December 2006: In fact, you don't have to go off the beaten track at all at the moment in Australia to see the effect of the drought which has been going about 10 years now.
They're saying it's a 1 in 100 year drought now.... For the first time in 100 years, Ballarat's favorite and most used lake, Lake Wendouree, is completely dry apart from a couple of small puddles, and water storages are only at about 19% capacity.
This month, much of the Alpine National Park in the north east of the state, right down to Gippsland, is on fire in one of the worst bushfires seen.... it may be several hundred kms away from us, but today (13/12/06) the smoke is clearly visible and you can also smell it. Visibility in the area is poor, and you need to drive with your headlights on....
take a look... photo number 1 is from my balcony, this morning
With a group of co-volunteers from Ballarat Tourism, we visited Yuulong on Wednesday November 15, 2006, a date that will probably go down in Victoria's history as "the date it snowed in mid-November (very rare indeed, considering we've already had some days earlier in the spring which reached almost 35 deg C)
(Yuulong is near Mt Egerton, about 35-40 mins from Ballarat, off the Western Highway on the route to Melbourne)
One of the special things about Yuulong is that they have more than 100 different varieties of lavender there (though they only sell the commercial ones) so a part of their field is a bit like a botanical outdoor museum.
We had a delicious morning tea in the tearooms while watching the snow flurries outside (unfortunately the snow bout only lasted about 20 minutes and remained on the ground for just a few minutes before it melted)
We tried Lavender scones with Lavender and Blueberry jam, and lavender biscuits as well - there are about 8 other products the cafe produces with lavender as one of the ingredients, for example lavender fruit cake and lavender ice cream!
The gift shop stocks Australian made lavender products, some locally made, and lavender sachets & other associated items from the farm.
There is an entry fee to visit the Lavender Farm, of between $3-$5 per person.
Every early December they also have a weekend Lavender festival where Llamas carrying baskets of lavender on their backs as they move through the fields, are one of the top attractions, apart from the music.
More views around the Cemetery...it's also interesting to take a wander and see just how many times the most common names (such as Elizabeth and Mary, for example) come up on the headstones from the 1800s and early 1900s.
This first picture is of the Memorial to the Eureka Diggers, with the Eureka Flag flying.
For those interested in the history of Ballarat and the Eureka Battle, it's particularly worth a visit.
From memory, the photo with the British flag flying marks where the monument to the 'other side' lies.... that of the British soldiers killed in the Eureka Battle. There's also a photo of their tablet/commemmorative stone.
It's just 3 kms from the centre of the city, but I believe most people just drive past it, and, like me, don't realize how significant the Ballarat Old Cemetery is, especially since it dates right back to before the 1854 Eureka Stockade rebellion.
We volunteers of Ballarat Tourism were, in early 2005, lucky to be taken on a guided tour of the Cemetery by a lady from the Historical Society.
I hadn't thought it would be that interesting, but was fascinated despite myself when I saw some of the more impressive tombstones, learned about the Chinese section of the cemetery, and saw the monument to the Eureka diggers who lost their lives during the Eureka Stockade Battle.
Tours are available from time to time (Especially during Eureka Week in early December) - if interested, you could enquire at the Ballarat Visitor Information Centre they should know who you need to contact.
Otherwise, the cemetery is open during the day and you can take a tour of it yourself.
Just inside the entrance gate, inside a small pavillion, there is a touch screen where you can do a search of anybody who's buried in the cemetery, and find out more information about the Cemetery itself.
The Ballarat Old Cemetery is located at the corner of Macarthur Street and Creswick Road.
Geelong is the second largest and most livable city in Victoria and is only one hour's drive from Melbourne. Its name originates from the Aboriginal word for bay - Jillong, meaning "a place of the sea bird over white cliffs" and since that time, Geelong has continued to have strong links to the water from its north facing bay front, to its rugged coastline and the Barwon River, which runs through the city centre and suburbs. Geelong is almost completely surrounded by water.
Eastern Beach had the first sexually segregated baths which were built in 1844. The foreshore underwent a reconstruction from 1924 - 1940 and a shark-proof enclosure was created after a woman lost both arms in an attack. The beach was then restored again in the early 1990s and now has terraced lawns, palms and pools. Across from the beach are the Botanic Gardens.
Bollards : Currently there is a $150 million project with the redevelopment of the Waterfront of Geelong. What has become a landmark addition is the 100 or more brightly painted bollards, created by local artist Jan Mitchell, which document characters from Geelong's history.
If travelling from Ballarat to Adelaide on the Western Highway you will pass through Stawell (pronounced Stall). Close to the Grampians, the area became a name when gold was founded by a shepherd in 1853. Mining began and continued until 1920 when the Union Quartz Mining Company chosed. In 1974 however, the mines were opened and are now part of Australian Goldmines. You can go out out to the mines and see the gigantic trucks and excavators in action.
Its not actually a noted tourist attraction but it is part of a petrol station (next door). Certainly got plenty of people to stop and take a photo though.
Bendigo is found 95km north-east from Ballarat and is 225 metres above sea level. You will see the finest collections of Victorian buildings of any inland city in Australia. The streets are lined with huge granite buildings and in the centre of the city, a fountain dedicated to Queen Victoria's daughter-in-law, Princess Alexandra, sits in the centre of the main street.
Bendigo is home to a collection of 34 Vintage Trams, housed in Australia's oldest operating tramways complex built in 1901-3. Every day 12 Vintage Trams are rostered for daily Vintage "Talking" Tram Tours which provide a taped commentary of the history of Bendigo and background on the many grand Victorian buildings.
The Golden Dragon Museum has some very impressive displays including the worlds oldest and largest imperial dragons. The Joss House, built from hand made bricks is also an important centre of Bendigo
Dead trees with trunks bleached white by the harsh sun are commonplace around Australia, almost anywhere, not just the desert.
As the water disappeared from Lake Learmonth 2 years ago, the half dead trees 'gave up the ghost' as we say, and died. But they still serve an important purpose, as hollows for native birds, and their now still roots still help hold the soil together, I guess.
As I write this just a few weeks after these photos of Lake Learmonth were taken in July 2003 (in the middle of what should have been winter but wasn't - it stayed dry), Lake Learmonth now has water again, and a few swans (mainly just in the middle, and not very deep, but water nevertheless) thanks to 2 weekends of almost solid rain, and some good steady falls during the week, which made a water channel leading to the lake flow again. Not exactly the end of the drought, but the most promising sign of it that we've seen in about 2 years. We had about 99 mm of water in August 2003, which is right on average target, for the 1st time in 14 months.
The township of Buninyong, only approx 10 kms from Ballarat, has historic buildings and quaint shops, and also Mt Buninyong, 719 mts high. From its high metal tower, one can have a commanding view of the surrounding area for over 60 kms in some directions. On a very clear day it's just possible to see the top of Melbourne (90 kms distant). Also currently many koalas to be seen in the natural bushland on the mountain. Watch for birdlife too. You can also take a walk to the extinct volcanic crater.
Lake Learmonth is a tourist attraction...but at the moment, not for the reasons you might think.
That's because for the past 18 month, this lake, which was once home to many birds, fish, and attracted fishermen and boating enthusiasts...is now completely dry, apart from a couple of puddles at the edges.
This only happens about 3 times every hundred years, they say, and you know the drought has hit particularly hard when a fertile region like Ballarat has lakes dry like this...where you can walk right across its large expanse. People in 4 wheel drives have even been driving across it.
The grass has grown so long in places (almost waist high) that they have had to use a lawn mower on it!
Check out the sign (you'll need to enlarge it)
Lake Learmonth is only about 20 kms from Ballarat. Tourism in this smal town has all but dried up (if you will excuse my pun...I couldn't resist ;-)
113 km north-west of Melbourne on the Western Highway, was the site of the Eureka stockade and is now home to the Sovereign Hill Goldmining Township, an excellent living museum where visitors can pan for gold and relive the life of the early gold diggers.
Once you get out of Ballarat and its suburbs, the countryside is mostly farming: sheep and cattle farming, crop growing, and potato farming.