From accounts of missing bodies to ghostly hitch-hikers, enigmatic Lake George, located on the busy Federal Highway between Sydney and Canberra, has earned a reputation of Australia's very own Bermuda Triangle of mystery.
But is there any basis to these claims? Tim the Yowie Man investigates.
When full, Lake George is one of the largest inland freshwater lakes in Australia. However, the lake is rarely full and its constantly changing water levels are the source of much of its mystical status.
MYTH: These unexpected changes in water levels have prompted several outlandish theories, such as underground links to nearby cave systems and to similar-sized lakes in New Zealand and even Siberia. Apparently their water levels go up as Lake George goes down, and vice versa, to maintain some sort of cross continental hydrological equilibrium.
FACT: There is no evidence to support these far-fetched theories. Studies by hydrologists have revealed the water levels of Lake George are determined purely by the natural processes of rainfall, run-off and evaporation. As the lake is so shallow, each of these effects becomes more noticeable than in deeper bodies of water.
Since 1949, 13 people have died in the lake's seemingly placid waters, including most famously five naval cadets from Duntroon who drowned when their boat overturned in freezing water in 1956.
MYTH: Many believe that the bodies of these poor cadets were never recovered.
FACT: Police records indicate that the body of each cadet was recovered, in some cases months later after the water levels dropped.
MYTH: The most colourful legend surrounding Lake George is that of a Loch Ness-type monster that has occasionally been reported lurking in the murky depths of the lake (and allegedly retreats to subterranean mud caves when the lake is dry). In fact, an 1866 NSW Road Guide warned travellers "to be careful of a large water monster that occasionally surfaces for air".
FACT: The same publication also claims that "the lake is surrounded by gigantic, towering mountains". As anyone who has driven past the lake will attest, apart from a small range (rising to about 50-150 metres above the lake bed), there are no "gigantic mountains" around Lake George. Given this level of exaggeration, the so-called water monster was probably just a large duck.
Beam me up Scotty!
MYTH: Lake George is a hot-bed of alien activity. Most reports are of strange celestial objects on the eastern side of the lake, spotted from the Federal Highway. The majority of these reports occur on misty evenings and involve a yellow-coloured object.
FACT: Some of these reports can be explained by Venus rising in the east or the bright lights of a sand mine that has operated for many years near Bungendore. However an account on January 16, 1996 near Collector, when a mother and her daughter witnessed not one, but two UFOs land in a paddock adjacent to Lake George, still has sceptics puzzled. The eyewitnesses described the object, which "hovered above their car, emitting a number of sparks underneath it", as "large and with rows of coloured lights".
MYTH: I'd like a dollar for every time I've heard this one. A regularly reported incident involves a girl in white, stopping cars on the Federal Highway, and asking for a lift. She asks the driver to take her to her grandmother's house in Queanbeyan, but when she's taken there, her grandmother says, "Oh [insert various girl names] died. She drowned in the lake 30 [or so] years ago." The little girl then disappears.
FACT: Adding "credibility" to these reports is that a little girl, Brenda Lynch, did drown in the lake on January 12, 1958. Despite this, the hitch-hiker story is almost certainly an urban legend. The same story, but with different locations, appears in folklore all over Australia, and other parts of the world.
More things you never knew about Lake George:
Secret convict canal
Hidden under part of the old Federal Highway at the Collector end of the lake is a curious convict-built canal constructed in the mid-1830s. The 50m x 4m canal was the brainchild of early landholder Terence Aubrey Murray, who had a chain gang of convicts build this folly to channel fresh water from Lake George into the stagnant swamp on his property Ajamatong, north of the lake, known as Murrays Lagoon.
Unfortunately for Murray and his merry gang of labourers, the canal proved to be a futile exercise because of the failure to recognise that the lagoon level was in fact marginally higher than the lake's, not lower. According to one version of the story, when the canal was completed, water from the swamp flowed into the lake instead of in the reverse direction.
From paddle steamers to hovercraft
It might be hard to believe, especially during the lake's recent prolonged dry period, but a number of pleasure craft, including paddle steamers, once plied the lake's waters taking tourists for scenic cruises. An advertisement in September 1884 extolling the virtues of Douglas House, an historic former guesthouse on the lake's western shore, boasted it had 20 large and airy rooms and an unsurpassed view of Lake George, across which a grand little steamer, the Pioneer, carried visitors. The remains of the boiler of the Pioneer are still in a Bungendore backyard.
In 2017, during the filming of an episode of Tim the Yowie Man The Series, Mick Nell and Marc Calwell became the first adventurers to fly hovercraft across the lake. Other watercraft to explore the lake include sailing boats (in the 1950s, several sailing clubs built club houses at the lake), bath tubs (there's one still in the middle of the lake) and hollowed-out pumpkins (left over from the annual Collector Pumpkin Festival).
A water pendulum
When a group of settlers camped by the shores of Lake George in the early 1820s, they apparently awoke in the morning to discover that the shoreline had mysteriously retreated over a kilometre from where it was the night before. Where did all the water go? The explorers were left puzzled.
The explanation actually lies above the lake in the air and in the ever-present wind that blows through the area. As the lake is shallow (an average of two metres deep when full), prevailing winds blow the water from one side of the lake to the other. Scientists call this pendulum effect a seiche. So the early explorers needn't have been mystified about where the water had vanished to it had simply blown to the opposite side of the lake.
The eastern side of Lake George is home to an important trigonometrical baseline that acts as a reference point from which all surveys in NSW originate. Yes, the whole state. The baseline, completed in 1874 and the last of four to be positioned at or near the lake, is marked by a tall stone pillar at the northern end and a smaller cairn in the south, the two landmarks are almost 9 kilometres apart in a direct line.
In 1850 a local grazier stocked the lake with Murray cod and by 1870 there were so many fish in the lake that a trawler worked the lake, commercially netting the fish. Unfortunately, soon after the trawler arrived, the lake did one of its famous disappearing acts and shrank and the fish subsequently died due to lack of water.