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There have been more stories told about Bungey’s Hole [located behind Werribee Bowling Club] than about anywhere else in Werribee!
There’s its name for a start. One story says a man called Bungey was driving a horse and carriage and it toppled over a cliff and into the bottomless depths of the water-hole, never to be seen again. Another is that there was an aboriginal elder named Budgel Carnie living in the area in the 19th century, and that the hole was named for him. An 1845 map shows Budgel Carnie’s Hole and notes that it was a ‘famed resort of the banyip [bunyip]’. Gradually ‘Budgel’ became Bungie, and the ‘Carnie’ was dropped. Or was it, as one story goes, named after a boy nicknamed Bungey who jumped in to save the life of a drowning child?
Who can say? There is no record of anyeone called Bungey living in Werribee, and there was no inquest into a disappearance or death to match the story. However, there were reports of divers saying that they could not find the bottom; one even spoke of ‘forests which appeared to be growing on top of each other’. There was a certain reluctance by others to dive down to see for themselves.
Even in 1934, when a 12-year-old was drowned, police divers reported that because of the depth and the muddy water they were unable to find the body.
But the change of name from Budgel Carnie to Bungie is strange, too.
In Werribee’s early days, when the water supply came from the river, people went down by horse and cart to fill their water barrels at Bungey’s Hole. Even when the river level was low, there was always water there. We know now that this is because there is a freshwater spring that feeds into it on the downstream side. It has also been established that the hole, far from being bottomless, is 30 metres deep.
In the early years of the township, pioneer settler Elliott Armstrong ran a ferry across the river nearby; travellers used it to get to Geelong, and people cut off by flood waters in the river could get across into town.
Years ago there was a small island in the river called Bungey’s Island, about 45m by 15m. It was swept away in a huge flood in 1891.
In 1908, a deputation waited on the Council to ask for Bungey’s to be used as a swimming pool. They pointed out that, ‘owing to the want of a water supply [in Werribee], it was almost impossible to obtain a bath’, and urged that permission be given to bathe in the river. The Council somewhat reluctantly agreed, as long as the swimmers agreed to wear swimming costumes. After all, the ladies' croquet lawns were not far away (where the bowling greens are now). Fortunately, the water level was well below the level of the croquet lawns! One councillor was not convinced. ‘The park during the warm weather was visited by women and girls who appreciated the shade which the trees lining the river afforded,’ he said, ‘and it was unthinkable that men should be allowed to run about in an unclothed state. Even in costume it was not an edifying sight.’
Werribee Shire Banner, 26 January 1933, p.1.
The Council, however, agreed to the request.
The pool became a very popular spot for Werribee people. A thriving Swimming Club grew up, and volunteer instructors taught beginners and helped others improve their style. A diving tower was built, and changing rooms, There was night swimming (when people could sneak in and swim without paying the entrance fee charged by the Swimming Club). After a particularly hot Christmas-New Year period, when hundreds of people swam or relaxed at the Pool, a Banner reporter enthused in January 1928: ‘Until this year it was rare indeed to see sexes in the river together, but now that the “ice has been broken”, Bungey’s Hole promises to become the St.Kilda of Werribee’.
Werribee Shire Banner, 5 January 1928, p.3.
Later that month the Club held the first annual swimming carnival , with four races for male swimmers, and a 50 yards ladies’ race, and high diving and greasy pole competitions. Lady supporters of the Club ran a soft drinks and ice cream booth.
In 1934, flood waters wrenched the staging away from the bank, but it was restored by Club members. A new concrete pool for learners was opened, and a diving board installed. When an infantile paralysis (polio) epidemic was raging in 1938, the medical officer recommended that children under 14 should not use the pool.
In the 1930s, the popularity of the pool began to wane, and there were concerns about water quality. In 1946, the Medical Officer sent samples away for testing, and the verdict was that the water was not suitable for drinking, but was quite safe for swimming. But the town population was growing and the drainage area extending. More storm water entered the river above the pool, and concerns about water quality increased, as Werribee was still unsewered and seepage from septic tanks was a real concern.
By 1947, when the Swimming Club asked the Council’s help to improve facilities, the Medical Officer urged Council to consider an ‘inland’ (in-ground) chlorinated pool instead. The Werribee Shire Banner added its voice, saying that ‘the present pool never has been, and never will be, fully satisfactory...’
With the construction of the Olympic-size in-ground, outdoor pool, swimming at Bungey’s Hole became less popular.
Now Bungey’s Hole is a quiet place for picnics. It is becoming a haven for wildlife (although there have been no reported sightings of the fabled bunyip!), and there are moves to protect native vegetation by controlling weeds and litter. It is a natural beauty spot to be protected and preserved.
And there is a sign on the town side: No swimming!
Esther Murray, The Plains of Iramoo, 1974.
Werribee Shire Banner, 26 January 1933,p.1 [quoting from edition of 30.1.1928].