The Ebb and Flow of Tourism at Lal Lal Falls, Victoria: A Tourism History of a Sacred Aboriginal Site

By Clark, Ian D. | Australian Aboriginal Studies, Fall 2002 | Go to article overview

The Ebb and Flow of Tourism at Lal Lal Falls, Victoria: A Tourism History of a Sacred Aboriginal Site


Clark, Ian D., Australian Aboriginal Studies


Abstract: The Lal Lal Falls, situated within the traditional country of the Wathawurrung people, is one of Victoria's most significant Indigenous cultural sites, as it is one of several recorded living sites of Bundjil--the Kulin peoples' creator spirit. Lal Lal Falls, near Ballarat in Western Victoria, became a tourism attraction for non-Indigenous Australians for its natural and cultural values. It has undergone a fundamental transition from being 'the top tourist attraction', visited annually by thousands, to a site 'now virtually forgotten'. This study uses various models to explain its history. Tourism at Lal Lal Falls is an artefact of past sensibilities--the culture of tourism and the focus of people's search for tourism experiences have changed.

Lal Lal Falls, near Ballarat in Western Victoria, evolved over 162 years from an Indigenous cultural site into a recreational and tourism attraction. Key moments in this history were the visit by two European Port Phillip Aboriginal Protectorate officials in 1840, the reservation of the site as a public park in 1865, and the tragic death of two school children from a landslip at the site in 1990. To understand the history of Lal Lal Falls visitation, this study uses perspectives developed by MacCannell (1976), Butler (1980), and Gunn (1994). MacCannell's research into the development of secular attractions through four stages--sight sacralisation or naming, framing and elevation, enshrinement, and duplication--will be tested to see if it satisfactorily accounts for the development of the Lal Lal Falls attraction. Butler's tourism area life-cycle model may explain the subsequent stagnation and decline of the attraction, particularly since the 1990 catastrophe. Gunn's spatial model of attractions should be able to add a spatial dimension to understanding the history of recreation planning at Lal Lal Falls in terms of three zones (nucleus, inviolate belt, and zone of closure) of visitor interaction outlined by the model.

The Lal Lal Falls is one of two falls found on Lal Lal Creek, a tributary of the Moorabool River, situated three kilometres east of the Lal Lal township, and twenty five kilometres from Ballarat. (1) The falls, formed when a volcanic basalt tunnel collapsed, cascades 34 metres to the pool at the base (Figure 1).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Lal Lal is situated within the traditional country of the Wathawurrung, and is one of Victoria's most significant Indigenous cultural sites, as it is one of several recorded living sites of Bundjil, the Kulin peoples' creator spirit (Bonwick 1863; Massola 1957, 1968, 1969).

First phase: sight sacralisation and naming 1837-46

MacCannell (1976) has identified the first phase in the development of attractions as 'sight sacralization' or 'naming' when the sight or site is given a name. In the case of Gunn's (1994) spatial model of attractions, the site is the nucleus of the attraction, the principal focus of visitor interest--in this instance the nucleus is the waterfalls themselves. A fundamental step in its demarcation as a place of interest is its naming. This sacralisation stage corresponds with Butler's (1980) 'exploration' stage in which tourism as such is nascent and visitor numbers are dispersed and insignificant, a stage best described as 'pre-tourism'.

Several Aboriginal names have been recorded for the falls, including 'Bundjil', and 'Lal Lal', the latter said to mean 'dashing of waters in a crevice' (Clark and Heydon 2002). An early historian of Ballarat, William Withers (1999:4), wrote that a leaseholder, Mr Pettett, prior to 1838, went with

 
   ... a native chief named Balliang [who] offered to show 
   him the country about Lal Lal. The chief in speaking of 
   it distinguished between it and the Little River by 
   describing the water as La-al La-al--the a long--and by 
   gesture indicating the water-fall now so well known, 
   the name signifying falling water. … 

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