TOWER HILL, near Warrnambool
Tower Hill is a important natural landmark between Warrnambool and Port Fairy as a giant maar or volcanic explosion crate and it is the largest of its type in Australia and is of international and national geological significance. Tower Hill looms dramatically on the horizon and is divided into three principal areas: Main Island, Fairy Island and Hat Island measuring 3.2km by 2.4km wide whereby visitors can enjoy a BBQ picnic, walk the boardwalk lava trial or join a guided walk by a trained Park Ranger to see its amazing wildlife and rich geological history.
The crater was formed at least 30,000 years ago when lava from beneath the earth’s crust came into contact with the subterranean water table. The violent eruption that followed created the main funnel-shaped crater which later filled with water to form a lake up to 90 metres deep. Further volcanic activity within the centre of the crater formed the islands and cone-shaped hills that can be seen today.
Archaeological surveys of the area have uncovered axe heads and other artefacts in the volcanic ash layers and local Aboriginal people would undoubtedly have witnessed the eruptions. The area was a rich source of food and shelter for different clans of the Gunditjmara Nation including the Koroit-gunditj and Peek Whurrong people.
European settlers came to the area in the late 1830s, attracted by a good water supply and fertile soils. Settlers cleared and farmed the land, grazing cattle and growing grain. By the 1850s blocks of land were being leased and sold right down to the edge of the lake and land use became more intensive. Declared in 1892, Tower Hill was for many years Victoria’s only national park however, former destructive practices such as grazing, clearing and quarrying continued. By the time the National Parks Act was declared, in 1956, Tower Hill was omitted because of its poor condition. It had virtually been stripped bare and little wildlife remained.
Proactively, in 1961 Tower Hill became a State Game Reserve under the then Department of Conservation and Natural Resources who devised a scheme to restore the site as closely as possible to its original state through a major re-vegetation program. This program was largely guided by a painting created by Austrian born artist and botanist Eugene Von Guerard in 1855, depicting in almost photographic detail the indigenious vegetation and aboriginal people. The Fisheries and Wildlife Department developed a planting scheme using Von Guerard’s detailed painting as a reference, it shows grass and ferns on the island, and tea trees, wattles, sheoaks, banksias and eucalypts on the cones with reeds and tussocks in the marshes.
By 1981, around 25,000 trees and shrubs along with herbs, grasses and rushes had been planted with 80 per cent of the planting of trees and shrubs was done by hundreds of school children, naturalists and volunteers. Native wildlife also suffered through decades of clearing and removal of habitats. After the re-vegetation movement began and efforts increased to eradicate introduced weeds so, indigenious plants and native wildlife were reintroduced to the Reserve including: koalas, grey kangaroos, wallabies, echidna’s, brush tail and ringtail possums, sugar gliders and over 160 species of birds. Visitors have a good chance of seeing one or even more of these animals any of the walking tracks through the reserve.
The Visitor Centre on Main Island, designed in the shape of a volcanic cone, was completed around 1970 and is significant as one of the most accessible and important buildings by Melbourne architect Robin Boyd, who played a major role in the development of architecture in Victoria from the 1940s to 1970s. It contains an interpretive display of the geology and history of Tower Hill, beautifully illustrated details of the wildlife and wetlands, and an account of the re-vegetation story, linking it the reproduction of Eugene von Guérard’s invaluable painting. The original painting hangs on display at the Warrnambool Art Gallery
Descendants of the Gunditjmara Nation still live in the district and participate in the management of the Tower Hill Visitor Centre and its retail and tourism services through the Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Cooperative. The Worn Gundidj Cooperative has managed the Visitor Centre on the Main Island since 2002 in partnership with Parks Victoria and provides information about the geology, flora, fauna and cultural heritage of Tower Hill through interpretive information displays and guided bushwalking tours.
Click here for more information on Worn Gundidj Tours at Tower Hill