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Outback gem

Friday, 31st January, 2020

The Eastern array of dishes at the White Cliffs Solar Thermal Power Station. The picture was one of four photos Graeme Hanigan sent to an international engineering photo competition. PICTURE: Graeme Hanigan The Eastern array of dishes at the White Cliffs Solar Thermal Power Station. The picture was one of four photos Graeme Hanigan sent to an international engineering photo competition. PICTURE: Graeme Hanigan

By Callum Marshall

The secretary of a group that preserves the historic White Cliffs Solar Thermal Power Station has won the main prize in an international engineering photo competition.

Graeme Hanigan, of White Cliffs Solar Thermal Power Station Friends Inc., submitted a set of photos of some of the station’s dishes to the UK-based Engineering and Technology Magazine’s ‘Hidden Engineering Heritage Competition’ more than a year ago.

The purpose of the competition is to highlight “obscure or little-known engineering, technological or scientific objects of historical and cultural importance anywhere in the world”.

Mr Hanigan, who only found out he’d won last week when the magazine posted an article about it, hoped the site would now get more recognition locally and internationally. 

“One of the things we want to do as part of our preservation project is raise the awareness of the site internationally,” he said.

“This was an opportunity to get it into a UK magazine that, as it turns out, has got international coverage. 

“We submitted the application to the competition thinking we met all the criteria - it’s a remote site and it’s not easily accessible.

“The fact that we actually won outright is just incredible.

“It vindicates my feelings that this is a site that Australia should be really proud of, and it should be getting more publicity within Australia as the world’s first solar thermal power station.”

Mr Hanigan said the win could also boost tourism because the magazine was an important influence in engineering circles.

“It is read by engineers and people with a technical background, and that’s what it needs because it’s those people that are going to appreciate the significance of the site. 

“Someone who doesn’t have that technical background might think it’s ‘just an old power station.’

“I know it already attracts international tourists.”

Asked if he thought the station could really be considered ‘hidden’ given its status as the world’s first commercial solar thermal  power station, Mr Hanigan said it’s relatively unknown significance and isolation were fair qualifiers.

“I thought, ‘I’ll tell them where it is and let them decide whether it fits their criteria for ‘hidden,’” he said. “Obviously they thought it qualifies.

“I mean, if you go to the UK you can’t drive 10 miles without finding some heritage site. It’s just full of it. 

“To think that you’ve got to drive 300km from Broken Hill to get to White Cliffs...”

Following the competition win, Mr Hanigan said focusing on getting Hillites out to the station was a priority along with restoration work.

“We want more tourism coming from Broken Hill,” said Mr Hanigan.

“We’ve already got two tourism operators bringing out busloads regularly and we want to build on that.

“We want to make it more of an attraction, more interesting, especially also as an educational site so that schools can come and visit and learn about solar energy, which has been used for thousands of years. It’s not new.

“The Greeks used to design their villages around solar heating their houses. The alignment of their houses was such to maximise the solar heating.”

He said he was “totally delighted” with winning the competition and what it would mean for White Cliffs.

“It’s great news for White Cliffs,” said Mr Hanigan.

“There’s Lightning Ridge and Coober Pedy that have opal alongside White Cliffs, but none of them have got the world’s first solar power station.

“It differentiates White Cliffs from the other opal mining towns.”

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