‘Sheer bloody passion’: How a small town turned a dirt hole into a vibrant, picturesque lake

‘Sheer bloody passion’: How a small town turned a dirt hole into a vibrant, picturesque lake

What does it take to build a 500-megalitre, man-made lake in the middle of a dry farming region?

“Sheer bloody passion, persistence and determination,” was Ouyen Lake Committee’s unofficial secretary, Tracey Lawson’s, best description.

It has been 10 years since 300 residents from the north-west Victorian farming town of Ouyen came together to transform an abandoned dry reservoir into a vibrant recreational lake.

The project prompted the formation of the Ouyen Lake Committee and was just the beginning of what the devoted group of tireless volunteers has achieved since.

Lady with long wavy hair smiling at camera in front of a lake

Tracey Lawson says creating the lake has taken a massive effort from the community.(ABC Mildura Swan Hill: Jennifer Douglas)

Ms Lawson said the committee wanted to build a recreational water hub that would ensure Ouyen continued to provide a vibrant social, economic and recreational lifestyle for youth and community to encourage them to continue to call Ouyen home.

“Water makes such a big impact on people’s wellbeing both mentally and physically,” Ms Lawson said.

Build it and they will come

aerial image of a blue lake

Ouyen Lake has been transformed from an abandoned dry reservoir into a vibrant recreational lake. (ABC Mildura Swan Hill: Jennifer Douglas)

Ouyen Lake Committee chair Deane Munro said the idea for a recreational lake first kicked off more than 20 years ago.

He said it came after the much-loved nearby Walpeup Lake dried up, which happened when the open irrigation channel system that filled it was replaced with pipelines to reduce evaporation.

Man with hat in front of a lake

Deane Munro  has dedicated more than 20 years to building a recreational lake.(ABC Mildura Swan Hill: Jennifer Douglas)

“When the pipeline came through, we realised there was a glaring gap in our social wellbeing, [with the loss of Walpeup Lake] our community lost access to recreational water,” Mr Munro said.

Mr Munro and the Ouyen community unsuccessfully lobbied for funding to refill the Walpeup Lake for more than a decade.

Success came after their focus shifted closer to town, to the site of the old Ouyen reservoir.

aerial image of dry lake

The dry reservoir before its transformation.(Supplied: Ouyen Lake Committee)

“The abandoned Ouyen Reservoir site was a mess and required a massive volunteer clean-up effort, but look at it now,” Mr Munro said.

Keeping it local

With a declining population of 1,100 residents, Ouyen’s community recognised a need to build a thriving township, where the younger generation would be happy to stay or return to build a life with their families.

“We wanted keep our town viable and strong going forward and that’s probably one of the main drivers behind why we’ve worked so hard to build this lake,” Mr Munro said.

Volunteers bring lake to life

Volunteers have been the backbone of the project, contributing time, expertise and equipment to transform what was a dirt hole in the ground into a picturesque lake.

As with many of the community and recreational facilities that have been built in Ouyen, the lake wouldn’t exist without the thousands of volunteer man hours contributed over the years.

volunteers standing in dry lake bed

Volunteers gather as water begins to fill Ouyen Lake.(Supplied: Ouyen Lake Committee)

Mr Munro said it took 35 residents, farmers and tradies 10 days to shift 100,000 cubic metres of dirt.

He said machinery, cooking and baking was also donated.

The efforts saved the project about $600,000.

“All it cost was $2,000 in fuel,” Mr Munro said.

Wakeboarder airborne

The Victorian State Wakeboarding Championships were held at Ouyen Lake.(Supplied: Phil Down)

The lake now boasts manicured lawns, a wharf, jetty, toilet block and BBQ facilities.

It recently hosted several major events including the Victorian State Wakeboarding Championships.

“This area would still be a hole on the ground if it wasn’t for the volunteers,” Mr Munro said.

“That’s what makes this little town and community is so strong.”

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