From the moment I first heard about Lake Ballard, I had to see it.
A surreal landscape where the metal statuettes of 51 residents of an outback town inhabit ten square kilometres of a shimmering salt lake, enticing both the eye and the feet.
Strange? Quirky? Just plain odd?
If you’ve been to Uluru and experienced deep and spiritual, you’ll find some of the same in Lake Ballard’s mystical solitude – without the crowds.
And you can camp right beside it, too.
Lake Ballard is a must see for anyone travelling along the Great Central Road/Outback Way or visiting West Australia’s Goldfields.
I’ll share more about what to see and do, how to get to this breathtaking site, and when to visit below.
See & Do
When I was offered the chance by the Goldfields Tourism to see Lake Ballard as part of a three day trip, I jumped at it.
Whilst the sculptures on the Lake were the obvious attraction, I soon discovered there was much more to see and do.
Stepping out of the car, the Lake’s brilliant white expanse, dotted with the famous sculptures invokes an instant sense of awe.
Your eyes are immediately drawn to an island not far away whose wind sculpted trees beg a photographer’s lens.
It was no surprise to learn that Lake Ballard is a sacred site to the Wongi/Wangkatha people, carrying the Seven Sisters Dreaming, and the islands are an important part of the story.
Many Aboriginal peoples all over Australia have a Dreaming story for the Seven Sisters, which Europeans know as the Pleiades constellation, a small cluster of stars best seen in the Southern Hemisphere’s spring and summer.
Here, the sisters were travelling across the night sky and saw Lake Ballard’s glittering white surface. They decided to go down and play on the Lake.
Whilst they were there, a man appeared and started chasing the youngest sister.
The sisters fled, and the landscape represents each of them, the man, and their hiding places.
There are seven islands dotted across the lake’s surface, and each is one of the sisters, still there today, playing on the Lake and hiding from the lecherous man.
The largest island, nearest the campground and carpark, is the eldest of the sisters.
Unfortunately, the Wongi/Wangkatha name for the Lake has been lost, but as you walk around its surface, and if you climb the eldest sister, keep in mind that this is a living, cultural place.
Inside Australia: The Antony Gormley Sculptures
According to those who’ve met him, Sir Antony Gormley is an eccentric character, a British artist driven to explore the human form and its relationship to space – both natural and manmade – in his installations and sculptures.
Gormley visited the Lake in the early 2000s, and was captivated:
“You come to the edge … and it’s absolutely magic. A feeling of being at the edge of endlessness. It’s like being on the lip of the edge of the world.”
This inspired him to plan an art installation called Inside Australia: “I am trying to … unite a notion of the interior of this continent with the notion of an interior of the population.”
The West Australian Government liked the idea, the 2003 Perth Festival commissioned Gormley to create an installation at a cost of $650,000 to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
Gormley decided the best way to represent the human form at Lake Ballard was to get the locals – those who live in the interior- involved in a unique way.
He approached the people of nearby Menzies, found 51 volunteers, and made a three dimensional, exact-height body scan of each person.
After this, Gormley sourced local raw metals to create an alloy to make the sculptures – another reason they truly are from Inside Australia.
The result was 51 metal statuettes spread over roughly 10 square kilometres of the Lake’s surface.
Not all the sculptures can be seen from any one point. A network of foot tracks entices the visitor to walk and explore as far as the eye can see.
Although the installation was supposed to be temporary, Gormley gifted it to WA for $1.
Whilst it’s purportedly a ‘major tourist drawcard’, I discovered on my visit to the Goldfields it’s not as well known as it should be. Many people drive right past and have no idea what they’re missing.
If there is one place to inspire you to take up outback photography, Lake Ballard is that place.
Every direction tempts the eye with a striking composition: bone white lake, red rocks, blue sky, islands and steel sculptures.
It’s almost impossible to take a bad photo (selfies and shots of your boots aside).
The one thing I didn’t get to do when I visited was camp overnight and take some sunset and star shots.
Which, of course, is a very good excuse to go back!
Whilst there’s no formal walking tracks here, a network of footprints and trails entice you to explore the Lake and its sculptures.
A fabulous vantage point can be gained by walking up the eldest Sister hill, right in front of the carpark.
Jac Eerbeek of Goldfield Tourism told me that, in all the many times he’s been here, he’s never heard of anyone who’s walked to all 51 statues in a day.
Jac’s visited many of them, and recommends taking your time as the sculptures are set out over a 10 square kilometre section of the Lake.
If you do decide to take a walk, remember that this is a lake surface and at times, it might be quite muddy. Be prepared to go barefoot or wear shoes that don’t mind a bit of mud!
As with anywhere in you walk in Australia, remember to take sufficient water, wear a hat and sunscreen.
Free bush camping is available at the site within designated areas.
Campsites are generally large, some contain firepits, and are suitable for both camper trailers and caravans.
BBQs, picnic tables and long drop toilets are available at the Lake’s carpark.
There is no water, so make sure you bring your own.
Rubbish bins are not provided, so again, please take all your rubbish with you.
Wood fires are permitted within the cooler months, but are forbidden between November and March each year.
When to Visit
The cooler months of the year, from May-October are the best times to visit, especially if you wish to camp and take longer walks around the Lake.
However, I visited in early December, and whilst it was hot, this didn’t detract from the impact the Lake and the sculptures had on me.
Another thing to be aware of is rainfall. Although the access to Lake Ballard is along a high grade dirt road, after rain it may be closed.
A quick call to the Menzies Visitor Centre (08 9024 2702) will give you the latest information on road closures and conditions
Getting There: Lake Ballard is 183 km north of Kalgoorlie-Boulder. The first 132 km to the little town of Menzies are on a sealed road. The final 51 km is on a good gravel road.
Allow roughly 2.5 hours if you’re coming from Kalgoorlie.
Recommended vehicle: 2WD access on a good gravel road. Please remember to drive carefully to road conditions.
Be aware that cattle, kangaroos and even camels live in the area and may wander onto the road.
Camper trailers/caravans: Easy access for off-road campertrailers and caravans; drive with care if your trailer or van isn’t an off-road model.
Accommodation: Free camping at Lake Ballard.
Alternative accommodation is available at Menzies.
Menzies Caravan Park: Bookings and information here
Menzies Hotel: For bookings ph: 08 9024 2016
Lake Ballard and the Inside Australia installation: www.lakeballard.com
Sir Antony Gormley’s work & life: http://antonygormley.com/
On the town of Menzies: www.menzies.wa.gov.au
We would like to thank Goldfields Tourism for taking us to Lake Ballard and its stunning surrounds.