The Wombat Forest is an extensive native forest situated north west of Melbourne between the Western Highway (to Ballarat) and the Calder Highway (to Bendigo). It contains the Lerderderg State Park, large areas of state forest and many smaller reserves, including several mineral springs reserves.
The Wombat Forest was very vulnerable in the nineteenth century. Too many early settlers couldn't see the trees for the wood. Forests were a means to an end, not an end in themselves. Farmers needed land, miners needed pit-props, towns needed building materials railways needed sleepers and everybody needed fuel. Ruined The Wombat Forest was the main source of timber supply for Melbourne, Ballarat, Castlemaine, Bendigo and all the little mining townships in between.
The uncontrolled logging of the forest led a Government Report in 1899 to refer to it as a 'ruined forest'. Few realised how important the forest was in the natural scheme of things - particularly in safeguarding water, soil and wildlife. Over half the mineral springs in the Daylesford area are on Crown Land and protected in reserves. Visiting these reserves is all part of 'Taking the Waters'.
Most of the springs are encased in pumps to make the water easier to extract. The reserves themselves are all well worth seeing for their natural beauty and their often fascinating reminders of former days when prospectors sought their fortune in the ground and visitors sought good health in the crisp air, rolling hills, deep gullies and above all in the cool, sparkling waters of the mineral springs.
All that has changed, but it took time. The forest is now skilfully managed as a complex resource. It still provides timber, but the amount cut is regulated so that it does not overtake the forest's rate of growth. Careful management also means looking after the forest for all those who need and enjoy it - from the animals, birds and insects who live there - to the campers, walkers and picnickers who visit.
Mineral Springs catchment area
For the mineral springs, the Wombat Forest is vital as their catchment area. Being astride the Great Dividing Range, it has a high rainfall for which the forest acts as a huge storage system. The trees absorb what they need and the surplus water either drains away into streams or sinks into the ground and makes its way into the aquifer.