This weekend the shores of Lake Albert will be crowded with people for the annual Lake to Lagoon Fun Run. The area has been a popular spot for the people of Wagga to pass their leisure hours, whether on the water or off, for over one hundred years.
Lake Albert was not the initial name that Europeans gave to the area; instead it had the somewhat uninspiring name of “Swampy Plain.” The small village that soon grew up in the area also took on that name.
Then around 1866, the name of that watery area was officially changed to “Lake Albert”, most likely in honour of Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, who had died just a few years earlier. Not that there was probably much to call a lake there at that time. The long droughts that occurred early on in European settlement had apparently made the area a good place for the local brick makers to get rushes on which to stack their un-burnt bricks. It was also used as an excellent place to graze cattle, especially as it was on the travelling stock route.
Due to the persistent nature of a number of local people in the 1880s who thought it desirable to have a recreational area for aquatic sports in the Wagga Wagga district, it was proposed that Lake Albert be developed into an artificial lake of between 150 to 200 acres in size.
A public meeting held in the Town Hall on 4 June 1886 discussed planning a way in which a diversion from Crooked Creek and Stringybark Creek could be created to supply a permanent quantity of water. The vision at this meeting was for Lake Albert to become a tourist attraction such as Lake Burrumbeet at Ballarat and the inland lakes in Gippsland Victoria. It took almost two decades for this vision to begin to be a reality.
In 1888 the Premier of NSW, Sir Henry Parkes, visited Wagga and after a visit to the Lake Albert School, he was taken the short distance to Crooked Creek to inform him of the desire that the floodwaters which ran into the Murrumbidgee River could be diverted into the lake. The argument put forward was that not only would regattas and other aquatic recreational events be able to be held, but traveling stock would also have necessary water for all seasons of the year.
Almost fifteen years later, there was a further series of public meetings between 1898-1900 with the purpose of getting the Lake Albert project started. At a meeting held in August 1898 the Lake Albert Improvement League was formed and they immediately started lobbying for the construction of a weir, the diversion of a creek on the southern side into the lake and the partial diversion of Crooked Creek into the lake.
In August 1900, tenders were called for cutting a channel from Crooked Creek and for creating a dam across Stringybark Creek. The contractor, Mr Rowston, made every effort to work quickly and to ensure this he employed between 15 and 20 men for the job. This work was sanctioned by the Minister for Public Works and the work was expected to take approximately three months to complete.
The Minister for Public Works advised locals in December 1902 that an additional Lake Albert Water Scheme would be carried out to further the earlier work completed. The cost was not to exceed 475 pounds and local men, horses and carts were to be used.
In August 1905 for the first time in several years Lake Albert was full of water. It had suffered long and continued droughts which turned the area back into a swamp and even a grazing ground for cattle for a time. The plentiful rains of 1905 filled the lake to a higher level than had been experienced since 1894, making it desirable for the breeding of wild duck and other game.
Over 2,000 fish of various species were transferred to Lake Albert during the summers of 1906 and 1907. These fish were obtained from large ponds near the Murrumbidgee River and in January 1907 it was reported that these ponds were fast drying up and that the fish in these ponds were so plentiful they could simply be transferred to the lake by bucket.
During the following years all manner of aquatic sports were undertaken on Lake Albert. Sailing, canoeing, swimming, fishing and water skiing all became immensely popular. As well as sporting clubs, a number of Service Clubs utilised the idyllic setting for raising funds for charity. During the 1950s, power boat racing became incredibly popular and attracted large crowds.
Every decade whilst Lake Albert has been in use, meteorological anomalies have produced periods of drought and flood. These uncontrollable weather conditions have greatly affected the condition of the lake be it through lack of water, or too much water damaging banks or other structures.
Lake Albert has provided constant enjoyment to residents and visitors to Wagga Wagga for over one hundred years, and while the usage may slightly change, each generation has had a genuine interest in keeping Lake Albert a great recreational area for families to enjoy.
The Gormly Index (CSU Regional Archives); The Wagga Express, 25 August 1866; The Wagga Advertiser, 3 June 1886; 7 April 1888; 4 August 1898; 30 August 1900; 30 December 1902; 3 August 1905; 31 January 1907); Tom Lennon Collection (RW1574); Land and Property Information (http://www.lpi.nsw.gov.au/land_titles/historical_research)