The first European explorer of the Murray River upstream of Albury was Hamilton Hume, in 1824. By the 1860s landholders were discussing ways of managing the River Murray for better navigation, irrigation, flood and drought control. In 1915 the River Murray Waters Agreement was approved by the Commonwealth, New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian Governments.
The River Murray Waters Agreement included a provision for the construction of a storage on the upper Murray. The site of Hume Dam was selected from 25 alternatives.
The construction of the Hume Dam started on 28 November 1919 and was finished in 1936. The site was originally called ‘The Mitta Mitta Dam Site', but in February 1920 the River Murray Commission chose the name ‘Hume Reservoir' to honour Hamilton Hume.
In 1924, the Commission agreed to enlarge the Reservoir from its planned capacity of 1,360 GL to 2,470 GL. This was later reduced to 1,540 GL due to the Great Depression.
At its peak, over one thousand tradesmen and labourers worked under dangerous conditions to build the dam. While the exact number is unknow, it is believed that up to nine lives were lost during construction. Horses, steam engines and manual labour were mostly used, with only a handful of motor vehicles used on the project. In the years of the Great Depression workmen were told to load rock into trucks using their bare hands, in order to create more work.
When the project was finished in 1936, it was the biggest dam in the Southern Hemisphere and one of the largest in the world. It was hailed alongside Sydney Harbour Bridge as one of the mightiest Australian structures of the inter-war years and was one of the first great inter-government co-operative projects facilitated by Federation.
Later, the Snowy Mountains Scheme resulted in increased flows in the River Murray and, as part of the scheme, it was agreed to double the storage to its current capacity of 3,005 GL. These works were completed in 1961. In 1957, a hydro-electric station was built to generate power from releases.
A more in-depth history of Lake Hume is being developed. Check back soon for updates.