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Olsen, Olav Trygve (1890–1966)

by Darryl Bennet

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

Olav Trygve Olsen (1890-1966), civil engineer, was born on 5 September 1890 at Sogne, near Kristiansand, Norway, son of Peter Olsen and his wife Anne Johanne, née Thomasdatter. Trygve attended Kristiansand Katedralskole, studied engineering (1908-11) at Bergen Tekniske Skole, and became a member (1912) of the Norwegian Society of Chartered Engineers. Employed by the consulting firm of Harald M. Irgens, he was engaged in the investigation, design and construction of several hydro-electricity projects, including the Samnanger, Dale and Osa schemes. In 1924 he took a job as a cook in the steel barque, Svarvarnut, and sailed for Australia. His wife Marie, née Schouw, whom he had married in 1918, and their son Lasse followed him by steamship.

Landing at Bunbury, Western Australia, in February 1925, Olsen made his way to Melbourne where he obtained a post as a civil investigations engineer with the State Electricity Commission of Victoria. Survey work for the proposed Kiewa hydro-electricity scheme was by then in progress. Olsen recommended that tunnels should be dug between the water-storages and power stations, and that the tunnels be unlined except where the rock was unsound. His proposal to use closed conduits instead of open channels meant that there would be no ice-blockages in winter; moreover, the operation would have greater flexibility 'as load could be picked up in the time it took to open a valve and bring a turbine up to speed'.

To facilitate hydrological and meteorological studies of the catchment area in the Victorian Alps, Olsen established a research-station on the Bogong High Plains. In 1932 he was naturalized. While resident engineer in charge of the station in 1932-34, he lived with his family in an isolated cottage forty miles (64 km) from Omeo. In winter Trygve skied to the sites of his gauges and instruments. Marie maintained a cosy home at which visitors were made welcome. Lasse did his schooling by correspondence. Olsen was over 6 ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall and weighed about 18 stone (114 kg). He was nicknamed 'Tiny'. Colleagues found him an affable man and a genial host. Posted to Melbourne, he took part in investigations into the Big Eildon scheme.

During World War II politicians and engineers in New South Wales and Victoria considered new plans for using the waters of the Snowy River for power and inland irrigation. About 1944 Olsen proposed diverting the waters of the Snowy to the Murray River by trans-mountain tunnel, thus increasing the project's power-generating potential. He was appointed to the hydro-electric sub-committee of the Commonwealth-States Technical Committee whose reports (1948-49) formed the basis of the Snowy Mountains scheme. In 1950 he joined the staff of the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority as chief investigating engineer. After retiring in September 1955, he returned to Norway. He died on 5 December 1966 at Stavanger; his wife and son survived him. The S.M.H.E.A. gave him 'a large share of the credit for the general conception' of the Snowy Mountains scheme and noted the passing of an 'imaginative and able' engineer.

Select Bibliography

  • G. Napier and G. Easdown, The Kiewa Story (Melb, 1993)
  • Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Authority, Eighteenth Annual Report for Year 1966-1967, Parliamentary Papers (Commonwealth), 1967, 5, p 808
  • Snowy News, no 78, 28 Feb 1967
  • A446/69 item 58/43782 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Darryl Bennet, 'Olsen, Olav Trygve (1890–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/olsen-olav-trygve-11302/text20171, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 26 May 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

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