Snowy Hydro expansion proposal brings back memories of Reidar's glory days

82-year-old Reidar Herfoss in his workshop in Eden with a book about the Snowy Hydro Scheme that features a photo of Reidar back in his glory days.
82-year-old Reidar Herfoss in his workshop in Eden with a book about the Snowy Hydro Scheme that features a photo of Reidar back in his glory days.

One of the great characters of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, Reidar Herfoss, has thrown his support behind the government’s announcement of the "Snowy Hydro 2.0" project.

The now Bega Valley resident was born in Norway on April 21, 1934.

At 82-years-old, Reidar passes his time completing minor and major handyman jobs or smoking while reading and reminiscing about his time on the Snowy Hydro.

His workshop in Eden is filled with a lifetime of memories including his old skis, which he used when he was the Australian Champion ski-jumper and a myriad books about the Snowy Hydro Scheme, many of which have photos of Reidar in his glory days.

He said he never planned to live in Australia, but chalks up his fascinating past and his years working on the Scheme to him being “young and cheeky”.

When he was 16 years old he joined the Norwegian Merchant Navy. At 19 he had seen much of the world but wanted to explore Australia so when his ship docked at Newcastle, he jumped off.

He had heard about a Norwegian construction company working on the Snowy Scheme so when he met some other Norwegians he hitched a ride to the Snowy Mountains where he got a job straight away.

While there he worked as a rigger, a carpenter, a welder, a builder, a mechanic, a truck driver and more.

“You name it, I did it,” Reidar said.

Then he was assigned to a job in Canberra and that's where Immigration caught up with him.

“I remember it well, in walked two blokes, they came up to me and said ‘we’d like to see your passport’ and I said ‘I haven’t got one’ and I’ll never forget, they looked at each other, grinned and said ‘at least he’s honest’.”

They took Reidar to immigration: “Naughty boy, naughty boy. We might have to send you back.”

“But that didn’t worry me because I never planned to stay here, I told them that,” he said.

Reidar was issued with a temporary permit with instructions to report every Friday at 10am.

“But I was working way out of Canberra and I got the shits with that so I never turned up.”

It wasn’t long before Reidar was picked up again and taken back to immigration. 

“I told them I wanted to stay but that I had a bloody job to do, I couldn’t come all the way back only to show my bloody face, that’s stupid. One of them said ‘but it’s the law’. Well I said ‘change the bloody law’. 

Once again he was free to go and he went straight back to the Snowies for around 15 years until he moved to Eden in 1970. 

Even now he said if he had the chance he would do it all again. 

“I’ve heard that it was tough work on the Snowy, but to me it was just a job.”

While he worked on the Snowy Scheme, Reidar made lifelong friends and met people from all over the world including people he said he would never forget.  

One of these men was the father of Reidar’s godchildren Olaf Grødum, who Reidar described as “one of the nicest people you could ever want to meet”.

Unfortunately Olaf rolled a dozer and was one of the many men who died while working on the Scheme. 

“I drove to the airport with him, he had a broken arm and a broken leg but I thought he would be alright. They took him to Sydney and then a couple of days after I got a message that he died.”

Some of the other accidents Reidar witnessed were very gruesome, such as a worker blown up by gelignite, and another impaled on a spike.

Reidar remembers the way the Scheme helped to bring people of different cultures together. 

“I met a lot of different nationalities, never had any problems bar for if you went to a dance, some of the young Australians used to give us a hard time. Because we were wogs, useless wogs and all other things.”

“It was disgusting actually the way they behaved towards us, some wouldn’t go to the dances if there were too many Australians there because they picked on us. Just pick pick pick.

Despite this Reidar said no-one ever bothered him too much.

“I knew how to handle it,” Reidar said while holding up his right fist.

Now with the announcement about a potential $2billion investment, Reidar said he couldn’t be happier. 

“It was a great time, a great thing to be a part of and there needs to be more investment like this in Australia,” he said.