KANAWINKA GEOTRAIL, South West Victoria
Australia may be referred to as a relatively young nation, but the well preserved ancient landscape provides many precious windows into the past. The Kanawinka Geopark’s, meaning Land of Tomorrow from the Buandik people, is a spectacular and intriguing volcanic landscape covering South West Victoria through to East South Australia enabling visitors to travel back in time thousands and thousands of years. The surface geology is a striking contrast of sweeping plains and spectacular cones which are largely the product of volcanic activity. In fact, with six sites of international significance and 14 of national significance, this area is Australia’s most extensive volcanic province. The Kanawinka Geopark was declared the 57th Member of the Global Network of National Geoparks assisted by UNESCO on June 22, 2008.
The history of these geological masterpieces stretches back to the Tertiary and Quaternary eras, when great outpourings of volcanic material through vents took place. Lava flows spread evenly across the existing plains, followed valleys, flowed under water, and in some cases forced upwards into rough, stony hills called tumuli, or steeper scoria cones. In total, the flows cover an area of some 23,000 square km, extending north to the hills beyond Ballarat, and reappearing in a small section of south-eastern South Australia. This area is known as the Newer Volcanics Province, and features nearly 400 individual eruption points, most of which occurred between 4.5 and 2 million years ago. Many of the eruptions were witnessed by the indigenous peoples of the area who have inhabited this region for up to 45,000 years, and feature prominently in the Dreamtime stories.
For thousands of years, Gunditjmara people engineered and constructed an extensive aquaculture system along the Mt Eccles/Tyrendarra Lava flow and wetlands using the stones from the lava flow to construct channels linking the wetlands, weirs, fish-traps, wind breaks and stone huts. The aquaculture system and permanent lifestyle of the Gunditjmara people are widely recognised and valued as being unique in the world's human history of settlement and society. Evidence of the aquaculture system, including stone eel traps and channels, and the lifestyle, including stone house sites and smoking trees, are located along the Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape. The Budj Bim National Heritage Landscape was declared by the Australian Government in July 2004 for its outstanding values that are part of Australia's National Heritage.
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Later, during the 1870s and 80s, European settlers utilised the volcanic stone cleared from the land to construct dry stone walls in order to grow crops and introduce livestock. Few could pass through the region without realizing their impact on the landscape. In some places, in the Stony Rises at Pomborneit and at Kolora north west of Mount Noorat, look as though they have always been there; looking so natural and in harmony with the environment. The walls in the Stony Rises are of national significance in terms of quantity, style, heritage, skill and empathy with the landscape.
Today the dry stone walls of the Plains are still performing the same functions for which they were built over 130 years ago. They create enclosures, provide boundaries between public and private land, subdivide properties, protect cultivated paddocks, livestock, homesteads, crops and act as barriers against fires as well offering protection from the elements. They also provide an ideal habitat for small fauna and flora.
Although there is evidence of dry stone walling in the 1840s, most of the enduring stone fences in the region were built after the gold rush, in the 1870s and 1880s when many labourers returned from the diggings without that illusive fortune. This coincided with the Land Acts of 1862, resulting in large holdings being divided up for closer settlement which needed to be fenced in a more permanent way. Around volcanic cones, dry stone walls were carefully constructed, so that paddocks could be enclosed and cleared of stone in one operation. Up until this time the squatters employed shepherds and stockmen to watch their flocks and herds or used timber to build post and rail fences or simple brush fences. Stone fences were a sign of tenure, security and investment in the future.
The Rabbit Wall built by the Manifold brothers at Purrumbete in the 1880s is perhaps the most significant wall in the region standing up to two metres high and which originally ran continuously from Lake Corangamite to Lake Purrumbete. Dry stone walling although back-breaking work is a skillful craft and in earlier times was handed down from one generation to the next, creating stone walling families. Each wall is in fact two walls because the craftsman or Cowan would lay two rows of stone about a metre apart, filling in the centre with smaller stones. In fact a well built enduring wall is a work of art adding interest and character to the agricultural landscape.
In 1997 Corangamite Arts installed the Corangamite Dry Stone Walls Heritage Trail and gained meritorious recognition when named "the most impressive and extensive network of dry stone walls in Australia" by the Dry Stone Walls Association of Australia Inc.
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