Surfers, barbecued meat and kangaroos – considering Australia’s most common associations, you’d be forgiven for expecting little cultural experience when visiting the home of Vegemite.
However, Australia’s rich history goes back much, much further than when the first Europeans greedily transformed this new land to suit their own interests. No, to truly delve into the culture of this antipodean nation we must look to the Aboriginal people who have lived in Australia some 60,000 years before the first European settler. Determined to learn a little more about the ways in which these indigenous people used the land, Kasha and I headed to the Tower Hill Reserve, a short detour on our adventure along the world-famous Great Ocean Road.
Tower Hill is set in the grounds of an enormous extinct volcano – a spectacularly lush crater located on the Princes Highway between Port Fairy and Warrnambool. Even the winding drive down to the car park revealed the spectacular array of fauna on offer. The reserve boasts plenty of self-guided walks, but thankfully we were joining a guided tour of the area. The tours and visitor’s centre is run by Worn Gundidj – a collective that helps employ Indigenous people, many of whom are descendants of the families that once lived in the area.
As we waited for the rest of our group to join us, our bush tucker ranger John took us through a brief history of Tower Hill. As a visual prop he used an image painted in 1855 to show just how lush this land was over a century ago. Unfortunately, European settlers soon tore apart this tranquil oasis, clearing the vegetation for farming and quarrying.
Despite being declared as Victoria’s first national park in 1892, it wasn’t until 1961 that Tower Hill was reclassified as a State Game Reserve and re-vegetation efforts were started to return the park to its natural splendour. Funnily enough, the painting he showed us, by Austrian born artist Eugene Von Guerard, was so detailed that botanists were able to study it to identify what plant life was native to the land and use it as kind of flora blueprint in the revegetation process.
Back in the present day, our tour began just outside the visitor’s centre where we immediately encountered a surprising array of wildlife. After bypassing a pair of wandering emus, we were lead to a seemingly innocuous tree and told to look up. Right above our heads a koala was sleeping away in the afternoon breeze. A great tip to anyone hoping to spot one of these furry creatures in the wild is simply to look for their droppings – the sleepy creatures will most likely be close by!
Unexpectedly our next stop was to a clearing encircled by old logs. Here our guide whipped out a few boomerangs and proceeded to teach us the basics of how to throw this famous wooden hunting tool – obviously this was no easy task. With a couple of lost boomerangs between the group, and zero returns, it’s safe to say we would have made poor hunters in the Aussie outback.
What I most enjoyed about the tour was that we were given a chance to see this area from the point of view of a ranger. Our guide John was interested in flora, constantly stopping along the walk to pluck at a flower, point out the various species of trees and nibble on various edible plants. This gave us an idea of how his ancestors must have wandered through the bush hundreds of years ago, looking at this land as an open-air pantry and herb garden.
However, I’d warn visitors not to wander too far from the path without a guide as shortly before the boardwalk we encountered our first predator – a copperhead snake. Coiled in the shrubbery, yet visible to the naked eye, this slithering, venomous snake was a beautiful if unnerving sight. Moments later we chanced upon our second serpent, a tiger snake. Even on this short walk it opened my eyes to the incredible abundance of life in Australia.
If you’re looking for something a little more cultural, and a little more special, this is a must do on the Great Ocean Road. You can check out the Tower Hill website for more info, and what tours are available – happy bushwalking!
Our tour of the wonderful Tower Hill Nature Reserve was organised by the folks at Britz, but as always any opinions expressed are entirely my own.
Want more stories about down under? Check out the time I did the biggest cliff jump in the world!