishing garden. A woman holds up a giant cabbage she has cultivated to demonstrate that “water is the key to Australia’s golden future.” The film cuts to Hall’s dam image to demonstrate that “water, adequately stored and carefully distributed can and will make arid lands bloom” (Fig. 7.3). Water splashes over a spillway, a reminder to the nation: “when the war is over water conservation must play a vital part in post-war reconstruction.” This “great continent can support not just twenty but perhaps fifty million people,” most of them, apparently, in the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area of New South Wales. 73 The film cuts back to Hall’s dam image again to affirm “then what a nation it will be” (Fig. 7.3).

Rival claims, however, soon challenged that New South Wales vision and they centered around not simply the symbolism of dams but also the concept of a TVA. The TVA brought political complexity to the debate over a nation-building scheme in Australia in the 1940s. Its influence both reflected and strengthened a shift in priorities away from simply watering deserts.

In New South Wales, politicians and the press took a keen interest in the TVA. Experts such as Dean of the Faculty of Veterinary Science at the University of Sydney, Ian Clunies-Ross, delivered papers such as “T. V. A. Yardstick of the Future.” At such gatherings, films were often screened—on this occasion, the US government’s Valley of the Tennessee. The state’s newspapers also reported on the TVA. The Sydney Morning Herald illustrated “the miracle of the Tennessee Valley” with images of Fontana Dam, Wheeler Dam, and a diagram of the TVA water control system—all described in detail by New York correspondent Alexander Rosovsky. 74 Premier McKell had read Rich Land Poor Land and toured and reported on the Tennessee Valley scheme. 75 Despite all of this interest though, aridity and irrigation remained the focus of the New South Wales campaign. In 1945, McKell clarified the TVA’s relevance to Australian conditions in Tennessee Valley Authority. Unlike the USA, the Australian states exercised control of navigation, electricity, and flood and “Federal Government assistance in these fields” he added “had been negligible.” The TVA philosophy was, however, transferable. Generous Congressional funding, improved living conditions, and industrial development could be interpreted into an Australian context surely—and perhaps benefit the MIA.

As newspapers reported in 1944, Burrinjuck Dam was already a “shining dual purpose example.” Surely “the great Boulder, Coulee and the two Tennessee Valley dams” would inspire support for a scheme that would further irrigate western New South Wales. 76 Two hundred delegates from the MVWUA traveled through the MIA before arriving at the “dry” area of Hay in December, 1944, for a “monster meeting.” The press announced: “Duststorm Victims Seek More Water: Snowy Diversion Urged.” Federal parliamentary members and delegates from the wind erosion-affected Riverina attended. 77 Conference organizer and state parliamentary Member for Murrumbidgee George Enticknap argued that the New South Wales scheme “would help to save millions of sheep that otherwise die because of drought.” 78 Delegates from “Balranald, Moulamein, Urana, Leeton, Griffith, Goolgowi and Narrandera,” pledged support for the recommendations of the New South Wales Snowy River Investigation Committee advocating for westward diversion (Figs.  6.4 and 7.1). 79 Press coverage resounded with the delegates’ alarm that “the entire fruit crop of the Murrumbidgee irrigation area was now menaced by dust.” 80 It was across those same weeks that Sydney Morning Herald reporter Keith Newman had traveled with artist Russell Drysdale to report on drought and erosion conditions in Murrumbidgee areas. Newman’s text and Drysdale’s sketches had dramatically illustrated the severity of conditions. When Newman reported on the ongoing Snowy battle in 1945, he reflected back on that devastation in an effort to promote the New South Wales plan. An image of a “dead lake” at “drought-ridden” Balranald accompanied his story. 81 Newman explained that this was an area of fertile soil simply in need of irrigation. He recalled:

Last year it was my distasteful experience to see the ravages of drought in the Murrumbidgee Valley, to which the waters of the Snowy could be bringing relief if attention had been paid to proposals advanced many years ago. 82

Newman constructed clear imagery describing the Snowy conflict. The Snowy River was:

the see-saw of politics with Victoria on one end New South Wales on the other and the Federal Government poised at the centre trying to decide on which side it should throw its weight. 83

He described the Victorian and New South Wales campaigns along with the prospects for irrigation and hydro-power generated by both. Both states would divert approximately the same amount of water. However, the “fall of the land” of 1800 ft near Jindabyne in the Snowy region would mean Victoria could generate twice the kilowatts of power that the New South Wales scheme proposed. Engineering costs for diversion to the Murray though would outweigh costs for diversion to the Murrumbidgee. 84

Newman simplified the issues of erosion and climate fluctuation by explaining things “from the irrigation angle.” He argued that:

In the Murrumbidgee Valley between Narrandera and Balranald, there are an estimated 5,000,000 acres of top-quality soil–drought-parched and unproductive these last few years–only awaiting the magic wand of water to come into rich production.

If only a scheme for diversion to the Murrumbidgee had commenced during the Depression, Newman lamented, “we could now be filling food ships for Britain without the slightest trouble.” This time, he urged, a plan needed to be “hammered out” and “not again relegated to a forgotten plaything of interstate rivalry.” Interstate rivalry however did not disappear in response to Newman’s appeal. 85 McKell’s vision for the regional planning of New South Wales stopped at the Murray River at the state border, effectively slicing the Murray Valley in half (Figs.  6.4 and 7.1). 86 The rivalry escalated as Victorians and Snowy River communities developed opposing claims for schemes that would take in the entire Murray Valley. And when they constructed narratives to support their cause, they built them around the idea of the TVA. It was this opposition to the New South Wales plan which really thrust the TVA idea into the Australian media spotlight, gave it greater currency in the Snowy debate, and encouraged Commonwealth Government interest.

A TVA for the Murray Valley: “American Achievement” in Victoria’s Rival Imagery

The MVDL promoted a plan to rival that of New South Wales. Earlier in the decade, print and film imagery had focused on irrigation to water “dust bowls,” and promote western New South Wales development of the Riverina. But as the 1940s developed, and the nationalist Australian imagination became focused on a brighter post-war future driven by hydro-power, artistic expressions of the Snowy controversy also evolved into a combination of “dust bowl” and TVA ideas. With G. Vernon Lawrence at the helm, the MVDL were responsible for much of it. Lawrence, a soil conservation advocate and Melbourne University law graduate, had founded the Murray Valley Passenger Service before serving with the AIF in Borneo and the Middle East and becoming a major in 1943. 87 Under his leadership, the MVDL described the TVA as the inspiration for their own “national idea” to develop “the whole resources of the Murray Valley, from Mount Kosciuszko to the sea.” 88 The MVDL’s membership included a strong contingent of municipalities and shires from the Murray Valley as well as Snowy River communities in New South Wales and Victoria, fearful of losing their supply of water. At the Snowy, lower reach communities warned that without a TVA-inspired plan, “Gippsland could become, with too much diversion, another dust–bowl as the Riverina” (Fig. 7.1) 89 But while the lower reaches and their “dust bowl” threats were largely overlooked by the central campaign, campaigners continued to conjure “dust bowls” to strengthen their TVA claims. 90 There was no point in watering western New South Wales with Snowy waters, MVDL supporters argued, because the Riverina was already a drought-stricken “dust bowl” anyway. 91 Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Government took an interest, keen to secure water supply for the new federal capital of Canberra, part of the Murrumbidgee catchment. As MVDL Secretary, Lawrence co-organized documentary film lecture tours with the Ministry of Post-war Reconstruction, featuring US films such as TVA. 92 Under Lawrence, the League called for Australian films to be made that would promote the Murray Valley to potential immigrants and build its population and industry—they hailed a “TVA for the Murray Valley” as a more democratic alternative to the New South Wales plan and attacked the opposition for creating “misleading” propaganda. 93 Their message was that without a Murray TVA, not only would there be more “dust bowls” but also Australia would lose its hydro-power potential, and be left behind in a rapidly modernizing post-war world.

Experts such as Chief of the conservation section of the Pan-American union, William Vogt, warned of the environmental dangers of dreaming up plans for too many TVAs without careful consideration given to environmental risks. 94 Despite expert fears, however, the Commonwealth Government promoted “some authority on the lines of the T.V.A for the Murray,” as one way of resolving conflict between the two states—and finally nationalizing all that Snowy water. 95 Murray TVA supporters continued to promote their cause on film, in the newspapers, and radio broadcasts, with G.V. Lawrence, a speaker on the ABC’s Nation’s Forum of the Air “The Best Use of the Snowy River,” along with MVWUA speakers. Attorney General Bert Evatt toured the TVA in the USA and attended MVDL conferences in Australia. And in 1945, the Melbourne Argus sent Mervyn Weston, previously a war correspondent based at General Douglas Macarthur’s Headquarters,” to the USA. From there, he wrote back over fifteen “reports to Australia” on the TVA. 96

The first of Weston’s reports from the USA included a description of conditions in northern Victoria as witnessed in 1944. He described dust storms, sand drift, and an atmosphere of “hopelessness.” 97 But Weston asked, did this picture mean that Australia was “permanently condemned to the disastrous effects of periodic drought?”—or could drought effects be ameliorated? To answer, he turned to the words of Lilienthal and FDR to describe the “American philosophy” behind “integrated basin-wide development of river valleys.” 98 He explained multi-purpose river management and the functions of the TVA including provision of low-cost hydro-power. But Weston agreed with McKell—it was “TVA philosophy” rather than the scheme’s physical features and functions that could be absorbed into Australian environmental and political conditions. He covered the main aspects of the TVA idea—he described it as an expression of ideas about nature, democracy, human welfare, and hopes for a modern utopia. He quoted at length from Roosevelt’s 1933 address to Congress, seeking TVA legislation for “a corporation clothed with the power of Government, but possessed of the flexibility and initiative of a private enterprise.” 99 Drawing on the words of both Americans, he described TVA: It was a shining example of democracy achieved through wide consultation between the TVA, where control was centralized, the states, the people of the valley, and TVA workers. And Australians must hear of it. 100

The Argus illustrated Weston’s stories with dramatic images taken from the US of giant dust storms, giant dams, and TVA images of men and giant machines such as “US Workmen Installing a Propeller-Type Turbine Runner.” They showed “American Achievement” such as the TVA’s Mile-long wheeler Dam” in northern Alabama and still images of “a TVA switchyard at Norris Dam, Tennessee,” from the film A National Program in the Tennessee Valley (1936). 101

In “Tennessee Valley–A Lesson for Australia,” the Argus preceded Weston’s story with a full-page color spread showing a detailed map of the TVA system with maps of both the Tennessee and the Murray Valleys (Fig. 7.5). An area of 40,600 mile2 covering the Tennessee Valley was portrayed by the Argus as a similar sized area to the 136,000 mile2 of the Murray Basin—which covers over three times the area. McKell and Weston had both pointed out that even though the US scheme included “portions of seven American states,” the TVA was “only one eighth the size of New South Wales,” and covered “less than half the area of Victoria.” 102 But the Argus’ color layout suggested a simple application of the TVA idea to the Murray. 103 Weston did not omit the long controversy which accompanied the battle for the TVA and later proposals based on that model. 104 The process had been a long and painful one, he warned Australians, and could be seen in the current conflict over establishing a Missouri Valley Authority. 105 But when an image of a huge Colorado dust storm accompanied Weston’s report, the warning was clear: “dust bowls” were the tragic alternative to river authority planning (Fig. 7.4). 106
Fig. 7.4

Contrasting images in Mervyn Weston, “The ‘River Authorities’ Issue Comes to a Head in USA,”Argus, February 9, 1946.

Fig. 7.5

The Tennessee and the Murray Valleys in the Melbourne Argus, 1945. In his tenth report, Weston described the TVA as a “heroic” effort in soil conservation using methods such as contour-ploughing to fight water erosion, a lesson to Australian planners. Note that an area of 40,600 mile2 covering the Tennessee Valley is portrayed by the Argus as a similar sized area to the 136,000 mile2 of the Murray Basin—which covers over three times the area. This imagery suggested a simple application of the TVA idea to the Murray.

Newspapers noted a promise made by Evatt. The government, he said, would promote a Murray TVA as the basis of post-war reconstruction to fix Australia’s “weather vagaries” and unproductive soils. 107 At the same time, the MVDL pressured the Australian National Film Board (ANFB, 1945) to produce a film promoting regional development of the Murray Valley. The Film Board was established to produce national propaganda and educational films and Arthur Calwell was the Board’s Chairman. He was also the Minister for Information for the Department of Information, the producer of the film. The ANFB was answerable to his department, while Calwell belonged to a government keen on creating water supply for their new capital city, Canberra.

A film was made. It was created by Australian documentary film-maker John Heyer who expressed the idea of a Murray TVA in The Valley is Ours (1948) while The Valley was “chosen by the U.N.O [United Nations Organisation] as one of the most important films of 1948.” 108 Lawrence stressed that distribution of the film to Australian cities and beyond would promote the Murray Valley as crucial to the nation’s development while overall, he reviewed the film most favorably, announcing: “we asked them to make it, we almost despaired of seeing it–but now we acclaim ‘The Valley is Ours’ as a grand film,” which would “thrill those who believe in the Murray Valley.” 109

“Down the Missouri”: John Heyer’s Image of Australia in The Valley is Ours

In The Valley is Ours, Heyer captured the post-war mood of the nation along with the deeper cultural meanings associated with the Snowy River—but his aim for a documentary or authentic “image of Australia” was heavily weighted with transnational ideas, and this reflected the whole print, film, and broadcast media campaign covering the Snowy diversion debate. 110 But as documentary film expert Deane Williams has noted, Heyer’s influences were broader than that. His influences included US films such as The Valley of the Tennessee and Robert Flaherty’s The Land as well as FSA photography by Walker Evans and Dorothea Lange. 111 In The Valley, Heyer’s imagery clearly brought together influences from two US Resettlement Administration films by Pare Lorentz. One was a TVA propaganda film centered on the Mississippi Flood disaster of 1927, The River, which portrayed the planning and dam-building achievements of the TVA as a technological and New Deal planning marvel and the promise of a utopian future for the America. 112 The other was The Plow that Broke the Plains. 113 What this combination suggested was that the TVA idea and large-scale dam-building projects were a solution, indeed an alternative, to “dust bowls.” Heyer wanted to make clear that in choosing a post-war scheme for Snowy waters, the Australian nation must reject the New South Wales plan focused on irrigating the Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area, in favor of a TVA for the Murray Valley. He portrayed the productive working lives of people of the entire valley, and across state borders. He portrayed regional planning resolving issues such as bush-fires, overgrazing, and water erosion in the high country, then turned to wind erosion and images of sandy “wastes,” before final scenes of recently returned soldiers clearing land and settling in northern Victoria. 114

Heyer’s aim in drawing the influence of Lorentz into The Valley was to construct the idea of a cross-border regional planning authority for the Snowy River as essential to the Murray Valley, and both as essential to national post-war reconstruction. 115 Australian Prime Minister Chifley even appeared in a version of the screen-play to stress that “the Murray Valley is to Australia what the Mississippi is to America and Nile to Egypt,” and he wanted an appropriate policy. 116 But other than this, there are no literal references to the TVA or the US Dust Bowl in Heyer’s film.

Rather, the transnational influences in Heyer’s film are implicit. They are built both into the structure of Heyer’s language and the visuals of every sequence. Heyer took inspiration from The River to juxtapose “dust bowl” imagery against a TVA-inspired future for Australia—one lived in regionally planned, industrially progressive, well-populated, and hydro-electric-powered river valleys. When MVDL Secretary G.V. Lawrence reviewed the film, he commented on this contrast between images of “sandy wastelands” in the northern Victorian wheatlands and those scenes the League preferred, portraying a well-watered green garden landscape in a profitable, industrious valley. But when contrasted against an optimistic ending, the MVDL found this kind of “dust bowl” imagery acceptable. 117

The Valley is Ours takes its visual and textual rhythm from Lorentz’ The River. 118 Early in the film, just like The River, Heyer begins with one drop of water. 119 The camera follows that drop of water through images of the Spring thaw, and on to water meandering through the Snowy Mountains and beyond. The composition of these opening sequences is almost identical to those of The River.

Lorentz created visual rhythms with cinematography and montage. Heyer mirrored those rhythms with his own cinematography and montage. Lorentz used the poetic repetition of words and phrases to create a rhythm suggesting the movement of the river. Heyer’s text mirrored this use of poetic repetition while the lyrical voice of narrator, Nigel Lovell, and his easy Australian accent—not British, not neutral, not American, not regional—but omniscient, all-knowing, yet familiar—matched the mood of Heyer’s text, the photography, and the musical score by John Kay—all of which echo the achievements of Lorentz. 120

As we follow the Murray River along its course, Lovell narrates a long list of towns, places, fruits produced in the Valley, and units of the Armed Forces returning home to soldier settlements. Heyer drew on the meaning of Anzac and the post-war mood for change when he featured images of Yarroweyah Soldier Settlement in north-western Victoria. We see homes being built, irrigation channels being cleared of sand drift, and new land being cleared to make way for farms for “the men of El Alamein, New Guinea, Greece, Borneo,” and Heyer adds, “the Rats of Tobruk.” The Rats of Tobruk were the 14,000 men of the Australian Divisions who served at the siege of Tobruk in defense of Egypt and the Suez Canal against General Erwin Rommel’s army. They were bombarded almost constantly by shelling, bombing, and ground assaults. The Nazi radio propagandist, nicknamed “Lord Haw Haw” (William Joyce), described these trench-dwelling defenders as caught like “rats in a trap.” The Anzacs embraced the irony and the challenge, named themselves the Rats of Tobruk and the men, their service, and their name, became legendary—part of the nation’s Anzac mythology today. 121 Heyer portrayed these Anzacs as fit and able-bodied men of the Murray Valley, creating the future with shovels, with horses—and with machines.

Similar to The River, Lovell’s narration constructs a journey along the course of the river, from the Snowy Mountains to the sea. Unlike The Valley, The River is focused on water erosion and flood emergency created by American industry, such as cotton and lumber, or iron and coal being moved down the river system. But it is the language which is of interest here, where Lorentz uses poetic repetition to build a sense of the relentless momentum of nation-building and eroded soil together, moving 122 :

Down the Missouri, three thousand miles from the Rockies. Down the Ohio, a thousand miles from the Alleghenie. Down the Arkansas, fifteen hundred miles from the Great Divide. Down the Red, a thousand miles from Texas. Down the Great Valley, twenty-five hundred miles from Minnesota. 123 Carrying every rivulet and brook, creek and rill. Carrying all the rivers that run down two thirds of the continent – the Mississippi runs to the Gulf. New Orleans to Baton Rouge…down the highway to the sea 124 …Down from Pittsburg. Down from St Louis… Down the Ohio…we built a new continent. 125 We built a hundred cities and a thousand towns but at what cost…left the mountains and the hills slashed and burned and moved on.

The repetition continues as we see floods washing mud and soil “down” every river “down the Arkansas….down.” 126

In The Valley, John Heyer used the same rhythm of repetition—then breaks in that repetition in order to bring to life a sense of the Spring thaw sending melting snow from the peaks of the Snowy Mountains through its creeks and streams, snow and water racing into the mountain valleys:

They run down the Dargels, the Spur and the Razorback. They run down from Feathertop, Townsend and Bogong. 127 They run through the Ash and the Pine of Tumbarumba [long musical pause]. Down from the mountains into the valley. Down the Indi. Down the Swampy. Down the slopes to Bringenbrong Bridge 128 –to make a river. The Murray–that flows sixteen hundred miles to the sea… Down through the Murray River Valley it lumbers. Down past Towong, Jingellic and Grenya. Gathering the waters of the Mitta and the Kiewa 129 – swelling its streams. Then into the Hume Weir to spill over the paddocks of the storage–and flood back into the hills [30 seconds huge sound effect of water rushing over a dam]. Then to the lowlands, gathering the Ovens. On to lake Mulwala at Yarrawonga Weir. On to…Echuca. Gathering the Lodden, the Goulburne, Campaspie… Gathering the Lachlan from Condobolin at Booligal. 130 Gathering the Darling from Bourke and Menindee. Fed by the Warrego, Baroo and Castlereagh [30 seconds of music]. 131 Down from the midlands into the lowlands, dams, wiers, lochs–the Murray serves the people of the valley. 132

As Williams has shown, another element used by Heyer was the inner monologue Lorentz had employed for The Plow. Heyer adapted this to the Australian story of the Mallee wheatlands, where World War One soldier settlers had walked off the land and dust storms were raging as he conceived The Valley. In The Valley, one of Heyer’s characters explains:

When I went into the Mallee twenty-five years ago, just after the First World War, it was healthy country. As far as you could see, nothing but tree-covered plains and rolling hills. All we had to do was clear a thousand acres and help ourselves to bumper wheat crops. Money from home! So we smashed up the scrub and rolled it over. Cleared it bare as the back of your hand. Ploughed up every square acre we could lay a hand on. Ploughed and sowed a thousand acres, then waited, watched. And sure enough, we got full, heavy crops, fifteen bags for the acre. We reckon we were made. So, rip it off and plough again…But we did it once too often. The heavy loam soil became fine, red dust. We didn’t realise the scrub we cleared held it together. We soon found out. 133

Heyer later set this kind of “dust bowl” imagery against that portraying technological salvation. By setting such scenes against images of great dams, he was suggesting a TVA-inspired engineering project as the answer to Mallee “dust bowls.”

Kay’s musical score mimics Virgil Thomson’s for The Plow. Dark, discordant music accompanies Heyer’s “army” of tractors “despoiling” the wheatlands—not on the Great Plains this time—but in the wheatlands of northern Victoria’s Mallee (Fig.  3.1). Not only do we see and hear echoes of Lorentz’ tractor armies. Heyer reiterates classic “dust bowl” images—echoes of Arthur Rothstein’s Steer Skull and Lorentz’ skull imagery are clear, while images of sand drift and blowing dust are all dramatized by the sound effect of howling winds (Figs. 7.6,  3.4,  3.1, and  3.2).
Fig. 7.6

“These are the problems of the Valley.” In John Heyer’s The Valley is Ours, long shadows and the skull of an Australian merino ram create a visual reference to Lorentz and to Arthur Rothstein’s Steer Skull (Fig.  3.4) and suggest quite a problem. National Film and Sound Archive, Australia

The Valley clearly borrowed visual and musical inspiration from both the Lorentz films. Heyer’s camera first takes us to a drover and his wife in western New South Wales. As in so much “dust bowl” imagery, she is the picture of the “attentive wife.” She makes a cup of tea for her husband by the wagon. Shoeless children and the family’s working-dog sit on the ground. They appear to live in poverty, surrounded by “desert,” sheep, and rusted, creaking windmills. Drovers are by the nature of their work, nomadic and isolated. But Heyer aimed to make a visual link for the viewer to the idea of a Dust Bowl refugee and western New South Wales, thus providing a “dust bowl” warning to Australians who chose to ignore the Victorian vision. That vision included linking Victoria’s existing Kiewa River hydro-electric scheme with the Commonwealth’s plan for developing the Snowy River (Fig. 7.1). This would increase Murray River flows and provide the hydro-electric power the MVDL and Victorian government wanted. In 1949, Victoria’s Minister for Electrical Undertakings, William Kent Hughes, lobbied the Commonwealth to have the completion of the Kiewa scheme included in Snowy plans. 134 Heyer conveyed all of this. He created a TVA-inspired visualization of what the Murray River could do for the nation. His film described the conservation values of the time that were based on national economic development and industrial decentralization. For the soldier settlers and the British and European migrants who were to populate it, The Valley showed there would be factories and jobs in a modern, post-war regional Australia.

Heyer set “dust bowl” images against those of the Kiewa hydro-scheme, seen taking water underground through tunnels to a power station. The voices of working men call over the hissing, clanking, and clunking of metal on metal in imagery almost identical to The River’s. Industrial noise shows us the transformation that can occur through water conservation. Water comes “down the mountain dams and stations and becomes power for the valley and Australia beyond.” 135 Where Heyer portrays the role of forestry, contour-ploughing, and bush-fire control as equivalent to dam-building, again he echoes Lorentz’ portrayal of men and machines working as part of nature in The River. In The Valley, earth-moving equipments, explosives, heavy machinery, drills, and bores tunneling through the mountains are all portrayed as part of the nation’s conservation project as man and machine smash open the earth and bend and manipulate steel (Fig. 7.7).
Fig. 7.7

Top: Industrial sounds are part of this imagery suggesting an organic machine-like nature in Heyer’s The Valley is Ours 1948, National Film and Sound Archive, Australia. Echoes of Lorentz’ TVA imagery seen at bottom in The River (Farm Security Administration, 1937), NARA

The final sequences of The Valley is Ours cut between the silence of the Snowy Mountains, the origin of all this water, and the industrial sounds of factory machinery employing workers in a growing nation. The final message is that regionally planned conservation of nature focused on hydro-electric power can create industrial development and save the nation from a destiny of sand and dust. As in The River, we see images of electricity generation, wires crisscross the landscape to remind us that government-planned hydro-power, man-power, and industry are all part of that “one unified machine, one organic whole.” 136 Lovell explains in his mellow, soothing tone that “these are the problems of the Valley” and “of all great Valleys. The people of the Murray Valley together, supported by the Commonwealth and states are working them out.” You can tell they are working them out because across the valley echoes “the sound of men and machines.” 137

In the final sequence of The Valley is Ours, Heyer’s dam imagery is again almost identical to that of Lorentz’. The sound track becomes overwhelmed by the deafening sound of water rushing over a dam spillway. Heyer continues to capture the pace of the river, mapping its course across the region—“down from the midlands into the lowlands–dams, weirs, lochs.” All is as it should be in the Valley. Planning, technology, and man-power have drawn the maximum benefit to the nation from every drop of Snowy water as it flows through the Murray system. Lovell’s voice meanders with the flow of the river to its very end where—“the Murray serves the people of the Valley and then rolls into the sea” (Fig. 7.8). 138
Fig. 7.8

Closing imagery from John Heyer’s The Valley is Ours, 1948, National Film and Sound Archive, Australia (top) is almost identical to imagery to that seen at bottom in Lorentz’ The River, Farm Security Administration, 1937 (NARA)

Contradictions: “Hence Let Us Build Dams to Conserve Water”

In both TVA and Snowy imagery, we see explosives and heavy earth-moving equipments employed to dam and divert river water. 139 The dam symbolized humans and technology operating in harmony with nature—and in Snowy imagery, it was coupled with dust and sand symbolizing nature “despoiled” by humans and technology, just waiting for that dammed water to arrive. 140 This contradictory picture simplified the realities of a relationship between soil erosion, climate fluctuation, and river ecology. At the same time, the political challenges associated with establishing US river authorities were often simplified in Snowy imagery—even while those generating it were engaged in this drawn-out political struggle themselves. This group of contradictions was not always acknowledged in popular media narratives, although reporters such as Mervyn Weston did address the political contradictions, while environmental issues were raised by a range of experts at the time. One of those was Chief of the conservation section of the Pan-American union, William Vogt.

Vogt commented on the Australian context in Road to Survival (1948), while he warned there was a danger of engineers being “turned loose” to create more “TVAs” before any assessment of environmental conditions was undertaken, he said that “mistakes made in the Tennessee Valley, such as flooding productive land and neglecting the watershed, might be graver elsewhere.” Australian newspapers reviewed this “current American bestseller.” While they reiterated Vogt’s message about resource “plundering” and population imbalance, reviewers also repeated his warning: Australians had outdone the “folly” of Californian water use. Now, Australia’s soil, he stressed, was blowing to the wind, with rabbits and overstocking exacerbating the dust problem. The reviewer noted that Vogt

has some harsh things to say of those enthusiasts who think that the construction of great dams and hydro electric plants are the solution of all problems. They have not been an unqualified success in the United States. 141

When Luna B. Leopold reviewed Road to Survival, he joined the attack on Bureau of Reclamation policy, which critics described as concerned about nothing more than making money. Leopold was a civil engineer, meteorologist, geologist, a leading hydrologist, and the son of ecologist Aldo Leopold. 142 The Bureau’s dam-building, he argued, aimed to increase production on marginal lands, while claiming false “benefits for wildlife,” to justify those dams. In the process, future environmental impacts were being ignored. Leopold stressed that political roadblocks, not scientific ones, were the only thing preventing the Bureau from saying: “we will build a multiple purpose dam only if we are assured that soil conservation practices are adopted in the headwaters of the drainage basin.” 143 New South Wales Commissioner for Forests, Edward H. F. Swain, also called for caution. At the Soil Erosion and Water Conservation Conference held in Sydney in 1945, he called for attention to forestry to save the soil. Swain attacked the influence of the dam in “the popular imagination” and used the idea of great “dust bowl” migrations to do so:

Canaan, once a land of milk and honey, is now a land of blowing sand and crumbling limestone…The mediterranean countries are in a bad way. Erosion by deforestation, in Italy, Italianised the U. S. A. by compelling migration therefrom, thereto. Hence, let us build dams to conserve water–and have them filled up eventually by siltation. The Boulder Dam and the Elephant Butte Dam–the two largest in the world–will be out of commission by siltation within eighty years. 144

Debate Dragged on: The Final Snowy Agreement

Throughout the 1940s, the Commonwealth continued to seek ways of settling the dispute over a Snowy plan for the nation. As echoed in The Valley, by late in the decade, hydro-power had become the primary focus of national interest in the Snowy debate, as opposed to the issue of drought and irrigation for the western lands of one state—but New South Wales stood firm on their argument until the final Snowy plans were agreed upon. Gippsland Shires raised the issue of their constitutional rights regarding the Snowy’s lower reaches (largely ignored in the debate), while newspapers continued to cover the story as debate dragged on into 1949. 145 When members of the Commonwealth and States Snowy River Committee raised the issue of constitutional challenges posed by the scheme, the TVA had an influence. Snowy Committee Chairman, Louis Loder, had studied the act under which the TVA was established and each of the lawsuits that challenged it. 146 He found that one of the grounds upon which TVA was held to be constitutional was that it was vital to defense. Loder believed that, similarly, the only way to establish the Snowy Scheme was for the Commonwealth to draw on its constitutional defense powers. It did so. Portraying it as vital to the nation’s defense to secure power supply away from coastal areas considered vulnerable to attack, the Commonwealth took control of the Snowy project in 1949. 147 The Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority was established by the Commonwealth as an independent authority with agreement from the states of Victoria and New South Wales. 148 The engineering aspects of the project were as well. J.M. Powell has described the influence of “America-watching” water conservationists upon the final Snowy Scheme. Tom Griffiths, Tim Sherratt, and Ian Tyrrell, equally have described the Snowy Scheme as “greatly influenced” by the idea of US technology transforming desert to oasis—with the final scheme also displaying the “unmistakable echoes” of the TVA. 149

Completed in 1974, the scheme provides for irrigation and hydro-power. It impounds “the south-flowing waters of the Snowy River at high elevations,” diverting them to both the Murray and Murrumbidgee Rivers, through tunnel systems carved through the Snowy Mountains. There are “sixteen large dams, 80 km of aqueducts, over 145 km of tunnels, a pumping station with five surface and two underground power stations.” 150 The Snowy Mountains Scheme was recently acknowledged by the American Society of Civil Engineers as “an international historical engineering landmark” and has become a part of national myth—just like the now-ailing Snowy River itself. 151

Despite the considerable engineering achievements of the scheme, Swain’s fears were well founded. 152 Claire Miller has recently outlined the history of the Snowy Scheme in terms of its damaging impacts on the Snowy River. These have included “massive sediment” choking the river after 99 % of its headwaters were diverted into the Murray–Murrumbidgee system. In 1998, fifty years after the scheme began, an inquiry was commissioned. The commission led to an agreement for much needed water flows to be returned to the Snowy from the Murray and Murrumbidgee Irrigation systems. Commissioner Robert Webster described three national icons now pitted against each other—the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, the “food bowl” of the Murray and the Murrumbidgee, and the Snowy River itself. 153 The now-iconic Snowy Scheme is celebrated as an expression of the essential Australia—a great post-war chapter in the story of the nation. And it is.

This set of imagery provides a record of environmental ideas about dust bowls, and about “total conservation” or that “organic machine” achieved through “TVAs.” 154 Australians dramatized these ideas during the World War Two drought period and early post-war years of the Snowy campaign. Ken Hall was one of those Australians and John Heyer was another and both have been described as nationalistic film-makers who captured the “essential Australia” on film and were recognized internationally for their efforts. At the same time, when they promoted rival visions for Snowy River waters, Hall and Heyer were strongly influenced by American ideas, both in terms of the documentary film movement and conservation. Earlier in the decade, the national imagination was focused on irrigation for watering “dust bowls.” To earn support for the New South Wales Snowy vision, Ken Hall constructed nationalist narratives blending in US ideas to strengthen his message in Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl, and the print, film, and broadcast media reflected his US warnings. But by the middle of the decade, the national mood and the Snowy vision had shifted in favor of multi-purpose, whole of watershed schemes, hydro-power, and the TVA idea. The stories of newspaper reporters such as Mervyn Weston reflected this, while the MVDL and their dedicated secretary, G.V. Lawrence, known as “that tall, towering heavy weight from Albury,” had a major influence over the promotion and establishment of the final Snowy Scheme. A part of that influence involved urging for the creation of The Valley if Ours. 155

In The Valley if Ours, John Heyer was able to give the Snowy River new national meanings. Through sound, text, performance, and all the elements of film-making, Heyer dramatized both the “dust bowl” and the TVA idea. He blended these with Australian scenes. He drew in references to Australian legends of the Snowy and the Anzacs. And like Hall, he did all of this to create contrast, and pose a question to Australians about the kind of future they really wanted.

Heyer inscribed a combination of the dust bowl idea and the TVA idea onto the landscape of the Murray Valley. But most importantly, The Valley describes a transnational landscape in the way that these Australians imagined it in the late 1940s. By drawing on TVA and Dust Bowl ideas, the broader MVDL campaign, and The Valley helped turn Australia’s Snowy River mythology into a story of nation-building and the regional planning of grand water conservation schemes. Snowy myth was transformed. The Man from Snowy River no longer rode a horse. He exploded, smashed, and tunneled his way through the Snowy Mountains to construct a gigantic organic machine. 156 After 1949, when Snowy Hydro Electric Scheme construction actually began, this group of ideas became inscribed onto the landscape itself forever by—as Heyer described it those “men and machines.” 157


  1. 1.

    Keith Newman, “The Old ‘Battle of the Rivers’ is to Begin Again,” SMH, May 31, 1945.

  2. 2.

    This Snowy, TVA, dams, and “dust bowls” chapter was developed in papers by Janette-Susan Bailey for conferences with UNSW; ASEH; ANZASA; Broken Images, GCCR; and the USSC including, Bailey, “The Dust Bowl and Australia: a transnational study,” (2010), listed in bibliography.

  3. 3.

    J. M. Powell, “Water Management in Australia,” in Ecology and Empire: Environmental History of Settler Societies, eds. Tom Griffiths and Libby Robin (Carlton South, VIC: Melbourne University Press, 1997), 117.

  4. 4.

    B. R. Davidson, Australia, Wet or Dry?: The Physical and Economic Limits to the Expansion of Irrigation (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1969), 162.

  5. 5.

    Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, “Biography of Sir William McKell,” (Australian Government: November, 2008).

  6. 6.

    Claire Miller, Snowy River Story: The Grassroots Campaign to Save a National Icon (Sydney: ABC Books, 2005), 4–5; “Snowy Mountains Rivers” map, NSW Office of Water, February 2010. On The Great Dividing Range see Australian Government, “About Australia–Australian Stories: Australian Rocks and Mountains,” (June 2007); NSW Government Office of Water, “Returning Environmental Flows to the Snowy River: An Overview of Water Recovery, Management and Delivery of Increased Flows,” (Sydney: NSW Office of Water, 2010).

  7. 7.

    NAA, “Australia’s Prime Ministers,” 1.

  8. 8.

    Curran, Curtin’s Empire, 85.

  9. 9.

    The Bank of NSW, tried to expose this myth in “Australia’s Vast Empty Spaces,” The Western Australian Bank and the Australian Bank of Commerce Limited Circular VI, No. 5 (August 1936); See also Sydney Upton, “Dead Heart-Australia’s Empty Spaces,” SMH, June 11, 1938.

  10. 10.

    Wigmore, Struggle for the Snowy: The Background of the Snowy Mountains Scheme (Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1968), 103, the Advisory Committee, 103–104.

  11. 11.

    Ion L. Idriess, “Ambitious Plan: Converting Desert into Garden-Irrigation Scheme for Central Australia,” SMH, November 21, 1944; F. R. V. Timbury, “Australia’s Future Depends on Battle for the Interior,” Daily Mirror, January 17, 1945; Timbury, Battle for the Inland (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1944); Idriess, Onward Australia: Developing a Continent (Sydney: Angus and Robertson, 1944); Idriess, The Great Boomerang (London: Angus and Robertson, 1941).

  12. 12.

    C. T. Madigan to Dewar Goode, March 20, 1944, Dewar Wilson Goode Collection, SLV; On the unreliability of Idriess’ accounts see also Bailey, “The History of Lasseter’s Reef” in “Reminiscences of John (Jack) Bailey,” 1, 8, 9 who states it as “regrettable” that Idriess had “misrepresented the facts in his book,” “Lasseter’s Last Ride” (1940) which was “not based on fact…It is regrettable that this man should deceive the public and posterity.” Commonwealth Meteorological Bureau, Bradfield Scheme for Watering the Inland: Meteorological Aspects, Bulletin no. 34 (Melbourne: Government Printer, 1945; L. W. Parkin, “Madigan, Cecil Thomas (1889–1947),” ADB.

  13. 13.

    A plan for Western Australia’s Ord River took shape in the 1950s commencing in 1961.

  14. 14.

    On dam symbolism, see Dunaway, Natural Visions, 82.

  15. 15.

    On the Commonwealth and rival proposals, see Davidson, Australia, Wet or Dry?, 162–165.

  16. 16.

    Newman, “The Old ‘Battle.”

  17. 17.

    Madeline Denholm and Nancy Blacklow, “The Murray Valley Development League: A Research Communication,” Rural Society Journal 10, no. 2 (2000), 167.

  18. 18.

    James McGirr became New South Wales Premier in February 1947.

  19. 19.

    Bank of NSW, “Australia’s Vast Empty Spaces.”

  20. 20.

    On these fears, see “Thousands of British Migrants,” Argus (Melbourne), November 23, 1944. On Britishness and the evolving sense of Australian identity, see Curran, Curtin’s Empire, 19, 24, 75–116; Richard White, Inventing Australia, 153–154.

  21. 21.

    On irrigation, race and gender, see Tyrrell, True Gardens, 138–139.

  22. 22.

    On events leading to the 1902 act, see Mohamed T. El-Ashry and Diana C. Gibbons, eds. Water and Arid Lands of the Western United States (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 37. On the irrigation dream see Tyrrell, True Gardens, 110, also 107–108, 111, 112, 113, 133, 140. John Wilkinson, “Water for Rural Production in NSW: Grand Designs and Changing Realities,” Briefing Paper No. 26/97 (NSW: NSW Parliamentary Library). 8. On the Victorian acts see Tyrrell, 126–127. For early US influences upon Victorian Minister for Water Supply Alfred Deakin see 121–129; and Wilkinson, “Water for Rural Production.”

  23. 23.

    Wigmore, Struggle, 114.

  24. 24.

    Miller, Snowy, 234. Andrew Barton Paterson, The Man from Snowy River and other Verses (Sydney: Sydney University Press, 2009). At 2228 m (7310 ft) Mount Kosciusko is the highest mountain in Australia. The Snowy River receives a semi-permanent supply of snowdrift from the eastern side of Kosciusko.

  25. 25.

    Stockmen are the equivalent of cattlemen in the USA. Brumbies are wild horses. On bush mythology and Australian identity, see Richard Waterhouse, “The Vision Splendid: conceptualising the bush, 1813–1913,” The Journal of Popular Culture 33: 1 (1999), 32. On the origins of bush mythology see Graeme Davison, “Rethinking the Australian Legend,” 429–451; Bill Garner, “Bushmen of the Bulletin: Re-examining Lawson’s ‘Bush Credibility’ in Graeme Davison’s ‘Sydney and the Bush’,” 452–465; Graeme Davison “Just Camping Out? A Reply to Bill Garner,” 466–471, all in Australian Historical Studies 43: 3 (2012). On contemporary interpretations, see Leanne White, “The Man from Snowy River: Australia’s Bush Legend and Commercial Nationalism,” Tourism Review International 13:2 (2009): 139, 146; On rivers and national character, see Christof Mauch and Thomas Zeller, “Rivers in History and Historiography,” Introduction to Rivers in History: perspectives on waterways in Europe and North America, eds. Christof Mauch and Thomas Zeller (Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press Digital Editions, 2008), 3–5. On Snowy River aboriginal groups see Miller, Snowy, 219–236.

  26. 26.

    On the concept of a machine-like nature, see White, Organic Machine, for example, 108; Sutter, “New Deal Conservation,” for example, 95; Limerick, Desert Passages, 169.

  27. 27.

    Smythe, The Conquest of Arid America, 3; Tyrrell, True Gardens,104; See also White, Organic Machine, 57.

  28. 28.

    For the Snowy Scheme death toll of over 120 workers, see Brad Collis, Snowy: The Making of Modern Australia (Canberra: Tabletop Press, 1990), 40–41 and 77 workers on Grand Coulee, White, Organic Machine, 63. On the Bureau, “gigantic” dams and “multi-use water development” see William D. Rowley, Reclamation Managing Water in the West: The Bureau of Reclamation-Origins and Growth to 1945, Volume 1 (Denver, CO: US Department of Interior, Bureau of Reclamation, 2006), 370 for a list of 1930s Bureau projects, 360.

  29. 29.

    “Special Bill for Ozone Theatre,” Barrier Miner (Broken Hill, NSW) September 19, 1936; “Physical Culture,” Examiner (Launceston, TAS.) September 4, 1936. Boulder Dam was constructed on the Colorado River in the West. On dam symbolism, see Mauch and Zeller, Introduction to Rivers in History, 3–5. White describes photographic representation of “men and machines” working on Bureau of Reclamation dams in Organic Machine, 60.

  30. 30.

    With early guidance from Elwood Mead. Tyrrell, True Gardens,159; On establishment of the MIA, see Davidson, Australia, Wet or Dry, 68–69, Burrinjuck Dam (1906), 68–69.

  31. 31.

    Norman Wengert, “TVA — Symbol and Reality,” The Journal of Politics 13 (August 1951), 370; On Russia, TVA and “high modernism,” see Dorothy Zeisler-Vralsted, “The Cultural and Hydrological Development of the Mississippi and Volga Rivers,” 73.

  32. 32.

    On New Deal era water erosion imagery in the works of Chase and FSA photographers, see Sutter, “What Gullies Mean,” 598, 590–591; Sutter, “On ‘Georgia’s Little Grand Canyon,” 831.

  33. 33.

    Maher, Nature’s New Deal, 209. On democracy see Wengert, “TVA,” 370.

  34. 34.

    David E. Lilienthal, The TVA: An Experiment in the ‘grass roots’ Administration of Federal Functions, Address before the Southern Political Science Association, Knoxville TN: November 10, 1939, 1. On TVA’s democratic spirit, see 14, technology and science enhancing democracy, xxii.

  35. 35.

    On watershed planning and the US Constitution, see Chase, Rich Land, 268, on individualism and private property, 231.

  36. 36.

    A Congressional Act (May 18, 1933) created the TVA. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Message to Congress Suggesting the Tennessee Valley Authority, April 10, 1933, The American Presidency Project, eds. John Woolley and Gerhard Peters (University of California, Santa Barbara 1999–2013).

  37. 37.

    Chase, Rich Land, 242, also 270; Phillips, This Land, 80–81, on human values see 30–31, 80–81, raising rural welfare standards nationally, 82. Phillips discusses Gifford Pinchot’s “Giant Power” model for affordable electric power in “FDR, Hoover, and the New Rural Conservation 1920–1932,” in FDR and the Environment, eds. Henry L. Henderson and David B. Woolner (Basingstoke, England: Palgrave Macmillan 2005), 113. White, Organic Machine, 51–56.

  38. 38.

    For extended discussion of the TVA idea and Australia, see Bailey, “‘Dust bowls,’ TVAs.”

  39. 39.

    Sutter, “New Deal Conservation,” 95.

  40. 40.

    On watershed planning, see Stuart Chase, “Behind the Drought,” Harper’s Monthly Magazine 173 (September 1936), 377. On new civilization, see 35, unified whole, 110, in Stuart Chase, “A Vision in Kilowatts,” Fortune 8:5 (April 1933); also White, Organic Machine, 58; Sears in Deserts, 198. On a modern civilization, see also Chase, Rich Land, 288.

  41. 41.

    Chase, Rich Land, 287.

  42. 42.

    On the “seamless web,” see David E. Lilienthal, TVA: Democracy on the March, Twentieth Anniversary edition (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1953), 62. On “harmony,” see xxii. For examples of the use of the term “despoiled,” see The Eleventh Commandment, in Lowdermilk, Conquest of the Land, 30; “A Grim Warning.”

  43. 43.

    On utopian hopes, see Dunaway, Natural Visions, 77; White, Organic Machine,55.

  44. 44.

    Chase, “A Vision,” 35; White, Organic Machine,58 and on the idea of a new world as an expression of Frederick Jackson Turner’s frontier thesis, see White, Organic Machine, 56.

  45. 45.

    On “giant power” as “state socialism,” see White, Organic Machine, 51–52. On negative legacies of water conservation ideas in the context of the American West, see Worster, Rivers of Empire, 7–11, imperial power, 4. In True Gardens, Tyrrell explains “Australian irrigation promoters in the 1930s had envied the New Deal’s exploitation of federal power,” 172.

  46. 46.

    Dunaway, Natural Visions, 82. Also, “TVA and Australia,” (Canberra: The Ministry of Postwar Reconstruction, undated). On nation-building in the US case, see White, Organic Machine, 56.

  47. 47.

    On water conservation on the Plains, see Cooke, Future of the Great Plains, 76–77; In Land of the Underground Rain, 134–135, Green discusses water facilities legislation providing only for “the installation of pumping plants,” but without specifically mention them; Worster, Dust Bowl, 25th Anniversary edition, 221, 252–253, on Bonneville Dam and Dust Bowl refugees, 50; White, Organic Machine, 62.

  48. 48.

    In Flood Country (Melbourne: CSIRO Publishing, 2012), 47, Emily O’Gorman, notes the effect of Burrinjuck Dam on Murrumbidgee River hydrology.

  49. 49.

    White, Organic Machine, 57, also 62.

  50. 50.

    On dams representing of salvation for US Dust Bowl refugees, see White, Organic Machine, 62.

  51. 51.

    For McKell quotation, see “Snowy River Scheme,” Riverine Herald (Echuca, VIC: Moama, NSW), October 23, 1946; See also Wigmore, Struggle, 117, 106.

  52. 52.

    Newman, “The Old ‘Battle.’”

  53. 53.

    Edmondson, “The Voice,”; Cinesound Productions, Conserve Water (undated), NFSA Title: 75364; Cinesound Productions, Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl.

  54. 54.

    Ray Edmondson, e-mail to author, August 6, 2012.

  55. 55.

    On nationalistic content, and on war-time film development, see Edmondson, “The Voice,” 2.

  56. 56.

    Frank Bongiorno, “Comment: Australia, nationalism and transnationalism,” History Australia 10, no. 3 (December 2013), 81.

  57. 57.

    Mr. Heason (Hay district), feared sheep “extinction” due to fodder shortages. Mr. Washington (Leeton Shire) argued for diversion westward in, Notes of a Deputation which Waited on the Acting Prime Minister on the 22nd May, 1945, Representing the Murrumbidgee Valley Water Users’ Association, Commonwealth of Australia Department of Post-war Reconstruction, Snowy River Hydro Electric Scheme-Representations by or on Behalf of Municipalities and Organisations File No. /44/485, NAA, Series: A9816 Item: 1946/307 Part 9.

  58. 58.

    Newman, “The Old ‘Battle.”

  59. 59.

    Agenda for Conference on non-theatrical exhibition of films, 35.

  60. 60.

    Woronora Dam provides water to the south of Sydney, not western NSW.

  61. 61.

    On war-time film development, see Edmondson, “The Voice,” 2; On propaganda-film development, see Ina Bertrand and Diane Collins, Government and film in Australia (Sydney: Currency Press, 1981), 96–97. On propaganda and on location film footage edited into newsreels, see Helen Ennis, Exposures: Photography and Australia (London: Reaktion Books Ltd, 2007), 91.

  62. 62.

    On the model dam, see Hall, Directed by Ken G. Hall, 155–156. For national symbolism of the dam in Dad Rudd M.P., see Michael Cathcart, The Water Dreamers: The Remarkable History of our Dry Continent (Melbourne: Text Publishing, 2009), 237, 235.

  63. 63.

    Cinesound Productions, Soil Erosion: The Enemy Within, NFSA: 75400, Production Date: 1942, release date: 17 July 1942. Cinesound Productions, Conserve Water: Australia’s Future, NFSA: 0500.

  64. 64.

    Commonwealth Government of Australia, You and the referendum.

  65. 65.

    Burns, “M P’s Warned of Dust Bowl Danger.” These reports quoted NSW Divisional Meteorologist David Mares. “Labour,” common spelling used to describe the Australian Labour Party, during this period, is the spelling used by the writer.

  66. 66.

    Burns, “Conference Urged.”

  67. 67.

    “Mr. Clark Says the Darling Electorate Being Blown into Sea: Erosion Menace,” Barrier Miner, November 15, 1944.

  68. 68.

    Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl. “Land of milk and honey” refers to the Riverina.

  69. 69.

    Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl. For analysis of more of these opening images, see Bailey, “War-time Political Ambition behind one Image of a Dam.” On the British actor see “Peter Bathurst: Biography,” (Imbd). On the voice of an omniscient/all-knowing narrator asserting the creator’s values and ideas, see Abrams, A Glossary, 94–96. On 1930s opposition to “BBC English” or “Received Pronunciation” (RP) in Australian radio, see David Goodman, Radio’s Civic Ambition: American Broadcasting and Democracy in the 1930s (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), 26. In this 1940s film, Bathurst’s accent is less “RP,” his vowel sounds more neutral. On “RP,” see Lynda Muggleston, Talking Proper: The Rise of Accents as Social Symbol (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003), 270–272; See also Joy Damousi, “‘The Filthy American Twang,’” Elocution, the Advent of American ‘Talkies,’ and Australian Cultural Identity,” American Historical Review 112, no. 2 (April, 2007), 413.

  70. 70.

    Green, Land of the Underground Rain, 134–135; Cooke, Future of the Great Plains, 76–77.

  71. 71.

    This sheep imagery was created by Hall for an earlier film, The Squatter’s Daughter. Deb Verhoeven, Sheep and the Australian Cinema, (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 2006), 65.

  72. 72.

    Australia is Developing a Dust Bowl.

  73. 73.

    Australia’s population, as at November 15, 2013 was 23,281,554. Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Population Clock.”

  74. 74.

    Ian Clunies Ross, “T. V. A. Yardstick of the Future,” Association of Scientific Workers, Soil Erosion and Water Conservation Conference. Fontana Dam is in the Great Smoky Mountains in western North Carolina. Wheeler Dam is in North Alabama. Alexander Rosovsky, “The Miracle of Tennessee Valley,” SMH, December 21, 1946.

  75. 75.

    W. J. McKell, Tennessee Valley Authority (U.S.A.) (Parliament of New South Wales, December 5, 1945), unpaginated; “Premier Prepares For Big Schemes,” Farmer and Settler (NSW), August 24, 1945; “The Premier Abroad,” Cessnock Eagle and South Maitland Recorder (NSW), August 21, 1945; Norman Wrigley, “An interview with Sir William McKell,” Transcripts of interviews by Norman Wrigley (31 January, 1978), unpaginated. NLA, Item: MS 9790 10/41; I.

  76. 76.

    Waratah, “Irrigation is our Major Need,” SMH, September 29, 1944.

  77. 77.

    “Duststorm Victims Seek More Water: Snowy Diversion Urged,” SMH, December 18, 1944; “Snowy River Diversion Scheme: Monster Meeting in Hay Receives Report,” Riverine Grazier (Hay, NSW: 1873–1954), December 19, 1944; On “‘dry’ areas,” see “Murrumbidgee Irrigation Area,” Daily Advertiser (Wagga Wagga, NSW: 1911–1954) April 12, 1945. Enticknap was Labor MLA for Murrumbidgee (1941–1962). On Enticknap’s wide-ranging professional associations involving the MIA and fruitgrowers, see, “New South Wales Parliament: Legislative Assembly: The Hon. Ambrose George ENTICKNAP (1894–1976).”

  78. 78.

    New South Wales Parliamentary Debates, 34th Parliament, 2nd Session, 1944–1945, 307–308.

  79. 79.

    The Committee’s report was tabled at the Premiers’ Conference of 1945; On MVWUA Secretary (1945 to 1949) M. J. Gleeson (of Leeton), see “Letters to the Editor-Snowy River Diversion,” Narandera Argus and Riverina Advertiser (NSW), September 28, 1945; for a dedication to Gleeson and MVWUA Chairman J. Alan Gibson, see “Diversion of the Snowy – Eucumbene Rivers,” Monument Australia (2014).

  80. 80.

    “Duststorm Victims.”

  81. 81.

    Newman, “The Old ‘Battle.”

  82. 82.

    Newman reported that on June 8, a large Parliamentary party would visit the Snowy River to “consider on the spot,” proposals for its use, Ibid.

  83. 83.


  84. 84.

    1800 ft is equivalent to 548.64 m

  85. 85.


  86. 86.

    Denholm and Blacklow, “The Murray Valley Development League,” 273.

  87. 87.

    Lawrence portrait and biography at “Murray Valley,” Murray Pioneer, December 20, 1945: 1.

  88. 88.

    “The Murray Valley Development League,” Murray Pioneer (Renmark, SA: 1942–1950) February 21, 1946.

  89. 89.

    “Protest Against Filching Snowy River Waters,” Morwell Advertiser (Morwell, VIC), February 1, 1945. For letters from Shire Councils calling for inclusion of these regions in a TVA-inspired national scheme, see Department of Post-war Reconstruction, Snowy River Hydro Electric Scheme-Representations by or on Behalf of Municipalities and Organisations (File No. /44/485), NAA, Series: A9816 Item: 1946/307 Part 9.

  90. 90.

    On Orbost Flats, Gippsland, east of the Snowy River, see George Sedden, Searching for the Snowy: An Environmental History (St Leonards, NSW: Allen & Unwin, 1994), 275. On a 1949 trade-off between the Snowy Scheme’s technical committee and the Victorian government in exchange for irrigation water and a share of hydro-power, see Miller, Snowy, 13–16, on not one of the Snowy’s three indigenous groups being consulted, 232–233.

  91. 91.

    “Snowy River Diversion Opposed,” Argus (Melbourne, VIC), 15 February 1945).

  92. 92.

    TVA screened in Perth (1946) and toured the Murray Valley, see “Tennessee Valley,” West Australian, November 1, 1946.

  93. 93.

    G. V. Lawrence, “The Best Use of the Snowy River Waters,” Murray Pioneer, September 2, 1948.

  94. 94.

    William Vogt, Road to Survival (New York: W. Sloane Associates, 1948), 126–127; On three decades of controversy, see El-Ashry and Gibbons, Water and Arid Lands, 38; See also Marc Reisner, Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water (New York: Viking, 1986); Radkau, Nature and Power, 181.

  95. 95.

    For information circulated by the American Embassy, Washington, DC, see Memorandum (Regional Planning) No. 2 from G. M. Gray, Attache, Australian Embassy, Washington, DC (June 28, 1947) to Canberra; Also see Memorandum No. 570/47 sent from G. M. Gray, Attache, Australian Embassy, Washington, DC, to the Australian Department of External Affairs, Canberra (July 28 1947), NAA, “Regional Planning USA,” Series: A9816, Item: 1946/445

  96. 96.

    On Weston’s service as war correspondent, see “Australia’s Part in New Guinea Campaign,” Benalla Ensign (VIC), October 27, 1944.

  97. 97.

    Weston, “American Trends in Resource Planning,” September 15, 1945.

  98. 98.


  99. 99.

    Weston, “A Vision Became a Reality,” September 19, 1945. See Roosevelt, Message to Congress Suggesting the Tennessee Valley Authority.

  100. 100.

    On the Murray as an ideal fit, see Weston, “Report To Australia—XII. We Could use the TVA Idea Here,” October 13, 1945. Weston described the limitations of the existing River Murray Commission (1917) involving three states and with distribution but no planning powers; See Murray Darling Basin Authority, History of the Basin Plan (2013).

  101. 101.

    Weston, “Why Not Use Our Vast Hydro-Power Resources?” July 27, 1946; TVA, A National Program in the Tennessee Valley (1936).

  102. 102.

    McKell, Tennessee Valley Authority; Weston, “Report to Australia—IV. Great Achievements In Tennessee,” September 26, 1945.

  103. 103.

    Weston, “Tennessee Valley–A Lesson for Australia,” September 22, 1945.

  104. 104.

    Weston compared Australian state, and US federal resource planning powers in “Report to Australia—XV. Problems of Setting up an MVA,” October 27, 1945

  105. 105.

    For US coverage of the controversy and on irrigating “dust bowls” west of the 100th meridian see “MVA,” Life (August 13, 1945), 73, 76–77.

  106. 106.

    All above-listed TVA reports by Mervyn Weston were published in the Melbourne Argus.

  107. 107.

    “Murray May Have T.V.A.,” SMH, August 16, 1944; G. C. Bolton, “Evatt, Herbert Vere (Bert) (1894–1965),” ADB.

  108. 108.

    For press coverage on the U.N.O, see “Film Classics,” Albany Advertiser (Albany, WA, 1888–2003), November 14, 1949.

  109. 109.

    The ANFB was established in April 1945. In July 1945, Prime Minister Chifley made Calwell Australia’s first minister for immigration. Film review by G. V. Lawrence, “The Valley is Ours,” Wodonga and Towong Sentinel (VIC: 1885–1954), May 13, 1949.

  110. 110.

    On Heyer’s “image of Australia,” see John Heyer, “Geography and the Documentary Film: Australia.” Geographical Magazine 30, no. 5 (September 1957), 234.

  111. 111.

    Deane Williams, Australian Post-war Documentary Film: An Arc of Mirrors (Bristol, UK: Intellect, 2008), 107.

  112. 112.

    Dunaway, Natural Visions, 52, 78, 82, 86; Robert L. Snyder, Pare Lorentz and the Documentary Film (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1968); On national TVA symbolism, see Brian Black, “Authority in the Valley: TVA in Wild River and the Popular Media, 1930–1940,” Journal of American Culture 18: 2 (1995), 13.

  113. 113.

    See Williams, “International Documentary Film-maker,” 252, on formal similarities with The River in Heyer’s text, 249. On Lorentz and Heyer’s The Valley, see Williams, “Heyer, John,” 589. Both US films Pare Lorentz, The River (Farm Security Administration, 1937), and Pare Lorentz, The Plow that Broke the Plains (Farm Security Administration, 1936), can be viewed in the Prelinger Collection Internet Archive.

  114. 114.

    Lawrence, “The Valley.”

  115. 115.

    Williams, “International Documentary Film-Maker,” 249.

  116. 116.

    For the part of Chifley, see, The Valley is Ours-Commentary (December, 1948) Commonwealth of Australia, Department of Information, Films Division-Burwood NSW (file FB/13/49), NFSA, Box: ALIR0001.

  117. 117.

    Lawrence, “The Valley.”

  118. 118.

    In poetic verse such as that of Lorentz and Heyer—the meter, or rhythm is created by a recurrence of regular—and approximately equivalent—units of stress pattern. A stress pattern refers to the “pattern of stronger and weaker syllables” that make up the words in the verse. The pattern of strong and weak accent on certain syllables, gives the speech a particular rhythm (as opposed to tempo, which is also a factor). See Abrams, A Glossary, 160.

  119. 119.

    John Heyer, The Valley is Ours, ANFB, Department of Information, 1948, Moving History: 60 Years of Film in Australia, Australian Broadcasting Commission, 2014; Dunaway describes The River beginning with droplets and ending with images of modern technology, in Natural Visions, 81.

  120. 120.

    On Lorentz, see Dunaway, Natural Visions. On the voice of an omniscient or “all-knowing” narrator asserting the writer’s ideas, see Abrams, A Glossary, 94–96. On the Australian preference from the 1920s for an Australian accent, as opposed to the “offensive, coarse, and harsh” American accent, see Joy Damousi, ““The Filthy American Twang,” Elocution, the Advent of American ‘Talkies’, and Australian Cultural Identity,” American Historical Review, 112:2 (April 2007), 410, also 112 and on the 1930s, Australian identity, the broadcast Australian accent, rejecting the sound of the American accent, 397 see 24–26.

  121. 121.

    On Australians in the Middle East campaigns, see Maughan, “Tobruk and El Alamein.” On Australian Divisions and casualties at Tobruk, see Australian War Memorial, Siege of Tobruk; Johnston and Stanley, Alamein. On the name “rats,” see “The Siege of Tobruk,” Imperial War Museum, London.

  122. 122.

    As in these films, repetition “may have an incantatory effect as in the opening lines of T. S. Eliot’s “Ash-Wednesday”:

    “Because I do not hope to turn again

    Because I do not hope

    Because I do not hope to turn….” In addition, a change in mood, scene or tone can be created by shifting from that repetition “in the words following the identical phrases.” In both Lorentz and Heyer’s case, the words “down the” are repeated before the change, and Heyer also repeats “on to” and “gathering the” before the Murray finally rolls into the sea. See “Modern & Contemporary American Poetry: Repetition,” Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Department of English, 2007).

  123. 123.

    The rhythm of repetition is broken at this point for effect.

  124. 124.

    See Pare Lorentz, The River (at 4:49).

  125. 125.

    The rhythm of repetition is broken at this point for effect.

  126. 126.

    Pare Lorentz, The River.

  127. 127.

    The headwaters of the Kiewa River rise between Mt. Bogong and Mt. Feathertop and flow into the upper Murray (see notes below).

  128. 128.

    The rhythm of repetition is broken at this point for effect.

  129. 129.

    The rhythm of repetition is broken at this point for effect.

  130. 130.

    The Mitta Mitta and the Kiewa Rivers are on the upper Murray on the Victorian side of the border and Echuca, on the Central Murray in Victoria. The Hume Weir (now Hume Dam), Jingellic, Mulwala, Yarrawonga, Booligal, as well as the Darling River, Bourke, and Menindee are in New South Wales (Figs. 7.1 and  6.4).

  131. 131.

    The rhythm of repetition is again broken at this point for effect.

  132. 132.

    Heyer, The Valley.

  133. 133.

    In “International Documentary Film-Maker,” Williams suggests this sequence “takes the spectator with the character/narrator on a personal journey which evolves into a didactic cadenced speech reminiscent of Lorentz’s films” (251). On the voice of first person narrator, see Abrams, A Glossary, 233–234, the dramatic monologue, 70.

  134. 134.

    See map at “Kiewa Scheme–general plan,” Melbourne: State Electricity Commission of Victoria, 1945, SLV. For the press coverage, see “Kiewa Scheme to be Speeded Up,” Argus (14 March 1949); “Snowy River Diversion Opposed,” Argus (February 15, 1945). Parliament of Victoria, “Kent Hughes, Sir Wilfrid Selwyn,” About Parliament: Members.

  135. 135.

    Heyer, The Valley.

  136. 136.

    Chase, “A Vision,”110.

  137. 137.

    Heyer, The Valley.

  138. 138.


  139. 139.

    See Swain, Soil Erosion and Water.

  140. 140.

    Sutter, “New Deal Conservation,” 95. See also White, Organic Machine, xi.

  141. 141.

    William Vogt, Road to Survival (New York: W. Sloane Associates, 1948), 126–127. Reference to plundering and to “folly” from “Coolie’s Fate Will Menace World Unless Food Sources are Conserved Immediately,” Northern Times, October 14, 1948. On “folly,” also see Vogt, Road to Survival, 236. On readiness for TVAs, see “Road to Survival,” Camperdown Chronicle (VIC), June 27, 1949.

  142. 142.

    See The Aldo Leopold Foundation; In Cadillac Desert, Reisner describes Luna Leopold as a leading hydrologist, 295.

  143. 143.

    Luna B. Leopold, “Review of ‘Road to Survival’ by W. Vogt,” Soil and Water Conservation 3, no.4 (1948): 186–187, University of California, Department of Earth and Planetary Science, Berkley. Also see J. E. Nichols, “Malthus Modernized: Road to Survival by William Vogt,” Nature 164 (July 2, 1949): 4–5. For biographical information, see “The Virtual Luna Leopold Project.” On the lack of environmental accountability built into the dam-building culture of the time, see Reisner, 166–168.

  144. 144.

    See Edward. H. Swain, Association of Scientific Workers, Soil Erosion and Water Conservation Conference. Swain was Forestry Commissioner of the New South Wales Forestry Commission from 1935 to 1948. On Swain, conservation and preservation, see Gregory A. Barton and Brett M. Bennett, “Edward Harold Fulcher Swain’s Vision of Forest Modernity,” Intellectual History Review 21, no. 2 (June, 2011), 150, on post-war planning, 144. On Swain as a poet see L. T. Carron, “Swain, Edward Harold Fulcher (1883–1970),” ADB; See also “Snowy River Hydro-Electric Scheme–Dangers of Siltation,” Camperdown Chronicle (VIC), September 8, 1950, an article describing an address to the Victorian Grazier’s Association by conservationist, J. Manifold of Perrumbete, Weerite.

  145. 145.

    For press coverage, see “McGirr Reports To Cabinet On Snowy River,” SMH, March 1, 1949; “Favour Diverting Third of Snowy River into Murray,” Argus, March 10, 1949; “NSW Opposed to Diverting Snowy River Water,” Argus, February 16, 1949.

  146. 146.

    Wigmore, Struggle, 138,141–142. Their first meeting was in December 1947.

  147. 147.

    Wigmore, Struggle, 141–142; Miller, Snowy, 6; Cathcart, Water Dreamers, 241.

  148. 148.

    The Snowy Hydro authority more recently became a corporation with the states as shareholders.

  149. 149.

    Tyrrell, True Gardens,173; On “America watching,” see Powell, The Empire Meets the New Deal, 344, on “unmistakable echoes,” 339; Tom Griffiths and Tim Sherratt, “What if the northern rivers had been turned inland?” in What if?: Australian History as it Might Have Been, eds. Stuart Macintyre and Sean Scalmer (Carlton, VIC: Melbourne University Publishing, 2006), 238; Cathcart, Water Dreamers, 241.

  150. 150.

    Australian Bureau of Statistics, The Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme (1301.0 – 1986).

  151. 151.

    On the Snowy Mountains Authority as part of national myth, see Sedden, xxiii. For engineering facts and figures, see Grahame Griffin, “Selling the Snowy: The Snowy Mountains Scheme and National Mythmaking,” Journal of Australian Studies, no. 79 (2003): 1. On the Snowy construction (1951–1975) and the Snowy Scheme’s cultural / social history from 1951, see Brad Collis, Snowy: The Making of Modern Australia (Canberra: Tabletop Press, 1990), 315; 31–33, 40–41.

  152. 152.

    Swain, Soil Erosion and Water.

  153. 153.

    Miller, Snowy, 167, 249; Robert Webster, “Snowy River Enquiry: Final report,” (Sydney: Snowy Water Enquiry, October 23, 1998) 5. “On 26th Feb 2013 the NSW Government proposed to replace the Snowy Scientific Committee (SSC) with a new group.” See Snowy River Alliance, “Important news: NSW Government wants to eliminate the Snowy Scientific Committee,” (March 21, 2013); See also Ben Cubby and Tom Arup, “Fears for Snowy River as scientists ditched for industry-funded group,” SMH, February 27, 2013, 2.

  154. 154.

    Maher, Nature’s New Deal, 209; White, Organic Machine.

  155. 155.

    “This big man,” The News, September 10, 1954.

  156. 156.

    Claire Miller describes the Snowy Scheme’s appropriation of both the Snowy River and its mythology in Snowy, 225.

  157. 157.

    Heyer, The Valley. On landscapes as evidence of “aspirations located in historical time,” see Tyrrell, True Gardens, 2.


Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Janette-Susan Bailey
    • 1
  1. 1.University of South WalesPontypriddUK

Personalised recommendations