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Tower Hill Reserve: History and Heritage

Tower Hill is a major natural landmark on the Princes Highway between Warrnambool and Port Fairy in south-western Victoria, and many people visit it to enjoy a picnic or walk, to see its wildlife or to study its geology. As a giant maar or volcanic explosion crater it is of international and national geological significance.

In the early years of European settlement much of Tower Hill’s natural vegetation was cleared and the land was used for farming and quarrying. In 1892 it became Victoria’s first National Park in recognition of its unique features but destructive uses continued. In 1961, Tower Hill became a State Game Reserve under the then Fisheries and Wildlife Department and a major re-vegetation program began. This program was largely guided by a painting created by Austrian born artist Eugene Von Guerard in 1855.
The Fisheries and Wildlife Department developed a planting scheme using Von Guerard’s detailed painting as a referenc, it shows grass and ferns on the island, and tea trees, wattles, sheoaks, banksias and eucalypts on the cones with reeds and tussocks in the marshes. Botanists studied the painting to identify plants, and re-planting was based on species known or believed to have been Indigenous to Tower Hill.

By 1981, around 25,000 trees and shrubs had been planted with the help of volunteers along with herbs, grasses and rushes.Native wildlife also suffered through decades of clearing and removal of habitats. After the re-vegetation movement began and efforts increased to eradicate introduced weeds, plants and animals, native animals were reintroduced to the Reserve. By the 1980’s, wildlife successfully reintroduced to Tower Hill included: koalas, grey kangaroos, wallabies, echidna’s, brush tail and ringtail possums, sugar gliders and over 160 species of bird.  Visitors have a good chance of seeing one of more of these animals any of the walking tracks through the reserve.

An extinct volcano

Tower Hill is a volcanic formation believed to have erupted about 32,000 years ago. Its formation is known as a "nested maar" and it is the largest example of its type in Victoria.
During formation, molten lava pushed its way up through the Earth’s crust and encountered a layer of water-bearing rock. Violent explosions followed creating a shallow crater which later filled with water to form the lake. Further eruptions occurred in the centre of this crater, creating the islands and cone shaped hills.  

After the eruption

Archaeological surveys of the area have uncovered axe heads and other artefacts in the volcanic ash layers and local Aboriginal people would undoubtedly have witnessed the eruptions. The area was a rich source of food and shelter for different clans of the Gunditjmara Nation including the Koroit-gunditj and Peek Whurrong people.

Descendants of these family groups still live in the area today and participate in the management of the Tower Hill Visitor Centre and its retail and tourism services through the Worn Gundidj Aboriginal Cooperative. The Worn Gundidj Cooperative has managed the Visitor Centre on the Main Island since 2002 in partnership with Parks Victoria and provides information about the geology, flora, fauna and cultural heritage of Tower Hill through interpretive information displays and guided bushwalking tours.

Please click here for more information on Worn Gundidj Tours at Tower Hill.

(References:Parks Victoria; Tower Hill's Heritage Story and Park Note)