The Tunnel Thriller
The year was 1964 and four adventurous 16 year old boys decided to take one of the boy's dad's fishing boat for a burl on the Mt Beauty lake (SEC Regulating Pondage). With a 4hp Mercury motor chugging away and the lake being so small, the young group soon got bored. The ringleader Kim White then said, "let's go up the tailrace tunnel and see what's up there." There was some hesitation but agreement was eventually reached. All excited, well not all of the group. Billy Hutton squibed out by saying, "I'm not coming, you'll all get in the shit. Also, our dads' would be held accountable for our actions." That's why Bill didn't go and in retrospect he was dead right. So Kim White, Ron McKendrick and Robin Morgan drop Bill off onto the bank and the three pull the boat over the small spillway and head up the tail race. The boys were obviously ignorant to the eminent dangers, stupidity and the repercussions that they were about to embark on.
Above: Tail race channel looking from the Mt Beauty pondage south toward the tunnel mouth. Right & below: Tunnel mouth in serene waters today.
We scare each other and have loads of fun yelling and hearing our echos come back. Just then we run aground and cut the motor. The water is now running over bare rocks and the tunnel becomes just one great hole carved through solid rock. We probably travelled a kilometre underground and as we couldn't go much further in the boat, we decided to head back.
To understand what this SEC hydro electricity scheme infrastructure meant, some explanation is needed.
The tailrace, about 1km long, 20m wide and 10m deep, carries the last stage of the water from the West Kiewa Power Station to the Mt Beauty Pondage when the turbines are producing electricity. Being gravity water powered and valve controlled, hydro power is immediate when the need for peak demand electricity is required by the National power grid. The spent water is firstly carried through a tunnel, 10m in diameter, cut through the mountain between West Kiewa Power Station and Mt Beauty tailrace at a gradient of about 30 degrees. The entire diameter of the tunnel is then full with water and under immense pressure. Nobody told the boys all this, did they !
So, as an excited group we reach the entrance to the tunnel and head in under full power. What fun. We look back at the half-round light from outside as it gets smaller and smaller. We progress deeper in along the concrete walled tunnel. Robin Morgan chases a waterlogged duck and Ron McKendrick tries to ward off the swooping bats.
Above: The tunnel under construction in 1950
As the daylight became brighter and strained our eyes, we could make out some human figures standing on the bank outside the tunnel mouth. What would guys in uniforms be here for, we thought. Then a loud voice roared, "Pull over driver" the Senior Constable, Tom Luscombe demanded.
Then the SEC patrolman, Jim Couch yelled out, "Do you idiots realise what you have done! You have halted the production of electricity for the whole of Victoria. If we hadn't held back the generation, you would all be vitamized in that tunnel. Luckily, two SEC workers saw you going up the tailrace and reported it. Your parents will all be informed and a summons will be issued by the police, you bloody drips."
Well, two of our dads worked for the local SEC and went close to losing their jobs. We waited for months in expectation of a summons. It never turned up and Jim Couch, the SEC Patrolman on that day, later told me that it was never their intention to issue a summons. It was just a ploy to scare the livin' day lights out of us. It worked!