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Halls Gap in the Grampians National Park

The BIG4 Grampians Parkgate Resort

Our drive to Halls Gap was fun. There was a horrendous cross wind from the right - recorded at 100 km/hour in the Grampians. It's true! It was on the television. What greater source of truth is there than the television unless, perhaps, 'New Idea'? The M8 Motorway is under construction, much of it alongside the A8 (on which we were travelling). The caravan actually behaved very well but the driver was never quite sure whether a sudden gust would upset everything. Clouds of grit were blowing off the vast construction site and across the road until visibility was down to about 50 metres in some places. Headlights were essential to be seen by oncoming vehicles. If only those approaching vehicle's drivers were as smart as our driver and used their own lights! When a large truck passed in the opposite direction its bow wave added to the cross wind and was like a giant hand giving us a sudden push.

Drama, drama. Anyway we reached Halls Gap intact and safe. As we turned into the 'resort' we were greeted by three deer grazing outside the park reception. They were not tame and soon shifted out of our way. We didn't see them again that first day but by God, if they alone had dropped all those marble-sized, glossy black pellets which were everywhere they must have one heck of a metabolism. Later: Sorry deer, we discovered it was 'roo poo the next morning. Pam was confronted by two large 'roos just outside the 'van.

Don't ask me to explain this because I can't but during the two weeks that we stayed at Daylesford we were never very settled. Yet as soon as we set up in Halls Gap everything was different. The park is beautiful and surrounded on three sides by towering, rocky ridges and peaks ... yet the park in Daylesford was quite beautiful too, in a different way. It's all to do with 'vibes'. Then there's the temperature, too; it is much warmer here in the Grampians than it was in Daylesford. Doubtless the reason is the altitude difference; this caravan park is only 750 feet above sea level, the one in Daylesford is at 1,900 feet. I'd have sworn the Grampians would be the higher by far, but not so. Please forgive my use of feet instead of metres, I'm old.

Park Gates Park

The Park Gates Resort. That must be a baby Grampian in the background. Behind the brick building are two swimming pools, one heated. Beyond the pools are tennis courts and to the right of the building is a large jumping pillow.

We loved this park from the start, especially the way the wild kangaroos and deer came to visit. Photographing the deer was a matter of patience as they jump at their own shadows. Photographing the 'roos was a matter of getting up at dawn, so if they want their pictures taken they'd better come back at a civilised hour.

Red Deer

This photo was taken at maximum zoom and after waiting for the deer to step into a patch of sunshine.
When in shadow they blend with the background. For example, did you notice the second deer in the picture?

Running Deer

This deer was spooked by a car turning in to the park.

The 'roos and deer are silent but not so a huge flock of Long Billed Corellas. Hundreds of them gather in trees in the park and when another flock flies over high above, the ones in the trees set up a deafening screeching to attract their attention. The flying birds respond by descending in a series of graceful, wide 's' turns and join their mates in the trees.


Long Billed Corellas. We're not aware of ever seeing them before. They have a scarlet mask and throat.

We visited Halls Gap town on our first full day and were surprised how small it is - the population was 613 at the 2011 census - and how tourist orientated it is. It has a cheerful 'holiday' atmosphere about it and there were quite a lot of people wandering around the shops and sitting outside alfresco cafés. Stoney Creek runs through the town, passing under the road before merging with Fyans Creek. Does every place in Australia have a Stoney Creek? We seem to find them everywhere.

In the Halls Gap Centenary Hall, Texture 2015 was in full swing. Don't ask me what it was all about, it was definitely a female thing. Outside the hall an area of paving was decorated in a strange manner.

Straw Woman

Left: Where are my legs? she cried.                           Right: Over here, came a muffled shout.

The Grampians name was bestowed on the region in 1836 by Surveyor General of New South Wales, Sir Thomas Mitchell, after the Grampian Mountains in his native Scotland. The highest peak, Mount William, rises to 3,830 feet and is the centre of the 'Grampians Wave', a weather phenomenon enabling glider pilots to reach altitudes above 28,000 feet.

Halls Gap was named after the first settler in the area, Charles Browning Hall, who found the gap by following Aboriginal tracks. Fyans Creek runs through the gap, widening out into Lake Bellfield a few kilometres above the town where it has been dammed. Below the dam it resumes its creek status, flowing past Halls Gap and on down past the Park Gate Tourist Park.


Taken from the Boroka Lookout, looking up the Fyans Valley to Lake Bellfield


From the Boroka Lookout I spotted what I thought was the Halls Gap township (circled) until I realised that it wasn't the town, it was the Parkgate Resort in which we were staying. At full zoom (below) we could see our caravan.

Park from Lookout

1. Reception and access road. 2. Tennis courts. 3. Large pool. 4. Heated pool. 5. Our caravan.

Our Pajero

Apropos of nothing at all, this is Billy, our Pajero. He is 13 years old with over 210,000 kms under his belt.
He's towed our caravan all around Australia and spent his life out in all weathers. Doesn't look bad on it, does he?

Ararat and J Ward

The Tour Director organised a day out to Ararat, in particular to see a Chinese Museum. However, our first stop was to be the Tourist Information Office where an excellent advisor overwhelmed us with interesting places to visit. Top of the list was an ex-gaol called 'J Ward'.

Firstly, let me fill you in on the background. In the middle of the 1800s there was a lot of gold mining in the area, particularly at Ballarat and Bendigo. Many Chinese sailed to Australia to make their fortunes but the miners of European and American extraction resented these hardworking, well-disciplined people and there was frequently trouble breaking out. The Government of Victoria did what governments do best; they imposed a £10 landing fee on every Chinaman to step ashore in the hope that would deter any more from coming. Neither the Chinese nor the captains of the ships which brought them here were prepared to pay this impost so the captains dropped them off at Robe in South Australia, the closest port to the Bendigo/Ballarat goldfields that was outside Victoria. They pointed east and told the Chinese that the goldfields were just over the hill.

One such group numbering 700 set off walking and about 300 kilometres later arrived at a little creek near Mount Ararat where they put down their heavy loads and paused to bathe their feet. As they sat there, one of them spotted something glittering on a flat rock ... and the rest is history. At first they tried to keep their find secret but before long miners were arriving from all over the world. The town of Ararat was born, the only town in Australia to be founded by Chinese. The gold find was a rich one and soon there was trouble and the forces of law and order needed a secure gaol. In 1859 the new Ararat Gaol was opened, a secure fortress made from heavy blue stone blocks. The walls were four metres high and descended two metres below the ground. There were guard towers at intervals and each tower was only accessible from outside the prison.

Guard Tower

One of the guard towers built when the J Ward building was a goldfields prison.

The gold ran out around 1885, the miners went elsewhere and the need for a gaol diminished. However, during its time as a gaol three murderers were hanged there and their remains were buried in unconsecrated ground in the prison yard. The graves were supposed to be unmarked but our tour guide, Doug, told us that when there was a frost, one part of the yard never froze. When it rained, the same area remained dry. It is thought that heat is being generated by the quicklime in which the executed men were buried. A close examination of the perimeter wall in that place revealed three separate arrows scratched into the stone of the wall. It was assumed that the executed men lay beneath the arrows and today a plaqued marks each grave. How did they know which man was below each arrow? In a word, they guessed.


Plaques supposedly marking the graves of Andrew Vair and Henry Morgan.

Plaque and marker arrow.

The plaque for Robert Francis Burns showing the marker arrow scratched into the stone below.

When the gaol closed, the Ararat Lunatic Asylum, desperate for secure accommodation for its criminally insane inmates, took it over in order to protect its other patients. In those days many people were confined to insane asylums for what we'd now regard as the most bizarre reasons. A person who suffered from epilepsy, for example, or autism could find themselves incarcerated with no hope of release. People with a physical abnormality or perhaps a stammer could likewise find themselves locked away.

Thus the gaol became a hospital ward (J Ward), of the Ararat Lunatic Asylum. Letters of the alphabet prior to J had already been allocated to other wards so the gaol became the Ararat Asylum's J Ward. Was the building totally renovated and refitted as a hospital? No, it was only a temporary arrangement so any such expenditure could not be justified. In the event however, this temporary arrangement was to last over 100 years! J Ward finally closed in 1991 and became a macabre tourist attraction.

Pam has covered much of this story in her Journal entry for 22nd March; it's well worth a read and will supplement what is written here.

Tour Party

Our Tour Guide, Doug, in the blue shirt using a 'volunteer' to demonstrate a straightjacket. We all enjoyed the
tour immensely ... except, perhaps, the two on the right. The allotted ninety minutes stretched to three hours!

The sleeves on the straightjackets (see picture above) had the ends closed off and were securely sewn to the lower part of the jacket. The straps which secured the back of the jacket had tamperproof fastenings requiring a key to release them thus the prisoner (sorry, patient) could not attack anybody. If their inclination was to kick out, they were put into special trousers that had the legs connected at the bottom so they could only shuffle. Sent out into the exercise yard dressed thus, they were at the mercy of any other ... er, patient ... that they had upset. It only took a little push to send them to the ground. Once down they had no way of getting up without help and these men were not renowned for their kindness and mercy. Note that while most of the inmates of J Ward were arrested for brutal and sadistic crimes, once they were diagnosed as insane and sent to J Ward they became 'patients'. There are, of course, many stories of the patients that were held in J Ward - too many to recount. Here are just two:

Gary Webb - did he ever stand a chance?

For example, there was Gary Webb. More correctly known as Gary David, he was born to an alcoholic mother on 20 November 1954. While most of what follows is taken from Wikepedia, it corresponds with what we learned of this man on the J Ward tour.

Gary and his siblings were placed in an orphanage when he was four. At the age of 11 he began committing various offences including theft and making threats. When he was 13 he was first diagnosed as having a personality disorder with psychopathic traits. Gary was subsequently admitted to psychiatric facilities on eight separate occasions between 1976 and 1984 and was variously diagnosed with antisocial, borderline, histrionic and narcissistic personality disorders. It was during this time that he began self-mutilating to an extreme degree. Among other things, he swallowed razor blades, cut off parts of his ears and his left nipple, injured his genitals, hammered nails into his feet and swallowed corrosive liquids.

In 1982 Gary was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment for the attempted murder of three people during a robbery at a pizza restaurant. The robbery appeared to be an attempt to draw police into a shootout. The pizza shop owner and one of the responding police officers were severely wounded in the incident, while Gary was wounded in the legs by police. A news crew spotted him fleeing the scene and he was arrested.

Whilst imprisoned, Gary wrote many manuscripts, one entitled Blueprint for Urban Warfare which spoke of committing massacres upon his release from prison. The Blueprint listed 49 combat situations, ranging from horror movie clich├ęs (cigarette machines dispensing severed fingers, drink machines dispensing blood) to far more disturbing scenarios, such as the bombing of bridges and public buildings, the assassination of prominent politicians, the poisoning of water supplies and indiscriminate shooting in public places.

Gary later claimed that he had been instructed to write his more graphic fantasies down as a form of therapy. He also manifested a great deal of hostility to the police force and prison system, resorting to violence and self-mutilation whenever his requests or demands were not met. In January 1990, he was declared mentally ill by government health department officials. The Mental Health Act 1986 entitled Gary the right to appeal, which he did in February and March of 1990. In May 1990 the board upheld his appeal and found Gary was not mentally ill and recommended he be discharged as an involuntary patient. This was a consequence of the Board's assertion that a personality disorder is not a mental illness as per the Mental Health Act.

The Victorian Government faced the dilemma of respecting Gary's right to freedom and the protection of the community upon his release from prison. The government sought to keep Gary imprisoned indefinitely by introducing the Community Protection Act 1990. That legislation gave Victorian Supreme Court judges the power to hold Gary in preventative detention for twelve months if the judge was convinced by evidence before him that Gary was still a risk to the community and likely to commit further offences if released from prison.

Gary was an intelligent man with significant literary, analytical and computer skills. But he had a long history of responding to the most minor frustrations with violence, damage to property and self-harm. His refusal to co-operate with attempts to reduce such behaviours prior to his re-entry to society resulted in the Supreme Court repeatedly applying the legislation to continue his confinement.

Gary attempted suicide by swallowing razor blades. Following surgery to recover the razor blades Gary took the opportunity, during the temporary absence of his guard, to rip open his abdominal stitches and disembowel himself. That led to peritonitis and Gary died on 11 June 1993. Aged 38 at the time of his death, Gary was still a prisoner and had spent a total of 33 years in various institutions.

Bill Wallace, 64 years inside.

The story goes that in 1926 Bill Wallace murdered a man in the street with a shotgun after the man had previously refused to put out a cigarette in a café. Bill was deemed unfit to plead and was held at the 'Governors pleasure', which meant he could only be released if J Ward doctors were convinced he was 'cured'. Mr Wallace refused to talk to doctors and therefore was never released.

Bill spent so long in J Ward that he knew no other life and when well-meaning people expressed outrage that a man of his age was still incarcerated, his release was quickly organised. When he learned of this, Bill was horrified and eventually he was allowed to remain in J Ward. He was still in his 'home' when he celebrated his 100th birthday among familiar surroundings and friends. Later he was moved to the Aradale Lunatic Asylem for his own comfort and he died there shortly before his 108th birthday.

Bill Wallace had politely asked a smoker to put out his cigarette in a café. The smoker refused and he and his gang waited for Bill in the street. In the ensuing fracas, Bill shot the smoker dead. For that he remained imprisoned until he was almost 108 years old.

J Ward has many stories from over 100 years of operation but many of them will never be told. If only the walls could talk.

And it seemed like such a good idea ...

In order to see more of the Grampians we planned a drive south through the Fyans Valley and on as far as the town of Hamilton - about one hundred kilometres - then back along the western side of the mountains until we were almost parallel with Halls Gap when we would take a small road east over the top to complete our journey. Since Hamilton was a largish town - population around 10,000 - we decided we'd get a suspect caravan tyre checked and refuel at the Woolworths/Caltex discount petrol station while we were there. And so we set off.

It rained off and on for most of the trip to Hamilton, cloud obscuring the tops of the Grampians. On arrival, the caravan tyre that we'd taken was found to be perfectly serviceable and the 'discounted' diesel was the same price as that in Halls Gap. So we set off back through fairly uninteresting countryside. The Grampians were formed when tremendous pressure had forced up rock formations at an angle, such that all the cliffs and sheer drops faced east. Driving along the western side, all that's to be seen is gently rising ground.

All that changed when we turned off the A200 and up the Glenisla Crossing Road. The map had told us that most of it was bitumen with just a few short unsealed sections. The map LIED! The whole trip across the top was on corrugated dirt that shook us to pieces no matter what speed we chose. Not only that, the road was entirely through bushland that grew right up to, and sometimes partly over, the road limiting - or rather, eliminating - any sight of those towering cliffs and drops. At one point a small 'roo charged out of the bush on a collision course with us. It was far too late for the 'roo or us to avoid an impact. We heard a bang on the side of the car as it head-butted us. The track behind was empty in the mirror so hopefully there was no harm done. There wasn't a mark on the car. A little further on an emu appeared on the right side of the car keeping pace with us. Its height was such that all Pam could see was this comical head bobbing up and down. It was in my blind spot so I didn't see it at first, then I caught sight of this mass of feathers right alongside the car. It gave me quite a shock but a burst on the accelerator convinced it that it couldn't win and it peeled off back into the bush.

Arriving back in Halls Gap we decided to try and improve a disappointing day by visiting a lake that came highly recommended. That, too, was a disappointment being man-made by the construction of a levy bank which trapped water, perhaps from a creek. Most of the lake's surface was littered with semi-submerged, dead trees rising starkly out of the water. So we went home and opened a bottle. The day improved immeasurably.

Summarising our Halls Gap experience ...

... the Grampians are stunningly beautiful though we barely scratched the surface of places to visit. The wild deer and kangaroos enhanced our stay in the excellent Parkgate Resort though the 'roo poo was a bit of a nuisance. Nearby Stawell is very handy for the weekly grocery shopping as the retailers in Halls Gap target the tourists. Ararat has much to offer; I'd love to tour J Ward again, perhaps with a different guide next time, or take an after-dark evening tour. And of all the suggestions made by the advisor in the Ararat Tourist Office, we managed to visited but few. We may base ourselves there on any future visit to the region.

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