Landlocked Lake Basin Falls, New South Wales Lake George, Lake Bathurst and The Morass

Many basins in southern New South Wales are landlocked. Lake George is the largest.

Lake George

Once full enough to support a ferry service, in recent dry years lake George has filled infrequently. To the east of Lake George are two smaller shallow lakes - Lake Bathurst and the Morass.  These are completely surrounded by private properties.  Although there is no public access, the lakes can be seen, in places, from the dirt road serving farms around the lakes..


We know a surprising amount about the history of the Lake George Basin because of core samples taken from the lake.


Coming out of the total eclipse, in light haze, a blood moon over Lake George.

Lake George is a huge fresh water lake in South Eastern Australia. It dried up a couple of years ago in a lengthy drought - it is slowly starting to refill (the lake would ordinarily fill the entire foreground). In the hills above the Eastern shore, wind turbines can be seen.

Core samples from the lake floor show a natural pattern of the lake filling and drying since the last ice age - and the samples contain pollen spores that allow us to recreate a picture of what this area - one of the oldest landscapes known - looked like.
The region emerged from shallow seas more than 150 million years ago. The surrounding mountains resulted from volcanic action from that time and as part of the general uplift of the eastern highlands about 80 million years ago. However, it has changed slowly over the past 50 million years. Against the backdrop of familiar landmarks, climate, vegetation and animal types have gone through a number of distinct stages.

50-30 Million years ago: wet, warm

When the land bridge between Antarctica and Australia finally sank about 50 million years ago, the Yandyguinula valley was a much wetter and warmer place. Like much of the rest of the country (and Antarctica), it was covered in lush rainforests. The Yandyguinula, probably shrouded in perpetual mist and flowing heavily, periodically flooded some of the lower valleys as it cut its way through the dense conifer rainforest.

The forest canopy towered up to 50 metres above the ground. It consisted of the Southern Conifers (today, descendants of the northern family include the Kauri, Bunya, Hoop and Norfolk Pines while the southern family, known as Podocarps, include the Huon and Celery-top Pines) and the Southern Beeches ( the Antarctic Beech, Nothofagus moorei, is still found in Queensland rainforests). These trees are very ancient with the Kauri Pine still closely resembling fossil records from 175 million years ago. The Beeches spread to this country across Antarctica from South America about 90 million years ago.

In the understorey were ferns, cushion plants, rhododendrons, orchids, hollies, ancestors of the willows and the gums. Leopard -like Wakeleo stalked the forests with Tasmanian tigers and carnivorous kangaroos. Large toothed platypus, possums, numbats and bilbies lived in the forest.

From this and earlier periods, remnant species still survive in our region.

30- 5 Million years ago: drier, colder

About 30 million years ago, Antarctica drifted lower to the south pole and world temperatures began to drop. The sea level fell, temperatures began to drop and Australia began to dry. The great Pine forests began to retreat to the Eastern seaboard. Casuarinas (probably developing from early willows) slowly replaced the Southern Conifers in the new dry woodlands, while gum trees thrived in the drier climate. As more extensive grasslands developed and the forests became more open, large marsupial browsers and flightless birds appeared. It was a time of giant marsupial browsers including the bear sized Nehelos and the Diprotodon.

The north-south Lake George Fault began to slowly rise during this period. Over 20 million years, it rose about 100 metres, impeding the westward flow of both the Yass, Molonglo and Yandyguinula Rivers. The Yass River, with a small catchment, was not able to cut through the new range and pooled into Lake George. The Molonglo, helped in part by the Yandyguinula, cut through the range near Balcombe Hill. During the periodic ice ages at times of very low rainfall, even the Molonglo failed to keep up with the gradual rise along the fault. At these times of drought, the Molonglo formed a lake on the Hoskingtown Plain.
5 Million Years Ago

About 5 million years ago, the Lake George Fault ceased to rise. This coincided with another dramatic ice age. The Molonglo drained through the fault and the plain started to dry out. By this stage, the forests in the region consisted of a mix of casuarina canopy with a fern and podocarp understorey (on the higher peaks in the ACT the mountain plum pine (Podocarpus lawrencei) still clings to rocks). The forests survived in the mountains and hills, extending onto the plains during periods between ice ages (there have been 20 ice ages in the past 2 million years). During colder, drier periods, the plains became open forests and grasslands.

100,000-180 years ago: fire stick agriculture

To the north of Lake George, in sandstone, is the footprint of one of the giant marsupial browsers. Next to it is the footprint of a man.

When aborigines settled the continent, they brought with them knowledge of fire stick agriculture, which they used as an integral part of hunting and everyday life. The introduction of systematic burning co-incided with the extinction of many of the forest casuarinas and podocarps (although it is not certain whether these are related or are both aspects of a different event as yet undiscovered). The forests were replaced by grasslands and eucalypts and the Casuarinas and podocarps “retreated” into the wetter mountains.

The intensity of aboriginal occupation probably varied with climatic factors. During ice ages, traces of carbon in the fossil record become rare in the face of the permanent snow which settled on the Great Divide and the Black Ranges. During warmer interglacial periods, fire stick agriculture returned to the plains and foothills, but only rarely was felt in the wetter ranges. As the next fire tolerant range of species became widespread in the lower and mid ranges, remnants of the Casuarina forests held fast to the river banks or joined earlier remnant species in the high wetter valleys and ridges of the ranges.

About 30,000 years ago the last of the giant marsupial browsers became extinct and the last of the Tasmanian tigers retreated permanently from this area. The region was left to the grey kangaroo, the red-necked wallaby, the koala and a range of smaller marsupials including the native cat and the possum. Bush turkeys led mostly solitary lives while quail and emu lived in large family groups.

The Yandyguinula and Molonglo were a series of marshy ponds. Protected by stands of casuarina and tea tree the ponds were a haven for ducks and swans. During warmer periods, brolga from the interior may have lived on the river (but there is doubt about whether this continued into modern times).

Along the river stretched the permanent grassed walking tracks of the aborigines. Early settlers found these trails kept free of obstruction and well burnt. Of necessity, the trails were used by the first shepherds, adopted by the settlers and mapped by the surveyors. Today, our roads follow those same trails.

180 years ago to present

The first three white Australians to ride across the Hoskingtown Plain in the 1820’s were all native born “cornstalks”, selected by Governor Macquarie. The young men had no difficulty communicating with the aboriginal people they met and reported back to Sydney about a rich environment. They also reported seeing numerous fires of the aboriginal inhabitants of the five high plains in the Hoskingtown, Queanbeyan and Canberra regions. However, within a decade, aboriginal people from the region had withdrawn to the central Canberra plains and the Tidbinbillas and encounters with aborigines living traditional lives became infrequent.

With the cessation of fire stick agriculture, the Eucalypt and Acacia populations exploded. Within a decade, the tended woodlands of the aborigines became impenetrable scrub. Resourceful foresters logged many of the mountain giants. The casuarinas along the river were removed for fencing and yards. Rumours of gold led to the declaration of gold reserves along the rivers. The wetlands disappeared and the banks of creeks and rivers became sharply delineated through erosion. Koalas and bush turkeys were shot out for sport and tucker.

Attempts to plant orchards, run dairies and intensively farm small selections were frustrated by years of drought and the loss of settlers to flood, influenza and war. Farms further away from permanent water were abandoned. Presently, many survive only as collections of hearth stones and isolated stands of exotic trees, but the region is starting to repopulate.

Capital of Australia

In 1900, the Currawang Telegraph Hill had a fine building, breathlessly waiting an unbelievable future. Near the northern shores of the Lake George, word was that this would become the new Capital of Australia. People tied their horses to the railing here and stared into the distance, imagining stately domes and high churches, aqueducts to feed the lake, and a great port for airships.

The fine building itself was connected to the rest of the nation by a telegraph wire, and it served as a post office for the district. At the point at which the fortunes of the district seemed so certain, 60 letters were being posted each week (and 12 mails sent and received). The letters were collected by school children walking home along dusty tracks to the nearby school.

But the fine building was beset by the loss of the copper mine and then the Federation drought and then the War from which few men returned as men and so many women turned to despair.

Instead of becoming the capital, Currawang disappeared like the water in the great lake.

The Australian author Miles Franklin grew up nearby. 

Many of the scenes from "My Brilliant Career" (including Possum Gully) can be placed in the district.

She conceded, "the water was soft and the air fresh; there were places to play (and to hide) among the shrubs and she-oaks on the hillsides, where wallabies and 'native bears' (koalas) and lordly goannas were frequently to be seen; and in the summer the children frolicked in the waterholes (boys and girls separately), where tortoises abounded, and sleepy lizards sunned themselves on every fence post."

She remembered the yells of the School Mistress, "You girls! You girls! March straight here, & get your hair combed, before I cane the fingers off you." 

Men were a problem in an age when school girls were taught that a mere kiss might cause pregnancy. She said, "every girl who had four limbs and reasonable features lived in a state of siege from the age of fourteen until she capitulated."

The story of Federation arose in the second half of the Nineteenth Century, when some Australiasian States (including New Zealand, but not Western Australia) started serious planning to federate. With much angst, politicians of the day set about the task of locating a new capital. Intercolonial jealousies precluded Melbourne and Sydney from taking on the role of national capital, although neither city has ever relinquished its claims on the title.

Lake George attracted a great deal of interest.

Hidden away in NSW State Archives are the records of the Commission charged with searching for the new capital. In the papers are the winning entry - submitted on behalf of the town of Queanbeyan in relation to some sheep paddocks to its West with the locality name of Canberra. Lake George had originally been proposed, but was eliminated when it was revealed that Lake George was dry a lot of the time.

The typed Summary of Evidence taken by the Commission records the evidence of some remarkable people - evidence that was to lead to the creation of the new city and an associated state. The Australian Capital Territory today has an economy greater than a number of far larger Australian States or Territories.

Summary of Evidence of:
William Finn - Chairman of the Queanbeyan Federal City Committee
Sydney Richardson - Government Medical Officer
Patrick Blackall - Medical Practitioner
Theophilus Cox - Journalist
Samson Southwell - Farmer
John Gale - Journalist
Fredrick Campbell, Grazier
William Farrer - Experimentalist
Andrew Cunningham - Grazier
John Fitzgerald - Farmer
William Wright - Agent
Charles O'Hanlan - Road Superintendent, Queanbeyan

The case made by these men was far superior to any put the Commission elsewhere. Within it, are seeds that eventually became the pillars of the city.
Copied at the State Archives Office, July 2014 (click each page to view).

SUMMARY OF EVIDENCE relating to QUEANBEYAN SITE taken at a Public Inquiry held at Queanbeyan on 11th June 1900

WILLIAM PIKE Chairman of Queanbeyan Federal City Committee

Initiation of Committee. Formerly Mayor of Queanbeyan. At a Public meeting a Committee was appointed to collect information in furtherance of Queanbeyan’s claim to be Federal Capital. He was appointed Chairman and the report furnished was carried out by resolution of the Committee.

SYDNEY LONGIEN RICHARDSON Government Medical Officer at Queanbeyan

Climate Conditions. 12 years in District. Regarded it as very healthy. Temperature changeable but unless a thunderstorm occurred the fall was not material. Never had it 100 degrees shade followed by frost. Cases of heat apoplexy occurred chiefly on the plains. Typhoid more prevalent this year than for 7 or 8 years, owing to the five year drought. Measles and influenza had occurred but they are independent of Climate. Diphtheria has occurred owing to insanitary causes. The climate was conducive to longevity. Residents of the District upwards of 80 and 90 years of age could be met. Most death certificates given by him were either for very young or very old people.

Water Supply. At present from underground tanks. Sometimes in the summer the river water is used.

Drainage. The surface drainage of the town is not good. Cesspits are used for nightsoil and the surface drainage goes into the river.

PATRICK BLACKALL Medical Practitioner

Climatic Conditions. Practicing at Queanbeyan 10 years. Produce return showing number of births and deaths in the Registry District of Queanbeyan. District a pleasant healthy climate free from endemic disease. Most deaths caused by...


Lake Bathurst

Twice a year, crows and ravens from afar descend on Lake Bathurst and the Morass, small semi-permanent lakes North of Bungendore.

Crows get bad press in sheep country – sometimes well deserved. Originally trapped and hunted, farmers soon learnt their mistake. The birds were feasting on grasshoppers – reduced numbers of crows and ravens led to plagues of grasshoppers.

Similar in appearance but only distantly related to crows and ravens, white winged Cough join the feast.

The Morass

I was able to get quite close to the Morass - and found it a much more interesting body of water. It seemed to have far more wildlife on the lake - and there were beautiful reflections in the water.





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