13 March, 2012

Branching out - a look at the Leigh

For some time I have intended to spend a little more time investigating the Leigh River. In addition to the Moorabool River it is one of only two rivers which are tributaries of the Barwon.
The Leigh begins its journey in the suburbs of Ballarat where it rises as the Yarrowee River in Redan, flowing south through the foothills of the Great Dividing Range where it becomes known as the Leigh River at its confluence with Williamson Creek west of the township of Elaine. From here it flows past Bamganie, through Shelford to Inverleigh where it joins with the Barwon River outside of the township.
Previously I have walked the short section of the river between the township of Inverleigh and its confluence with the Barwon.
The confluence of the Barwon (right) and Leigh Rivers (left).
It is rural, pretty and popular with walkers and fishermen. There is a path running from the township to the junction of the two rivers and beyond that, a rough walking/driving track which extends to the Inverleigh-Winchelsea Road. To one side is the town and across the river on the opposite bank is farm land.
Leigh River downstream of Inverleigh
Today the weather was fine and we decided to investigate the Leigh upstream of the town, but first, a little history:
It has been suggested that the first European to visit the region was the escaped convict William Buckley after whom Buckley Falls on the Barwon is named, but this has not been proven.
The Leigh itself appears to have been named by the surveyor J.H. Wedge in 1835 after his Tasmanian property called "Leighlands". By the late 1830s the surrounding land, known as Weatherboard Station, was owned by the Derwent Company.
Our first stop on our walk was Lawson's Tree near the banks of the river. It was under this tree some time between 1836 and 1838 that William Lawson, a blacksmith from Weatherboard Station, erected his first home.
Lawson's Tree, Inverleigh
By 1842 he had built an establishment which he called - appropriately enough - the Horseshoe Inn, only a short distance away. The township which grew up here - Inverleigh - was known in those early days as Lawson's, although the man himself left the district in 1852.
Where the Hamilton Highway now crosses the Leigh was the site of a ford used by the early settlers traveling to and from the Western District and Geelong. The first bridge was built here by the Lawson family but was replaced in the 1870s by the shire council.
Footings of the old Inverleigh Bridge
Today the bridge is a modern concrete construction, but the footings of the earlier bridge can still be seen slightly upstream of the present structure.
From Lawson's Tree, we made our way to the much newer Federation Bridge built - yes - in 2001 to mark the centenary of Federation.
Federation Bridge over the Leigh River

It is a suspension bridge designed for pedestrian traffic and from here one can walk some distance upstream along a dirt path through areas of remnant vegetation, crossing dry creek beds and in our case, surrounded by fluttering butterflies.
Creek bed along the Leigh River
Efforts to encourage re-vegetation in the area are also under way, however there is also clear evidence of the early days of European settlement along some parts of the river where peppercorn trees jostle for space with gum trees and blackberries have taken over a small island in the middle of the stream.
Peppercorns and Eucalypts, Leigh River
Somewhat like the Moorabool, but in contrast to the Barwon, the channel through which the Leigh flows in this area is relatively deep with steep sides.
Channel carved by the Leigh River
Also like the Moorabool, the water level during floods can rise quite dramatically. The level of a previous flood event is clearly indicated by a hay bale wedged firmly in a tree, well above head height.
Hay bale stuck in a tree
We followed the path to its end and then returned the way we had come to the Federation Bridge where we took the opportunity to climb up to the lookout and view the surrounding countryside. From there, we followed the undulating (and in places slippery) gravel path along the river back to the Hamilton Highway where we crossed the bridge to complete our circuit and retired to the store for coffee and an ice-cream.

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