Lake George, located near Bungendore and off the Federal Highway to Canberra, means a lot to many people; poets, artists, photographers and alike, for obvious reasons.
It is an icon and there also has been an interest concerning the ever-changing lake levels, the dry lake at times and, in the past, of several people vanishing and drowning in the lake. There is also a number of myths about the ever-so-often vanishing lake waters.
This year marks the 200th anniversary of the 'renaming' of Lake George by Governor Lachlan Macquarie who visited the region in October, 1820 after having been informed by explorers of the vast extent of an inland waterbody in NSW. Macquarie 'renamed' the lake after his King George and this information is available in his travel diary.
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Perhaps, it is opportune to return to the original name given by people who inhabited the region before and during Macquarie's visit, since this year is the bicentenary of Macquarie's inland exploration.
Today, Lake George is dry except for a small film of water that resulted from the recent prolific rains that followed the dramatic and apocalyptic fires that spread over a large part of eastern Australia. Nevertheless, the lake has held much water in the past, with the lake being close to eight metres deep a little after 1870 and maintaining a high level well until the end of that century.
Examination of newspaper records provides much information on activities linked to the high levels at the lake.
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For example, in a local newspaper, an article written by a Bungendore resident recounts the launching on the Queen's birthday on May 25, 1874 of a 'little clipper built boat, 20 feet long and capable of accommodating up to 20 people'. It was named the Victoria Mary. Later on, people came as far as from Sydney by train to Bungendore to enjoy a picnic along the shores of the lake and sail on it. The American artist Fred Schell in the book entitled An illustrated Atlas of Australasia also provides a scene of the lake around 1886 that clearly shows a steam vessel on the lake. This lithograph may be attributed to William Macleod.
So far, we have been unable to locate any photographic archive of the ship on the lake, and perhaps you may have such a photo [or glass plate] in your family archives. I would be very keen to hear about any photo you may have and would encourage you to donate a copy of it to the National Library in Canberra. Please also inform me if you make such discovery. My email address is: email@example.com.
Note also that I placed a CD-DVD on the history of Lake George by EM Truswell and myself in the Goulburn Library, which you can consult and copy if interested.
There will be several activities this year linked to Macquarie's visit to the region, one held in October in Goulburn, and I hope to be able to present a talk on my findings on Lake George with a suggestion to returning to its original name.
- Patrick De Deckker is an Emeritus Professor at the Australian National University.
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