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Celebrating Tasmania’s first publicly owned hydro power station

This time 120 years ago the residents of Launceston were enjoying the benefits of their new electric street lights and many were no doubt wondering whether to have their homes and businesses ‘wired up’ for this new power source.

When the current from the new hydro-electric power station at Duck Reach was turned on for the first time in December 1895 it was described as a “triumph of public enterprise in street illumination” which “dwarfed into a sickly glimmer” the existing gas lighting.

The Duck Reach Power Station was built by the Launceston Municipal Council after nearly a decade of often acrimonious public debate and generated hydro-electricity almost continuously for 60 years – from 1895 to 1955.

A new book by Julian Burgess – Duck Reach and Launceston’s Electric Light – has been produced by Launceston publisher Christopher (Gus) Green OAM to mark Duck Reach’s 120th anniversary, and efforts to restore it as a working power station.

Built in the steep and rocky Cataract Gorge, the Duck Reach Power Station brought together some of the leading civil and electrical engineers of the day. The result was the first publicly-owned hydro-electric power station in Australia.

Within a few years Launceston was being described as the best lit city in Australia and the Duck Reach power scheme was making a profit for Launceston ratepayers.

In the early 1900s the city council started promoting its plentiful supply of water and electricity to overseas industries. The result was the establishment of major textile factories by British companies Patons and Baldwins and Kelsall and Kemp.

Duck Reach was the model for Tasmania’s hydro industrialisation and at its peak had a capacity of 2,600 horsepower and could produce two megawatts of electricity, enough to light 1,200 homes in Launceston.

Despite being almost destroyed in the Great Flood of 1929, Duck Reach generated electricity for Launceston for 60 years and then was abandoned when it was replaced by the much bigger Trevallyn Power Station.

In the process, the waters of the South Esk River were diverted away from the Cataract Gorge, a change that seems to have had a detrimental effect on the health of the Tamar River in Launceston.

In 2006 the Duck Reach Power Station was awarded an Historic Engineering Marker by the Institution of Engineers Australia in recognition of its technical significance and its social importance to Launceston.

Printed in Launceston by Bok Print, Duck Reach and Launceston’s Electric Light was officially launched at the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery at Inveresk by Graeme Dineen FIE, CPEng, at 10.30am on Saturday 23 April.

The publisher and author contact details:

Christopher (Gus) Green OAM, publisher: 0408 355 561

Julian Burgess, author: 0419 750 286

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