Forgotten power plant eerie reminder of old days
LEFT abandoned and forgotten in the darkness at the bottom of the Barron Falls gorge is a seldom seen but permanent reminder of a successful engineering marvel built in defiance of huge torrents and near-vertical terrain.
The underground hydro power station was a Queensland first when it opened in 1935 after three years of arduous work, but was first mooted 30 years earlier.
Residences and a mess hall on the eastern side of the river, some of which still remain, housed up to 100 workers who were charged with the mammoth task of digging a control room into the side of the mountain and a pipeline from diversion dams at the top of the falls to turbines housed underground.
From the weir at the top of the falls water was diverted into a 3m concrete tunnel before being channelled through a steel-lined pipe.
At the power station, water drove two large turbines which generated enough electricity to power 36,000 homes before flowing back into the Barron River.
Faced with rock falls, precipitous cliffs, torrential rain and raging floods, construction was a huge undertaking. A trestle bridge was constructed over the falls for access and supply delivery but was replaced with a flying fox after being washed away.
The Barron Falls Power Station project was marred by fatalities and numerous mishaps.
For 28 years the station supplied Cairns with electricity, until the Barron Gorge Hydro scheme - still running today - made the plant redundant in 1963.
Owner of Kuranda Rainforest Journeys Perry Marshall lives in one of the residences built for workers on the project.
"There used to be seven houses and the foundation for the flying fox that went across the falls (can be seen) but most of the infrastructure is gone," he said.
He runs tours on private land on the eastern side of the river, including remnants of the Streets Coffee Plantation - however he warned about trespassing on the Skyrail's lease to gain unauthorised access to the abandoned power plant.
"I think the main fascination is what they actually achieved," he said.
"We are talking about the early '20s, digging through rock - they had none of the fancy equipment we have now. It's pretty impressive."
It's understood the plant now is inhabited by thousands of micro bats and contaminated air poses a serious health risk.
Salvageable equipment at the top of the falls was recovered along with most buildings and the tunnels were boarded up. But turbines, pipelines and alternators remain today in a state of gradual decay, and in complete darkness, many metres below the last station of Skyrail Rainforest Cableway.
Originally published as Forgotten subterranean power plant eerie reminder of old days