Tales from the volcanic plain

The caldera lakes and other things.

Do you know the Western District of Victoria is the largest volcanic plain in the world? This big plain is interspersed with volcanic cones and caldera lakes. For lakes to form over  ages the center of the volcano cooled, the middle sank,  and filled with water.  In the huge area there are hundreds of such lakes. 
Tourists are familiar with Tower Hill near Warrnambool. Similar lakes are found elsewhere on the plain. Fishermen are familiar with the lakes around Camperdown. They fish at Lake Purrumbete.  Nearer to my home In Camperdown we were surrounded by lakes.  Both Lake Gnotuk  and Lake Bullen Merri are within the same caldera but the composition of the water in each is different. Gnotuk is very salty.  Bullen Merri is brackish. 
Bullen Merri was a favourite place for fishermen as it was stocked each year with Rainbow Trout.  It is an introduced species known for its fighting spirit and good eating. The fish had to be bred in running water. Given a natural life they are spawned into a stream and swim away into the ocean and return to the same water to spawn their new fingerlings. The fish in Camperdown were never able to spawn live fish because it was not fed with running water and that is why the lake was restocked each year with fingerlings. 
The water is naturally brackish, the fishermen,  except for opening day, were very few in number so the remaining fish grew up to about 4 pounds.  Every so often when the conditions are hot and still. In those times algae grows on the lake. It turns the surface green. The water becomes toxic and fish are killed. In the 1950’s the years were cold and wet and when we did have conditions that promoted the growth of algae the learning had been lost and people were at a loss to explain what was killing the fish.
The lake was also popular for water sports.  In the summer Camperdown residents would swim on the southern beaches. The Sun newspaper together with its sister The Herald played important role in promoting safety in the water and they also ran a learn to swim program. I got my Herald learn to swim certificate there when I was about 12 simply by walking around the lake to join the classes. 
The community also had other sporting events there in the post war years. It started in a very small way when the Hindaugh boys built an inboard motor boat. Other locals did the same using plywood and prewar car engines. Over time enough enthusiasts had built boats and a boating regatta started. These races became very well organised and they became popular enough to attract large crowds. Each year new facilities were added as they had been in the area used by swimmers.
Accidentally drowning occurred just outside the designated swimming area too often. The water level drops away very sharply and poor swimmers occasionally would flounder in the deeper, colder water and drown. As it happened it was not very far from the edge of the lake. At such times rescuers would frantically dive into the dark water. The bodies were usually retrieved with grappling hooks.
Several  motor boats were lost in these races as well.  A hydrofoil built to Bob Hyde sank when it turned too quickly on a corner and filled with water. I think the boat was powered by an Austin inboard. The hydrofoil was faster than many other boats as it floated on the water and not in the water like a ski boat. It was also very light but prone to flipping over as it bounced from wave to wave.
As outboards became more powerful and certainly cheaper than a boat with an inboard motor the popularity of the regatta diminished. Leading up to the 1956 Olympics Camperdown made a real push to get the Olympic rowing there. They lost for many obvious reasons not the least being there was no infrastructure ready to run the event.
On the other side of the lake above the golf course and below the Public Park a number of enthusiastic people created a 400 Meter hill climb track.  It was very steep. It was windy. The very primitive was made of nothing but loose stones and the earth from which it was ripped. The lads that raced there mainly made their own cars. Then many farms seemed to have car chassis lying in the grass. It was on these ancient frames they attached nothing but the most basic gear to propel them. A gear box from here. A motor from there. A fuel tank and a radiator somehow bolted to the chassis, a bench for a seat, and a battery possibly from the vehicle they used to tow the car to the site and they had a racer. 
The idea was to charge up the hill against the clock. Going up meant the vehicle screamed from gear to gear. When it reached the top it was near pandemonium. In building the cars the builders had no thought of stopping nor had they given any thought to how many cars the last little bit of track could hold. I think six was the maximum they could fit. When they had reached that number they had to take a short break while they drove down to the start. Many of the same bush mechanics that raced boats raced the hill climb. I remember the Hindaugh family. I think the Reed family were also involved. Though theirs was a manufacturers car.
My memory is foggy about how the club established themselves there. I think they raced up Mt Leura before that time. I know they certainly returned there when the racing became better established. In either place a mistake was dangerous as there were no barriers to prevent a driver running off the course and flying into the air and into the caldera.

My tale has veered away from the caldera lakes of the volcanic plains but the lesson is there to learn. On the same plain the original inhabitants of the land have left reminders they lived sophisticated lives centuries before white settlement. They lived in stone houses. They fished for thousands of years using fish traps. Spend time a learn a little of the aboriginals of Lake Condah.

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