Rising sharply from the enormous flat expanse of the Werribee Plains, the mystical You Yangs are an unmistakable landmark of the western reaches of Port Phillip Bay in Victoria.
This ancient solid rock formation rises so suddenly to a height of some 325 m above sea level at ‘Flinders Peak’. Wandering up and around the You Yangs will reveal the most outstanding and varied views of fields, roads & farms that dissipate into the horizon, Geelong, the Bellarine Peninsula, the eastern reaches of Port Phillip Bay in the distance, Melbourne, the Dandenongs, the Anakie Hills – as well as the beautiful and intriguing rock formations – some balancing precariously – along the many walking trails that lead up to the peak and meander around the hills. Observe the miraculous way that trees and plants cling to the rock crevices though only a spattering of soil exists. Looking up, a koala may be spotted sleeping peacefully in the trees – the patterns of the speckled granite is beautiful, sometimes displaying an ancient obstacle consumed by the molten Magna so many years ago.
Viewing the You Yangs from further afield, the flat lava plains that so suddenly surrender to the dramatic rise of the You Yangs makes them an unforgettable silhouette . . .
The granite rock of the You Yangs formed when a mass of magma worked its way up into the sedimentary rock during the Devonian period – which occurred from 416 million to 358 million years ago. Feldspar crystals present in the granite indicate that the magma crystallised before it reached the surface, suggesting that the magna cooled slowly rather than moving rapidly and explosively to, and through, the Earth’s surface. Analysis of the Titanite Crystals estimates that the You Yang granite solidified some 365 million years ago !!! The lava plains that surround the You Yangs are purported to have formed as recently as 10,000 years ago . . .
Hence, the likeness of the You Yangs to an ancient, but greatly eroded volcanic formation is confirmed. Adding to the mystique of this stunning natural arrangement, is the resemblance to pyramids:
” . . . When one has reached the crest [of Arthurs Seat], which is about a thousand feet above sea level, given a clear day, there is one of the finest panoramic views to be seen anywhere in the State. In the west are the Otway Ranges against the sky ; across the bay the You-Yangs rise up like purple pyramids ; to the north is Macedon ; and toward the east are the Dandenongs, and, towering behind them, the Warburton and Healesville ranges . . . “
Source: Excerpts – ‘Argus’ – Article “Arthur’s Seat. Beauty & History.” by J.B. – published 12th November 1927
The first European maps and journals from Matthew Flinders named the highest peak of the ‘You Yangs’ (up which he climbed) Station Peak in 1802. From there the explorers noted the phonetic interpretation of the Aboriginal names as: Wilanmarnartar (Hamilton Hume c 1824), Mount Villanata & Mount Vilumnata (John Wedge c 1835) → however later maps returned to the name applied by Matthew Flinders until the late 1850’s, when the name of this remarkable natural landmark is recorded as the You Yangs – as it remains until this very day. The change of name is investigated in the chapter below.
The following letter from William JT Clarke to His Excellency Lieutenant-Governor La Trobe confirms his occupation of the land, including the You Yangs, referred to as the ‘Station Peak’ run from 1837:
” . . . Melbourne, 13th September 1853.
Agreeable to your request, I have the honour to furnish Your Excellency with the little information I possess with regard to the early settlement of Port Phillip.
Early in the year 1837, when Melbourne was then a forest of large timber, I sent 2,000 female sheep from Van Diemen’s Land, and took up Station Peak and a portion of the Little River for nearly two years, where my sheep increased rapidly. The natives in that part were quiet and well disposed, but unwilling to work. The run I took up was capable of depasturing from 15,000 to 20,000 sheep. The first year my clip was only 17 bales of wool ; the second, 36 bales ; the third, 70 bales ; and it continued to increase almost in the same proportion. After remaining at the above station other settlers arrived, and contentions commenced about runs, when I left my station with my little improvements as they stood, to those that liked to occupy them, and travelled my sheep about fifteen miles north of Buninyong . . . “
Source: Excerpt – Letters from Victorian Pioneers’ – by Thomas Francis Bride – published 1898
Remembering that this time was barely a couple of years from the time John Batman proclaimed that “This will be the Place for a Village” – there was little to no record of the lands ‘claimed’ by squatters during the ‘land grab’as the following extract confirms:
The naming of the You Yangs
The You Yangs are such a dramatic feature of the landscape, they were a significant landmark to the Aboriginal people, the first European explorers and settlers, and, remain so until this very day. Hamilton Hume, one of the leaders of the exploration party that first paved the way overland from Sydney to Geelong in 1824, and, after which the Hume Highway is named noted:
” . . . During the time the natives stopped with us, I learnt from them the native names of several places in sight :—the harbour they called Geeloong — the downs, Iramoo – and a remarkable high hill on the downs, a few miles to the N E, they informed me was called Wilanmarnartar. This mount would bear from the place I supposed to be the entrance or outlet of this extensive port, nearly N N W. The down extends to the northward and eastward of Wilanmarnartar upwards of 70 miles, and more than 20 miles to the westward . . . “
Source: Excerpt – Sydney Herald (NSW) – Article ‘An Extract for the Journal of Mr. Hamilton Hume, written on a Tour through the interior to Bass’ Straits, in the Year 1824′ – published 4th July 1831
Apart from the overall structure resembling a tremendously eroded volcano, the peaks have often been described as likening to pyramids arising from the plains . . .
1835 – John Wedge
His map is possibly the earliest physical record of a phonetic interpretation of the place names of the Port Phillip region as described by the Aborigines during his visit in 1835. From his record, the You Yangs were known to them as ‘Mount Villanata’ – the three distinctive rising gradients on his map being unmistakably the three peaks of the You Yangs as seen by him on his approach. Set just behind ‘Mount Villanata’ are the ‘Yowham Hills’ and then the ‘Annikeet Yowham Hills’ though the ‘Annikeet’ is somewhat difficult to read . . .
A later map of ‘John Wedge & Others’ c 1836, still shows the ‘Yowham Hills’ and the ‘Anaki-You wam’ set to the west of ‘Mount Vilumnata’ – the spelling slightly varied but still sounding much the same.
‘Mount Vilumnata’ is described as ” . . . visible 13 Leagues “Station Peak: of Capt. Flinders . . . “:
1802 – Matthew Flinders’ ‘Station Peak’
Matthew Flinders was the first recorded European to scale the You Yangs on the 1st May 1802, naming the highest peak ‘Station Peak’.
The following extract of Matthew Flinders’ diary notes his observation of the You Yangs from afar, and his exploration of them and the region surrounding them. Note that ‘Indented Head’ was the name given by Matthew Flinders to the entire peninsula we now know as the Bellarine Peninsula:
” . . . At noon I landed to take an observation of the sun, which gave 38° 7′ 6″ for the latitude; my position being nearly at the northern extremity of Indented Head. Some bearings were taken from the brow of a hill a little way back; and after a dinner of which the natives partook, we left them on friendly terms to proceed westward in our examination. The water became very shallow abreast of a sandy point, whence the shore trends nearly south-west; and there being no appearance of an opening to the sea this way, I steered across the western arm, as well to ascertain its depth as with the intention of ascending the hills lying behind the northern shore. Two of the peaks upon these hills had been set from the ship’s deck at sunset of the 25th, at the distance of thirty-seven miles; and as their elevation must consequently be a thousand feet, or more, I expected to obtain from thence such a view of the upper parts of the port as would render the coasting round it unnecessary.
The width of the western arm was found to be six miles; and the soundings across augmented regularly to 6 fathoms in mid channel, and then decreased in the same way; but there was less than 3 fathoms at two miles from the northern shore. That side is indeed very low and marshy, with mud banks lying along it; and we had difficulty in finding a dry place to pitch the tent, and still more to procure wood wherewith to cook the ducks I had shot upon the banks.
SATURDAY 1 MAY 1802
At day dawn I set off with three of the boat’s crew for the highest part of the back hills called Station Peak. Our way was over a low plain, where the water appeared frequently to lodge; it was covered with small-bladed grass, but almost destitute of wood, and the soil was clayey and shallow. One or two miles before arriving at the feet of the hills we entered a wood where an emu and a kangaroo were seen at a distance; and the top of the peak was reached at ten o’clock. My position was then 21′ of latitude from Point Nepean, in the direction of N. 28° 30′ W., and I saw the water of the port as far as N. 75° E., at the distance of seven or eight leagues; so that the whole extent of the port, north and south, is at least thirty miles. The extremity of the western arm bore S. 15° 45′ W., which makes the extent, east and west, to be thirty-six miles; but there was no communication with the sea on that side, nor did the western arm appear to be navigable beyond seven miles above where I had crossed it. Towards the interior there was a mountain bearing N. 11° E., eleven leagues distant; and so far the country was low, grassy and very slightly covered with wood, presenting great facility to a traveller of penetrating inland.
I left the ship’s name on a scroll of paper, deposited in a small pile of stones upon the top of the peak; and at three in the afternoon reached the tent, much fatigued, having walked more than twenty miles without finding a drop of water. Mr. Lacy, the midshipman of the boat, had observed the latitude at the tent from an artificial horizon to be 38° 2′ 22″; and Station Peak bore from thence N. 47° W.
In the evening we rowed back to Indented Head, and landed there soon after dark . . . “
Source: “A Voyage to Terra Australis undertaken for the purpose of completing the Discovery of that Vast Country and Prosecuted in the Years 1801, 1802 and 1803 in His Majesty’s Ship the Investigator, and subsequently in the Armed Vessel Porpoise and Cumberland Schooner. With an Account of the Shipwreck of the Porpoise, arrival of the Cumberland at Mauritius, and Imprisonment of the Commander during Six Years and a Half in that Island. By Matthew Flinders Commander of the Investigator. In 2 Volumes with an Atlas. Volume 1. London: Printed by W. Bulmer and Co. Cleveland Row, and Published by G. and W. Nicol, Booksellers to His Majesty, Pall-Mall. 1814
The following extract provides a reason why the You Yangs were originally named ‘Station Peak’ by the brave explorer:
” . . . From the crest of this granite mountain he would command a superb view. Towards the north, in the interior, the dark bulk of Mount Macedon was seen; and all around lay a fertile, promising country, mile after mile of green pastures, as fair a prospect as the eye could wish to rest upon. There can be little doubt that Flinders made his observations from the flat top of a huge granite boulder which forms the apex of the peak. “I left the ship’s name,” he says, “on a scroll of paper deposited in a small pile of stones upon the top of the peak.” He called it Station Peak, for the reason that he had made it his station for making observations. In 1912 a fine bronze tablet was fastened on the eastern face of the boulder on which Flinders probably stood and worked.* (* It is much to be regretted that this very laudable mark of honour to his memory was not effected without doing a thing which is contrary to a good rule and was repugnant to Flinders’ practice. The name Station Peak was sought to be changed to Flinders’ Peak, and those who so admirably occasioned the erection of the tablet managed to secure official sanction for the alteration by its notification in the Victorian Government Gazette. But nobody with any historical sense or proper regard for the fame of Flinders will ever call the mountain by any other name than Station Peak. It was his name; and names given by a discoverer should be respected, except when there is a sound reason to the contrary, as there is not in this instance. As previously observed, Flinders never named any discovery after himself. Honour him by calling any other places after him by all means; the name Flinders for the Commonwealth Naval Base in Westernport is an excellent one, for instance. But his names for natural features should not be disturbed.)
The boat was reached, after the descent of the mountain and the return tramp across the sodden flats, at three o’clock in the afternoon. The party were very weary from this twenty-mile excursion, a feat requiring some power of endurance, as one who has walked along the same route and climbed Station Peak several times can testify; and especially hard on men who were fresh from a long voyage. The party camped for the night at Indented Head, on the west side of the port, and on Sunday, May 2nd, they again boarded the Investigator . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘The Life of Captain Matthew Flinders R.N.’ – by Ernest Scott – published 1914
The Change of Name from ‘Station Peak’ to the ‘You Yangs’
Hence, it would appear that Matthew Flinders’ ‘Station Peak’ of 1802, acquired the name of ‘Wilanmarnartar’ in 1824 by Hamilton Hume, ‘Mount Vilumnata’ in 1835 on John Wedge’s map, however, ‘Station Peak’ remained predominant until sometime during the 1850’s – as by the 1860’s the name ‘You Yangs’ had been adopted:
” . . . That part of the town which slopes towards the bay displays a mixture of splendour and bustling activity which can only exist where “merchants are princes.” The wharf is the grandest object in the northern division of the city; it extends along the shores for a mile and a half in a semilunar shape, and is built of granite from Station Peak . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Geelong Advertiser’ (Vic) – Article “Corio in 1850” – published 13th March 1841
” . . . Signal Fires to be lighted from Station Peak to the extremity of the Pyrenees, at the following localities. The persons whose names are attached to the stations, to be applied to, to take the necessary steps, to carry the signals into effect.
STATION PEAK, Bates or Synnott ; MORIACK, Mr Lynch ; GELLIBRAND, Bailey or Harding ; WARRIONS, Stoddart or Murray ; – Stewart or Priest ; MOUNT ELEPHANT, Brown or Cowie ; SHADWELL, Burke or Montgomery ; BLACK’S HILL, Black or Grey ; BONINYONG ; MOUNT COLE, Colin Campbell ; MOUNT MISERY, Donald and Hamilton ; MOUNT EMU, Hastings Cunningham ; LLANGERIN ; MOUNT WILLIAM, Horatio Wills . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Geelong Advertiser’ (Vic) – Article “Public Rejoicings” – published 3rd October 1850
” . . . Upon entering Corio Bay—the inner Geelong of Captain Flinders—you are surprised and are charmed with the view before you; and if you have been up the Mediterranean and seen the bays there, you may have your memory thrown back upon some of those localities which were so agreeable to you at the time, and of which you are so strongly reminded by all around you. Before you is an amphitheatre of green undulating cliffs, rising abruptly from the almost circular basin of the bay, some sixty or eighty feet above the smooth sandy beach. On your right, a few miles back from the shore, over part of the sterile plain we have mentioned, rises the thickly-wooded cone of Station Peak, to an altitude of eleven hundred feet. This mountain, and the lesser granite hills which surround it, called the Anaki-Youans, has been said to resemble Mount Etna and its volcanic group of cones rising from the Bay of Sicily . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Australia Visited & Revisited – A Narrative of Recent Travels & Old Experiences in Victoria & New South Wales’ – by Samuel Mossman & Thomas Banister – published 1853
” . . . Our Geelong contemporary says : – ” A very heavy nor-westerly gale swept over the town, bringing up such a storm of dust as we have not seen for a long time. The Bay presented the appearance of one huge mass of cloud – not a stick to be seen – and even the You Yangs, from base to summit, were snatched from view. About sundown the wind fell . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Argus’ (Melbourne, Vic) – published 13th April 1860
” . . . Excepting bluestone, no other building-stone at all useful has been yet discovered. Our granites are of a fair quality, though inferior to the Scotch granites, and generally subject to metallic oxydation, which after a few years gives them a dirty appearance. But the cost of working granite has hitherto rendered it all but useless : – ” The cost of putting good work upon this material is something enormous compared with bluestone, and for the same description of workmanship the rate is about two and a quarter times more for granite ; and, comparing the labour on granite with the Bacchus Marsh or Darley freestones, the former is four and three quarter times dearer than the latter.” Granite abounds in the colony, and quarries have already been opened at Gellibrand’s Hill, near Broadmeadows; at Mill Park, near the Plenty-road; and at Corner Inlet, Mount Martha, Mount Eliza, You Yangs, and on Gabo Island . . . “
Source: Excerpt – ‘Argus’ (Melbourne, Vic) – published 5th May 1860
Perhaps the name ‘You Yangs’ is an interpretation of John Wedge’s ‘Youham’ ? . . . Perhaps time had distorted the names of the landmarks as documented by him ? . . .
Today that areas of ‘Youham’ and ‘Annikeet Youham’ are known as Anakie . . .
. . . and the Aboriginal ‘Villanata’ is known as the ‘You Yangs’.
Sometime in the early 20th century, possibly c 1912 when a plaque in Matthew Flinders’ honour was placed at the highest point of the You Yangs, where he had climbed 110 years earlier, Matthew Flinders’ ‘Station Peak’ was renamed ‘Flinders Peak’.
The Geology – a Brief Overview . . .
The mystical You Yangs formed when a mass of magma worked its way up into the sedimentary rocks during the Devonian period, which occurred from 416 million to 358 million years ago. Incidentally, the close of the Devonian Period is considered to be the second of the “big five” mass extinction events of our Earth’s history. Causes of the extinction are uncertain however it is suspected that it may have been related to a cooling climate due to a depletion of carbon dioxide caused by the first forests (notably quite the opposite scenario than that we are facing today). Interestingly, evidence suggests that up to 70% of invertebrate species died, however, terrestrial plants and animals seemed to be largely unaffected by these particular extinction events . . .
During this time, the ground level is believed to have been greatly higher than that of today. Increased pressure deep underground would have forced the Magma (molten rock) to rise and collect in an underground chamber, however, in the case of the You Yangs, the pressure exerted and the composition of the Magma was not sufficient to break the surface. Feldspar crystals (often used for their health and healing properties and include gems such as: Moonstone, Labradorite, Sunstone, Albite, Amazonite, Orthoclase . . . ) present in the granite of the You Yangs suggest that the Magma crystallised prior to reaching the surface, supporting the theory that the Magna cooled fairly slowly rather than travelling rapidly and explosively to, and through, the surface. Dark grey clumps called ‘xenoliths’ are also found in the granite of the You Yangs – these are chunks of sedimentary rock which became entangled and hence, baked in the hot magma. Finally, Titanite Crystals also present in the granite, have been used to calculate the age of the of the You Yangs formation – determining that it solidified 365 million years ago.
Over the millions of years since, erosion of the surrounding landscape has exposed the super hard rock that was once the molten Magna chamber resulting in dramatic formation we see today which reaches a height of some 325 m above sea level at ‘Flinders Peak’. Approximately 4.5 million years ago, lava flows hypothesised to be from Bald Hill and Spring Hill to the north, formed the flat landscape of the ‘Werribee Plains’ that we see today. During this explosive time, which continued until approximately 10,000 years ago, the You Yangs were quite possibly islands surrounded by hot, molten Lava – a vision that we could barely imagine today.
Quite to the contrary, during other periods in history, as the sea levels rose, the You Yangs would have been islands within a sparkling, clear sea . . .
Incidentally, the ‘Werribee Plains’ form part of the great ‘Western District Volcanic Plains’ that extend all the way from Melbourne to the South Australian border !!! It would be remiss not to mention at this point, that the ‘Western District Volcanic Plains’ exhibit more than 400 mapped craters and vents, all of which are now considered extinct, however, the volcanic field itself is believed to be dormant, meaning that a new eruption could be possible at any time . . .
And then there is the mystery of the Wurdi Youang Arrangement . . .
The ‘You Yangs Regional Park’ provides visitors with numerous car parks, amenities, picnic & barbecue areas, walking tracks, cycling trails, abseiling & rock climbing localities, horse riding trails, orienteering opportunities, etc.
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