“OH my God! Check it out! There’s so much water.”
My housemate from Canberra raised an eyebrow and looked at me, dumbfounded.
“Bree, it’s a lake. That’s what lakes do — hold lots of water.”
She didn’t get it. But then again, how could she?
She hadn’t seen it after 10 years of drought when it has basically been empty, as low as 3 per cent.
And this lake isn’t just any body of water for me. It’s a living picture-book of memories, a snapshot of my life.
It’s the one thing when you live on the Border that is such a constant you take it for granted, yet if it were ever to be taken away you’d be devastated it was gone.
And until this week, I hadn’t realised that there is not a single stage in my life that isn’t marked with a memory on its waters.
Click below to meet just some of the many happy devotees of Lake Hume. (iPhone users go to Video tab in Menu.)
There are 23 swimming spots and reserves on the lake and I reckon I’ve tried at least half.
My first memory is right at its heart. No older than five, I raced into the water directly outside the Lake Hume Resort and stepped in a large pothole, promptly disappearing beneath the water.
Panic gripped me for a millisecond before my cousin’s strong hands yanked me out.
As we got older dad drove us out to Apex Park, which locals would know better as “The Pines”. Dad loved it for the shade. We loved it for the sand that grew so hot we’d run as if dancing on hot coals.
Sometimes we ventured past Table Top to Bowna Reserve where it felt like we had to walk miles and miles to find any water.
It was here that I grew a love for kayaking.
When I was 15, my friend’s dad took us out there and we would paddle up and down for hours, singing our favourite songs and laughing as we lost balance and fell out, time and again.
In my late teens, my neighbour introduced me to his jet boat, taking us kids to the Hume Boat Club at Bethanga for a spot of skiing, wake-boarding and rides on the biscuit.
I face planted — many times — and was once thrown off the biscuit at such speed I rolled and skidded across the water like a skipping-stone.
That same year an old primary school friend invited me to camp in the main grounds for New Year’s Eve. It felt weird camping so close to home, but I loved chatting to all the caravaners, riding our bikes and partying in the kids’ disco that night.
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Eventually, I got my licence and that’s when the real fun began.
I’ll never forget the day a girlfriend and I took our inflatable boat out to Bowna with nothing but my buzz-box car to transport it.
We placed the boat on the roof of my Daihatsu Mira — which was barely as big as the boat — threaded a rope through both the back windows and around the top, then set off with dance tunes blaring from my amped-up speakers.
My friend and I were tomboys through and through but were delighted when carloads of boys on their P-plates beeped at us as we drove by. No doubt they were laughing at our ridiculous set-up.
Later, my friends and I would pack a portable barbecue, Eskies full of snags and ice-cold drinks and set out to Ludlows Reserve, past Ebden.
We’d throw the frisbee, paddle out to an island and flirt with the boys we’d met at the pub.Of course, we had to stop at the general store in the main resort on the way home for their famous giant ice creams.
It wasn’t until my first boyfriend took me on a romantic sunset drive, however, that my awe for this magnificent mass of water solidified.
A volunteer firefighter at the time, he had taken a fire truck up Red Light Hill (at Lavington) for a training exercise and brought me back there to check out the lake from up high.
My jaw dropped as I saw its vast expanses stretch from the Hume Highway heading towards Sydney, behind Albury-Wodonga and beyond to Tallangatta.
It made me think just how small we really are.
It also made me dig into the history of our lake — and this is where its real merits shine through.
Did you know that Lake Hume holds more than 3 million megalitres? That’s six times the amount of water held in Sydney Harbour.
And just like the Harbour Bridge, our dam was built during the Great Depression.
More than 1000 men were employed to do the job and when the nation was at its poorest, workmen were told to load rock into trucks using their bare hands for the sake of creating more work.
The dam took 17 years to build and, once finished, was the biggest in the southern hemisphere and one of the largest in the world.
When state authorities were pondering the best place to position a dam to manage the Murray, Albury was chosen out of 25 options.
Imagine if they had not chosen us.
From our vantage point on the hill, I could see the weir wall. A lot of people have walked this wall and I’m sure they loved it.
My friend hosted an “Amazing Race” around Albury for her 21st (just like the TV show) and one of our challenges was to run to the end of the wall, skoll a glass of cordial concentrate, eat a dry Weet-Bix and run back for the next clue.
Wouldn’t recommend it — I spent the next challenge trying not to vomit.
I also visited the trout farm once. It’s closed now and I reckon I was the only visitor in its history who couldn’t catch a fish.
As I’ve become older, my memories of the lake have merged with dreams for the future.
I’ll never forget my first year working on Christmas Day when, stuck for a story, a photographer and I headed for Boathaven Caravan Park and found the Brett and Gibson families.
These families had travelled from Albury, McCrae, Rosebud and Melbourne every year for seven years to spend Christmas together and their son was now going out with a girl he’d met there every summer.
And surprise, surprise, her parents had also met at the lake.
I looked at their happy smiles, shared spit roast and family stories and thought — “I want my family to do this one day”.
Recently, I heard about the rail trail bike path constructed at the old Tallangatta Bridge and thought — “I want to ride that”.
And as I hear more about fishermen whiling away the hours in peace, or the yacht club growing in membership, I think — “hmm, maybe I should try that”.
More than anything, I can’t wait to take my kids down to The Pines and hear them squeal as they run on the hot sand and splash in the water.
OTHER SUMMER DAYTRIPPERS YARNS: