Around Lake Wendouree

Sunday 12 December 2021. Today, after many months, we finally left Melbourne for a day out. We planned to walk around Lake Wendouree in Ballarat. We drove to Ballarat via the Western Freeway, which passes through sections of the Victorian Volcanic Plain, the third-largest volcanic plain in the world. The plain is so large it stretches right across southwestern Victoria from Melbourne’s western suburbs to close to the South Australian border. On this sunny Sunday the road rose and dipped through green and yellow hills under a big blue sky.

Western Freeway to Ballarat

When we arrived in Ballarat we bought sausage rolls and cakes at a pie shop on Sturt St, Ballarat’s main thoroughfare. A procession of carol singers in full Christmas spirit passed by, while tucked away down a side street a rather lonely Santa’s Workshop was in want of more customers.

Having secured our supplies we continued the four kilometres or so along Sturt St to the western side of Lake Wendouree, where the Ballarat Botanical Gardens lie. Parking on Wendouree Parade, a fine promenade that encircles the lake, we sat down among the shady trees on the lakeshore, close to a rotunda, and proceeded to enjoy our lunch.

Looking across Lake Wendouree to Nazareth House and Black Hill

Close to our picnic spot we encountered a family of Black Swans, one of several families living on the lake. The swans have their very own swan pool, just north of where we were picnicking. Much of the centre of the lake is given over to bird-nesting habitat; channels crisscross the habitat to allow the passage of watercraft.

As we picnicked a paddleboat came by.

Lake Wendouree paddleboat

Lake Wendouree began as a swamp, one of a number of wetlands in the area. Following the Victorian goldrush of the 1850s that witnessed the influx of thousands of people to the area, a stream that flowed from the swamp was dammed and Lake Wendouree came into being. A rowing course was established, steamboats arrived and Lake Wendouree became a recreational destination. In 1956 the rowing and canoeing events of the Melbourne Olympic Games were held here. As we were to see, the pursuit of water-based activities continues to be enormously popular.

Lake Wendouree began as a swamp

After our picnic we set off clockwise along the Steve Moneghetti Track, a walking track that rings the lake and is named after a well-known local long-distance runner. We made our way past the swan pool and through an area of wetland, heading north along the western side of the lake.

It was as much a pleasure to admire the houses on Wendouree Parade as it was to admire the lake itself. From Victorian, through Edwardian, deco and modernist, to contemporary cutting-edge, there was always something to elicit our interest. Unsurprisingly the area around Lake Wendouree is Ballarat’s most exclusive.

Soon we arrived on the northern shore, where we saw the old Wesleyan Jubilee Church, which apparently has not been a working church for some time. The building, designed by architect Arthur George Legge, was constructed in 1887 (there may have been an earlier church on the site) and, as a Wesleyan church, is typically devoid of any ornamentation. Adjacent to the church is the Sunday School Hall, which could do with a lick of paint.

Further along we encountered kayakers. Given the fine weather it was not surprising that so many people generally were out enjoying the lake.

Kayaking on Lake Wendouree

On the northern shore too we saw a number of quaint boatsheds.

They are dwarfed by school boatsheds such as Ballarat High’s.

Ballarat High School’s boatshed

Continuing on, we approached the northeastern corner of the lake.

Along the northern shore of the lake

Here we came to the beginning of the Olympic rowing course. Running diagonally across the lake from northeast to southwest, columns of yellow buoys mark the 2,000-metre course. At the far end is a monument marking Lake Wendouree’s role in the 1956 Olympics, of which more later.

The Olympic rowing course

Clearly this was the lake’s rowing sector, for we happened upon teams of rowers hard at training.

Rowers on Lake Wendouree

And later, the clubs they (perhaps) belong to, Ballarat City Rowing Club and Wendouree-Ballarat Rowing Club.

A little further around we came across some sort of yacht event, featuring mini-yachts and complete with spectators.

We now left the eastern shore and began to head west along the southern shore. We came across more boatsheds.

And the Ballarat Fly Fishers’ Club.

Ballarat Fly Fishers’ Club

The shade was welcome, for the day had become rather warm.

The shady southern shore

Now we came to the monument marking Lake Wendouree’s hosting of the rowing and canoeing events of the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games. Featuring a set of Olympic rings mounted on a boomerang (of course), it was erected by the Ballarat Rotary Club and is located just to the west of the finishing line of the 2000-metre rowing course. At the northern end of the finishing line is the race timers’ shed.

We now had only to walk the remaining half of the western side of the lake and we would complete our six-kilometre circumambulation. We arrived back at the car and, after a quick spot of afternoon tea, departed, deeply satisfied with our splendid day out.

Back to Melbourne

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