House debates

Tuesday, 27 October 2009


Fowler Electorate: Warragamba Dam

8:44 pm

Photo of Julia IrwinJulia Irwin (Fowler, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

One of the most enduring memories I have as a child is of going on family picnics to Warragamba Dam. I looked forward to the day out, and getting to ride in the back of my father’s Oldsmobile was always a happy event. Like many other young families across Sydney, we chose to picnic at Warragamba. It was an enjoyable drive with good views, and it was a fun day for the family. It was an inexpensive day out, always a consideration for young families starting out. Sydney’s new dam was a destination for tourists from interstate and overseas, but it was also a destination for many Sydneysiders. The pressures on working families make such family days somewhat rarer these days. There are many distractions, inside the home and without, which occupy our time. Work, study or a social life often do not allow the time for a family get-together as often as we would like.

In recent years the Warragamba Dam and surrounding areas have not been open for public access due to important construction works. The dam has been undergoing major upgrades, including the building of an auxiliary spillway, increasing the height of the dam wall and other works, all vital to the continued safe operation of this important piece of infrastructure serving Sydney’s water needs. However, the Sydney Catchment Authority advises that the dam grounds will shortly reopen, providing visitor facilities and views of the dam. A new visitor centre is scheduled for completion in early 2010. With the upgrade works due to be completed by 2011, further access to the dam itself may be reinstituted.

The dam is an important part of Western Sydney and my electorate of Fowler. It lends its name to the town of Warragamba, which is closely linked to the building of the dam. The construction workers who built the dam lived there and many later settled in after the dam’s completion in 1960. In the lead-up to the 2007 election campaign, I doorknocked much of the Warragamba and Silverdale areas. I met many of the workers who actually worked on the construction of the dam and was told many wonderful stories about their experiences.

Warragamba, along with the adjoining town of Silverdale, is a close, tight-knit community. The people work together very closely, supporting each other and lending assistance when required. But in a time of global financial crisis, the financial pressures on local business are profound and dramatic. Any closure of a local business, any loss of employment, any change in circumstance can have a long-lasting effect on local communities. Focused around the local workers club, businesses in Warragamba are dependent on the continued loyalty and support of locals and visitors to the area. Of course, the closure of the dam to public access has significantly reduced the number of visitors to the town of Warragamba and this has greatly impacted on local businesses. Many, many businesses have closed. That is why the imminent opening of visitor facilities with views to the dam and the opening of the new visitor centre next year will be good for the future of Warragamba. Tourism is one industry which can provide a significant boost to the local economy.

When I recently looked up a reference for the Hoover Dam in the United States of America I was staggered to read that the dam enjoys some eight million-plus visitors a year. Equating to just over 2.5 per cent of the USA’s population of over 300 million, it remains a staggering figure by any measure. To put this in an Australian perspective, 2.5 per cent of our population of 25 million would equate to 625,000. If we succeed in encouraging only a fraction of that number of visits to Warragamba Dam it will prove to be a boon to jobs and the economies of Warragamba and Western Sydney. It remains for governments, state, federal and local, to pursue such an agenda, to take maximum benefits from such a world-class facility. Adding Warragamba Dam to the tourist itinerary will only add to the Sydney experience. Warragamba Dam has been a vital part of our history. It remains a vital part of our future.