Warragamba Dam is one of the largest domestic water supply dams in the world.
Created by damming Warragamba River and flooding the Burragorang Valley, the storage lake is four times the size of Sydney Harbour and stores around 80 percent of Sydney’s water.
A local Gundungurra Aboriginal creation story tells of two dreamtime spirits Mirragan – a large tiger cat, and his quarry Gurangatch – a part fish part reptile who lived in a lagoon where the Wollondilly and Wingecarribee rivers meet. During a long cross-country battle in the Dreaming (Gunyungalung), the deep gorges of the Burragorang Valley were gouged out. It was this valley that was flooded when Warragamba Dam was built.
The location of the dam was first suggested in 1845. The deep narrow gorge of the Warragamba River, at the exit to Burragorang Valley, was identified as an ideal place for a dam by Polish explorer Count Paul Strzelecki. More than a century and many droughts later, work finally started in 1948 to build a reliable new water supply for Sydney’s growing population. It took 12 years and 1,800 workers to build the dam, which opened in 1960. It was such a major undertaking that a town was built next to the site to house the dam builders.
Warragamba Dam was a major engineering feat of the mid-20th Century. In 1946 the Warragamba River was diverted so excavation for the dam could start. Trees were cleared from the Burragorang Valley, and two temporary (coffer) dams and a tunnel were built to keep the site dry. More than 2.3 million tonnes of sandstone was removed.
Concrete was mixed on site using 305,000 tonnes of cement and 2.5 million tonnes of sand and gravel. The sand and gravel was transported from McCann’s Island in the Nepean River via an aerial ropeway.
The dam was built in a series of large interlocking concrete blocks. Overhead cableways lifted 18 tonne buckets to place the concrete. Ice was mixed with the concrete to control heat generation and prevent cracks. One of the first pre-stressed concrete towers in Australia was built to house the ice-making plant.
To get to the work site from Warragamba township, the dam builders used two suspension bridges, one across Folly Creek, upstream of the dam wall, and the other across the Warragamba Gorge just downstream from the dam. These Folly Creek bridge was removed after the dam was built but the bridge over the gorge was kept and incorporated into the beautification works at the dam. In 2001 it suffered damage in a bushfire and was subsequently demolished.
Top 5 things to see and do
1. Be photographed with the ‘quiet beast’
Stand on one of the viewing platforms and have your photo taken with the ‘quiet beast’. Warragamba Dam’s nickname comes from the fact that three million tonnes of concrete is holding back four Sydney Harbours of water, yet the atmosphere is calm and peaceful. It was an engineering masterpiece of the mid-20th Century – and it still takes your breath away today.
2. Step back in time
Take a self-guided walk around the dam grounds and discover the history of this monumental undertaking. Interpretive signs and heritage items along the way reveal the stories behind the dam’s construction. Pause at the Workers’ Memorial and pay your respect to the 14 dam builders who died during construction.
3. Soak up the views
Gaze down upon the dam wall and a small part of Lake Burragorang from the deck of the magnificent visitor centre, perched high on a rocky outcrop, or head down to the dam wall on weekends and public holidays ONLY for a close up view of the Lake. The lake created by the dam stretches back 52 kilometres from the wall. Nearby, Eighteenth Street Lookout provides the best view of the height of the dam wall and auxiliary spillway.
4. Step into the future
Step inside the modern visitor centre and enjoy an even better view of the dam. Take a journey through the water cycle in the ‘Water for Life’ exhibition. Be amazed by the unique ‘drops of wisdom’ interactive table. Don’t miss the children’s activities, and ask our friendly visitor centre staff your questions.
5. Relax with a picnic
Relax with family and friends in the landscaped grounds. Throw down a rug and picnic under a shady tree or use one of our tables or shelter sheds. Drinking water and modern toilet facilities are scattered throughout the grounds. Barbeque facilities and a children’s playground are located at the adjacent Warragamba Recreation Reserve managed by Wollondilly Shire Council, and Warragamba township has cafes and shops for hot drinks and meals.
Pedestrian access to parts of Warragamba Dam wall is available on weekends and public holidays ONLY between 10am and 4pm , except Christmas Day and Good Friday.