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The history of Tower Hill

Eugene von Guerard, Tower Hill, 1855
Oil on canvas, 68.6 × 122.0 cm
Warrnambool Art Gallery, Victoria

On loan from the Department of
Sustainability and Environment
Gift of Mrs E. Thornton, 1966

Tower Hill’s

Geography

Worn Gundidj At Tower Hill Maar Diagram

Tower Hill is a volcanic formation believed to have erupted over 32,000 years ago. Its formation is known as a ‘nested maar’ and, at 3.2km wide, is the largest example of its type in Victoria.

Formed when molten lava encountered a layer of water-bearing rock (tephra), violent explosions followed, creating a shallow crater (maar) which later filled with water to form the lake while further eruptions created the islands and cone shaped hills (tuff ring).

Today you can still see the striated rock faces of the spectacular 11km crater rim, a rare geological site.

Traditional Custodians

Gunditjmara

The Dhauwurd Wurrung, also known as the Gunditjmara or Gunditjamara, are an Aboriginal Australian people of southwestern Victoria. They are the traditional owners of the areas now encompassing Warrnambool, Port Fairy, Woolsthorpe and Portland. Their land includes much of the Budj Bim heritage areas.

The Kerrup Jmara (Kerrupjmara, Kerrup-Jmara) are a clan of the Gunditjmara, whose traditional lands are around Lake Condah. The Koroitgundidj (Koroit gundidj) are another clan group, whose lands are around Tower Hill.

Evidence shows that these clans witnessed the last eruptions of Tower Hill, with some of the oldest oral tradtions re-telling the eruption.

The Gunditjmara used the land’s natural topography and features to establish permanent settlements and villages along the lava flow near creeks or lakes, with the community’s population believed to be in the thousands.

Worn Gundidj At Tower Hill Traditional Custodians Gunditjmara

 

Worn Gundidj At Tower Hill Clan Groups Victoria

Colonial

Arrival

Worn Gundidj At Tower Hill Colonial Arrival

European settlers came to the area in the late 1830s, attracted by a good water supply and fertile soils. Settlers cleared and farmed the land, grazing cattle and growing grain. By the 1850s blocks of land were being leased and sold right down to the edge of the lake and land use became more intensive with the steeper slopes of the volcano cleared and planted with crops.

Remaining timber was cut down and used for fuel leaving an almost barren landscape. In 1866 some areas of Tower Hill were reserved as public land and the government appointed the Tower Hill Acclimatisation Society to manage the reserve.

Tower Hill was declared Victoria’s first national park in 1892 but still the decline continued as invasive species took hold. By the early 1950’s, any resemblance of the once rich landscape had disappeared. At this point, however, the local community started to draw attention to the poor state of the reserve and investigations started into its suitability as a wildlife reserve.

Finally in 1961 Tower Hill was declared a State Game Reserve setting it on the path to recovery.

Tower Hill

Today

1961 marked the beginning of a major effort to re-vegetate Tower Hill, using as a starting point an 1855 painting (‘Outlook’) by Viennese artist Eugene von Guerard, known for his attention to detail. Von Guerard was commissioned in 1855 by James Dawson, to show the vegetation ”…as the Aborigines knew it and just before the Europeans were to ruin it.”

The Fisheries and Wildlife Department developed a planting scheme using von Guerard’s detailed painting as a reference. By 1981, around 25,000 trees and shrubs had been planted with the help of hundreds of school children and volunteers, along with herbs, grasses and rushes. As these plants became established, introduced plants and weeds were removed. Robin Boyd also developed a visitor centre that represents the shape of a flat volcano maintaining as much connection to the land and circular nature as possible.

Today the site is a better reflection of it’s past self, rich in natural fauna and native animals tranporting us to a time capsule unchanged for thousands of years.

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Further Reading

Watch Australian Geographic’s seven minute overview film.

Melbourne University goes deep into geological research, re-shaping our timelines.

Learn more about the unknown history of Tower Hill in Tower Hill History and Heritage (PDF).

Revisit early testimonals of new visitors at Tower Hill’s Peculiar Attractions (PDF).

Understand the meaning behind Aboriginal placenames via Australian National University.

Explore the rich culture of the Gunditjmara clan.

Understand the unique geological qualities of Tower Hill at Agriculture Victoria.

Find local history, artwork and collections at Glenelg Library.

Managed by

WG Enterprises

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WG Enterprises manages Worn Gundidj at Tower Hill, training Indigenous people for retail and guiding roles.

Formerly known as Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Cooperative, we commenced operation in 1992 with a foundational mission of providing economic opportunities to Indigenous people through assisting individuals into employment and creating sustainable, Indigenous operated commercial enterprises.

At Worn Gundidj, we empower people to become active agents in their own future; and deliver on their own aspirations.