The Great Dam: The Drowning of Bowna Village

There was once a small but thriving community located just 11 km north of Wymah, on the old Albury–Sydney road where Mullengandra Creek joined Twelve Mile Creek. Bowna was a village of about 150 people that served local landholders and travellers. You can still see the silt-covered remnants of the homes and bridges of old Bowna today when Lake Hume is very low.

Bowna village was proclaimed in 1885. In its heyday, it had a hotel, school, post office, police station, blacksmith’s shop, racecourse and two churches. Its pioneering families also built tennis courts, a football ground and a cricket pitch. Of course, there was a cemetery.

Bowna’s waterlogged fate was sealed when the settlement was less than 30 years old, after plans were drawn up to build a dam across the Murray River. The River Murray Commission was keen to expedite the work to provide drought protection for established settlements along the river, and to create new settlements to provide employment for the large numbers of soldiers returning from overseas service at the end of the First World War. Construction began in 1919, using day labourers. Records show that 1,100 men were employed on the site in 1927. Later, during the Great Depression, the construction project continued to provide much-needed employment.

The dam took 17 years to build. When it opened in 1936, the valley had filled with water, creating a vast inland lake with a surface area about three times that of Sydney Harbour. The face of the valley was changed forever.

The dam was hailed as an engineering marvel and a political success; however, the project brought great loss to those who lived in the valley. In 1934, as work on the dam was nearing completion, a huge storm increased the water level in the weir by 1.3 metres in one day. Bowna residents were ill-prepared and were forced to pack up and leave, and to seek new sites on which to make a home. By 1935, the rising waters of the Hume Weir had drowned the entire Bowna village.

While completely dislocated, the Bowna community still exists today.

If you look across a full Lake Hume today, you won’t see any evidence of the village. Instead, you

will see a waterway that gives life to the region and beyond, and whose hilly surrounds provide a home and a lifestyle for many people, including the descendants of Bowna’s early families.

Image options:

Bowna Village

  1. 1898

The main street through Bowna, looking towards the White Horse Hotel. The man in the sulky is the

licensee of the hotel, William Boundy. On the left near the large tree is Milton Daley’s blacksmith shop.

AlburyCity Collection (ARM 16.249)

And / or

A large selection of contemporary images by Paul Temple (these featured on the pull up banners):