04 July, 2013

Branching out - Bruce's Creek

All rivers have tributaries and the Barwon is no exception. Bruce's Creek is a tributary of the Barwon which rises to the north west of the township of Lethbridge and "flows" across the basalt plain, through Lethbridge and then Bannockburn and empties into the Barwon a little to the east of Murgheboluc. (NB Whilst it does have areas which contain water, it does not have a continuous flow.)
This little creek like much of the district through which it runs has seen quite a bit of history. Prior to European settlement, the area through which Bruce's Creek runs formed part of the land belonging to the Wathaurong, who used the stream bed as pathway to guide them to the Barwon.

Bruce's Creek where it crosses the Hamilton Highway and "flows" west before
joining the Barwon River near Murgheboluc
With the arrival of European settlers, the surrounding land was opened up to grazing and then farming. The creek derives its name from the settler James Bruce who occupied land in the area from 1840 and claimed descent from the famous Robert The Bruce of Scotland who defeated the English in the Battle of Bannockburn. In a nod to the famous battle, this name was eventually given to the township which was established on the creek's banks.
Bruce was the second European to occupy the land, the first having been George Russell who held the land in the name of the Clyde company as part of his Golf Hill Station, but resided some distance away at Shelford (then known as Leigh) on the Leigh River.
Prior to the town's development the area was known either as Leigh Road (the name given to the railway station which opened there on the Geelong-Ballarat railway line in 1863) or simply as Bruce's Creek. In these earliest days, there was no bridge, just a collection of the readily-available basalt rocks piled across the creek to form a fording point. The ford still exists and is listed on the Victorian Heritage Database, but with little additional information, I am unsure if this was a public vehicle crossing point however, early maps do not seem to indicate that it was ever part of the route of the Lower Leigh Road of the 1850s between Bannockburn and the Leigh.
Historic crossing on Bruce's Creek near Bannockburn

Bruce's Creek ford

The ford and track leading over the hill towards Bannockburn
On the contrary, an 1855 surveyor's map of the "township and suburbs of Bannockburn" shows a bridge at the point where today's Pilloud's Bridge stands, located about 2km downstream from the ford. I am unsure of the age of the modern bridge, but it appears to be a newer structure supported by older bluestone piers.
Pilloud's Bridge across Bruce's Creek, Bannockburn
The other township to spring up on the banks of the creek was Lethbridge, originally known as Muddy Water Holes for a chain of ponds which ran along Bruce's Creek at that point. Gazetted in 1854, the town originally centred around the Ballarat Road (Midland Highway) and catered to the traffic passing to the newly discovered goldfields of Ballarat. From 1858 when the railway came, Lethbridge thrived as local bluestone was quarried to build the line, however as in Bannockburn, the centre of business eventually drifted away from the highway to the railway line with businesses either closing or relocating to survive. This left only the Lethbridge Primary School and the Catholic Church on the road to Ballarat, however in an ironic reversal, the school and church have now both closed, but a significant increase in housing has occurred along the highway.
As with much of the country, European settlement caused significant change to the immediate environment of Bruce's Creek. The area through which the creek runs is part of the Victorian volcanic plain region, categorised today as lying within the Leigh Landscape Zone. This particular area is flat and rocky and before European arrival, would have been a lightly-wooded, grassy plain. Since then, significant clearing of the ever-present rocks and trees to enable grazing and farming, has given much of the landscape surrounding the creek quite a barren look and in many places there are few or no trees along the creek at all.
The other significant factor influencing the appearance of the creek was the construction from 1858 of the Geelong-Ballarat railway line. In order to provide access for vehicles carrying bluestone from the quarry at Lethbridge to the railway works, a small bridge - also of bluestone - was built across Bruce's Creek on Russell Street in the township.
Bridge over Bruce's Creek, Russell St, Lethbridge
The Victorian Railways created a reservoir along the course of the creek some few hundred metres from the Lethbridge station along with a 90,000 litre tank and a pump which supplied water for the steam trains as they made the long uphill haul from Geelong to Ballarat.
In the 1970s when diesel had replaced steam, the council purchased the reservoir which was developed into a lake and picnic area and is now home to a variety of birdlife.
As mentioned in an earlier post - Walking the line - the railways built a second bridge across Bruce's Creek, between Lethbridge and Bannockburn, known to locals as the Lower Camp Bridge after the workers who camped at that point as they worked on the line.

The "Lower Camp Bridge"
Today, in addition to the bluestone bridges built by the railway, the ford at Bannockburn and no doubt a number of informal crossings on private property (I know of at least one) there are modern bridges at Bannockburn (Pilloud's Bridge) and the unnamed road bridge on the Hamilton Highway near Murgheboluc.
Looking to the future, the Golden Plains Shire and its landholders are acting to improve the health of this little waterway, preserving and enhancing remnant vegetation and developing plans for the future management and use of the creek and its surrounds.




2 comments:

  1. Regarding the 'the school and church have now both closed' comment, it appears that Lethbridge Primary School is still open:

    http://lethbridgeps.vic.edu.au/

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  2. Hi Marcus,

    Perhaps I should more accurately say that the school has relocated. It is now in the town near the ovals and away from the highway. Yes, still open but not on the original site.

    Cheers,

    Jo

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