A visit to Dights Falls in Abbotsford is a visit back in time. Located on Yarra River, just downstream of the junction with Merri Creek, Dights Falls is an artificial weir built across a naturally occurring rock bar. The weir and rock bar, and the immediate surrounding area have played an important role in Melbourne's history.
Looking across Dights Falls to the geologically interesting cliffs on the other side of the Yarra River
The best way to get to Dights Falls is by bike, as the site is located right on the Main Yarra Trail, with the start of the Merri Creek Trail nearby. Access by car is from Trenerry Crescent, Abbotsford, where you can walk down from the small carpark.
This part of the Yarra feels like a long way from the city. There's expansive grassy areas to sit and relax and an undercover picnic area. The banks of the river have been extensively revegetated, and near the water, there are lots of peaceful spots to sit quietly amongst the trees. Watching the rushing water flow over the weir and across the rocks, with the calls of the bell miners ringing out from the surrounding eucalypts, the sounds of the city are far away and it's easy to imagine that you're back in an earlier time of Melbourne's past.
The best way to spend time at the falls is to wander down to the strange-looking metal walkway that overlooks the weir. But it turns out this isn't actually a walkway – it's actually a fishway. The artificial weir was a barrier to native fish trying to migrate upstream, and so the fishway was constructed to help the fish get around the weir and swim up the Yarra. The fishway is designed to slow down the water, allowing the native fish to swim against the current. There's a great video by Melbourne Water if you're interested in learning more about it.
The metal fishway, and in the foreground are two wooden piles from the original weir dating back to 1895
It's also one of Victoria's earliest industrial archaeological sites, and there's still remnants of this industry to see here. The falls are named after John Dight, who purchased the land in 1838 and built the Ceres flour mill. After changing hands several times, the site was sold in 1891 to the Melbourne Flour Milling Company, who was issued a licence to construct and maintain a weir at the falls to provide water for flour production. Although the mill was destroyed by fire in the early 1900s, today there are still remnants of the head race, tailrace, turbine house, retaining wall and weir. For anyone interested in the technology used in the original flour mill – which was the largest capacity flour-mill in Victoria at the time of its construction – a detailed description is provided by the Heritage Council of Victoria.
The view along the remains of the historic mill race
Finally, it's also a significant geological site. There's a great view straight across the falls to a cliff on the opposite side showing sedimentary layers of sandstone and mudstone, which contain early marine fossils. For rock nerds, more on the geology can be found here (pdf) and here.
There's plenty of open grassy areas and an undercover picnic shelter
Thank you for resurrecting my childhood memories of Dights Falls and adding further details to the tapestry of my adventures with my 'big' cousins and the neighbourhood kids from Clifton Hill; picnicking, fishing ( usually unsuccessfully ) and swimming at Deep Rock ( a prohibited but often visited site on hot summer days.