Continuing drought exposes long-forgotten drama

By Alex Johnson
Updated November 6 2012 - 11:29pm, first published March 23 2008 - 11:22am
Lake Corangamite's disappearing water has exposed this Wirraway aircraft, which crashed into waters then 2.5 metres deep in 1950. The pilot survived almost unscathed. Picture: PETER EDWARDS

A POST-WAR relic has been laid bare in Lake Corangamite for the first time in almost 60 years as water levels in Victoria's largest lake drop to an all-time low.The salt-encrusted fuselage of the Wirraway aircraft - which crashed into almost two-and-a-half metres of water in 1950 - now lies exposed, resting in nothing but mud. Nearby resident and keen photographer Peter Edwards last week braved the salt-capped, thigh-deep mud to trudge about a kilometre out to the aircraft. Mr Edwards' friend Preston Hunt joined him on the expedition but the deep mud forced fellow photographer Leonie Kennedy and Buddy the Labrador to turn back.Mr Edwards said he took the opportunity to head out to see the plane because it was the lowest he had seen the once-popular swimming spot in more than 35 years. "When we first moved here all the swamps were full but they haven't been full for, like, 12 years," he said. He last saw the partially exposed aircraft from a dinghy soon after it was rediscovered in June 2005. Its trainee pilot, Vance Drummond, was forced to ditch in the lake on October 23, 1950 while doing low-level exercises on a training flight from Point Cook airbase. He escaped with only bumps and bruises. Mr Edwards believes today's lack of water in the 234-square-kilometre lake is linked to unprecedented groundwater use by local irrigators."All these water cannons are just pumping megalitres out," he said."You'd think they'd be putting restrictions on them but nobody seems to be."Mr Edwards has a 20-hectare property and uses bore water to keep his garden alive."It's not the farmers' fault at all," he said. "I think the water people (regulators) should have a look at this area and find out where all this water's coming from."It is believed to be the first time the Wirraway's entire body has been revealed down to the mud.The situation is the same in many of the region's volcanic lakes, where high evaporation has seen salinity levels soar and water levels plummet, killing hundreds of fish and leaving anglers' boats stuck in the mud. Avid south-west lakes fisherman Doug Lucas has also never seen the lake drier."Apparently it's been lower but I haven't seen it this low," he said."We just haven't had the rainfall to fill it."