The water tour (Part I) continues, in previously droughty central Victoria. Last Sunday we visited Ballarat to lunch and see a couple of shows at the Gallery, an exhibition opening and the refilled Lake Wendouree.

Lake_WendoureFor the last few years this local icon has been notoriously dry. So much so that the locals took to walking across the lake, as reported by the ABC (picture). Three sisters of our acquaintance trooped along, said it was squelchy but quite firm. Today it’s cracked earth no longer, thanks to rain and bore water.

Sunday, a local triumphantly remarked, was the first really sunny day they had seen this spring. The sky was blue, the kerbside tables were loud with cafe trawlers, family groups walked along the lake edge basking in the reflections off the rippling splendour. Good times, again.

Back towards the jetty sheds, boats were sweeping across the lake, the white sails and black swans. At our end, near the 1956 Olympics memorial (rowing, canoeing, kayaking) we looked out to a sea of green, a plain of water-milfoil and spike-rushes, only grown back in the last several weeks.


nowalking2The inset picture, top, of the lake bed features a sign advising that Swimming is Not Recommended. Even full, one should be able to walk to the other side, chesting the water (officialy the deepest point is 2m). From 2006 one might have strolled across; I remember seeing a report of someone who had broken a leg doing that when his/her foot went through a soggy crust. In the picture above you can see a bit of signage in the middle. Close up, the half-submerged legend commands, No Walking!

The nearby Bot Gardens were a riot of blooms embedded in deep green laws rolling into the distance. Green! Linus once pointed out to Lucy in Peanuts: ‘But what if you don’t like green?’ Neat, but we seem wired to revel in vert, however much we might revere the continent’s red heart. In a drought, the colour of drink is green.


Spiders’ nest at Lake Burrumbeet

Lake Burrumbeet, about 20 km from Ballarat, has long been a local haunt of fishers and boaters and swimmers. And site of a caravan park — people live here. Its 2400 hectares have been drying out since 1997, declared completely dry since 2004. The lake advisory committee chair Mike Calwell: ‘It’s the best part of 10 years since we’ve had any effective water level for fishing and boating.’ Friends, it’s all come back:


We noticed veils of ghostly thread float across our view; jerking back as we realised they were spiders kiting on wings of web. The shoreline was blanketed with sticky screens, a picnic with Miss Havisham.


Further up and east, 15 km from Castlemaine (Northcote North), my friend Josh Durham sends proof that Turpins Falls is looking good:



So, to another local icon, Peter Temple

shamebegameLast night in Melbourne, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards were handed out. The VPLA (or, Visible Panty Line Association, according to the naughty winner of the fiction prize) has been running for 26 years and last night’s event was the first to be organised by the Wheeler Centre — enfolding it into that marvelous entity: Melbourne, City of Literature. (One imagines a Borgesian, or Saramagesque, day of nude reading as the whole city’s folk walk around carelessly leafing though paperbacks and thumbing iPads.)

But why we were here is to celebrate the winners. The prizes are wide-ranging, from the superbly helpful ‘Prize for an Unpublished Manuscript by an Emerging Victorian Writer’ to recognition of the intellectual heavyweight division, ‘The Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate.’ The latter was won by my friend Dr David Hansen, with his (already Calibre-prize winning) essay, ‘Seeing Truganini,’ on the combustible intersection of art history and aboriginal politics. He gave a trenchant and witty speech ending with a quote from that quintessential 90s poster for contraception, wherein Condoman encourages: “Don’t Be Shame  Be Game!’

The night was brilliantly jollied along by Casey Bennetto (Keating, the Musical) who introduced each category with a song, if not a dance. For the Nettie Palmer Prize for Non-Fiction Bennetto invented a memorable ode to the one book in the shortlist without a colon in its title (Captain Cook was Here, alas, losing to Reading by Moonlight colon How Books Saved a Life.) And a truly pithy summation of Julie Kalman’s Rethinking Antisemitism in Nineteenth-Century France: ‘Hassling the Jews.’


That’s Dr Hansen on the left schnortling away at the Bennetto song for Journalism. Anyway, the big deal, the trumpet blasts for the evening were left for last, post-mains (but pre-dessert, consoling sweetener), post-Drama, post-Poetry and post-History. We refer, of course to Fiction, where five guys (‘and they’re all guys,’ Bennetto slid in) vied for the gongiest gong, including Our Coetzee, the laurelled and Nobeled.

Romping home was the local hero from Ballarat, the Temple, for Truth (companion volume to The Broken Shore, judged by the Crime Writers’ Association in the UK as the world’s best crime novel in 2007). Truth had already won this year’s Miles Franklin, causing a flurry of reports about Crime taking out the country’s premier literary prize (see the Mulcher account). Temple’s acceptance speech was characteristically wicked, opening with his declaration that he had a few complaints, including there having been far too many thanks during the evening, and questioning the taxing of literary prizes (his was $30K) when gambling winnings were not. (Gambling winnings can only be taxed if you proved you made a living from it and used a logical system — Temple said he could demonstrate to the ATO that he neither made a living from writing nor was any logical system used.) And that ‘everyone involved with this book was an impediment to it.’

Mentioning the Miles Franklin he said the VPLA prize was two legs of a personal trifecta. The third leg would be if, this next Saturday, St Kilda — at which a tremendous braying went up. Amazing — one must infer that Melbourne’s literary crowd are all Collingwoodheads. Anyway, it was well won. The Broken Shore was great, but I think Truth an even better piece of writing. Lower ‘Crime’ quotient, but more literature. Well done, judges, well done, Mr Temple, well done.

Here’s a little jotting from the night, Temple in thought:


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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey