Last night we slept in Ouyen (pronounced Oh-yen). The man at the Mallee Bakery in Ouyen tells me “Jeff Kennett did a good thing. He put Ouyen on the map” when Jeff Kennett claimed that Ouyen had the best vanilla slice. We share one with our morning coffee.
Road Trip Detour
We’re driving slowly back to Sydney from Kangaroo Island. Tonight, we’ll find accommodation in Deniliquin. Looking at the map as we leave Ouyen, I realise that with a slight detour we can see two silos on the Silo Art Trail on the way. One’s at Patchewollock and the other is at Sea Lake near Lake Tyrrell.
In Patchewollock, Nick ‘Noodle’ Hulland, an “archetypal Aussie Farmer complete with faded flannellette shirt and sun-bleached hair” according to the sign, towers over me from a tall narrow silo. Like all Fintan Magee’s work that I’ve seen so far, this piece which he painted in 2016 is impressive.
The name Patchewollock derives from two Aboriginal words meaning ‘plenty’ and ‘porcupine grass’ (putje and wallah). As we drive towards Sea Lake, I wonder how it got its’ name. Then the penny drops. Lake Tyrrell near Sea Lake must be a salt lake.
My husband, who does most if not all the driving, turns off to follow a sign to a viewing point. I’m so pleased he did. What we discover becomes a highlight of the road trip.
We pull up beside a wooden viewing platform. The sign describes it as “Lake Tyrrell Viewing and Information Platform”. The modern-looking building a short distance down the road looks like offices or something for the salt mining company.
Lake Tyrrel, in north western Victoria, is the largest salt lake in Victoria. Cheetham Salt Works extract over 100 000 tonnes of salt from the lake each year.
Walking Across Lake Tyrrell
A car passes us and we decide to follow them, driving slowly past the modern building to where a car has pulled up on the verge near a walkway. Comfortable now that we’re not trespassing, we park and set off on the 1.3km boardwalk to walk to “The Point”.
Shallow slushy pools of water swirl around mud patches and flat crusty layers of salt. A half-submerged thong (of the footwear kind) protrudes from the sludge. The deceptive surface isn’t as strong as it looks.
The Largest Salt Lake in Victoria
Signs describe the plants and animals that can survive in this “unforgiving landscape” where the water is 8-10 times saltier than seawater. I bend down, dip my right index finger into the slush and lick my finger. Yes, the water is very salty.
Large metal letters concreted into the ground welcome visitors to “T Y R R E L L”. Two mounds of dirty looking salt rise up from the surrounding saltbush.
The Sky Lounge and Sky Mirror
Seats, similar to the metal chaise lounges in airports are arranged in a circle in an area called the “Sky Lounge”. People come here at night to view the stars.
I read that ‘Direl’ or Lake Tyrrell is a sacred place for the Boorong people who lived and still live here and manage the land we stand on. Apparently in the right conditions, “the night sky reflects in the lake”.
Imagining myself lying back on one of the lounges staring at millions of stars on a clear night, I wish we were staying here for the night. I’d love to walk to the end of the walkway and experience the wonder of the Sky Mirror, a star-studded sky reflected in a thin layer of still water covering the lake.
Getting Bogged in Lake Tyrrell
Chris from Buloke Council stops for a chat. He explains that the fragile surface can’t support much weight and people and cars sink into the mud beneath the surface if they step or drive onto it. He shakes his head at those who ignore the signs not to drive onto the lake.
Apparently, social media made Lake Tyrrell an overnight sensation with Chinese visitors who flocked to see the sky mirror. Chris tells the story of a man who hired a Pajero in Melbourne and drove four hours to Lake Tyrrell. He then drove onto the lake and became bogged. He left the car, and trudged through the mud to walk into town from where he caught a bus back to Melbourne.
At the airport, he put the car keys on the counter of the hire car company saying “the car is stuck in Lake Tyrrell” and boarded a flight home. It cost $18000 to remove the car from the lake.
For more stories Chris suggests I look up Swan Hill Towing on Facebook adding “you can’t fix stupid”.
Upgraded Facilities in Lake Tyrrell
The building I mistook for a private building is actually a new viewing platform and amenities block. Together with the walkway and sky lounge it was opened in December 2020. The care and attention to detail that went into the project design and construction is obvious. Consideration has even been given to the light in the toilet block. It glow’s red to prevent light pollution for star gazers and astrophotographers.
Sea Lake and Silo Art
We drive into Sea Lake for a late lunch and to visit the silo art. The detailed work “The Space In Between” depicts a young Aboriginal girl on a swing looking out over Lake Tyrrell. A powerful wedge tail eagle soars above the girl and emus run off into the night. Joel Fergie, aka The Zookeeper and Travis Vinson, aka Drapl painted the work in October 2019.
I’ll Be Back
Lake Tyrrell has left a lasting impression on me. I’m already planning a return visit to experience sky mirror for myself.