Originally written by BRIAN O’BRIEN
VOLCANOES are again about to burst into action in the Penshurst area.
But this time it won’t be Mt Rouse blowing its top as geologists say happened a minimum 400,000 years ago.
The only volcanoes exploding will be in the former Mt Rouse Shire chambers Ñ and they will be safely confined to booming speakers and a DVD player.
Designer of the impressive volcanic interpretive centre, John Challis of Geelong, was in Penshurst last Tuesday and Wednesday putting the finishing touches to his creation.
And what he has managed to pack into one, not overly large room, and a corridor, is pretty impressive.
It’s often a long haul from concept to what eventuates Ñ and the inevitable compromises along the way Ñ but John is pretty happy with how it all turned out.
The Penshurst community is hoping it’s a success story with tourists as well. If it is, the town beside Mt Rouse stands to prosper. The volcanic centre couldn’t be better placed, situated between the Great Ocean Rd and the Grampians.
John was also delighted it was going into such an appropriate building, made of volcanic material.
The entrance will be via the building’s main passage where John has erected a timeline showing the history of volcanoes. And even though Australia has no active volcanoes, the eruption of some ‘young volcanoes’ such as Mt Napier and Mt Eccles wasn’t all that long ago in the geological time frame.
The big centrepiece of the exhibition is a six minute potted history on DVD. It imagines the viewer coming in from outer space. You zoom down to planet Earth, which morphs into Australia, the Western District and then the Hamilton region as if you are in a helicopter. Ripping along Harmans’s Valley and rearing up over Mt Napier is exciting stuff Ñ even if it’s only in the imagination.
John says he would liked to have had a more elaborate exhibition but was satisfied he has achieved a reasonable attraction given the budget of around $150,000. Interactive equipment is expensive, and could have gobbled up the entire budget. A compromise had to be made between how many videos, DVDs and computers could be afforded Ñ text is a hellvua lot cheaper.
But a visit by the Spectator last week should he has achieved maximum bang for the taxpayer’s buck.
The exhibition is aimed at the average tourist who, while they mightn’t have a detailed knowledge of volcanoes, will be hopefully stimulated to go on to explore Mt Rouse, Mt Napier, Mt Eccles, Byaduk Caves, Wannon and Nigretta falls, Wallacedale Tumuli and Harman’s Valley and thus spend some days in this area.
“There is enough information here to inspire them to look around. It’s designed to be entertaining and engaging, and not too wordy.”
Children are catered for in a clever way Ñ there is text, but a separate one down at their eye level.
The visitor will have no doubt about what to expect as he moves into the main body of the centre. A brilliant red photo of an active volcano confronts them as well as a video showing spectacular shots of exploding volcanoes in Hawaii and Indonesia. A giant basalt rock from the Penshurst area shows the end result of such an explosion.
The adjacent area has a strong flood of red color complemented by panels of text and images which look at how volcanoes are formed and their geological properties.
But the highlight is the six minute extravangaza which combines hi-fi sound, text messages, computer modelling and color images. DVD material is projected onto a low circular platform Ñ it’s like looking down into the bowels of a volcano. You travel from outerspace to Mt Napier Ñ some journey.
The visitor then moves onto the part Kooris have played in our volcanic areas, their interaction with the landscape and how they fit into the timeline of volcanic history.
The sixth area is aimed at schoolchildren and a restricted, interactive computer will allow access to current satellite images that record worldwide volcanic activity. A second interactive computer has a volcanoes game for young, primary-aged children, while an interactive rock ‘panel’ with shaped squares will enable children to line up questions and answers.
Before leaving the centre, a huge wall panel will tell people specifically about volcanoes in this region Ñ and where to go for more information.
The walls of the exhibit are built at quirky angles. John would have liked to have had simulated rock structures as the walls but the budget didn’t permit that.
“We basically decided to use the red light, the quirky angles of the building and the textured walls to give a sense of what volcanoes are about.”
Hamilton’s visitor information centre has a ‘taste’ of what can be found at Penshurst. There will be a map of the main volcanic features in this region and a video ‘teaser’ which shows parts of a longer version at Penshurst.
“The main idea of the Hamilton display is to get people to come to Penshurst and also visit the different volcanic features in the area,” John said.
“This (Penshurst) exhibition won’t tell them everything but hopefully it will stimulate them to think more deeply about volcanoes. And they might decide to stay an extra night or two instead of driving on.”
Advance Penshurst (AP) is currently forming a committee to run the centre after an occupancy agreement between Southern Grampians Shire Council and Advance Penshurst was agreed to at last week’s council meeting.
AP president, Brian O’Brien, said the committee Ñ to be chaired by former shire councillor, Marcus Rentsch Ñ had to work out many operational details, including staffing, before the centre could open its doors. But he was hopeful the volcanoes could be flowing again in Penshurst within a month.