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Jindabyne ‘Dam Diving’

By James Dean

The old town of Jindabyne before it was flooded

On the weekend of the 16th of February 11 of us headed inland with the goal of locating and diving on the historic homesteads and remains of the township that was submerged when the valley was flooded to create Lake Jindabyne for the snowy project. I headed up a day early to go hiking and completed a walk out to the peak of Mt Kosciusko. This was very pleasant and the wild flowers and scenery offered great photographic conditions. I then headed down the mountain to the caravan park to meet the others as they arrived. For most of the group the drive took between 5 and 6 hours and with a few breaks a long the way and they started to arrive at out cabins friday afternoon. Unfortunately Anthony blew a tire and had to be towed and repaired but he still beat poor Brendan and Sue who got caught behind a truck accident.

Saturday saw us unable to use the hire boats on the lake due to the wind gusts so we proceeded by car to East Jindabyne to try and search for a small homestead and remnants of a farm. We geared up at the dirt boat ramp and entered the water (which was quite warm and had viz around 6m) in small groups with the goal of covering a large area to look for signs of the old property.  Our group quickly found some scattered rocks and bricks and a pair of sunglasses then as we proceeded deeper and found a fence line at around 12m as we passed through the thermocline where the temperature dropped to 12C . Soon after our two wetsuit buddys turned back and Anthony and I headed deeper following the fencline to 22m where is seemed to turn left. Along the way we saw the occasional clump of rock and some tine shrimp in cracks and mud holes. Here we turned back to shore and on the way back in came across some dramatic rock outcrops. After all divers were out no one had found the house and 2 divers soon reentered to check along another line while the rest of us searched for lunch in Jinabyne.

Let’s be honest, the vis isn’t the best but it’s still pretty damn cool!

On returning to East Jindabyne there was still no sign of the house so we proceeded back around the lake to “Curiosity Pt” near the Alpine way turnoff to try any locate the “Sunnybrae” homestead.  The GPS indicated is was a off the end of the point so three of us geared up and walked out to the point whilst some of the others saved their legs and dived “Curiosity rocks” (supposedly a good fishing site) and made up of a small bay of piled boulders with a large boulder pile in the center. At the end of the point we saw a bouy that might have been the homestead marker and proceeded to surface swim out. At the buoy we descended to 30m without finding  the bottom so we aborted and swam back in an dived curiosity rocks which was very eerie with strange lighting, distinct thermoclines and underwater tree branches and strange shaped boulders.

We finished the day with a BBQ dinner and made plans for continuing our explorations the next day. Our discussions at this point showed that the depth estimates of various sites were way off as the dam is now kept at a much higher level for environmental flows on the snowy river.

On Sunday we took the boats out and tried to anchor at the GPS mark for “Sunnybrae” which turned out to be underneath where we had swum but like many marker buoys on the lake we suspect it was underwater. Testing the depth came in at past 25m so we decided to proceed to Church Island across the lake.  The island itself was fully submerged but was identified by a large “shallow water” marker so we anchored next to it and descended next to the marker .  At the bottom of the chain (6m) we found the rock outcrop on the top of the “island” and proceeded east across the sand to start a survey of the site. after 5 minutes we found a line of rock that became a set of steps and foundation stones of what we believe was the old church. After this we headed North and eventually descend down the slope to 20m (thermoclines again) and along the way found large metal baskets and an old trick chassis and engine as well as many bottles and rubble. On returning to the top of the hill we explored the boulder pile then returned to the boats. Two divers then returned to the water to follow our directions to the “church” foundations.

Diving in Lake Jindabyne is always an exploration as even though there is no swell/tide the dam level / temperature / thermoclines / silt level impact on what you’ll find. I and others in the group really enjoyed the challenge in diving in such a strange environment and the thrill of discovery and trying to interpret the strange objects and put them into a context of live in what was once a thriving town and farms at the bottom of a valley.