Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station, Queensland

Edit profile
Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station, Queensland

The Barron Gorge Hydroelectric Power Station (or Barron Gorge Hydro) in Queensland, Australia is a electricity power station commissioned in 1963 with a maximum capacity of 60 megawatts (MW). It is located in the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area 20 km north-west of Cairns. It replaced an earlier station which was the first underground power station in the country and the first hydroelectric station in Queensland. The power station was refurbished in 2006.


The conceptualisation for construction of a hydroelectric power station on the Barron River was first suggested in 1906. It was nearly 30 years before completion was realised. The 3.8 MW plant was the fist underground power station in Australia and supplied the Cairns area with electricity for 28 years. The site presented many challenges including precipitous cliffs, torrential rain, and raging floods.

During the initial construction phase the delivery of equipment was complex. It first came by train to a rail siding, was transferred over the falls and then lowered by tramway to the worksite below. Hauling equipment from Cairns was relatively easy. There was no road in the early 1930s but there was the railway on the opposite bank. Getting across the gorge was another matter. A flying fox was constructed to solve that problem. A weir was built in 1935, to even out seasonal variations in flow.

A fragile bridge was also constructed across the top of the Barron Falls, however this failed to withstand the floods. Plans to build an outdoor station were abandoned as earthworks proved too unstable. Going underground proved relatively easy following construction of the tramway down the near vertical cliff-face.

In November 1935, the Governor of Queensland officially opened Barron Gorge, Queensland's first hydroelectric power station. Demand for power soon exceeded supply and in 1940 the two 1200 kW turbo alternators were supplemented by a 1400 kW unit. The original site was largely dismantled and decommissioned in 1959 and the present Barron Falls power station was commissioned in 1963 further down stream. A new, larger power station was needed to supply the rapidly growing demand in north Queensland. Construction of the new power station began on 6 October 1960 and it was expected to cost ₤2,055,000.

The weir was raised for the new power station. Water enters a concrete intake tower and then flows through a 2.9 m wide horizontal tunnel for 1.6 km. It then flows downwards for 286 m along an angled tunnel for 400 m before branching into two distribution pipes leading to the turbines.


Barron Falls is, visually, an impressive gash in the forest and rock. From the far upstream (Kuranda) end of the station, a white seam of quartz can be seen in the rock at the distant downstream end of the gorge. Along this is a small dark hole, which was the power station's wastewater outlet and is about 10 feet tall. The rainforest now somewhat masks the brown cement and corrugated iron blockhouse on the opposite cliffside. It appears visible as a brown speck with a silver and black speck beneath it, in a carpet of greenery.


In 2003 Stanwell Corporation Limited developed a $28 million strategic plan to extend the life of Barron Gorge Hydro for 40 years.

Phase one was completed in 2006 and included a mid-life refit, upgrading the majority of the originally installed electrical plant. This was the largest project undertaken at the power station since its original construction. Phase two of the program consists of the refurbishment is planned for 2009, with Unit 2 to be completed in 2010. The generator refurbishment project will improve the reliability and efficiency of the generating units at the hydro as well as increase the maximum electrical output capacity of Barron Gorge Hydro.

Visitors centre

The Barron Gorge Hydro Visitors Centre is open to the public daily. The Centre features educational videos and displays, including a working model of a generation unit, and fact sheets on Stanwell's operations.


2 photos