Alliance forms for lake’s fountain

June 21, 2024 BY

New interest in old icon: Charlie Nelson is leading the Fountainhenge Alliance, encouraging people to see Lake Wendouree in an astronomical light. INSET: Mr Nelson said the rustic fountain is like England's Stonehenge, which has alignments to the rising sun in the winter. Photos: EDWINA WILLIAMS

THE rustic fountain on the south-east edge of Lake Wendouree was built in 1879 to commemorate Ballarat’s first water supply.

Features of the fountain include a dome, and wings which have windows looking towards the north-west side of the lake.

When statistician Charlie Nelson moved to the city in 2021, he enjoyed exploring the area, and with an interest in astronomy, he made a discovery.

“I saw in the summer, the sun was setting behind the jet fountain which is set just behind the rustic fountain,” he said.

“When we got closer to the winter solstice, I got a surprise because the sun was setting both behind the jet fountain, and the rustic fountain.

“The setting sun appeared in the left-hand, or southerly, window.

“I thought, somebody has designed it this way, which is pretty strange and lovely.”

Six months ago, Mr Nelson was wondering what the northerly window was for.

“The sun can never set in that right-hand archway, but I realised there’s something occasionally that does,” he said. “That’s the moon.

“It has an 18.6-year cycle and now is the time when, once per lunar month, it is sitting in the right-hand window of the rustic fountain.

“Once it’s done this, it won’t do it again until the 2040s.”

Mr Nelson said the alignments suggest they were deliberately designed by someone in the late-19th century.

“They may have kept it secret waiting for some nerd like me to find it, or they may have told people, but it’s been lost over the hundreds of years,” he said.

To raise awareness of the fountain and its significance, the lake’s links to astronomy, and to draw more visitors to the area, Mr Nelson has established the Ballarat Fountainhenge Alliance

“The lake is effectively a calendar,” he said. “If you look at the jet fountain, the sun is setting behind it, we have amazing alignments at the rustic fountain, and of course the flag poles on View Point form a sun dial.

“The rustic fountain is like Stonehenge, which has alignments to the rising sun in the winter, so that’s why we’ve called it Fountainhenge.

Mr Nelson said the rustic fountain is like England’s Stonehenge, which has alignments to the rising sun in the winter.


“It’s not just pretty or interesting, there’s a link to what’s happening around us.

“The not-for-profit is to help educate the community about the lake, the sky and how the solar system can inform our daily lives using the rustic fountain as one of its instruments.”

The alliance was officially launched last week at The Boatshed restaurant, and founding member organisations include the Golden City Paddle Steamer Museum Society, Lake Wendouree Museum, City of Ballarat, and Ballarat Grammar.

Wadawurrung Traditional Owner Bonnie Chew is also part of the project, and more organisations have been invited to join.

“Bonnie is marrying up this information with Aboriginal astronomical traditional beliefs from thousands of years of history,” Mr Nelson said.

Alliance members plan to install scale models of the solar system around Lake Wendouree, not just to educate the community, but to encourage tourism and physical activity.

“Someone could start walking at the Lake Wendouree Museum at the sun, walk along past the rustic fountain past planets and signs, around to Pipers where we’d have Neptune, and past more planets back to the start,” Mr Nelson said.

“One can learn about history and astronomy if our proposals come to fruition.”

Nr Nelson will be at the Lake Wendouree Museum on Sundays from 10am to 3pm to discuss the alliance.

“Any organisations or people who can help with tourism, astronomical and historical research are going to be valued by us,” he said.