Explore Lake Ballard, Australia’s Largest Outdoor Gallery

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The small WA township of Menzies, on the edge of the WA Goldfields rim between Leonora and Kalgoorlie, is the caretaker of nearby Lake Ballard and home to one of Australia’s largest sculptural works, ‘Inside Australia’, which stands tall in the Australian art landscape.

One of many sculptures in Lake Ballard

Lake Ballard is home to 51 sculptures by Antony Gormley. Image: Merlyn Cantwell

Artscape

The lake, 51kms west from town, is home to 51 sculptures by renowned British artist, Antony Gormley,  scattered over 10 square kilometres. Each one based on a Menzies local and created for the Perth International Festival in 2003.

Rain, hail or shine they stand waiting and imprinting their shadows on the salt lake. Spiritual brothers and sisters of the district.

Each stick figure is derived from laser scans of the inhabitants of Menzies and, those in the know say, eerily identifiable. They have been placed with precision and it was a condition of the artist that no vehicles are allowed on the salt plain.

Visitors are invited to walk among the sculptures and there is a basic camp spot on the foreshore. As a result, the footprints between figures create an intriguing pattern of their own.

Walking on foot to see the sculptures in Lake Ballard

You are only allowed to approach the sculptures on foot. Image: Merlyn Cantwell

Testing surface

The surface of a salt lake can be unpredictable, you either get a firm crust or it can be very slippery, or possibly both depending on recent weather.

The muddy, slippery, slush after rain will cake on your shoes, be prepared to toss them afterwards to keep your sanity.

Think and plan and reconsider as you move through the artwork.

This is not a location for the infirm and there is no disabled access or easy way out if you have ventured too far for the conditions, or your own health.

Woman posing next to one of many sculptures in Lake Ballard

Be prepared to experience varied terrain on the lake. Image: Bridget McPherson.

Tip sheet

The Shire of Menzies advise that you must park in the bays or campsites provided, and:

  • Suitable footwear and sun protection are recommended and to take plenty of water with you
  • Temperatures can reach scorching highs at certain times throughout the year and the lake reflects the sun’s rays
  • Please be considerate of your environment and take all rubbish away with you or place in the bins provided
  • Recommended viewing times are in the early morning or late afternoon
  • Camping is recommended
  • Allow at least 2 hours to walk around the entire installation and always view the work in a minimum group of two.

Scenery in Lake Ballard

When staying at the campsite, be considerate of the landscape. Image: Ian Hughes

A place for all seasons

While a lake never closes, visitors are warned that in summer, there can be days of 40+ degrees. Summer is the most spectacular time for photography. The sharp shadows on the crisp white sand and big blue skies are hard to beat. These conditions are not the best for walking between the statues in the full sun, so dawn and dusk are recommended.

Temperatures and conditions are most comfortable in autumn and spring.

In the hotter weather, the flies are atrocious so take a fly net with you. They get into everything!

Lake Ballard at sunset

When the sun goes down, the temperatures can drop. Image: Ian Hughes

Stargazing

Night skies are sensational as there is no light pollution.

Astronomers recommend Lake Ballard as a viewing zone for the Perseid meteor shower. This annual event usually takes place in the Southern Hemisphere in mid-August. If you’re out this way, search online for current dates to avoid disappointment.

Winter can be chilly at Lake Ballard, but seasoned campers will know what to expect. Surprisingly, it can be very, very, cold overnight so if you have thermals, pack them just in case.

There is also a high probability it may be quite wet. Keep an eye on the forecast and any winter storms crossing the south-west coast or reaching into the interior.

4wd and camp setup at Menzies in Lake Ballard.

Keep an eye on the forecast as it can get cold overnight. Image: Ian Hughes

Overnight options

Easter is a busy time, so if you can avoid it to see the lake at its isolated best, do so. However, with ten square kilometres to admire, it will never be crowded.

No potable water is available on site, so it is vital you bring adequate drinking water. You will need it and a water bottle on the salt plain.

Fire restrictions apply across the Shire of Menzies from November through to March. Between April and October, you may have open fires, but they must be contained within the cement fire rings provided within the camping site.

You will also need to bring your own firewood. There is not much opportunity to collect on the road out of town, so pre-planning is best.

The Lake Ballard camping site features self-composting toilets with clear instructions on how to use them properly.

Alternatively, if you prefer not to camp at Lake Ballard, the Shire of Menzies has a caravan park in the town and a range of accommodations.

For further inquiries, please contact the Menzies Visitor Centre.

A natural lookout in Lake Ballard

You can stay at Lake Ballard, or in the caravan park in town. Image: Bridget McPherson.

Natural high

Almost directly in front of the campsite is a little island which is a steep climb but the rewards from a goat-like-scramble are many.

This natural lookout provides the best opportunity to gain a sense of the grand scale of Gormley’s artwork.

On the day I visited, it was windy and the going was very tough. On the summit, I had to sit down for fear of being blown off.

I would not recommend you take a child up there if there is a hint of wind. I was frightened, and, in retrospect foolishly determined, as it was dangerous.

My husband, who stayed below, was grateful he didn’t slip in a couple of spots as what looked to be a solid salt crust slid away beneath his footfall.

Much more terra slush than firma.

Historical building in the town of Menzies in WA

Check out Menzies and the historic locations nearby during your stay. Image: Ian Hughes

Help is at hand

Menzies is a pretty little town surrounded by historic locations, so use these links to build your itinerary and knowledge of the district.

A sculpture at Lake Ballard

The fascinating sculptures of Lake Ballard are not to be missed. Image: Ian Hughes

Wet warning

The road in and out of the site is currently being upgraded and a fair bit is bitumen, but the unpaved section is weather dependent. If you’re not passing through Menzies first, call the local shire or the Menzies Visitor Centre to check current conditions.

I know they are quick to get the road closed signs out, but it would be a shame to get out there and find it closed.

Once there, if rain is on the horizon, it’s time to head off and make for the town of Menzies and a coffee.

Otherwise, you may be stuck at the campground until it passes.

Phone service is limited, so if you’re in phone range, and in doubt, contact the Menzies Visitor Centre on 08 9024 2702.

 

What’s the best-hidden gem you’ve discovered in Western Australia? 

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Joined back in September, 2018

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