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Town splashes out after a long, dry decade

DARREN GRAY, HOPETOUN

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Hopetoun's Lake Lascelles is full for the first time in 10 years. Photo: Jason South
March 20, 2010

http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/town-splashes-out-after-a-long-dry-decade-20100319-qm8p.html

THE black Maserati slowly rumbles along the water's edge and comes to a stop. A well-dressed young driver behind dark sunglasses leans out and inquires about accommodation for a school work crew.

On the grass in the background nearby, half a dozen young Muslim men who alighted from a large white people mover kneel beside the lake for a prayer ritual.

A few hours later, the steady procession of people passing this lake in the Mallee morphs into a preliminary bridal procession as bride-to-be Melanie Moyle wanders along the grass on the water's edge. She carries a yellow tape measure and an intent look. She is here to measure up a location for the red carpet she will walk down on the big day, and decisions have to be made about where the carpet goes and how long it is.

Her husband-to-be, Nick Seipolt, has spent most of the day crutching 550 sheep but is now at the water's edge after a few brisk laps of the lake in his sleek white speedboat.

Dotted around the lake are several motor homes and caravans, some from as far as Queensland, others from as close as Mildura.

Mr Seipolt and Ms Moyle, the young Muslim men passing through the town of Hopetoun on their way to South Australia, the cool-looking young blokes in the flash Maserati and the occupants of the motor homes are all seeing something unseen for 10 years.

After a decade as nothing more than a hole in the ground, Lake Lascelles is back, brimming with water, people and activity.

Mr Seipolt, president of the Hopetoun Ski Club, says he and his fiancee chose this location for their wedding vows shortly after the water started flowing back into the lake last September, an occasion witnessed by about 150 people, or a quarter of Hopetoun's 583 residents.

Mr Seipolt, 26, says the ski club has bounced back strongly after going into an enforced hibernation when the lake dried up in 2000.

About 20 boats have signed up to use the lake, he says. About 100 people are using them for skiing, knee-boarding or other activities.

''It's made a huge difference to the town, not just to us,'' Mr Seipolt says. ''On a nice weekend down here (recently) we had 18 boats on the water, so there could be more than 100 people down at the lake on a weekend. Some people just come and sit and talk.''

The water has brought extra trade to the town's two pubs, the popular BonBon Cafe, the supermarket and other businesses.

The award-winning sausages of local butcher Joe Wellington have been a hit with skiers, selling out on some days at the height of summer. ''We used to make sausages twice a week, now we are making them four or five times a week,'' Mr Wellington says.

Bookings are strong for the Mallee Bush Retreat cabins by the lake.

The chairman of the Lake Lascelles-Corrong committee of management, Bert Hallam, has been praised for his long-term lobbying that helped get the water back.

The grain and sheep farmer says the lake - a visible, tangible and usable body of water - has lifted spirits.

''The channel system has been made redundant and virtually all of the dams have dried up, so this is the only surface water in the district that we can get to now,'' he says. ''Hopefully the fish will come along, yabbies will come along. And of course there's also water-skiing and swimming.

''This is a rural community. We've had a series of hard years. Grain prices are nothing spectacular. Now we are kind of whinging with a smile on our faces, rather than being gloomy all the time. At least we can come down here and smile a bit about it.''

The lake - which has been deemed a ''recreational lake'' entitled to water from the Wimmera Mallee pipeline - is full after the regional water corporation, GWMWater, sent 520 megalitres from the pipeline.

The rapid progress of the pipeline and the much better inflows recorded in Grampians catchments last year than in previous years ensured Lake Lascelles received water earlier than expected.

At the current price of $40 a megalitre, the Lake Lascelles refill will cost the local council $20,800.

Up to 3000 megalitres a year from the pipeline will be shared among nine recreational lakes in the region.