Sean Goedecke is a freelance writer trying to visit every cafe in Australia. If you enjoy his articles, it can't hurt to click the 'like' link at the bottom or subscribe.
Published June 7th 2012
Follow the Maribyrnong River north-west of Melbourne, past the suburbs, and you'll end up in a Keilor Plains gorge where Jackson Creek feeds into the major river. This is Organ Pipes National Park, a protected area of 300 acres. It's approachable by the Calder Highway, and is close to the City of Hume and City of Brimbank. Visiting Organ Pipes National Park is a way to get in touch with nature. The history of the park traces the history of Australia and, among the manna gums and kangaroo grass, it's easy to imagine the original inhabitants and settlers living on the banks of the valley.
The Woiworung tribe of the Kulin nation are the earliest known inhabitants, drawn to the area by the shelter, water and food around Jackson Creek. The heavy rain – Organ Pipes National Park sits in a rain shadow area – encouraged growth of wild grasses along the Keilor Plains, helping bird and animal species to flourish. Archaeologists have found the remains of campsites and artefacts within the park, authenticating the Woiworung settlement.
The arrival of early European settlers put enormous pressure on the ecology of the area. Thinking that the landscape was strange and alien, the settlers planted flora from their home country and hunted the kangaroo and rabbits for their skin. Soon the wild grass on the creek flats was choked by artichoke thistles, horehound and boxthorn. Most of these plants have been limited or eradicated, but the plum tree orchards still exist, along with the bluestone walls of the settler's village.
Organ Pipes National Park was named after its primary geological feature – the Organ Pipes themselves, a gigantic set of hexagonal basalt columns that resemble metal pipes. Jackson Creek wore down the plain over time, revealing the old volcanic rock formations where lava had slowly cooled. The Organ Pipes are twenty metres high and are considered Victoria's best example of 'columnar joining'. The famous Giant's Causeway in Ireland is an example of the same thing: the tops of the columns, viewed from above, look like smooth natural cobblestones. The Organ Pipes are, if anything, more impressive.
You don't have to be a geologist to appreciate the uniqueness of the formation – some pipes are over a metre wide and curiously smooth. It looks like part of the ribcage of a tremendous whale, with the highest pillars slightly curved in. When the surface of the river is still, the pipes are reflected in it, stretching down as far as they stretch up. A few hundred metres upstream past the Organ Pipes is Rosette Rock, a radial array of the same type of columns, like spokes from a wheel. There's also a Giant's Causeway-type 'tesselated pavement'.
Walking tracks, toilets, water and picnic tables are all provided. The Organ Pipes National Park is the friendliest place to take your young family (unlike, say, the awesome Mount Bogong). Wander along the banks of the river, looking for the bluestone ruins, or have a picnic – you, or your children, may well discover a deep interest in geology. Or just sit on the grass, looking out over the water at the strangest rock formation in the state.