An early photo of Lake Daylesford from near this viewpoint. SOURCE: State Library of Victoria, Rose Stereograph Co.

Lake Daylesford – a lake designed to beautify and conceal

Lake Daylesford – a lake designed to beautify and conceal

Lake Daylesford was originally a creek valley fed by Wombat Creek and a number of mineral springs. The land was an important hunting and fishing area used by the local Dja Dja Wurrung people. The Aboriginal people were displaced in the 1840s by the rapidly expanding European settlers who spread north and west of Melbourne, which was established on Port Phillip Bay in 1835.

When gold was discovered in the Daylesford area in 1851, the gold rush which followed saw the population rise to over 7,000. Mining activity resulted in devastation of the landscape and denuding of the surrounding forest. The creek was dammed at Jubilee Lake during the gold rush years to create a larger water source for the growing number of miners and their equipment.

The Wombat Creek valley below this lookout supported a Chinese settlement including market gardens, which provided much of the fresh vegetables for the township.

A lake here was originally proposed in 1893 as a way to beautify the township and cover the devastation caused by mining. It was the vision of the townspeople to develop a recreational lake and mineral springs reserve to complement the area’s growing reputation as the Spa Centre of Australia. Today, the area remains a spa and wellness centre.

It was not until 1929 that a dam across Wombat Creek created the lake. The dam covered the Chinese settlement, the market gardens and a Joss house. The lake also covered a number of mineral springs but several more remained in Central Springs Reserve below the dam wall.

The Victorian Governor, Lord Somers, declared the Lake open on April 17, 1930. At the same time, he opened a new Leggatts Bridge, replacing an older bridge across the narrows, which connected the township to Ballarat via the Old Ballarat Road.

American architect, Walter Burley Griffin, advised on landscaping once the lake was formed. In his design, Burley Griffin proposed native vegetation along the western side of the Lake. The local Progress Association and local school children helped to plant European and native trees in other areas around the Lake. This work is continued by the Friends of Lake Daylesford (FOLD) formed in the 1980s. FOLD Member David Endacott was responsible for propagation of a variety of native trees, which members planted particularly around the southern section of the lake. The extensive range of trees seen today resulted from this work.

Boating and swimming were popular recreational activities. A swimming pool, still visible but now filled and covered with grass, was built in front of the change rooms. Swimming and diving competitions, including Victorian country titles, were held here. Locals tell of the bleachers in front of the change rooms filled with spectators for swimming events.

Lake Daylesford is a unique and beloved part of the town’s history and a significant attraction. From its humble beginnings as a water source for gold miners, the lake has become a focus for recreation and tourism. Its beauty and tranquillity continue to draw locals and visitors alike. The Lake is truly the ‘jewel in the crown’ of Daylesford.

If you are interested in exploring the area, you could walk down the ramp on the left and follow the walkway around the perimeter of the lake. The easy 3 kilometre walk follows a wide, relatively even and well-made path and provides excellent views of the lake. The walk is very popular with locals and visitors alike.

If you want to explore further afield, you could explore downstream along Sailors Creek, a circuit walk of about 9.2 kilometres which follows part of the Goldfields Track. Another walk to Jubilee Lake, a circuit of about 8.4 kilometres, follows part of the Lerderderg Track. Both walks are described in the Central Victorian Highlands Walk and Ride Circuits booklet published by the Great Dividing Trail Association and available from the Visitor Information Centre.