Now reclaimed by bush, the 1930’s Mount Paris Dam still stands as a monument to depression-era innovation and hard work.
Where is Mt Paris Dam?
From Tin Dragon Cottages turn right onto the Tasman Highway (A3). Drive up over the hill out of Branxholm. Just past the town boundary, turn right into the Mt Paris Dam Rd (C425)—set odometer to zero. This is a gravel road which is well maintained and suitable for a small car.
Briseis Race to Derby
Less than 1 km along the Mt Paris Dam road (0.7 km) there is a small car-parking area on your left. From here you can walk a section of the historic Briseis water race all the way into Derby. The track was cleared by volunteers as a community project over 10 years ago. The first short section (<1 km) is an easy walk worth taking. But the remainder is for experienced walkers only. It may be very over-grown. However, if you persist you might meet up with the Kings Wall!
Ah Foo Road
At 11.3 km along the Mt Paris Dam Road, Ah Foo road turns off to the right . Then this road winds uphill from Mt Paris Dam Road to Mt Paris and the abandoned Ah Foo’s tin-mining camp. During late Jan- Feb, the flowering Trigger plants clothe the mountain in a pink haze.
Like much of the region, this area has been extensively mined and logged. However the landscape has a stark, rugged beauty.
This is a 4WD track. Forestry removes the signage when they are logging in this area. So you may not find the road signs!
Bridge over the Cascade River
At 11.4 km Mt Paris Dam Rd crosses over the Cascade River. The road then meets the Mt Paris Dam turn-off to the left (at 13.1 km). Park your car close to the turn-off. The short 100m access road is a 4WD track. A short walk under the dam wall takes you to an entrance through the wall.
History of Mt Paris Dam
Consulting engineers, Haskins and Davey of Sydney designed the Mt Paris dam for Mt Paris Tin Mines Ltd in 1935. Originally called, the Morning Star Dam, its construction was completed in the following year. During the same year (1936), the dam was also connected to the Mount Paris Mine by a water race 11 km long. By the end of 1936 the tin mine was in operation!
Building Mt Paris Dam during the Great Depression
Mt Paris dam has a re-enforced concrete slab and buttress wall. The wall has a length of 250m and a maximum height of 16m. So, the dam had a water storage of about 1300 megalitres covering almost 21 hectares (52 Acres).
But, what was most impressive, was that the wall was mainly built by hand!
The supervising mining engineer, John Proud, decided the slab and buttress design was best for the times and the remote location. During the depression years, when finances were limited and unemployment was high, the dam constuction was economic on concrete and employed many manual labourers.
Workmen loaded wheelbarrows with wet cement from a petrol-driven cement mixer. Then they pushed the cement along timber planks to fill the boxed sections of dam wall.
At the peak of construction 70 men were working on the dam. The Mt Paris Mining Company built huts to accommodate the single men, while the few married men camped with their families in a nearby picnic ground.
You can read more about the dam construction and view historical photos in a publication by L.A. Deacon.
Proud family and the crash of the Stinson aircraft
John Proud was a member of the well-known family of jewellers who were also major shareholders in the Mount Paris Mine. In 1937 John was a (miraculous) survivor of the Stinson plane crash in Southern Queensland. This was a truly heroic story of survival and rescue by Bernard O’Reilly. You can read John Proud’s statement to the inquest!
This story is of personal interest for me, because I have walked to the site of the wrecked plane, twice – both from O’Reilly’s and from Christmas Creek. I nearly became part of my own survival story on the last walk – when a ferocious cyclone hit the rainforest… I have never walked so fast or ever been so pleased to reach my car!
The dam changes ownership
A range of organisations oversaw the maintenance of the dam. The Mount Paris Tin Mining Company sold the dam to Briseis Consolidated NL, who maintained it until the close of operations in 1947.
Following that it was owned by the state government and managed by the Ringarooma-Cascade Water Board. However, under an agreement with the Board the dam was actually maintained by Briseis Tin NL. But this agreement ceased with the closure of the mine in December 1961.
Mt Paris dam falls into disrepair
By the early 1970’s there was little water storage remaining in the dam. This was a result of a hole and large crack in near the base of the dam wall.
So who made the hole in the wall?
I have heard two anecdotal accounts of how the hole appeared Mt Paris Dam wall. Both accounts involve the (illegal) use of explosives.
First story – an OH&S issue
I have heard that a group of local residents, who were concerned about the safety of the Dam, decided to take matters into their own hands. Apparently, when it rained in winter, water backed up in the dam and flooded surrounding areas as well as the MtParis Dam road. So these concerned citizens blasted a crack in the wall to release water into the Cascade river.
Second story – fossickers on a mission
In this story, the concerned local citizens wanted a dry dam and a better flow of water in the Cascade River. Apparently, this provided better conditions for fossicking.
Tall tales or true?
Tasmania is a very connected place. I heard the second story, when my brother-in-law’s Apple Island Motorhome Club stayed on our property several years ago. A retired gentleman in the club told me that his very first task as a newly employed engineer with the Hydro Electric Commission (HEC) was to inspect a crack in the Mt Paris Dam wall. This was in the late 1960’s. This is when he heard the fossicking explanation for the vandalism. Anyway, his advice to the HEC was to cut the permanent holes, which are such a feature of dam, today.
I heard the first story at a gathering for the 80th anniversary of the opening of the Mt Paris Dam.
So, perhaps there is a little truth in both recollections?
80th anniversary celebration – 2016
Despite Mt Paris dam being placed on the Tasmanian Heritage Register, a Tasmanian Government Department suggested it should be dismantled. This caused a community outcry–the result of which means that the dam remains standing as a monument to the important mining history of the area.
Needless to say, there is little to no funding to ensure any ongoing maintenance for the site. So in 2016 a community celebration of it’s 80 years was held as a fundraiser for the dam’s maintenance.
A site for the community
Where dark icy water once lapped the dam wall, native bush and weeds have taken over. The neatley carved holes are like great doorways showing glimpses of a picturesque view across to the hills, and beneath the dam wall the waters of the cascade river swirl over moss-covered rocks.
The site has become popular for picnicers, fossickers and photographers.
As I mentioned above, our family has been visiting the Mt Paris dam site for many years – long before it became popular with tourists.
Back, when the tourists were unaware of the beauty of the Mt Paris dam, it was possible to enjoy a sneaky skinny dip in the freezing cold water of the Cascade River! BTW, the tunnel in the backgound is the original 1936 dam diversion tunnel.