Lake Eyre

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Lake Eyre – A Journey through the Heart of the Continent – by Paul Lockyer is an ABC coffee table booking which sums up with interesting text and fantastic photos this weirdly wonderful Australian lake. It’s Australia’s largest lake and the fifth largest ‘terminal’ lake in the world, a terminal lake is one which water flows into, but not out of.

lake-eyreThe real mystery behind Lake Eyre is that most of the time it isn’t there. Only when there are large and consistent long term rainfalls in the lake’s catchment areas does enough water flow into Lake Eyre to bring it to life. The rest of the time it is dry salt flats. Soon after I arrived in Australia in the early ‘70s there were huge floods that brought water in to the lake and there have been several smaller fillings since. Huge inflows in 2009-2011 prompted the ABC television filming which led to this book. Sadly it also led to the death of the author, Paul Lockyer, in a helicopter accident.

island in Lake Eyre, 2000 flood - 540▲ I’m currently working on a forthcoming book – Australia’s Islands – for the National Library of Australia which has prompted me to look at Australia’s ‘ephemeral islands,’ islands that come and go. In 2000 with a friend I’d driven along the Gunbarrel Highway, the outback track from Western Australia to Uluru, and then travelled up to Alice Springs to walk the Larapinta Trail. Finally, driving back to Melbourne, we stopped at Williams Creek and, finding Lake Eyre in flood, went out on a light plane to fly over the lake. And glimpsed this Lake Eyre island.

Water coming in to the lake takes a long time to get there, rivers have to fill, waterholes have to flood, it’s a step by step process that gradually gets the water there. Then it comes alive, suddenly frogs, fish, crustaceans which have laid dormant since the last flood come to life. Birds appear, somehow the message gets out that the lake is alive and waterbirds – particularly pelicans – flock in from all over Australia and further afield. Even the Lake Eyre Yacht Club comes alive and its sailors flock to the lake. Then the inflow stops, the lake dries and the desert reappears.