Mystical Lake George is brimmingly full at the moment and driving home to Canberra alongside its enigmatic expanse on Monday I was reminded of how, once upon a time, it was fancied as a site for Australia's federal capital city.
My mind turned too to the folkloric belief that the great lake's periodic fillings and emptyings are somehow mysterious. Pausing beside the lake on Monday at one of its VC stops (the stop's pavements decorated with stark bright yellow Beware Of Snakes stencils featuring images of rearing serpents), I found myself temporarily attuned to the lake's imagined mysteries.
It is December. Towards the end of a long, fatiguing year of being a pillar of reason, logic and fact-based truth, a columnist feels a kind of reason fatigue. He feels a hankering to share in the plain people's credulous fondness for the fanciful, the irrational, the unscientific.
Here is an example of what I mean, of a belief I am entertaining that is sweetly contrary to all ornithological science.
We assume that wild creatures are apolitical. How is it, then, that the hitherto restrained kookaburras of my neighbourhood burst into their first crazed cackles of the season on the very day, November 26, that it was announced Zed Seselja had missed out on Liberal pre-selection for the Senate?
My neighbourhood's kookaburras have not stopped chortling since, imitating, in their way, the anti-Zed chortling going on in letters to the editor of The Canberra Times as unkind, unfeeling human Canberrans rejoice over Mr Seselja's tragedy.
Similarly, in this state of reason fatigue, one feels quite disposed for now to believe the folklore of Lake George. One's inner credulist wants to believe that Lake George's ''mysterious'' fillings and emptyings are controlled by a team of landscaping pixies that's always playfully emptying and filling other lakes (often in China or Tierra del Fuego or New Zealand) to either empty or fill this NSW space.
These explanations are much more fun than the so-called scientific explanations of the lake's fluctuations being to do with plain truths about rain and evaporation, with ho-hum notions that water gurgles into the lake space when there's lots of rain but that then, because the lake is so shallow, its waters evaporate away in dry times, leaving the vast grassy place like a mighty AFL oval for matches between teams of giants.
On Monday, under the influence of reason fatigue, I preferred to believe that when the lake next empties it will be because pixies have pulled out the magic plug and the waters have trickled away to fill up a thirsty valley somewhere across the other side of the world or even out on a planet in a galaxy far away.
For better or for worse the nation's federal capital city has since arisen where it is (and is what it is) but with reason fatigue inclining me to whimsy, I do like to wonder what a federal capital at Lake George would have been like.
Yes, Lake George was actively championed by some as the ideal federal capital bailiwick. Senators actually inspected it, via an excited Bungendore, in 1902.
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The site's most enthusiastic champion was a Mr A. Evans, who sang the site's praises in 1901 in a paper presented at a federal capital city congress (of engineers, architects, landscape architects and other worthies) at Melbourne in 1901.
To illustrate this hymn of praise, Charles Coulter painted for Evans for display at the congress a literally fabulous impression of what the perfect federal capital city at Lake George would look like. The National Library has the priceless treasure of Coulter's painting. It is a surreally stimulating thing, imagining an ornate and pompous city that's an orgy of domes, steeples and pillars.
Evans must have been bewitched by Lake George during a late 19th-century visit when it was as spectacularly full as it is this very week in 2023.
At the congress, he rhapsodised that ''water is health-giving and pleasure-giving and is the most important factor in affording a grand perspective to a noble city [and] it is the object of this paper to show that Lake George will afford the loveliest waterside site the heart of man can desire''.
He offered the vision that, ''On the sloping hillsides and down to the water's edge are the palatial buildings of state and learning, while dotted among the foliage appears the villas of the residents and the spires of churches and public buildings.''
Evans sang that the lake's waters ''abound with Murray cod and other fish'' and that the lake site was so situated for a great capital city that ''it would be an easy matter to run a railway on to Kiandra and so open up the Switzerland of Australia to afford the citizens of the Commonwealth all the pleasures of the Swiss Alps".
It is a dull Canberran who cannot thrill to the evangelical vividness of Evans' vision and who does not ask flight-of-fancy 'what if?' questions of what might have been. Our federal capital city might have been a kind of improved Venice, a canal-centred watery wonder of the urban world where instead of today's tyranny of the roaring motor car, there might have been a blissful regime of elegant, white-sailed yachts, of bustling electric ferries (the waterborne equivalent of light rail) and of bobbing gondolas.