What the official history of Lake Wendouree may lack in veracity, it makes up for as great story of an epochal moment of change in Ballarat’s history. The nomadic Wadawurrung people were well aware of the value of the teaming wildlife at what was then a shallow reedy swamp. Scottish settler William Yuille, ever on the lookout for new pastures and resources to exploit, travelled up from the Barwon with that singular “new world” voracity and came upon what had also been called the 'Black Swamp' . So by turns it became known as 'Yuille's Swamp'. So in an archetypal example of white settlement typifying the dispossession of the original owners, they first renamed with anglo-celtic familiarity what they wanted to grab from a strange land. But in one of those ironic twists of history the story about Yuille asking an aboriginal woman for its name and being told wendaaree, or go away, also resonates through history. Whether Urquhart’s surveying gave the name its official imprimatur in 1851 or word of mouth in the pre-gold era held sway but the name stuck. There is a hint of etymological justice that the name of Ballarat’s “jewel’ contains a hint of the reluctance with which the original owners greeted the Europeans.
Almost two centuries on the name is set in stone and I doubt anybody in Ballarat, knowing the value of the wonderful aesthetic, environmental, recreational and cultural gem that is the shining lake, would have it any other way. So the step to incorporate an indigenous garden as part of the plan for Lake Wendouree is to be commended. Done with proper consultation and care this is a wonderful opportunity to incorporate the fantastic past with the vital future that the lake holds at the heart of Ballarat.
Worth noting in the week when the indigenous Anangu people voted to ban climbing on Uluru that this represents an opportunity rather than a prohibition. Less than 20 percent of visitors have climbed the central Australian sacred rock since since 2010 anyway and the new position offers broader opportunities not only to capture growing indigenous tourism but also to empower local communities. While the challenge will be balancing cultural worth with any commercial exploitation, it is worth recalling similar respectful bans on climbing have done little harm. Keeping Nepal’s sacred summit Machapuchare inviolate or the holy Kailash, no matter what desecration takes place on other peaks, has not stymied tourism in those regions a fraction.