Blackburn Lake’s history at a glance

Early Days

Mid 1850 - The Crown first disposed of land in the Nunawading district.

1889 - The Lake itself was formed by the damming of Gardiner's Creek. The Freehold Investment and Banking Company, an early land speculative syndicate in Blackburn, is credited with having built the Lake for the purpose of enhancing land values, and to provide a reservoir for local orchardists.

Picnic Excursions

1889 - The Company built a refreshment room and jetty at the water's edge. Four rowing boats were available for hire. Picnic excursions were organised from Melbourne; passengers rode in converted cattle trucks. The journey took up to two hours by steam train.

Heidleberg Artists

1893 - Around this time, the artist Frederick McCubbin set up his easel in the bushland surrounding Blackburn Lake and painted some of his best known works, including "Down on his Luck" and "The Bush Burial". His home -where he lived for a short time- was situated at Lot 52(no. 7) Wolsley Crescent.

Blackburn Lake was to have been the centrepiece of a model township planned during the boom years of the 1880s. In the 1890s, the land boom burst, and the Freehold Investment and Banking Co went bankrupt. The legacy of their planning - curving streets, tree planting and the Lake as a focal point, remain today as an excellent example of the "garden suburb" concept of urban planning.

1903 - The Blackburn Lake Paddock was first subdivided for sale.

Adult Deaf Society

1909 - The Adult Deaf & Dumb Society (now Adult Deaf Society of Vic) purchased a 75 acre (30.4 ha) block, which included the Lake. The Society built a substantial home in Central Road, established a men's wing, cleared the land and cultivated a flower farm. A women's wing was later constructed. The property was known as "Lake Park," a place for the "aged, infirm and feeble minded deaf mutes" to live and work in, growing flowers and vegetables to sell at the Victoria Market.

Flower Farm

1916 - Fourteen acres were under cultivation; the remaining land remained uncleared with an abundance of wildflowers. The flower farm grew beds of narcissi, gladioli, chrysanthemums, dahlias, carnations, roses, gaillardias, violets, jonquils, daffodils and watsonias.

1914-1918 - During the war years, large groups of wounded soldiers were often brought to the Lake for picnics, as part of their recuperation. On these occasions, the whole northern bank would be dotted with groups of soldiers and nurses.

1921 - Following a decision by the High Court, the flower sales ceased, as a charity could not earn money and would be liable to pay municipal rates.

Learn to Swim

1927 - The Herald "Learn to Swim" drive was held, continuing until 1931. Many major swimming carnivals were organised by the Blackburn Swim Club to be held at the Lake.

Protecting the area

Since the Lake was owned by the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society, its immediate surrounds were protected from development for many years after the Society ceased to use the property as a flower farm.

1938 - Residents feared the loss of this environment. The Blackburn Progress Association was keen to acquire the lake and surrounding land for development as a public reserve. The government of the day promised to assist with "improvements, construction of baths, etc." While ownership of the entire 75 acre site remained in the hands of the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society, the area continued to be popular with the general public.

1954 - The Melbourne Metropolitan Board of Works (MMBW) Planning Scheme zoned the area around the Lake as public open space but it was still owned by the Adult Deaf and Dumb Society.

During the 1960's, high intensity and often incompatible uses of the Lake, including speed-boating, water-skiing, illegal rubbish dumping, canoeing, yachting, fishing and open-fired barbecuing began to threaten the fragile environment. Sensitive vegetation along the lake fringe, which provides vitally important habitat for wildlife, was destroyed in many parts.

1964 - The Adult Deaf Society sold 13.4 ha, including the lake and some surrounding bushland, to the MMBW; and Camberwell Grammar purchased 6.5ha of land east of the Lake.

Becomes a Sanctuary

1965 - A Committee of Management, comprising local residents, was formed to preserve the flora and fauna in the reserve. Blackburn Lake was declared a "Sanctuary" by Council in response to concern over motor boating on the Lake.

Early 1970s – The Adult Deaf Society demolished their premises and constructed a new complex further west, at the corner of Central and Lake Roads. Today, during summer months, when the grass dries, the foundations of the old home, dormitories and out-sheds are clearly visible on the lawn between the playground and the Visitor Centre.

1975 - Following extensive efforts by local residents, the City of Nunawading purchased 14.3 acres (5.8 ha).

1976 - A further 33.1 acres (13.4 ha) was purchased by the City of Nunawading. An environmental assessment and master plan was prepared by the Committee of Management and Nunawading Council's Parks and Recreation Department.

First Management Plan

1980 - Land owned by Camberwell Grammar, south of the Lake, came under threat of subdivision. Following a report on the land prepared by the Committee of Management, the area was acquired by the City of Nunawading, bringing the total area of Blackburn Lake Sanctuary to 63.8 acres (25.8 ha). Deliberate measures were introduced to reduce visitor impact and encourage regeneration. The network of walking tracks was established, reducing access to the Lake's edge. Along with landscaping to reduce erosion, such measures help to stabilise the lake’s edge. Several areas were fenced off, including the old picnic site (now relocated to the present area).

Education Program

1985 - Friends of the Lake Education Program was initiated.

1986 - A revised Blackburn Lake Master Plan was prepared.

1991 - The Visitor Centre was extended to accommodate the expanding Education Program. Jointly funded by Nunawading Rotary Club, the State Government Eastern Area Scheme and Council, the project cost $143,000. A hexagonal activity room, storage areas, and landscaping including pond and enclosed courtyard were built.

1992 - Land for Wildlife status was achieved. Council purchased 0.5 ha along Central Road, at the north east corner of the Sanctuary, from the MMBW.

1994 - Fire burnt 8 ha of bush to the east of the Lake, and reburns 4 ha of bush in 1997.

1995 - A major playground upgrade and extensive lake-edge revegetation works begin. The Committee of Management became the Advisory Committee.

It belongs to the community now

1998 - Final payment made on the Camberwell Grammar land.