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Commonwealth Government Records about the Northern Territory

Damming of Katherine Gorge

Katherine Gorge, located 30 kilometres east of the town of Katherine, is today a world renowned heritage area and tourist location. It is also a sacred Aboriginal site known as Nitmuluk. Yet in the 1940s the Commonwealth Government actively considered damming the Gorge to provide hydroelectric power to Darwin.

In his annual report for 1943–44, Administrator Aubrey Abbott recommended that an investigation be carried out into the possibility of damming the Gorge. Abbott noted that he was not the first person to make such a recommendation.3

In September 1944 a group of Army engineers carried out a preliminary survey of the Gorge and reported that the site was geologically stable and would 'form a very satisfactory base for a dam'. They costed the project at £2,330,000.

The Interdepartmental Committee on the Planning of Darwin (see Chapter 4) recommended further investigations be carried out before a final decision could be made. In 1946 Cabinet approved a recommendation from Herbert Johnson, Minister responsible for the Northern Territory, that the matter be referred to the Northern Australia Development Committee for further consideration.

The Committee in turn referred the matter to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation for further advice. After that the matter simply disappeared from the record, most likely because of the estimated high cost of the project.

Katherine Gorge (Nitmuluk) was established as a national park in 1989.

Selected records relating to the proposed damming of Katherine Gorge
National Archives, Canberra
Interdepartmental Committee on Darwin – Report A – Katherine Gorge, 13 November 1945 A2700, submission 1022A
National Archives, Melbourne
Subcommittee reports for Interdepartmental Committee on Darwin – (a) Katherine Gorge (b) Replanning and Economic Development Resources Survey, 1945 MP1675/1, 7
Australian War Memorial, Canberra
Irrigation – Katherine – report on possibility of using Katherine Gorge as a site for a water storage reservoir, 1944 AWM54, 625/4/3


Chapter notes | All notes

3 Report on the Administration of the Northern Territory for Year 1943–44, pp. 6 and 9; Commonwealth Parliamentary Papers (1945–46), volume IV, pp. 1227–38.


Chapter 14