Australia: A natural lake, remade

Lindsey Arkley
House remnants at Lake Condah.

A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

LAKE CONDAH, AUSTRALIA – Restoring a lake that hasn’t existed for decades – that’s the aim of the Gunditjmara aboriginal people of southeast Australia, as they seek UNESCO World Heritage listing for part of their land.

Lake Condah, about 200 miles west of Melbourne, only covers one square mile. But it’s not just any old lake. It was once the center of an extensive aquaculture system before it was drained to help the European graziers who began arriving in the area in the late 1830s.

In the usually dry bed of the lake, evidence can be seen of how the Gunditjmara used volcanic rocks to build a series of weirs and tapering channels in which reed baskets were placed to catch catadromous eels as they headed back toward the sea.

Dotted around the lake are remnants of circular stone houses, the likes of which are not known to be found anywhere else in Australia.

“It is a unique landscape that includes one of the oldest sites of continuous human habitation in the world, dating back thousands of years,” states Gunditjmara environmentalist Damein Bell.

World Heritage nomination has to come from Australia’s federal government. In 2004, it named the Budj Bim landscape – which includes Lake Condah – as the first place in Australia to be placed on a new National Heritage list.

Last year, Victoria’s state government formally returned ownership of Lake Condah to the Gunditjmara. They have now hired hydrologists to advise how to permanently fill the lake without compromising local flood mitigation systems.

Restoration of the lake is not essential for World Heritage nomination of the Budj Bim area to go ahead, Mr. Bell acknowledges. “But it would help the case by enhancing biodiversity and revitalizing the traditional aquaculture system,” he says.

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