Lake Ballard and the Naked Statues!

The town of Menzies, 730kilometres east of Perth and 133 kilometres north-northwest of Kalgoorlie, is one of Western Australia’s most historic goldrush towns. However, Aboriginal people have lived in this area for many thousands of years. The local group is the Kaburn Bardu.

The Menzies goldrush boomed during the 1890s. On the 1 October 1894 a claim was registered, Lease No. 1380 in the name of LR Menzie and Sir George Shenton, and Lease No. 1381 for LR Menzie and RF Scholl. These became the Lady Shenton and Florence mines and the place Menzies. The townsite was gazetted in August 1895.

Our knowledge of Menzies was more to do with it being the closest town to Lake Ballard, home to the statues of Sir Antony Gormley. We had wanted to visit this area ever since we first heard about them. We booked into the Menzies Caravan Park for three nights. It was a lovely park with great drive through sites and very clean amenities. The Menzies pub was across the road and on our first night we had a drink and watched the football.

Aboriginal people have been living near or visiting Lake Ballard for well over 10,000 years. Spiritually, Lake Ballard is intimately associated with a ‘Seven Sisters’ dreaming story.

It involves the ‘Sisters’ on one of their nightly exploits. They were cruising across the sky and far below they saw a lake, and decided to go down and play for a while on its surface. They did this, but soon a man started chasing them, very keen to catch the youngest sister. Very frightened, to escape the man, they had to hide.

Today, many of the features of the lake and its surrounds are testament to the identity of the Seven Sisters, the ‘chase’ they endured, and the hiding places where they found safety.

In 2002, Paddy Walker, an elder of the Wangkatha people, was standing at the south-western edge of what we now call Lake Ballard, explaining “that island right in front of us, the largest of the islands, that is the oldest of the sisters.

Sir Antony Gormley is probably most famous for his huge and beautiful Angel of the North statue in Gateshead, in Tyne and Wear, England. He was commissioned by the Perth International Arts Festival to generate a work for its 50th anniversary in 2003. He travelled to the tiny hamlet of Menzies and persuaded 51 locals (and a few drop-ins) to strip naked. He then digitally scanned their bodies, made life-size moulds and then cast them in stainless-steel alloy. The 51 sculptures stand scattered over 10 square kilometres of the Lake Ballard salt lake.

Our visit to Lake Ballard would have to be one of the hilights of our five years of travel. Quite often when you are looking forward with great excitement to seeing a long awaited bucket list item, the reality can be so different from the imagined. Not here, this was far and away so much better than we expected. We were fortunate with the weather being sunny with bright blue sky but not overly hot. As we got out of the car, the Lake showed a brilliant white shimmer, dotted with the sculptures and you immediately felt a sense of awe and wonder. The colours were so vivid and walking out on the salt plain, the ground popped and crackled underfoot with the salt crystals. Every now and then, there was a squelching sound as your foot hit a very soft spot and went through to the mud underneath. We tended to walk in silence as we wandered from statue to statue. There was no way we could walk to all 51 of them but we covered quite a few. Ray managed to walk to the top of the island and Jude got half way up. An amazing 360 degree view of the lake and surrounding area. Please do yourself a favour and visit this iconic location. Just don’t go in the height of summer!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s