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Stories from the Hamilton Highway

6. Volcanoes along the Highway


There are 3 main volcanoes close to the Hamilton Highway. They may look the similar but are quite different in detail.

All erupted between 5,000 and 300,000 years ago but they come through different bedrock.

Mount Rouse near Penshurst is the largest and maybe the oldest of the newer plains volcanoes. It erupted for maybe 100 years about 300,000 years ago. Dense liquid lava flowed down old river valleys for 65km to the coast at Port Fairy. There were about eight eruption points of different sizes in the complex covering a large area. Some of these points formed fountains of scoria thrown several hundred metres into the air which cooled in falling to form the vescicular scoria cones we see today.An aquifer of this porous basalt came to the surface in Penshurst as the "Never Fail Spring", which became a gathering place for three different groups of indigenous peoples, and probably led to the township being located there.

There is a sealed road to the summit car park and a Volcano Discovery Centre in Penshurst.

Mount Shadwell near Mortlake is also a scoria cone, probably about 25,000 years old. It is famous for the quantity of the crystal olivine which is in the scoria mix. Olivine is an iron/magnesium silicate and is one of the first crystals to form as the magma is erupted from deep in the mantle. For some reason there is more in Mount Shadwell than other volcanoes. The only public access to the mount is at restricted times by permit from the shire council office.

Mount Elephant near Derrinallum is an intact scoria cone that has had a mixed ownership. From aboriginal times to the year 2000 it was privately owned. It is now owned jointly by the local community and a conservation group Trust for Nature. The quarry on the north side was mined in 1910 for railway ballast. The west side was a commercial quarry for 50 years until 2000. In those days there were no regulations concerning restitution of the quarry site, so these quarries give a view of the profile of the cone. Early paintings and photographs tell a story of the changes in tree cover over the last 150 years. The time of eruption is being investigated, but may be 7,000 years ago. There is an aboriginal legend that Mount Elephant and Mount Buninyong erupted at the same time.

The mountain is open to walkers every Sunday afternoon. Details are on the Mount Elephant Website


         Mt Rouse
Mt Shadwell  
Mt Elephant      
Author: © Chris Lang 2015

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