Western Victoria has up to 3,000km of the most dramatic and accomplished dry stone walls in Australia, historically and culturally significant, diverse in form and style. Many are visible along our roads and highways.
Western Victoria is dotted with dormant and extinct volcanoes which in the last 4,000 to 20,000 years spouted lava and stones. The most visible local eruption points are Mounts Leura, Elephant, Noorat, Porndon, Gellibrand, Widderin and Shadwell. Hollows created in the basalt surface resulted in numerous crater lakes such as Bullen Merri, Gnotuk, Keilambete and Purrumbete; while other lakes were formed when lava flows blocked valleys, such as Lake Corangamite.
Long before European settlement, Aborigines used stone for semi-permanent dwellings, cairns, races, canals and fish traps.
The Victorian gold rushes in 1851 decimated the farm labour force of shepherds, so fences were needed. Metal was expensive and a combination of timber post with wire was almost impossible to construct in the stony western plains. Dry stone walls came to the fore. The basalt plains needed clearing for farming and stones were the solution for economical wind-and-fire-proof fencing.
Rabbits were introduced to western Victoria in 1859, another reason for deep stone barriers. Rabbit-proof walls were so ingenious that (supposedly) rabbits could climb out of a property but not into it – as seen along the Princes Highway, Pomborneit, which features overhanging copestone as well as timber slats placed under the copestones. The Rabbit Proof Wall at Pomborneit was built in 1920 and is one of the strongest stone walls in the district; most of it is still standing.
Myth has it that Australia’s stone walls were built by convicts, but it was teams of wallers from Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Devon and Ireland who plied their skills in the Western District, and taught the locals. Cheaper post and wire fences in the 1880s resulted in a decline in wall building. The Depression largely brought an end to the waller’s craft in the 1930s, though a few local experts continued into the 1970s; it has since re-emerged as a boutique craft.
Australia’s stone walls are taller, thicker and deeper than elsewhere in the world and Western Victoria has up to 3,000km of the most dramatic and accomplished dry stone walls in Australia. Our rough local stone – bluestone, basalt, honeycomb, scoria – was right for the job, and the walls are historically and culturally significant, diverse in form and style. They reflect the desires of the owner, the purpose (varying sizes for sheep or cattle control, the tallest for personal glorification), the preferences of the waller, and available rocks littering the paddocks.
Two differing styles of Galloway Dyke form road boundaries at the southern end of Bass Road, southwest of Derrinallum: doubling on the lower half of the wall and singling on the top. The tottering appearance of stones along the top was calculated to deter sheep from attempting to leap over.
Dry stone walls rely on selection and placement of stones, together with a combination of gravity and friction. “There is a place for every stone” – stones are not broken or chipped, although each is tapped with a hammer to make it ‘settle’. Walls are best constructed with two men working on opposite sides. Typical freestanding dry stone walls consist of two, united with throughstones and copestones, the centre being filled with smaller stones and rubble, known as ‘hearting’.
Many of the walls visible along our highways have tumbled, a result of pulling out stones on the chase after rabbits, rubbing by cattle, or pressure from nearby cypress trees. Those along McRae Road, Noorat have been regularly repaired by descendants of the family who constructed them.
Hawks Nest Road crosses 15km of stony rises between Pirron Yallock and Pomborneit. The irregular rocky topography has defied the passage of time and stands of remnant basalt plans woodland remain. Hawks Nest Road is an undulating gravel road distinguished by the many lava flows along its 17 kilometre length.
The wider farming landscape has changed little since it was originally subdivided in the 1860s and is highlighted by some excellent dry stone walls. The road traverses lava flows between Mount Porndon and the southern shoreline of Lake Corangamite.
The Corangamite Heritage Study identified Hawks Nest Road as a place that is of significance:
….for its association with the settlement of the Stony Rises and in particular with Pomborneit East. Whereas other roads in the area were straightened with the aid of modern earth-moving equipment Hawks Nest Road has survived, still with the irregular profile of an early farm track. Hawks Nest Road is aesthetically significant as a linear landscape providing access through and views across the Stony Rises.
In many places the road is very narrow with a rough, unpredictable surface and should be driven with great caution.
Consumption Dyke: This is a very fine example of a consumption dyke, so called as it consumes large volumes of stones which lay on the surface of the land. Its height (at over 2 metres), style and width are most impressive. Constructed as for a standard dry stone wall, except there is no topping copestone.
Kolora Road Wall: This wall features massive copestones and base stones, and is an example of one of the many variations in wall style in the area.
Terang — Mortlake Road Wall: This is a typical dry stone wall of the district; a double wall with a height of about 900mm and tapering sides. Throughstones tie the two sides of the wall together.
Each wall on this route is identified by a roadside marker. Total distance: 60km.
Cock and Hen Wall: Its name is derived from the pattern of raised and flat copestones.
The Rabbit Wall: This section exhibits prominent throughstones on the north face.
Throughstones reflect a sound walling practice, as these stones ‘lock’ the two sides of the wall together.
The Rabbit Wall: This section is capped by massive flat copestones which overhang the wall and provide a barrier to rabbits climbing the wall. In other parts of the Rabbit Wall, slats and mesh are used for this purpose.
Foxhow Road Wall: A fine example of a wall built using uniform and rounded stones. These are difficult to work with as they lack the interlocking nature of more irregular and vesicular stones. This lower wall is in more open sheep country.
Total distance: 40km.
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Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of the Great Ocean Road region the Wadawurrung, Eastern Maar & Gunditjmara. We pay our respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging. We recognise and respect their unique cultural heritage and the connection to their traditional lands. We commit to building genuine and lasting partnerships that recognise, embrace and support the spirit of reconciliation, working towards self-determination, equity of outcomes and an equal voice for Australia’s first people.