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Scrivener Dam

Home > Canberra > Barbecue | Lakes | Lookouts | Nature | Places of Interest
by Sue W (subscribe)
New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Published August 4th 2015
A sight and sound show after a few days of rain
If you are driving along Lady Denman Drive on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin, you pass over a bridge with a dam underneath. This is Scrivener Dam, which usually sits quietly minding its own business until Canberra gets a few days of rain, the flaps are opened and the dam comes to life...

There is a Lookout area with a few picnic benches if you wish to stay for the sight and sound show.

The level of Lake Burley Griffin is controlled by two dams - if the water level gets too high some of the flaps are opened at Scrivener Dam to release it. If the water level in the lake gets too low then Googong Dam in Queanbeyan releases water to fill up the lake again.

Scrivener Dam Lookout, Canberra, Lake Burley Griffin
Scrivener Dam viewing platform.

Scrivener Dam is how Lake Burley Griffin was created. Originally the Molonglo River passed through the middle of Canberra and was on a flood plain, so it was the ideal location for a dam to be formed. The surveyor for Canberra at the time, Charles Scrivener, saw this location as ideal for the capital city where they could create a lake at reasonable cost. His surveyor plans were given to the architects competing to design the city. Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion's plan included blocking this natural resource and creating a series of small geometric shaped lakes connected by weirs.

Years later however, Scrivener, as part of a government design committee, was responsible for modifying Griffin's winning design to change the weir plan to a single lake and a dam.

Walter Burley Griffins original plan for Canberra
Walter and Marion's original design for the lake was a series of smaller geometric shaped lakes connected by weirs. Years later the shape of the lake was softened and a dam formed, however still keeping within Walter's vision for a central lake to the city. Source: Wikapedia - History of lake Burley Griffin

Due to the Great Depression and World War 1 all the plans for the lake stalled, so it wasn't until Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies pushed things along again in the 1950's that the flood plains were cleared, the lake was dug to 2 metres deep and the dam started to get built in early 1960.

Fortunately there was a long drought for the construction and after completion it rained for several days, filling the lake.
Sir Robert Menzies officially opened the lake with fireworks on the 17th of October 1964.

Now the dam area is a scenic spot for a picnic (on the Lookout side) and on the other side of the bridge is a scenic and shady BBQ area.

Yarramundi Reach BBQ area
Yarramundi Reach BBQ area

The Dam is also popular with local fishermen and ladies looking for native fish (Murray Cod and Golden Perch often mentioned).

There is a lot to do along Lady Denman Drive with Government House Lookout, the National Zoo and Aquarium, Scrivener Dam, Yarramundi Reach, the popular lake bike paths and further along is access to the National Arboretum and Black Mountain Peninsula.

Scrivener Dam isn't usually a highlight of this drive, however if you are along this road after some rain it is definitely worth pulling over to watch the force of Lake Burley Griffin in action.

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Why? Pull over for a look when the Dam flaps are open - quite sight and sound display!
Where: Scrivener Dam, Lady Denman Drive, Weston Creek
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