A prestigious stretch of water, with real estate to match Lake Wendouree in Ballarat was used in 1956 as an Olympic Rowing course. Dotted along the shoreline are picturesque and quaint boathouses and jetties while Wendouree Parade boasts some of the most prestigious buildings in the district.

‘The Lake’ was significant in early years as a water supply for many industries which sprang up around its shores, but gradually, with an increase in leisure time the Lake was recognized for pleasure. Boating, birdwatching, and fishing pursuits were carried out on its waters. Around its perimeter the Botanical Gardens and other pleasurable walks and interests abounded. The Parklands and Zoological Gardens were particularly interesting and in later years the Sound Shell was an ideal venue for Christmas Carols and open-air activities.

Spielvogel recalls that the story of Lake Wendouree began ‘in the very first hour of the history of Ballarat’. Although he admits there is much confusion about the exact date of settlement, he writes that William Cross Yuille, a sturdy young Scot 18 years old, with Henry Anderson built some of the first huts where Pleasant Street School now stands. Anderson had been in the Learmonth brothers’ party. An argument began, but in those days there was plenty of land, so it was resolved by agreement that the Learmonth’s should settle three miles in one direction and Yuille and Anderson three miles in the other direction. This is how Yuille and Anderson came to settle on the reedy Black swamp, which we now call Lake Wendouree. The Ballarat Historical Society erected an obelisk in 1933 to mark the site of Anderson’s and Yuille’s first camp.

Learmonth wrote that Yuille’s Swamp, like Lake Learmonth and Lake Burrumbeet, was dry during 1839, 1840 and 1841, but when the rains came, the water in it was always good, unlike many other watering spots in the district. A bullock team driver, Henry Hannington, described Yuille’s Swamp around 1844 as a camping place for teams although ‘the bullocks generally made off for the flat by Golden Point’ where the grass was greener and there were white gums.

It has been reported that William Yuille stayed for 18 months and then either sold or gave the land to his cousin Archibald Yuille. The date of settlement varies in different accounts. By 1 March 1848 the Pastoral Run Papers show that Archibald Yuille had been in possession of the Ballarat Run for many years. Surprisingly Ballarat was spelt with one ‘A’ on the pastoral run lease in 1848! Yuille had 5,000 Saxon Merino sheep, after which subsequently the Saxon Paddock, now known as the City Oval, and the Saxon gold mine, which operated on the corner of Sturt and Pleasant Streets, were named.

The Lake was first called the Black Swamp, then Yuille’s Swamp, but historian Tom Trezise writes, in the early days of Ballarat an aboriginal woman was asked its name and the answer politely given was ‘Wendaaree Wendaaree’ which means in the Wautharung language, ‘Be off!’ ‘Off you go!’ or ‘Go away!’ and therefore Ballarat has a lake whose name is really ‘Lake Be Off’.

Both the Geelong Advertiser and the Argus reported gold at Yuille’s Run in September 1851. Miners from all walks of life began to pour into the peaceful pastoral property. They disassembled fences and plundered the landscape. Struggle and change were eminent.

The lake was the first water supply for the settlement. The Gnarr Creek, which flowed on the eastern side of the lake, behind the present Anglers’ Hall, was the first attempt at an official supply for the district, however, this proved to be unsatisfactory and was known as ‘Gnarrsty Creek’. A standpipe was erected near the corner of Lydiard and Sturt Streets, the water being piped in a nine inch pipe laid underground, from the top end of Ripon Street, along Webster Street, down Drummond Street to Sturt Street and down Sturt Street to the ‘Water Works’. Licenced carters sold this water from Lake Wendouree for ten shillings per load.

Industries such as lemonade factories and flourmills were attracted to the shores of Lake Wendouree by the regular supply of water. The ‘Lemonade Paddock’ of E Rowlands was famous for its soda water, lemonade and ginger beer. Courtney’s Flour Mill and Fry’s Flour Mill stood nearby. The flourmillers’ families utilised St Peter’s Anglican Church, Fry being a major benefactor to that establishment.

A leading article in the Corn Stalk in 1857 contained an essay backed by letters from Learmonth and Waldie indicating that Ballarat was in need of a ‘plentiful supply of good water’. In 1862 Kirsk’s Reservoir was erected north of the settlement. Ballarat was known for its abundant water supply. Also in 1862 a large stone quarry was opened on View Point and another where St Patrick’s Boatshed now stands. Stone from these quarries was used in building many of Ballarat’s notable buildings.

Prisoners from the Ballarat Gaol were seen in the 1860s dragging small carts and clearing a pathway right around the lake, where they cut down the gum trees and planted elms, oaks, willows, and pines. They erected a fence around the lake and planted a cypress hedge inside it.

The Ballarat City Council worked tirelessly to improve the lake. Sporting and recreational pursuits were soon in abundance. The Ballarat Rowing Club, formed by Robert McLaren, Edward Williams, Robert Davidson and others, was established in 1862. A channel three chains wide was cleared from one side of the lake to the other for the rowing. Fishing was another popular pastime. Gilbert Duncan put eleven tench in the lake in 1867. The Ballarat Fish Acclimatisation Society, formed in 1870, ordered 2000 trout from Tasmania in 1871.

In 1865 the Victoria was the first steamer on the Lake according to Tom Trezise, and it found the rushes impossible to penetrate, while reportedly the Wendouree was the first steamer for hire. Thomas Gill and John Ivey owned a fleet of paddle steamers, and named them Queen, Prince Consort, Golden City, Princess, and Ballarat. Ivey was also instrumental in ridding the lake of its weeds and rushes. His double-decker steamer capsized on the lake being top heavy. Other steamers to grace the Lake were the Lord Roberts and The Gem.

In 1874 Lake Wendouree was described as ‘the finest inland water in the colony’. The Botanical Gardens had been established on the west side of the lake and horse drawn trams transported the public around the lake to see them. The Tramways Preservation Society now operates electric trams around the western part of Lake Wendouree for tourists. Bands played in the bandstands, women, men and children promenaded on the leisurely walks, but swimming was prohibited, as it was deemed immoral. Boys that dared to swim in public were fined five shillings. It was not until 1928 that public morality relaxed sufficiently to allow public swimming at the lake. Moonlight concerts were held with brass bands playing on flotillas. Lake Wendouree is described in its prime in the following passage.

The shrill whistle of the steamers, the flapping of the sails, before the starter’s cry of ‘Let’s Go’ is heard, and the laughter, and the one hundred and one cries of fruitsellers, boatmen, and others that make the margin of the Lake a scene of animation and bustle.
The music of an open-air church service could also be heard, the preachers and the singers stood beside a harmonium under a willow tree at View Point.
The Lake and Gardens became the centre of family and community life. Parties from towns in the district arrived regularly by train. There were 800 people in one Sunday School picnic from Creswick, and spent the day walking, playing, dancing, courting, wading, fishing, boating and taking steamer rides. Swimming was not allowed. To cater for the crowds a brick pavilion with a shop and a dining room was built in 1890 (Lake Lodge), and View Point and Gill’s Lake View Hotel.
The fare on the steamer from View Point to the Gardens was Adults 3d and Children 1d.

Many events and items conjure up wonderful memories: The Olympic Rings reflect the glories of the rowing at the 1956 Olympic Games; View Point near Gill’s Boatsheds is a reminder of early swimming days; those strange looking ornamental gardens opposite the Lake View Hotel bear witness to the fountains; The Ballarat Rowing Club held the famous 60/40 dances in the 1960s; the legendary ‘luminous swans’ which many old Ballarat residents were lured to watch; ‘Fairy Land’ the last semblance of Victorian walkways and leisure paths; the Lake House where the penny slot machines entranced many; and the cannons astride which you had your photo taken.

For 150 years the Lake, being a source of enjoyment and economics, has been central to Ballarat, the city which took its name from the sheep run of the pastoralist Yuille who settled on the shores of the Lake many years previously.

Botanical Gardens and Lake Wendouree, Ballarat. Circa 1880.

Scanned from 'The Premier Album of Ballarat Views.'