Of all the parks and gardens in the Dandenong Ranges, there is one that is often overlooked. Doongalla, just outside of The Basin, on the slopes of Mt Dandenong is one of the most beautiful and peaceful places to be found in the National Park, if not in the entire Eastern side of Melbourne.
The area around The Basin does not have a shortage of old Homesteads from the late 19th century - the Ambleside, Miller and Chandler homesteads all still stand. But Doongalla, a name meaning place of peace, is unique in that it no longer stands, a bushfire destroying the property in 1932. And that is why it is so peaceful here. While the other, still standing, homesteads are surrounded by suburbia, the ruins of Doongalla are deep in the forest, surrounded by nothing but trees.
Doongalla in its Heyday. (Yarra Ranges Regional Museum)
And Doongalla is much deeper into the forest than you would expect. The narrow gravel road winds from the gates near The Basin Theatre, quickly climbs into the forest, over Dandenong Creek into the land of the park proper. The first hint that you've reached your destination is the open grassland that opens up in the middle of the forest.
If you want to know what the experience of Doongalla is like, I'll tell you my experience. The first thing I encountered on the way in was a man riding a horse along the road. When I parked my car, the first people that I saw were two artists, sitting on rocks, drawing. There were picnickers, writers, couples, families as well, all taking advantage of the park. It is a place for everyone.
It is a place where you almost feel guilty for driving in, as the noise of the car threatens to destroy the peace. And this is just in the lower, 'stables' carpark.
Up higher, it only gets more spectacular. There is a picnic ground right on the ruins of the old house, and plenty of places to sit and just contemplate. The aptly named Channel 10 track leads up the side of Mt Dandenong to the Channel 10 tower and Burkes Lookout - a lookout that has some of the more amazing views over Melbourne that you could hope to see.
Back down at the Homestead, you'll notice something about the scenery. It's not all native, and here it looks wonderful. Unlike some other places where the early white settlers imposed 'proper' Britishness onto the Australian Landscape, here the bush has reclaimed much of what was here, but now the lilies, rhododendrons and camellias that were planted over 100 years ago sit in complete harmony with the native gums and ferns that still populate the park.
Plants of Australia and Britain mingle in the park
Doongalla is a paradise. And if you are ever out towards the Dandenongs it is definitely well worth a visit. It remains a place of peace, a place to relax on a sunny day, in the shade of the old and new worlds.