Lake Connewarre is the womb of the Bellarine Peninsula. Life gestates
in her amniotic fluid and bursts forth in great tidal surges. Graceful
long necked water birds journey from across the world to bath in her
fecundity. Joining the local waders, warblers and waddlers in gorging
Yet too few of the two legged, terrestrial mammals of the area are aware
of the Natural Heritage status of this great treasure. As they zip past
along the highways, at sense numbing speed, encased in noisy metal
cocoons, these creatures, who too long ago left the generative waters
for dry land, rarely cast a glance across Murtnagurt Swamp towards the
placid waters of Lake Connewarre.
Heedless of such careless disregard, the large lake lies placid and
peaceful, as she has done for millennia. A womb of sanity amidst the
crazed flurry of development. Tractors trawl the hills all around. The
natural bush and grasslands of yore recently razed, as carelessly as a
morning shave. The farmland which replaced it stretches out and away
from the swampy shore, bare and vulnerable in its ecological
inauthenticity. Protected from an inundation of wilderness by neat,
orderly lines of fencing, here and there augmented with dissonant
cypresses. The population of incomers huddle away from the winds and
waters in elaborately constructed houses.
In the surrounding villages, towns and city these houses are breeding as
ferally as rabbits. River flats are tamed into parks, muddy tracks
paved, swamps filled for factory footing, creeks concreted into gutters
and scrub becomes suburb. The room to roam shrinks daily.
All these heights of development overlook the vast flat plains of Lake
Connewarre and the muddy course of the Barwon River, feeding fresh water
in and draining her of despair. Together they engorge these enduring
expanses of wetland wilderness. Creating and maintaining, with the help
of the salty influx from the sea into the Barwon delta, a cornucopia of
fresh and salt water marshes, sedgelands, grasslands, tidal creeks,
swamps, moonah scrub, herblands, shrubland and Australia’s southernmost
stand of mangroves.
The source of Connewarre’s waters, the Barwon River, too is threatened
in the heights of the Otway Ranges where the giant forest trees are
still being tumbled for profit. Though injured the great serpent gathers
strength and wends eastwards in great curves to stream through the
bulging womb of the lake, and onto the sea, where fresh magically merges
with salt beneath the looming goanna like guardian of Barwon Heads
The cycles of the moon suck the tidal salt water back up, past the
mangroves and into Lake Connewarre herself, through the narrow channels
of the Sheepwash. Here one of the few growing fan deltas in Victoria
forms a shifting population of silty clay islands covered with plants
like spike sedge, chaffy saw sedge and tangled lignum. To the feral folk
of the developing shore it looks dangerous and inhospitable.
Perambulation is impossible, and even a fleeting thought of exploration
invokes images of sinking into a slimy morass, flailing flesh cut to
shreds by the spiky, sawy, tangles of vegetation.
Yes, to the eye of the civilised human, used to valuing the pastures of
Leopold, the orchards of Wallington, the lush gardens of Ocean Grove,
the caravan parks of Barwon Heads and the shopping malls of Geelong,
which surround Lake Connewarre Game Reserve, it looks like an
unapproachable and daunting wasteland. Very few boats venture up its
sinewy channels to disturb the sanctity of this secret jewel.
Indifference is less of a poison than the pollution slowly seeping in.
It leaves the truly appreciative population of the area in relative
peace to pursue their consumption of Connewarre’s delights. They float,
flutter and flap contentedly throughout the complex ecosystem.
On a sunny spring day the gleaming sheen of the lake is speckled with
the dark dots of black swans in their hundreds. Some already shadowed by
fluffy grey cygnets. The swan is indeed the signifier of this lake,
which is named after the local Aboriginal word for swan – connewarre.
Now and then a jumbo like pelican descends onto the mangrove mud flats.
The shores are stalked by high stepping white egrets who stand out
starkly against the darkness of the salty scrub. They share this domain
with the grebes, herons, egrets, ibis, and spoonbills, whilst the
endangered orange bellied parrots and terns also flit about.
Lake Connewarre is also a precious home to a vast diversity of wetland
flora. The frogs and fishes of the waters are no less appreciative. This
natural womb enables their continued survival. Observing from one of the
few firm land, public reserves overlooking the open watery expanse the
ear rests on the deep serenity of this endurance. The silence is broken
only by the gentle hoot hooting of the swans or the persistent croak of
an endangered frog. Such aural nourishment rests and replenishes the
Flying chevrons of black swans wing the imagination back to times before
the encroachment of civilisation. Then the Bengalat-Bulluk clan of the
indigenous Wathaurong, whose totem was Waa the crow, favoured
Connewarre’s shores. Large numbers of them spent extended periods here
in bark hut villages, foraging for the abundant and easily collected
food. On the north western shore lies an important 5000 year old, shell
midden also listed on the national estate register.
The survival of Lake Connewarre is a fitting tribute to the memory of
the Bengalat-Bulluk and their remarkable culture. For millennia they
performed sacred ceremonies and danced for the land and her creatures.
No doubt each nook and cranny of the Connewarre wetlands was bathed in
myth and celebrated in evocative, chanting song. Then she was known not
as wilderness, but as a living breathing being replete with a powerful
Though now humbled, as a Heritage site Connewarre can continue to
nourish and generate life. Such protection is invaluable to the natural
and spiritual well being of the Bellarine Peninsula and all her
creatures. For without the continued existence of a generative womb we
all face extinction.