THE 'Mighty Clutha' forms the heart of one of the world’s most unique waterways. It traverses the dramatic semi-desert landscape of Central Otago, in the South Island of New Zealand, but the most spectacular river gorges, and much more, have been destroyed ... by dams. This is the unofficial story of the Clutha Mata-Au River and its stolen treasures. It is a story steeped in bitterness, shame, destruction, and sadness.

Clyde Dam ~ The Human Cost

'In all the history of Otago and of New Zealand, in peace and in war, the Clutha proposals must rank as the cruellist and most premeditated. Conceived in departmental ambition, nourished in secrecy and permitted by political indifference for people, the Clutha proposals hardened into unpalatable fact.' ~ Paul Powell, 'Who Killed the Clutha?'

Lowburn's Welcome Home Hotel, built in 1869 and the social focus of the community, was demolished and the area was flooded, '60ft under.'Lowburn's Welcome Home Hotel, built in 1869 and the social focus of the community, was demolished and the area was flooded, '60ft under.'


Harry Perriam, orchardist, Lowburn. His apricot and apple trees were uprooted before his land was flooded.Harry Perriam, orchardist, Lowburn. His apricot and apple trees were uprooted before his land was flooded.


Shorty Sutherland, and Pythagoras the cat, Lowburn. 'Someone should have shot him (Muldoon) years ago. Me, I wouldn't waste my ammunition. You can tell him that from me.'Shorty Sutherland, and Pythagoras the cat, Lowburn. 'Someone should have shot him (Muldoon) years ago. Me, I wouldn't waste my ammunition. You can tell him that from me.'


Isie Scott, Cromwell. 'I feel our heritage, the land, is being wasted.' She was forced to leave her home on the banks of the Clutha.Isie Scott, Cromwell. 'I feel our heritage, the land, is being wasted.' She was forced to leave her home on the banks of the Clutha.


Gary Forster, Station Master, and Carl the dog, Cromwell. The Cromwell station was demolished and the line through the gorge to Clyde was pulled up by the end of 1978.Gary Forster, Station Master, and Carl the dog, Cromwell. The Cromwell station was demolished and the line through the gorge to Clyde was pulled up by the end of 1978. (Carl sitting on engine)


Rachael and Fanny Short, Bannockburn. 'I wish they wouldn't change it.'Rachael and Fanny Short, Bannockburn. 'I wish they wouldn't change it.'


Harry Gair, Cromwell. 'I've told my nephew (George Gair, Minister of Energy), but he won't take any notice of me.'Harry Gair, Cromwell. 'I've told my nephew (George Gair, Minister of Energy), but he won't take any notice of me.'


Jane and Ted Lawrence, and June the cat, Bannockburn. 'They (the Ministry of Works) say they'll make this place beautiful.'Jane and Ted Lawrence, and June the cat, Bannockburn. 'They (the Ministry of Works) say they'll make this place beautiful.'


Charlie Perriam, Lowburn. 'One hundred years of family lost.' The most fertile areas of his land were flooded.Charlie Perriam, Lowburn. 'One hundred years of family lost.' The most fertile areas of his land were flooded.


Keith Lake, Northburn. His winter feed land, near the Clutha, was drowned.Keith Lake, Northburn. His winter feed land, near the Clutha, was drowned.


Doug Stout, Presbyterian Minister, Cromwell and Lowburn. The Lowburn Valley was flooded. The church was moved to higher ground.Doug Stout, Presbyterian Minister, Cromwell and Lowburn. The Lowburn Valley was flooded. The church was moved to higher ground.


Rabbiters, Pest Destruction Board, Cromwell. The valley behind them was re-shaped and flooded.Rabbiters, Pest Destruction Board, Cromwell. The valley behind them was re-shaped and flooded.


These profound, haunting photos recording the human cost of the Clyde dam were taken in May 1978 by highly acclaimed New Zealand photographer Robin Morrison (1944-1993). They are displayed here with the kind permission of Dinah Keir and Jake Morrison, who note that 'The plight of the Clutha was very close to Robin's heart, as were the lives and histories of the inhabitants.'

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About This Site

Cromwell before the Clyde dam was set to become a tourism icon. Blessed with a dramatic location, numerous historic buildings and a spectacular bridge overlooking the famous Cromwell Gap, its potential was obvious, until ... "think big."

The Roxburgh Gorge, too, with its many amazing rapids ~ the largest whitewater in New Zealand, had vast tourism potential, offering Alexandra and Roxburgh a booming industry focused on high volume whitewater kayaking, rafting and dory adventures unlike anything else in New Zealand.

The Clutha Mata-Au, before the Roxburgh and Clyde dams, possessed many natural treasures in the form of extraordinary river features and rapids.

This website tells the story of those stolen treasures, and records the bitter fight of ordinary New Zealanders pitted against arrogant government technocrats and politicians who considered the Clutha River ripe for exploitation at any cost.

Finally, the rising waters behind the Clyde dam submerged the historic main street of old Cromwell, the Cromwell Gorge including the famous Cromwell Junction, the Lower Kawarau Gorge including Sargood's Rapid (rated the best whitewater rapid in the world), the Cromwell Gap Rapid, the Lowburn area, and numerous orchards and homes. A total of 2300 hectares of productive land disappeared.

We said "Never again ..."

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