UNUSUAL to find waterfalls not working in a wet winter. Around these parts, dams are all but full right now, rivers are running high, rapids are seething and flood foams are lending a washing machine suds aspect to things.
But the prettiest rocky cascade around, the Barwon Paper Mill waterfall near the Devil’s Pool at Buckley Falls, is silent.
Not a drop trickling over her rugged bluestone precipice. None of the crash of white spume bouncing off the rocks into the rushing course below.
All a bit of a letdown for hikers hoping to keep track of the seasons and some semblance of normality on their lockdown constitutionals. Not the greatest, either, for those denizens of the reservoir and water-race that feed the waterfall.
It’s a curious little journey upriver to where the problem lies. If you start out from, say, the Bar 021 emergency marker on Upper Paper Mills Rd, first thing you’ll hear is the river babbling through the she-oaks, just above Buckley Falls. And the waterhens.
Follow the track west along the river, you’ll see a long row of brown, dried reeds in the stone race. The rapids rip through a tangle of rocky outcrops, vegetation and grasses clinging limply to them. A thick cover of gums, wattles, blossoms line both sides of the river.
A couple of hundred metres along you’ll find an old stone cement retaining wall bisecting the river from a dam, Baums Weir, further upstream. One half of the water’s ripping along nicely, the other half’s an algae-covered stagnant pool that locals say normally harbours platypus and any number of fish.
Further on, the track rises to marker Bar 022 where looking over your right shoulder you’ll see clear across the Fyansford Common to the old orphan asylum/common school up on McCurdy Rd. A stone marker plaque says Buckley Falls Regional Park. A second plaque ripped off by some treasure-hunter used to identify Baums Weir and the water race that once fed and powered the turbines of the Fyansford paper mill back in the 19th century.
Over your left is another depredation – a 10m hole in the retaining wall, through which water meant for the paper mill race and the waterfall is steadily cascading back into the mainstream and down to the Devil’s Pool, or Bunyip Pool as it’s also been called.
Odd, singular, part of the world. Peculiar rounded rocks populate the cliff face and 100m further along a rather extraordinary bluestone amphitheatre greets you with its tall rocky walls defaced by Johnno, DB, SN and other intellectuals. Four mysterious bluestone quadrants suggest an ancient mill or quarry of some sort among the wrens and wattlebirds.
A little further along, past wombat holes and a road above, you hit a bluestone sinkhole full of wattles, another antediluvian quarry and one that was once meant to become a public sunken garden.
Directly opposite is Baums Weir, a structure dating back to 1851, which Graeme Houghton at the mill’s Door Gallery tells me was to serve two purposes – slow the river’s speed and service a flour mill on its south side. Old stone steps leading down to the weir have been fenced off and probably a good thing too.
Met a bloke there just after the breach in the wall was noted a few weeks back. Claimed it was a good thing. Too much water taken out of the river, didn’t flow fast enough before going over the paper mill cascade, adversely affecting wildlife.
That was the way I understood him, until he suggested, rather darkly: “Lot of people unhappy. Wouldn’t be surprised if that wall was blown up.” Sounded a bit odd, especially considering other accounts suggest the race is a haven for various critters.
Curious how attitudes vary. Last week, I spoke with Rod Mackenzie about the water race. Rod’s an Antarctic veteran and member of the Explorers Club, a plumber, former Labor and independent state MP, and a former president of the Victorian Legislative Council.
Tells me that after the former Bannockburn Shire Council spent 15 odd years back in the 1970s and ’80s trying to raise the cash to reinstate what was then a choked and damaged heritage structure – cash was stumped up as part of Victoria’s 150th anniversary celebrations for the job.
In October 1985, Rod officially opened the race, the path along the river and 800 new trees planted to revegetate and beautify the area. All the local councils back then backed the project, he says.
Likewise, the Geelong and District Water Board and the then-Geelong Regional Commission.
So what’s the prognosis for the damaged retaining wall, the water race and the vanishing paper mill waterfall?
Well, the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority, which looks after our local waterways, tells me: “Corangamite CMA are continuing to work with City of Greater Geelong to investigate the situation and determine any future works that may be required. If any future works are to proceed, they will need to be approved by Heritage Victoria.”
Tenants within the mill’s arts precinct seem to think things are set to be mended by the council after the winter and spring rains abate and workers have a better chance of getting in among the rocks and rapids and patching things up. Guess we’ll find out in due course. Hopefully, it won’t take 15 years like last time.
This article appeared in the Geelong Advertiser 24 August 2021