Photographers, star-gazers and, increasingly, busloads of Chinese tourists have been making tracks to Lake Tyrrell, an otherwise little-known salt lake just outside Sea Lake, 75 kilometres west of Swan Hill and 420 kilometres north-west of Melbourne.
But they’re rather late to the party. The local Boorong people have been marvelling at the night sky and its reflective effects on the lake for so long, they’re acknowledged as our planet’s first astronomers.
The constellation western scientists named Lyra is known to the Boorong as Neilloan, because this outline of a malleefowl matches its breeding season. The Boorong see Bunya the possum within the Southern Cross, while the dark Coalsack Nebula is, to them, Tchingal, a giant emu.
The word Tyrrell is from the Indigenous Tyrille, indicating ‘sky’, but its unique appeal comes from the effect it has on the land. The lake is often dry and, depending on the season and time of day, its salt-encrusted surface can be anything from bright pink to lilac. This is because the salt contains a bacterium with a red pigment that helps the organism harvest light for energy.