26 May, 2015

The Creeping Terror!

Lake Corangamite - as I mentioned in my previous post - is not considered part of the Barwon Basin. This does not mean however, that water from the Lake Corangamite system can't make its way to the Barwon, a fact which was highlighted with disastrous consequences in the 1950s. By the beginning of 1953, 60,000 acres of the best farming land in the country had disappeared beneath an inexorable tide of salt water and the financial cost in lost revenue and land value ran into the millions of pounds. Not only could the surface water remain for years after the flooding took place, but once dry, the high salinity of much of the water meant that the land was now so salty as to be useless for agricultural purposes.
Farmland in the Western District
The reason: record rainfall which had seen water levels in the lakes and swampy, low-lying areas rise in a way which had not occurred for a century. Lake Colac which normally had a circumference of 90 miles, now measured 150 miles around and had overflowed into Lough Calvert, Lake Gnarpurt was threatening to overflow into Lake Corangamite, taking the small spit of land which separated them with it, thereby elevating water levels and flooding even more of the surrounding countryside. Eventually, the water reached Lake Murdeduke where it overflowed into the Barwon Basin, ultimately draining into the Barwon river.
In the normal, geological scheme of things, this is how rivers and creeks form. Major flooding events such as those which occurred along the Barwon and across the Western District of Victoria in 1852, 1951-1953 and 1995, cause significant change over thousands, even millions of years, to the way in which water drains from a region. Whilst geologically older areas have more established drainage patterns, the Western District is relatively young geologically speaking, with the most recent volcanic eruptions occurring a mere 7,000 years ago. As a result, drainage patterns are still ill-defined, which of course accounts for the large number of lakes and swamps in the region.
All this was scant consolation to the farmers and graziers of the Western District during the 19th and 20th centuries whose livelihood was at risk every time water levels rose, and by mid-January, 1953 they were at crisis point. Something had to be done, as the Colac Shire President declared, to stop the "creeping terror"!
The issue had been discussed for decades, even as far back as the 1870s so of course they had a plan - a plan which involved the Barwon. As a matter of urgency, it was decided by the state government, the relevant shire councils and the State Rivers and Water Supply Commission, that immediate action was required. The Colac Shire President declared that the township was prepared to close for a week if necessary, in order to provide the labour to complete the works.
The plan was a simple, open drainage channel controlled by flood gates which, when complete, would carry water from Lake Colac north via low-lying ground to Lough Calvert from where it would again be diverted via a channel south to Sanctuary Lake (aka Salt Lake) and from there, via a third section of channel to Birregurra Creek near Warncoort from whence it would flow into the Barwon at its confluence near Conn's Lane.
Low-lying land at the northern end of Lough Calvert
On Friday, 24th April, the Argus proudly reported that after nine weeks of hard work, the first stage of the scheme had been opened with due ceremony, the previous day when the flood gates were opened near the Warrowie Estate, allowing water to flow from Sanctuary Lake into Birregurra Creek. It was planned that over the following three months, four feet of water would be drained from Lough Calvert and surrounding land before the second phase of the project which would see water from Lake Colac and other local lakes directed into Lough Calvert via an extension of the channel. The scheme was to be overseen by the specially commissioned Lough Calvert Drainage Trust.
This second stage did not come into action however, until August, 1954 when permission was granted for a foot of water to be drained from Lake Colac. So far so good. This however, did nothing to alleviate the same issues faced by those property owners threatened by the flooding of Lake Corangamite, Lake Murdeduke and areas in between.
Another solution was required for them. In April, 1954 affected locals were pushing for Lake Corangamite to be drained, however then premier John Cain declared this to be unfeasible as the Barwon could not cope with the volume of water which would need to be diverted. Instead, it was postulated that a weir constructed on the Woady Yaloak River near Cressy could then divert water to the Barwon via a channel which would reduce flooding in the area. This was not a new idea. It had first been postulated as early as 1876, but it was not until the inundation of the 1950s that action was finally taken.
Low-lying land on the shores of Lake Martin. Water from Woady Yaloak River
drains into the lake before entering the Cundare Pool and eventually, Lake Corangamite
The scheme however, was not without its opponents. Mr J.M. MacIntyre, Engineer-in-Chief of the Geelong Waterworks and Sewerage Trust (and namesake of the MacIntyre Bridge over the Barwon in Geelong) warned the State Parliamentary Public Works Committee that diverting such a large amount of water during periods of high flow in the Barwon would result in catastrophic flooding in the flats downstream towards Geelong, rendering surrounding land useless and seriously affecting the operation of the mills along the river in town. The Trust felt that the diversion should not be implemented unless steps were first taken to prevent flooding downstream.
Regardless, the scheme, including a channel of around 38km was finally commissioned in May 1959. Precautions in the form of seasonally variable salinity limits were placed on the operation of the channel and works were undertaken on the Barwon floodplain in the region of Breakwater and Marshall to mitigate the effects of any downstream flooding resulting from the increased flow from the Woady Yaloak diversion. Operation of the diversion is also dependent upon a maximum downstream water level in the Barwon.
The Blackpool Regulator on the Colac-Ballarat Road south of Cressy, near
the start of the Woady Yaloak diversion
Both the Woady Yaloak and Loch Calvert diversion schemes are controlled by a series of regulators which allow water flow to be reduced or increased according to salinity levels in the Barwon, water levels in each of the lakes and other factors including a mandatory period of no flow for two weeks during May and June which allows for better quality dam water for landowners in the district. This latter however, is dependent upon a minimum flow of 250Ml/day in the Barwon.
Looking east along the channel from the Colac-Ballarat Road
 The system was given its first real test in 1960 when flooding occurred across the district. No disastrous flooding occurred downstream in Geelong.
In 1966 a different approach to flood-control in the region was taken when provisions were made via the Lake Corangamite Act, for landholders whose properties were directly adjacent to Lake Corangamite, to surrender their land nearest to the lake to the government in return for compensation.
A similar process was put in place for those who owned land around Lake Colac which saw the government either buy or lease back flood-prone land near the lake.
In 1975, the diversion scheme was again tested with significant flooding in the region and along the Barwon. Even with the diversion in operation, Lake Colac overflowed and out of season releases of water were made in 1975 and 1976 in order to reduce flooding. This procedure was used a number of times over subsequent years, with Lake Colac again overflowing in 1991. The authorities ordered that control of the facility be tightened in 1981 after an unauthorised release of water occurred from the Lough Calvert system during the summer months.
On 1st July, 1998, the administration of both channels was transferred from their respective regulatory bodies to the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority. In recent years, both drainage schemes have been underutilised. The Woady Yaloak Diversion was last used in 2000 and in the decade following flooding in 1995, rainfall is estimated to have fallen by 12% in the region.
A very dry channel at the Poorneet Road crossing, south of Lake Weering
Also dry. Cressy Road
Not surprisingly, water levels in Lake Colac, Lake Corangamite, Lake Murdeduke and other lakes and wetlands around the region have decreased and the health of these water bodies has declined. Numbers of fish and invertebrates have decreased and bird numbers also fluctuate with changes in salinity which in Lake Corangamite currently stand at somewhere near 4 times greater than seawater. It has been suggested that these adverse changes in Lake Corangamite's ecological health are in large part due to to the Woady Yaloak Diversion Scheme.
Much of the infrastructure appears to date back to its initial construction in 1959.
Road crossing, Cressy Road
Some newer infrastructure alongside the old on McIntyre's Road
As recently as 2010, catchment management rules required the automatic diversion of water from Woady Yaloak River via the drainage system when water levels in the river reached a particular height, regardless of water levels in the lake, meaning that extra water from Woady Yaloak River could not be diverted to help maintain water levels and address salinity issues in Lake Corangamite.
It has been suggested that these rules be reviewed and changed if necessary to improve the health of the lake and surrounding wetlands.

The rock-lined channel, McIntyre's Road
Whilst low water levels in the lake are not unheard of (in the 1860s the lake dried out completely, with low water levels also recorded in 1914 and the 1930s), without significant flooding events and a return to higher average rainfall, it is anticipated that much of the biodiversity for which the region is listed under the RAMSAR agreement will disappear.
For further information, the following report here by the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority includes more details of both diversion schemes as well as maps indicating the main features of each channel.

21 May, 2015

Lake Corangamite

Not far from the Barwon River - in geographical terms at least - lies Australia's largest, permanent, saline lake. This of course, is Lake Corangamite, the lake after which the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority which is responsible for managing the region's water (including the Barwon) is named. The name is believed to have come from the local indigenous word "koraiyn" meaning salty or bitter.
The south eastern shores of Lake Corangamite
Like Lake Murdeduke discussed in my previous post, Lake Corangamite forms part of the  RAMSAR-listed Western District Lakes region which has been recognised since 1982 as providing bird habitat considered to be of international importance. Also similar to Lake Murdeduke are the lunettes, or dunes which form on the east bank of some lakes in the south of Australia as a result of the action of prevalent westerly winds. Several of these formations can be found on the eastern shores of Lake Corangamite.
The lake is relatively new in geological terms, formed as a result of recent volcanic activity. Several million years ago, prior to the volcanic activity of the late Pliocene and the Pleistocene Epochs which saw the plains of western Victoria strewn with basalt from the hundreds of now extinct volcanoes scattered across the region, water flows were different. During this much earlier period, water from the region would have flowed out of the area, finding its way to the sea.
As volcanic activity in the district increased however, the natural drainage of the district was disrupted. Lava flows blocked rivers and formed lakes. Lake Corangamite is thought to have formed when flows from the Warrion Hill scoria cone prevented drainage to the east - and presumably thence to the Barwon.
Warrion Hill
Scoria cones such as this are common in the area and form when hot lava comes in contact with significant amounts of groundwater, causing explosive eruptions and resulting in the distinctive flat-topped hills which can be seen in many places today. Stony rises, such as those seen to the south of Lake Murdeduke as well as Lake Corangamite are also common as are distinctive maar craters.
Stony rises along the shoreline of the lake
These latter form when molten magma rising to the Earth's surface comes in contact with rocks containing ground water. So great is the pressure from steam, that the cooling magma is blasted into small particles which form rings of ash around the blast site. This results in wide, flat craters which often fill with water to form lakes - Lake Purrumbete to the west is one such. These freshwater lakes have a distinctive round shape, in contrast to the broad, shallow saline lakes such as Lake Corangamite and Lake Murdeduke which form in hollows within or between lava flows.
A maar crater near the shores of Lake Corangamite as seen from
the Red Rock lookout
The relative geological youth of the Corangamite region means that drainage patterns are not well-established; rivers have not yet evolved to carry water from the region. Lake Corangamite is not connected to the Barwon, and is considered endorheic, meaning that there is no natural water flow out of it, but this is not always the case. Current water levels in the lake are the lowest in centuries and salinity has increased well above the brackish levels of only a few decades ago meaning that flooding in the region is not currently an issue. Water flows naturally into Lake Corangamite from three main sources, namely the Woady Yallock River which rises west of Ballarat and flows south through Lake Martin to Lake Corangamite, Salt Creek flowing from the north west and Pirron Yallock Creek flowing north from the Otways.
Looking west
In addition to these watercourses, the Corangamite region is scattered with lakes of different shapes and sizes. In the past, during periods of high rainfall, water would flood the low-lying land in this area so these normally separate lakes became connected as water drained slowly towards Lake Murdeduke to the east. If the rainfall was high enough, the water would over top Lake Murdeduke and descend into the Barwon Basin below and thence to the river. There is evidence to suggest that this was a relatively common occurrence prior to the era of Ewauropean settlement, however low rainfall since the 1990s has meant little flooding in the district.
Looking west across the receding waters of the lake
In the past however, when flooding such as this did occur, surface water could remain in the region for months, even years, rendering otherwise good farming and grazing land useless for agricultural purposes. The most recent rainfall event to cause the overflow of the Lake Corangamite system (including Lake Colac) into the Barwon occurred in 1953. After consecutive years of the worst flooding on record on the lower Barwo n in 1951 and 1952, followed by record rainfall on the south western plains later that year in November, the region was waterlogged. Water levels in Lake Corangamite were said to have risen by 15 feet over the previous two winters and it was feared that Gnarpurt and Corangamite lakes would join, causing more flooding. Lake Murdeduke needed a rise of only 12 feet before the whole system would begin to overflow into the Barwon Basin below. This it was claimed, could result in the same kind of disastrous flooding downstream at Geelong that had been recorded a hundred years earlier in 1852 when Geelong suffered some of its worst ever flooding. Lake Murdeduke it was noted, had been breached on that occasion too.
A 1958 photo of Lake Corangamite, near Pirron Yallock Creek, image held by
the State Library of Victoria
Whilst there was no flooding on the lower reaches of the Barwon during the winter of 1953, November that year saw the highest ever rainfall in the Colac area. This was the final straw for the Corangamite system. There was nowhere for this water to go so it slowly crept across the farms in the district, seeping into low-lying areas, filling swamps and gradually making its way into Lake Murdeduke from where it ran down to the Barwon.
Whilst it did not result in the predicted catastrophe for Geelong, it caused huge problems for the farmers of the region. Action was demanded! Something needed to be done to drain the water from the region before the work of reclamation could begin. Somehow, the "creeping menace" as the Colac Shire president called it, had to be stopped...

20 May, 2015

Lake Murdeduke

In my previous post, I looked at the history of the Murdeduke Estate, which in part lay on the banks of the Barwon River. To the west, the estate also encompassed the eastern shore of Lake Murdeduke and for this reason - amongst others - I thought it worth looking at the history of the lake itself.
Today, Lake Murdeduke is a RAMSAR listed wetland, home to a variety of birds and other fauna. Whilst I did not see a single bird in the time I was at the lake, I did see a pair of Australian Shelducks and a Nankeen Kestrel in a field not too far away as I was leaving. Of course, many of the birds which frequent the lake are migratory.
The lake is made naturally saline by the release of minerals from the decay of volcanic rock in the region. It is fed by Mia Mia Creek which rises in the high ground south west of Mt Mercer and flows south to the top of the lake. When full, Lake Murdeduke covers around 4,200 acres, however it is many years since the lake has reached capacity.
The boat ramp highlights how far the shoreline has receded. In the background
Mt Gellibrand can be seen to the left and the broader rise of Mt Hesse to the right
In addition, years of reduced rainfall have lead to the lake being classified as hypersaline, that is, having a salt content up to 10 times higher than sea water. In general, it has no outflow (meaning it is classed as endorheic), however during periods of exceptionally high rainfall such as occurred during the 1950s and 1990s, water from the lake can make its way east to the nearby Barwon River.
The receding waters of Lake Murdeduke with the cone of the extinct
Mt Gellibrand volcano rising in the background
Lake Murdeduke evolved from a combination of factors millions of years in the making and whether they realised it or not, the various families to occupy Murdeduke Estate over the decades were reaping the rewards of these geological quirks. In geological terms however, this is a relatively new region. Volcanic activity during the Pliocene Epoch as recently as 2 million years ago, saw the original course of Mia Mia Creek blocked by a flow of basalt. This natural damming resulted in the formation of Lake Murdeduke in a depression in the basalt. Over the following millennia winds blowing in from the west, breaking down the volcanic rocks deposited soil against the eastern bank of the lake, forming a "lunette lake".
The formation of lunettes is a particularly southern Australian phenomenon which occurs when westerly winds sweeping across the countryside, cause curved dunes to form on the eastern banks of a lake. Typically, the western or windward side is steep whilst the eastern or leeward side has a more gentle slope. This is true of Lake Murdeduke which lies on high ground at the edge of the basalt flow, above the flat plains which stretch away to the Barwon below.
Steep windward bank of the lake
Longer, undulating, leeward side of the lake's east bank
All of these factors combine to make this particular area of land some of the most fertile in the region. The breakdown of volcanic rock from these recent lava flows has resulted in rich, well-drained soil situated on higher ground, which takes the form of stony rises. This makes for good winter pasture which does not become waterlogged and at the same time, the rocks can provide protection for stock. The older, lower-lying plains which are also found on the estate are more useful in summer weather, having deep soil deposits which hold water during the hot months better than the porous volcanic soil of the stony rises which become dry.
Grey clay soil deposited on the floor of the lake
It was features such as these which first attracted land-hungry squatters to the region in the late 1830s and which then continued to make Murdeduke and the other estates which stretch across Victoria's western districts so successful down the decades, however the fertile land was exploited by humans long before the arrival of European settlers.
For 40,000 years the indigenous people of the region fished and hunted along the shores of Lake Murdeduke. Several different species of ducks as well as migratory wading birds were caught and a variety of edible plants were also gathered by the people of the four Gulidjan clans. Their land extended west to the shores of Lake Corangamite, south to the Otways and east to the Barwon River and the lands of the Wathaurong, with a portion extending in a northerly direction to a point west of Meredith. The Gulidjan were a semi-nomadic people with a matrilineal clan structure, each belonging to either the Gabadj (Black Cockatoo) or Guragidj (White Cockatoo) moiety. Among the many artifacts found along the lake shores are stone tools and blades which suggest a trading system with neighbouring tribes, with whom they also intermarried.
The lands of the Gulidjan people
The arrival of white settlers however, brought conflict as the Gulidjan were forced from their lands and their traditional food sources were taken away. There were deaths on both sides, the best known being the disappearance of the explorers Joseph Gellibrand and George Hesse in 1837. It has been suggested that members of the Gulidjan people were responsible and whilst the topic is still debated to the present day, the real answer is probably more complex than this common version of the "legend" would suggest. The issue is discussed further in this post. The Gulidjan reacted to the loss of their lands by driving off stock whilst the settlers broke up indigenous camps and took their tools. The Gulidjan were also hit hard by European diseases such as the flu, chickenpox and smallpox which greatly reduced their numbers.
In 1839 an attempt to provide for the remaining members of the surrounding indigenous clans resulted in the establishment of the Buntingdale Wesleyan Mission Station by the Reverend Tuckfield to the north west of Deans Marsh, however the venture was not a great success and the license was forfeit in 1851.
Today, the lake is surrounded by private property - including Murdeduke Estate, however public access is available via Blocks Lane off the Shelford Road from Winchelsea where the above pictures were taken.

19 May, 2015

The Murdeduke Estate

In a previous post I looked at Wormbete Station, which was established by Henry Hopkins in 1837, the lease for which he handed over to his second son John Rout Hopkins in 1851. The year before, John had taken up the lease of the nearby St Stephen's Station. At the same time that John took over Wormbete, Henry turned his sights to the nearby Mt Hesse Station. In that year, he took up the lease of the part of the run held by John Highett (after whom the Geelong suburb of Highton is named) who had been in partnership with William Harding. Harding retained the remainder of the Mt Hesse Estate. Highett's section of the Mt Hesse land was situated to the north and west of the Austin's Barwon Park run, with a narrow frontage to the river north of Barwon Park, stretching along the eastern shore of Lake Murdeduke which will be the topic of my next post.
Looking north west across Lake Murdeduke
After the 1851 carve up of the Mt Hesse Estate, I suspect that John Hopkins used the newly acquired land in addition to his other properties, to establish his Merino breeding interests. Meanwhile, in 1853 with the lease still in his name, Henry took up the pre-emptive right to 640 acres of this portion of the Mt Hesse Estate, at the time still known as Mt Hesse or in some cases Hesse Mount. In 1855 however, the lease (along with the freehold land) had once again been transferred, this time to Henry's third son, Arthur.
At some point, the property was renamed Murdeduke (a Wathaurong name as was Wormbete), perhaps to distinguish it more clearly from the remaining portion of the run which retained the Mt Hesse name. Murdeduke Station adjoined the north west boundary of St Stephen's whilst Wormbete Estate bounded St Stephen's to the south, so that the smaller St Stephen's provided a link between the larger Wormbete Estate and Arthur's Murdeduke Station.
In February 1854 Arthur married Lucy Rout at Murdeduke. One John Wingate Rout was also married on the property at the same time. Presumably both were maternal relatives of the Hopkins' via their mother. Like his brother John, Arthur served on the Winchelsea Shire Council and he and Lucy raised their family of three daughters at Murdeduke.
Looking east from the rise beside the lake, across Murdeduke land to the
Barwon River and the Austin's Barwon Park
In 1870, the license to the run was forfeited, however as was usual, Arthur Hopkins was able to buy - presumably through deals and family connections - a significant proportion of the original 22,214 acres they had previously leased.
Unlike Wormbete, Murdeduke Station has not retained the original homestead. Whilst it is thought that the driveway may date back to as early as 1854, the original house built in the 1840s era of Harding and Highett was replaced in 1875 by Arthur Hopkins with a 20 room, Gothic style bluestone structure designed by noted Melbourne architects Terry and Oakden. Stone for the house was quarried on the property.
Murdeduke homestead, 1970. Image retrieved from the Victorian Heritage Database
Arthur died in March, 1882 after an extended illness at the age of 51 and is buried in the Winchelsea Cemetery. Murdeduke however, did not remain long in the hands of the Hopkins family. Following the death of Arthur in 1882, his youngest daughter Sarah, married William J Austin, the second son of the late Thomas Austin of neighboring Barwon Park who took up a lease of several years on the property. Upon expiry of the lease in August, 1886 the estate comprising 13,568 acres was purchased at auction by Peter McIntyre of Mawallock, a Scotsman who had migrated some 34 years earlier. Peter ran the property with his wife Margaret and sons until his death in 1908, followed by that of his wife in 1918.
Peter McIntyre, 1896, Image held by the State Library of Victoria
During his time on the estate, McIntyre not only contributed greatly to the development of sheep breeding in the region, but also expanded his land holdings. In 1900 he purchased the neighbouring Mountside Estate (previously also part of the original Mt Hesse run) from Walter Tully for his eldest son Charles Duncan McIntyre.
The McIntyre family remained at Murdeduke for several more decades despite the sell off of over 2,000 acres of Murdeduke land in 1910 following Peter's death. Finally, in 1938 the estate was again reduced substantially, this time to a size of 4,500 acres which was sold to James P.W. Wilson. Today, Murdeduke remains in the hands of the Wilson family who run a successful mixed farming enterprise with interests in sheep, cattle, pigs and various crops.

11 May, 2015

One thing leads to another: Mt Hesse Estate

In my previous post, I looked at Wormbete Station, and by extension, I uncovered quite a bit of information about another estate also owned by the Hopkins family - Murdeduke, however it is not really possible to look at the Murdeduke Estate without first considering the Mt Hesse Station which was originally established by squatting partners William Harding and John Highett (after whom the Geelong suburb of Highton is named) in 1837 and which incorporated the Murdeduke land. The original extent of the Mt Hesse Station taken up by Harding and Highett was some 45,700 acres which extended from the Barwon River above the Barwon Park holdings of the Austin family, west across the plains to Lake Weering and south of Lake Murdeduke.
Upon moving onto the property with his sister Elizabeth, Harding erected a small house in 1840. It was originally constructed as a two-roomed stone cottage and later, a stone skillion and a weatherboard section were added. William lived there with Elizabeth prior to her 1845 marriage to neighbouring squatter Thomas Austin of Barwon Park.

Original homestead 1975, J.T. Collins Collection,La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria.
Various other outbuildings were also erected over the years including stables and a 20 stand shearing shed which was erected by Harding in 1852.
The Mt Hesse Woolshed, image from onmydoorstep.com.au
In 1851 however, the original Mt Hesse Estate was divided in two with (I have read) Highett's part of the property passing to the Hopkins family at that time. Harding unfortunately had overstretched his finances and was forced to give up the lease so in 1853, the main part of the estate was taken up by local merchants William Timms (Snr) and John Wilson. Timms was at the time Geelong's largest wool exporter. Three years later in 1856, he bought out his partner, becoming the sole landholder. It was also around this time that the main Mt Hesse homestead was built for Timms to the design of architects Backhouse and Reynolds. This was later extended in 1873 for William Timms (Jnr) by Davidson and Henderson. At the same time, a gatehouse known as The Lodge was built near what was at the time, the main entrance to the property.
Timms however did not live long enough to enjoy his prosperity, dying in 1858, leaving his estate to be run by trustees until his sons were of an age to take over. During this time, there was a push by the government to break up the big squatting runs to allow smaller selectors on to the land. I described this process in my Woodbourne Creek post, but like that station, the Timms were faced with the division of "their" land. Like many others, they took up the pre-emptive right to which they were entitled then through a string of deals with family and friends were also able to purchase the majority of the land they had occupied and so keep the estate intact.
Mt Hesse homestead prior to 1941, image taken from the Victorian Heritage Database
In the end, the Mt Hesse Estate remained in the Timms family for only a few decades with the remainder of the original land divided into three properties (Mountside, Eurack and the homestead section - still known as Mt Hesse) which were run by William Timms Senior's three sons - John, William (Jnr) and Robert.
However, by 1882 the Timms brothers had also run into financial difficulties and, the whole of the estate was put on the market. William Jnr's Mt Hesse section of the estate comprising 15,707 acres was sold to James Kinninmonth and remained in the Kinninmonth family until 2002. By this time, the property was reduced to 8,772 acres as much of the remaining Mt Hesse land had been reclaimed by the Soldier Settlement Commission in 1956 for resale as soldier settlement blocks. In 2002 then, the property was sold to the German based  Südwolle Group who are the current owners. David Kinninmonth remained as manager after the sale.
In 1941, the Mt Hesse homestead was severely damaged by fire, however it was rebuilt in 1947 in part from original materials.
The above sketch map taken from the Victorian Heritage Database shows the
buildings on the Mt Hesse Estate. B1 = house built by Harding, B2 = stables,
B4 = woolshed , B5 = main homestead
Of the remaining portions of the estate, John Timms held the Mountside section and Robert held Eurack. In 1876 a bluestone homestead was built on Mountside for John in a style described as Victorian Picturesque Gothic and consisting of 15 main rooms. It was designed by the western district architect Alexander Hamilton. The 1882 sale however saw Mountside pass into the hands of Walter Tully who ran the estate until 1900. At this point, Mountside was sold to Peter McIntyre, owner of Murdeduke thus (for a time at least) bringing two parts of the original estate back together. McIntyre purchased the estate for his son Charles Duncan McIntyre who married Margaret (Maggie) Fairbairn Armytage that same year. The couple raised two sons and two daughters. Charles died in 1932 and Maggie some decades later in 1964 but the family retained ownership of the property until 1971. At this time the estate was advertised for sale by auction by the executors of the late Charles Duncan McIntyre in three sections comprising a total of 7,501 acres.
Some years later - see comment below - Mountside was again placed on the market. In 1984 it passed back to the McIntyre family when Peter - son of Hector and grandson of Charles - purchased the homestead and the adjoining 2,500 acres of land. Today, Peter continues to run the property along with his son Alistair and Alistair's family including his son who will also one day work the property as his ancestors have done.
Mountside homestead 1970, .T. Collins Collection,La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria.
Meanwhile, a third homestead was built on the Eurack part of the estate for youngest son Robert. Like the other houses, it was a bluestone structure and the grounds also included the expected outbuildings and garden.
Then, in 1882 when Mt Hesse and Mountside were sold, so too was the 8,231 acre Eurack Estate which was purchased by A M Edward. His tenure however was short-lived as the property was next purchased by Robert Chirnside during the 1880s. He in turn on-sold the property. Having left for a stint in England and Europe by late 1886, he put the property up for auction with the intention of subdividing the estate into smaller farms which would then be sold individually. The following year, the estate of roughly 6,000 acres was offered for sale in lots varying from 30 to 1095 acres in size. The largest portion including the bluestone homestead, manager's house, woolshed, stables and a substantial garden was to be sold with 1905 acres of the land.
Eurack homestead, image held by the Department of the Environment
However, it would seem that his plans did not go ahead, as the government stepped in during 1901, purchasing Eurack whole in order to provide land for smaller farmers as part of a closer settlement policy which would eventually develop into the Soldier Settlement Commission following the Second World War.
Over the years, Eurack House has passed through various hands and today is owned by the Ingram family.

05 May, 2015

Wormbete Estate

After looking at Wormbete Creek and the associated Wensley Brae coal mine, I thought it might be time to add to the list of squatting runs I've looked at for this blog by seeing what I could discover about the history of Wormbete Station.
As European settlement stretched out beyond the shores of Port Phillip Bay in the late 1830s, large squatting runs were taken up, often along the region's watercourses. Many runs were selected along the Barwon River and its tributaries, including Wormbete Station which was first established as a sheep run by Henry Hopkin who it is believed took the word from a local indigenous term meaning "lake with a black fellow's mound".
Henry Hopkins c1860s, Image held by the
Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts
Hopkins was a business man and wool buyer, born in Deptford, Kent, England in 1787 who had migrated to Tasmania in 1822 with his wife (also his first cousin) Sarah Rout where he was responsible for that colony's first wool exports in that same year. Over the following years, he continued to prosper, travelling to the Port Phillip District from Tasmania in 1836 before returning to Tasmania to buy Merino sheep which he then sent to stock his newly-acquired Wormbete run.
Despite his pastoral interests on the mainland, Henry spent little if any time there. In 1840 he travelled with his entire family to England where they stayed until 1842 before returning to Tasmania. By 1845 it appears that Hopkins had retired from most forms of business, spending the remainder of his life in Tasmania, leaving his second son John Rout Hopkins to take over his Victorian interest.
John Rout Hopkins c1890, Image held by the State Library of Victoria
Having served his apprenticeship as it were, learning the wool trade in Tasmania John was well-positioned to step into his father's shoes. He arrived in the Port Phillip District in 1845 and spent a period of time as manager - as far as I can tell - of St Stephen's Station, the licence for which was held at that time by John Stephens.
In August, 1851 Henry formally transferred Warmbete Station to John, at which point it was estimated at 31,000 acres and capable of carrying 3,000 head of sheep. The bluestone homestead which still stands today had been erected in the 1840s, with other outbuildings added in the two decades following. The Victorian Heritage Database notes that the property is laid out as a farm court, a formal style typical of the early years of settlement in New South Wales and Tasmania and English in style. The building's north-facing aspect is considered unusual for the period as are other features of its construction.

Wormbete homestead 1985, image copyright held by the Department of the Environment
John made a success of his pastoral activities. During the 1850s he acquired the pre-emptive right to 1,000 acres of Wormbete land as well as 640 acres of the neighbouring St Stephen's Estate to which he also took up the lease in 1857. Later he also acquired the lease to River Station which adjoined Wormbete and St Stephen's to the north west.
Out building at Wormbete Estate 1970, image from the J.T. Collins Collection,
La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria
In addition to his pastoral pursuits, John was closely involved with his local community. An active sportsman and supporter of his church, he spent many years as a councillor with the Winchelsea Shire (and its predecessor the Winchelsea Roads Board), serving several terms as shire president as well as becoming the first shire president of Barrabool Shire. In addition to local politics, John was also a member of the Victorian parliament, holding the seat of South Grant in the legislative assembly (lower house) from 1864-1867 and then again from 1871-1877. In 1892 he was elected to the lower house seat of Geelong, also taking up the position of mayor of the town in the same year.
John married three times during his life but his first - and longest marriage - was to Eliza Ann Armytage, the daughter of his squatting neighbour George Armytage from Ingleby Estate to the south west of Wormbete. The couple were married in 1850 and before Eliza's death in 1885 raised a family of seven daughters and six sons at Wormbete.
John died on 20th December, 1897 and was interred the following day at Geelong's Eastern Cemetery with his first wife Eliza, two of their young children and a number of her relatives in the Armytage family mausoleum.

The Armytage family mausoleum, Eastern Cemetery, Geelong
Neighbours in life and death. The Austin family vault (back left) and the
Armytage family mausoleum at Geelong's Eastern Cemetery
Upon his death, Wormbete passed to his eldest son Walter who married Margaret Were, grand daughter of Victoria's longest-standing businessman Jonathan Binns Were in 1904. The couple raised the next generation of the Hopkins family on the estate, however life however was not always rosy. In 1896 Walter was declared insolvent due to a fall in cattle prices in Queensland and his inability to get a release from a mortgage held on the property. In 1901 a small bushfire broke out on the property, burning 100 acres of pasture land and some fencing.
The property and the Hopkins family however survived. Walter died in 1944 and is buried at the Winchelsea Cemetery. Following his death, the property was divided between his sons Henry - who retained Wormbete - and John whose portion of the estate was named Burong Station.
The end of an era came for Wormbete during the 1980s when the property was put on the market. The purchaser was millionaire businessman Alan Bond, however the property was soon returned to the ownership of the Hopkins family, only to be sold once again in 1997. The current owners of Wormbete are the Blakely family who run sheep, cattle and thoroughbred horses on the property.
The property is often host to a variety of community events including the Barwon Hunt Club who hosted children's day at Wormbete in 2014 whilst in a rather modern twist, Wormbete Station featured on a 2014 episode of Channel Ten's MasterChef with the contestants competing in a challenge.
*The name JW Rout later appeared listed as property manager of Wormbete Station in 1867 when he gave evidence before a parliamentary select committee, inquiring into the best route for the proposed train line from Geelong to Colac. History indicates that the "Black Line" - supported by Mr Rout and very  favourably aligned to service Wormbete Station, was eventually chosen. In fact, an 18km Wensleydale branch line with four stations (including Wormbete) was eventually opened in 1890 to further service the area.

Wormbete Creek - powering Victoria's industry

Last week I took a look at The Powerhouse in North Geelong. Originally this was the Geelong B Power Station, built in 1954 from a package plant shipped from the USA and which operated until 1970 when it was decommissioned.
Construction of the Geelong B Power Station, image held by Museum Victoria
In its day, the station featured the largest steam-driven plant outside Yallourn, capable of generating 30,000 kilowatts of power which was then fed into the state grid. The plant was fuelled by brown coal and in its earliest years of operation, it burnt coal mined from the Wensley Brae Coal Mine, located on the west branch of Wormbete Creek in the Winchelsea South area of Western Victoria. It is this mine which provides the link I was seeking between the power station and the Barwon River.
The east and west branches of Wormbete Creek flow down from the Otway Ranges, meeting at a point about 9km south of Winchelsea and about 4km south of the creek's confluence with the Barwon. Today, the Wurdale Landcare group are working to preserve the Wormbete Creek catchment area through revegetation, salinity and erosion control measures and the establishment of riparian zones.
Wormbete Creek west branch from Coal Mine Road, below the site of the
Wensley Brae coal mine
In the early days of European settlement however priorities were different and the district was surveyed to establish the presence of mineral resources. Some information suggests that coal deposits along the west branch of Wormbete Creek were mined on a small scale as early as the 1850s, however this is uncertain. What is known is that during a drought period in 1914, coal was discovered along the west branch of Wormbete Creek by Bert Armistead and Ken Strickland who were sinking wells.
With plentiful timber available as a fuel source and the difficulties inherent in transporting coal from a relatively remote area, mining activity in the region was minimal and so it was not until 1921 that the Wensley Brae Coal Mine - also known as the Wensleybrae, Wensley Bray, Wensleydale, Winchelsea South or Bambra Coal Mine - first opened. The initial owners were the Western District Coal Mines Pty Ltd who initially drilled small exploratory tunnels to access the coal seams, however operations were soon taken over by the Otway Coal Company Ltd and the venture switched to open cut mining which continued until 1934.
View of the "Wensleydale" Mine taken c1949-1951, image taken from
Coal from the mine was sold to local industries in the Geelong area including the Fyansford Cement Works which were previously dependent on an unreliable supply of coal from New South Wales. The Ford Motor Company also purchased coal from Wensley Brae as did most of Geelong's woollen mills. With the completion of the Geelong B Power Station in 1954, this facility also used coal sourced from Wensley Brae.
The coal was initially transported to Geelong by road using trucks, however in 1925 a ropeway was opened which carried the coal from the mine to a purpose-built siding at Wensleydale railway station. This was the head of a short branch line running from Moriac Station on the Geelong-Port Fairy (now Warrnambool) line. The branch had opened in 1890 to carry gravel and timber.
Map showing the site of Wensley Brae mine in relation to the Wensleydale
branch line. Crosses mark the ropeway running between the mine and the station.
Image taken from
During its first phase of operation, only about 16,000 tons of coal was mined from the site before operations ceased in 1934. The following year due to continued pressure from mining interests in New South Wales, the company went into liquidation and the mine sat idle for eight years until 1943.
When the mine reopened in 1943 under the ownership of Wensley Bray Coal Mine Pty Ltd, operations ramped up considerably, but the ropeway - which was damaged in the 1939 Black Friday bushfires - was never used again. By 1947 production stood at 1,400 tons per week and it was anticipated that the purchase of two new excavators from the Philippines by the State Electricity Commission (SEC) would increase production to 8-10,000 tons per week. Numerous newspaper reports in late 1947 indicated that the equipment was destined for use removing overburden at Wensley Brae.
 In June, 1948 however, a political stoush developed when then Victorian state opposition leader John Cain claimed that the government of the day was withholding the equipment purchased by the SEC. The government responded that at no time had it or the SEC guaranteed that the machinery would be made available specifically to the Wensley Brae mine and that it would deploy the equipment where it saw fit. It also indicated that servicing the equipment was problematical as there were not enough spare parts to keep this and other large machinery in the state operational at the same time.
Production it claimed was now at 70 tons per week but that this would increase to 4,000-5,000 tons per week using proper equipment. It also indicated that if the privately-owned mine could not increase its output then the government would probably buy the site. The same month, the mine proprietors entered into a deal with Melbourne company Roche Bros Pty Ltd to ramp up production which they claimed stood at 1,500 tons per week at that time - more than double the amount claimed by the Minister for Mines. Under this new operator, the coal was transported to Winchelsea where special coal trains carried the coal to Geelong, parts of the western district, Melbourne, Ballarat and Bendigo.
A coal seam running down the wall of the quarry looking from Coal Mine Rd
By August, 1948 the government was keen to show its support for the local coal industry and floated a raft of measures aimed at supporting the industry in the face of competition from New South Wales. These measures included providing housing for workers, subsidies for Victorian coal which was in any case selling much cheaper than NSW coal, money to purchase earthmoving equipment from the USA and the provision of the promised equipment to Wensley Brae.
Remains of mining activities? Near Coal Mine Rd
The support was ongoing and in July, 1950 the government indicated that it would provide additional prefabricated housing for miners working at Wensley Brae amongst other measured designed to treble the 4,000 ton per week capacity at which it was operating. The increased demand for brown coal at this time was in response to a state-wide move to brown coal from black.
At the same time, the government backed away from plans to buy the mine outright, despite an offer of sale in August by the owners who indicated they would sell to the government for £135,000 under a deal which would see Roche Bros Pty Ltd continue to operate the mine for a royalty of 2/ per ton.
By April, 1951 however, Victoria was facing a fuel shortage and the government had another change of heart and purchased the mine for £150,000 with the intention of having the contractors pay a royalty as suggested. It was estimated that the mine would produce a minimum of 400,000 tons of coal per year.
In late March, 1952, the mine nearly met with disaster when it was threatened by a 500 acre bushfire which came within a few hundred metres of the open cut. It was turned back at the last minute by a wind change and fire breaks which had been ploughed by five bulldozers from the mine which also had its floor covered with water to prevent embers from setting the valuable coal alight.
The mine continued to operate until 1959 when it was decided that coal deposits at Anglesea could be more easily mined than those at Wesley Brae which was then closed down. At its peak, production reached 10,000 tons per week and the mine employed 200 men. In total, there were estimated to be about 4 million tons of coal in the deposit. By the time the mine finally closed, up to 2.5 million tons (some estimates say 3 million tons) of coal had been extracted. Further details of the mine can be found here.
Views of the lake from the direction of Coal Mine Rd
Following its closure, the mine was flooded to a depth of 60m, forming a lake. I am unsure who currently owns the site but it would seem that the lake is still used for water sports today.

Views of the lake from the direction of Coal Mine Rd
Glimpses of the lake can be seen from Coal Mine Road.