WA’s win­ter won­der­land

Angie Tom­lin­son finds a poignant beauty at Dum­b­leyung.

Narrogin Observer - - Observer News -

With Wa­gin be­hind us and Dum­b­leyung ahead, we round a cor­ner high on a hill.

What greets us is not glar­ing white but a deep, glis­ten­ing blue. Lake Dum­b­leyung is full and it’s a beau­ti­ful sight.

Usu­ally a dry salt bed, the lake has be­come a water en­thu­si­ast’s par­adise since fill­ing in Fe­bru­ary.

While the colder months put off all but the hard­core wa­ter­skiers and stand-up pad­dle­board­ers, the nat­u­ral beauty of the lake and its sur­rounds, as well as its fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory, is enough of a draw­card for vis­i­tors.

We are lucky enough to visit on a pris­tine win­ter day.

The sun is shin­ing, the glassy water per­fectly re­flect­ing the stark­ness of the bare tree trunks and swamp sheoaks on the water’s edge.

This is not a trip to be put off. The nor­mally dry lake is close to full for the first time in 11 years.

It has only over­flowed three times in the past 100 years and not for the past 30.

With a length of 13km and width of 6.5km, the lake’s size alone is im­pres­sive — es­pe­cially given its sur­round­ings, where lone water bod­ies are usu­ally dams dot­ting pad­docks.

Big­ger flat-topped yates and salmon gums sit above Lake Dum­b­leyung’s wa­ter­line, with the cutely named Pussy­cat Hill ris­ing steeply to pro­vide the per­fect nat­u­ral look­out.

Atop Pussy­cat Hill a lone tree leans at a crazy angle, for even on a rel­a­tively still day it’s still blow­ing a gale at this high point.

Nearby in­for­ma­tion signs tell the story of Don­ald Camp­bell, who on New Year’s Eve 1964 roared across the lake in his Blue­bird K7 to be­come the only man to have bro­ken both the water and land speed records in the same year.

The Bri­tish speed­ster had ar­rived at Lake Dum­b­leyung in De­cem­ber from South Aus­tralia, hav­ing al­ready set the land speed record (648.5km/h).

First it was ducks then windy con­di­tions that thwarted his ef­forts to at­tempt the water speed record.

With only hours re­main­ing in the year, the wind dropped and Camp­bell set the record — 444.66km/h.

He put Dum­b­leyung on the map and made a leg­end.

Three years later on Con­is­ton Water in Cum­bria, an­other record at­tempt ended in tragedy.

A high-speed crash killed Camp­bell in­stantly.

A gran­ite me­mo­rial was put on Pussy­cat Hill in 1984.

Ev­ery year on De­cem­ber 31 at 3.43pm, sun­light shines through an aper­ture in the rock and lights a minia­ture Blue­bird on the plaque to recog­nise the ex­act mo­ment Camp­bell broke the record on Lake Dum­b­leyung.

In the nearby town of Dum­b­leyung, 270km south-east of Perth, the com­mu­nity has done a fan­tas­tic job of hon­our­ing the mem­ory of Camp­bell and the events that took place in 1964.

Within an im­pres­sive Corten steel struc­ture adorned with blue­birds and eu­ca­lyp­tus cutouts lies a Blue­bird replica.

In­stalled on the 50th an­niver­sary of the record in 2014, the replica was painstak­ingly re­searched and re­pro­duced to the ex­act de­tail avail­able.

Signs tell the Blue­bird story and that of the com­mu­nity’s ef­forts to in­stall the replica.

The last word should go to Camp­bell.

When he ra­dioed his sup­port crew in his fi­nal run on Con­is­ton Water in 1967, there was some­thing heart­break­ing in his mat­ter-of-fact pro­nounce­ment of his own death.

500km/h: “I can’t see any­thing. I’m hav­ing to draw back.”

460km/h: “I’ve got the bows up. I’m go­ing. I’m on my back. I’m gone.”

Pic­tures: Angie Tom­lin­son

The gran­ite me­mo­rial was placed on Pussy­cat Hill in 1984.

The nor­mally dry lake is close to full, the first time in 11 years.

The Blue­bird K7 replica in Dum­b­leyung.

In­for­ma­tion signs tell the story of Don­ald Camp­bell on Pussy­cat Hill.

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