‘I am from a town near Swan Hill,’ I mutter with a doubtful tone in my voice. Most city people struggle to comprehend ‘the middle of nowhere.’ Call me cynical, but I am not sure they will have heard of Sea Lake- a tiny spec on the map of entirety – so I start with a more viable option.
‘I used to go on holidays as a kid up that way. Every year, for many years. What is the name of the town?’
Surely they will not know. There is no reason to visit Sea Lake, apart from visiting family, but I scornfully proceed. ‘Sea Lake. You probably haven’t heard of it though, there’s not much there anymore.’
To my utter surprise, joy spreads across the face of my new acquaintance as she recalls her vivid memories of Green Lake, that I too cherish as a child, of eventful New Years Eve parties, swimming, the buzz of boats and waterskiing, campsites bumper to bumper, laughing and playing with children, bush adventures, unique wildlife, sunsets and late nights around camp fires singing and digging in the sand. We spoke excitedly for some time, connected by our childhood memories of Green Lake.
My own mind retracts the glowing memories of Sea Lake’s emerald jewel. This was our summer; every year. These emerald waters were where families from the broader farming community congregated in their leisure time through all the years of hardship and persistent drought; the powerful and calm core of our community that united us and kept our bustling town afloat through the good times and the bad.
However, it was now dry. It has been dry for at least 15 years and as my brief new friend that day had confirmed- that dryness had not only sucked our lake’s water, but had gradually swallowed our town’s identity and the myriad of yearly visitors across the state along with it. Without it, we remained that tiny spec of nothing on the map of entirety; we were no one.
Fifteen years on from the drying of Green Lake, and despite a decline in half the population after years of business hardships and drought, hope remains strong. In a town, bonded by history and pride, Sea Lake residents are continuing to give their beloved lake a fighting chance and over 15 tedious years of battle for the water’s return (apart from a brief flood fill in 2010), their determination has not faltered.
The Sea Lake community are now faced with the extraordinary task of raising 2 million dollars for a resurfacing project before the lake is able to hold water, and in a desperate effort to restore the lake’s vitality, a recent pitch was put forward by local Alison McClelland on the government’s OurSay website in a plea for financial help as the government announced 10 million dollars of funding to go towards drought affected rural areas. A mind-blowing 2700 votes (huge for a town with a population of only 600 people) and scores of comments were gratefully received, highlighting the urgency for such a project in a town on the brink of survival.
To further highlight their unwavering resilience, in past decades the community has bought the local Supermarket, and more recently the Hardware store, and successfully established them as co-operatives after failing to survive.
However, true community spirit filtered the air on Sunday 20th March as a broad range of past and present local people, from babies to the older generations, joined forces in a Colour run to raise money for their daunting two million dollar resurfacing hurdle. Hope, passion and optimism would be the three best words used to describe the heart-warming scene on the banks of the forgotten Green Lake as the local Sea Lake community united as one to support a cause so near to their hearts.
It was the passion of four Year 10 students from Tyrrell College that gave committee member Trudy Conlan a reason to keep pursuing funding for the resurfacing of Green Lake. Recent attendees at the Victorian Alpine School, Claudia, Jess, Drew and Meg wanted to use their newly learnt skills to organise a community event. Inspired by attending other Colour Runs, the team of four recognised the run as an opportunity to get people down to the lake, raise some much needed funds and have a good time. The four students were responsible for organising all of the “legal stuff” required when holding a public event, seeking sponsorship from local businesses, recruiting volunteers for help with the course set up, participant registration and colour-bombing, as well as inviting the local Lions Club to run a BBQ stall.
“It is great to see that this generation is passionate about this (Green Lake), such a vital asset for our town,” explains Trudy. The only time Trudy’s daughter Meg and her friends got to swim in the lake, was when it flooded- they would have been eight or nine years old. Every hot summer day was spent down there. Every other year they have spent time in other towns at other waterways, mainly in Birchip and Hopetoun. When asked about what there is to do in Sea Lake when it’s hot and sporting commitments are finished, the reply from the four students was, “not much.” Hence the reason why they decided to get on board and help raise awareness for the town and its plight to access state and federal funding for its regeneration. They want to use the lake. They see its purpose, not just for something for them to do when it’s hot, but for all the flow on effects to the town’s economy and livelihood when tourists stay for an extended period of time.
With over 150 participants pre-registered and another 50 or so registering on the day, the estimated funds raised were around $6,000. Walkers and runners from all ages took part in the course with the majority of people completing the six kilometre course. Colour-bombed competitors smiled as they were covered with (and ate in some circumstances!) blue, purple, green and orange coloured powder. The bright colours shone against the backdrop of the bush that the track meandered through, but not quite as brightly as the smiles on all of the organiser’s faces. The four students have not only shown that local kids are able to successfully plan and implement a community event such as the Colour Run, but they have also shown the local and state governments that they aren’t happy to just sit back and watch an essential feature of the town become overgrown with shrubs.
And show them they did. Just two days before the scheduled Colour Run, Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) acknowledged the pitch that the community put forward a short time ago and have agreed to send representatives to Sea Lake on Wednesday to meet with the Green Lake steering committee and discuss the future of the Green Lake. Jacinta Allan from Regional Development Victoria (RDV) has also been invited. They have expressed interest in visiting the lake; a huge step for a strong-willed community striving for a future.
What if they say no? Well they are one step closer than they were before. Hope has been driving this community forward for 15 years, and after watching the magical connectedness of the locals on Sunday with the lake they refuse to turn their backs on, we at 3585livestayplay have no doubt they will not admit defeat just yet.
Is it worth resurfacing the lake for two million dollars you may ask? Putting a price on mental wellbeing and the survival of a community – a place where many past generations have sacrificed for the generations of today, not to mention a place that I, like many other local residents, want my children to experience for decades to come – is unquestionable. Water is the lifeblood of everything. Sea Lake has a lake, a pipeline and a willing community; all they need is water. Don’t let our hands be bloodied by yet another death of a rural town.