Volcanoes Rising Up

STORY AND PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICHARD CORNISH
IMAGES OF MT FRANKLIN BY CHRIS TIMMINS

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The country in which we live is immensely powerful. Literally. Under our feet is rolling current of magma that until very recently was erupting through the crust spewing lava across the countryside and sending ash and scoria sky high with devastating frequency. There are four hundred volcanoes spread across Victoria from the western outskirts of Melbourne to Mount Gambier in South Australia. Some have erupted in the past 10,000 years, the description of the destruction still alive in the stories of the Gundjitmara people of Western Victoria. The volcanoes of Victoria are not all extinct. Many are just dormant. The possibility of a volcano erupting in the near future, geologically speaking is inevitable “It could be 10,000 years or I guess it could be next week,” said Dr Erin Matchan of the University of Melbourne’s School of Earth Sciences. “There’s a certainty that another one will occur at some point,” Dr Matchan said in an interview with Fairfax media three years ago. 

In a nation of ancient weathered soils the relatively recent eruptions of volcanoes in our region sees our farmland furnished with some of the deepest and most fertile soil in the country. Rich in minerals and organic matter, this chocolate brown soil grows, we think, the best produce in Australia. It is also the reason our gardens are so good. In the heart of Daylesford is Wombat Hill. This is an old volcano that rises almost a 100m above the centre of town. It was set aside as a reserve as early as 1854 with plantings beginning in the 1860s. Many Northern Hemisphere trees were given to the gardens by Ferdinand Mueller from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Melbourne where Wombat Hill’s founder William Sangster once worked. The gardens were opened with a procession from the centre of town to the summit and the planting of two oaks to celebrate the marriage of the Prince of Wales to Princess Alexandra. The trees thrived in the rich, deep volcanic soil and some are still growing today. 

One of the largest and most obvious volcanoes in our region is Mount Franklin. Its cone rises from the countryside, the Pinus radiata plantation on its slopes highlighting the geomorphology even further. Mount Franklin has an eerie quality. A road hugs the side of the volcano, passing by bluestone boulders, possibly ejected when she last erupted around 500,000 years ago. The bitumen of the road is cracked and crazed. Moss grows in the shadow cast by ancient manna gums. The road finds a gap in the lip of the crater, a place where lava once breached the rim flooding the surrounding valleys with molten rock. The gold bearing streams that were covered by the lava were later excavated during the Gold Rush. These were the deep leads that made many so rich. The road drops into the caldera. There is a park inside Mount Franklin with free camping that attracts grey nomads and younger alternative lifestylers. With the rock towering above the grounds inside are in shadow for much of the day. Smoke from campfire lingers near the ground.

 Revelation, Graeme Drendel

They are not the first to camp here. This is a sacred site to the Djadja Wurrung people, the Loddon Valley tribe. They call Mount Franklin Lalgambook. It is possible they may have witnessed volcanic activity because the name they have for the area translates as ‘smoking ground’. A walk around the rim of Mount Franklin reveals the power of volcanoes to transform rock. The gas has permeated liquid rock aerating the lava which has then solidified to create large rocks that are a big as small television that weigh no more than a bottle of milk. 

While the volcanoes of Central Victoria might not be as large as they are in the Western District, they are more tightly concentrated. You’ll pass three on the way to Glenlyon. Take the road from Daylesford to Ballarat and the road meanders around several volcanoes with Mount Warrenheip looming to the south, its sister Mount Buningyong nearby. It is interesting to note the volcanoes served as important look outs and place to light communication fires for the Wathaurong and Djadja Wurrung, a similar role they have today being used as locations for repeater stations and mobile phone towers. As you drive around look out for our volcanoes. They dominate our horizons. Yandoit Hill. Mount Moorookyle. Mount Kooroocheang. Heaghney Hill. Powlett Hill. In these parts, if it's round and above ground you can safely assume it’s a volcano.