ACT News

Our lake reflections

By John-Paul Moloney

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised by Skywhale, what with the giant floating chicken that greeted my arrival to Canberra and the world.

Sally Pryor's extended family enjoy the lake.
Sally Pryor's extended family enjoy the lake. 

I like to think it was an auspicious start to life to have my first post-maternity ward photo taken in front of a serene mega chook, which I'd hoped was 1980 public art but dad thinks was a converted street float for Parkwood Eggs.

In the last few weeks I've been asking colleagues to dig out their lake photos. Some have found that they have few if any.  "It's just the lake. We'd go all the time but my parents mustn't have thought it special enough to bother taking a camera along," one said.

Ben Westcott at the fort.
Ben Westcott at the fort. 

Mine did and quite often, although what's a solid enough pre-digital collection of a dozen or so pics has been eclipsed by a couple of iPhone lakeside bursts by me of my kids.

In my albums there's shots of me decked out in Raiders supporters' gear at Floriade. There's a shot after a visit to the Teddy Bear Hospital on Canberra Day. There's Food and Wine Frolic during child-friendly hours. Being accosted by pelicans. Picnics and swimming with family friends at Yarralumla. 


There's quite a few early-morning shots at the balloon festival. I was briefly confined to a wheelchair when I was five and was charitably given a flight the length of a tether rope. I'm due another balloon flight all these years on.

And while I haven't found any in my photo-album fossicking, there's bound to be shots from my favourite lake activity of all time – the Birdman Rally. I bloody loved that. The slapstick of people launching themselves off a platform into the lake was just about the best thing a young boy could imagine.

John-Paul Moloney with his mum Christine and a giant chicken.
John-Paul Moloney with his mum Christine and a giant chicken. 

I still maintain our city's celebration day would be better if the Icaruses among us were once again able to fling themselves from a great height into our lake's waters in front of thousands of their fellow Canberrans. 

By Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald plays by the lake.
Emma Macdonald plays by the lake. 

Not a day goes by when I drive over Commonwealth Avenue Bridge that I don't think of Gangles.

She is an impish fairy who lives on top of the Captain Cook Memorial Jet.

The creation of Canberra author and poet Ronald McCuaig, Gangles was my favourite children's book and made Lake Burley Griffin a focal point of my understanding of Canberra from a very young age.

My mother would drive me over the bridge en route to swimming, ballet or violin lessons and I would stare into the sunlit fountain mist – searching forensically for the sparkles that signified Gangles was in residence at the top of the spout in her splendid flowing dresses.

Of course, for the generations of born-and-bred Canberrans, many of us forged our connection to the lake in our first hours and days in the now-imploded Canberra Hospital.

While a newborn's focus could not stretch past the window to the vista below, I remember my mother telling me how her room faced the lake and she would share her gaze between me, cradled in her arms, and the sunsets. We bonded over those waters.

A  childhood's worth of visits to the shoreline followed – art classes by the rock fort, clambering on David Tolley's Children's Play Sculpture at the Lily Pond, and feeding the rowdy populations of swans and ducks after every picnic.

These are my memories and I am now overlaying them with the experiences of mothering my own children – who are as drawn to the shoreline as me.

Perhaps one day I shall die by the lake. For all the excitement and opportunities that lie in other cities, I have not yet left Canberra. 

Sometimes I wonder whether I will ever be drawn away.

My mother's last days were at Clare Holland House, a hospice perfectly rested on a quiet stretch at the eastern end of the water.

As she passed from life into death, my mother once again shared her gaze between me, resting my head on her pillow, and the sunsets.

By Sally Pryor

I'm unable to repress the involuntary shudders I still get at the thought of being immersed in Lake Burley Griffin.

Even on a beautiful sunny spring Sunday, when my two-year-old daughter is innocently dunking her toes on the shores of Black Mountain Peninsula, I'm uncomfortably transported back to my Sea Scout days in the Yarralumla Scout Hall.

Yes, that's correct, I did use the word "sea" in relation to our beloved LBG, but what else is a seafaring scout troop to call itself when marooned in the capital?

I'm sorry to say that despite the best efforts of this fine and upstanding organisation, I have been left with a lifelong aversion to any kind of enforced fun involving the outdoors or large bodies of water.

There were aesthetic benefits, of course, which drew me to the Scouts in the first place. What 12-year-old doesn't love sailor hats and navy-blue shirts adorned with boastful badges?

But when it came to donning a lifejacket and actually swimming in the lake – albeit before the onset of the serious toxic algae problem – I was turned off for life.

Not from the lake altogether of course. But always, always from a safe, dignified and picnic/jog/pram-friendly distance. 

By Ben Westcott

In Canberra there is nothing like a warm summer day beside Lake Burley Griffin.

In fact when I was young I loved the lake so much I tried to become one with it around my first birthday, walking defiantly into the reeds. Unfortunately my kill-joy mother ruined my plans, pulling me from the water.

As I grew older, there were always barbecues on the shoreline and stones to be skipped across the glassy, algae-ridden water.

The lake had all the best playgrounds back then, from a glorious, multi-coloured plywood monstrosity in Weston Park to the OH&S nightmare that was the stone castle in Commonwealth Park.

That mighty edifice of rock and concrete may have been the most dangerous playground in the Western world, with stone steps and tight tunnels keeping parents out and gleeful, easily injured children locked inside.

We went into the stone castle as boys, but we came out men.

They're not all good memories – when I was five, my favourite hat sank in Lake Burley Griffin, never to be seen again. Admittedly I had been collecting rocks in it, so maybe it was my fault. Still, to this day I feel a pang about that.

As a teenager the lake would take on a whole other meaning, with Skyfire, scavenger hunt mayhem and summer romances bringing a another side to my childhood friend.

But even after I left Canberra for a time, there was no doubt the lake was one of those things you can't wait to see again. It's one of our city's greatest treasures.

Also if anyone happens to see a green hat with a koala on it somewhere along the shoreline, could they let me know? 

Readers are invited to share their photos of Lake Burley Griffin as part of the Our Lake – 50 years photo competition, which runs till the end of October.  

There will be two categories with a total of $1000 prizemoney on offer. The first category invites readers to search their family albums for old photos celebrating the lake as a centre of Canberra life.

Since many Canberrans may be new to the city, the second category is for photos taken this year.   

A prize of $500 will be awarded for the photo judged the best in each category.

To enter the competition, send up to three photos to as JPEG files at least 150 kilobytes to a maximum of one megabyte.

Include your name, address, phone number, photo title and a description of where and when it was taken. Click or touch here for full terms and conditions.