Today, nine years after Lake Margaret was slated for closure, bus loads of tourists are heading deep into the bush to watch the century-old station generate electricity, explore the remnants of the once-bustling village and soak up the amazing scenery.
West Coast Mayor Phil Vickers said the increased visits to Lake Margaret validated the community fight to keep it as a working proposition.
Tour operator Anthony Coulson, from Queenstown Heritage Tours, hopes visitor numbers to the power station would build to the point where funds could be directed to restoring the smattering of houses left on site.
The row of little corrugated iron homes – considered rather posh in their day compared to those in nearby Queenstown – are falling into disrepair.
Verandahs are crumbling but the Foxtel dish attached to the last house to be inhabited at Lake Margaret stubbornly hangs on as a reminder that a tight-knit community once lived out her in the wilderness on Tasmania’s wild West Coast.
“It is getting to the critical stage now where something must be done to save this part of the region’s heritage,” Mr Coulson said.
Lake Margaret’s heyday was from the early 1900s through to the 1960s.
In the early days, a railway service carried children from the hydro town’s 12 or so houses into Queenstown for school. Adults went on the train to buy supplies and watch movies at the historic Paragon Theatre.
A woman named Zelda had her ashes scattered at Lake Margaret and a plaque at the back of the village bearing the words “Home forever” stands as a sign of the kind of affection those who once lived here had for the place.
“A lot of past residents still talk in great reverence of growing up there,” Mr Coulston said. “You were someone if you lived and worked at Lake Margaret.”
The Lake Margaret power station was scheduled for shutdown in 2006 after Hydro Tasmania deemed the ageing asset a significant safety risk – especially its unique woodstave pipeline.
The West Coast community – led by late mayor Darryl Gerrity who wore a black armband in protest when he visited the site in 2005 – lobbied for more than a year for the station’s infrastructure to at least be kept intact if the facility was to be decommissioned.
Criticism about the closure plans then came from outside the community.
The site was heritage listed in 2007 and the West Coast Council refused Hydro Tasmania’s application to demolish the pipeline.
The next year, Hydro Tasmania’s board approved $14 million in funding for the redevelopment of the station and the region celebrated the strength of “people power”.
Another $13 million was spent redeveloping the Lower Lake Margaret power station.
The Lake Margaret power station is still putting power into the Tasmanian grid. It also adds another string to the West Coast’s historic tourism bow.
Historical tourism – from riding the West Coast Wilderness steam railway to exploring old mine workings at Mt Lyell – is what the region needs to concentrate on to develop its own unique tourism brand, Mr Coulson said.
“People who visit are intrigued that such an early example of hydro electricity technology still works in the modern day,” he said.
“We need to put Lake Margaret on the tourist map akin to Gordon River Cruises and the West Coast Wilderness Railway. Towards that end we hope to park coaches outside the railway station in Queenstown to get people who may not have pre-booked up to the vintage hydro station after they have been on the stream train.”
Tourism Industry Council of Tasmania chief Luke Martin said the Lake Margaret experience was an important part of the West Coast’s mix of visitor options.