The Mitchell River is the last major free-flowing river in Victoria, but not for want of trying. The remains of a short-lived dam in Mitchell River National Park in East Gippsland, Australia, are a testament to the river’s strength.
In the late 19th century, agriculture was important and well established throughout East Gippsland. But 1889 was a particularly dry year in the area, and the lack of rain was leading to crop failure. A very ambitious plan to build an irrigation scheme using water from the Mitchell River. The plan involved raising the level of the river to channel water along the eastern bank of the river where it would be channeled for 68 kilometers (42 miles) all the way to the Bengworden. Another channel extended for 76 kilometers (47 miles) and traversed north of Bairnsdale and further east for irrigation.
Work commenced on the Glenaladale Weir, which was built at the junction of the Stony Creek and Mitchell River, in 1890. The project encountered difficulties from the beginning: the dam’s foundations needed to be deeper than initially expected, and flooding from the river required repairs that added cost and delay to the construction.
The weir was completed in 1893 but badly damaged by another flood soon after. The damage was never addressed, and eventually, the entire project was abandoned, costing the government £23,400. The weir has progressively deteriorated ever since. The whole debacle was investigated in a Royal Commission into the water supply from 1894 to 1896. The elaborate system of channels that were to supply water for irrigation in areas as far away as Bengworden never operated as intended.