How a Sinkhole Became a Secret Garden - Umpherston Sinkhole
How a Sinkhole Became a Secret Garden - Umpherston Sinkhole

How a Sinkhole Became a Secret Garden - Umpherston Sinkhole

The Umpherston Sinkhole in Mount Gambier, South Australia is unlike any other. Normally sinkholes cause damage, destruction and can leave a scar on a city. This, however, is a beautiful secret garden oasis, and here’s how it came to be.

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[Julian O'Shea] Sinkholes are destructive and dramatic and they can lead to a pretty bad day.

[TV] A large sinkhole has closed a major road in Canada's capital, Ottawa.

[TV] Now the couple scrambled out of the hole and knocked on a nearby door for help.

[TV] A massive sinkhole, at least 25 feet wide and several feet deep.

[TV] A gaping sinkhole has closed Colin Street to traffic and trams.

[TV] Giant sinkhole has opened up in the Italian city of Naples, swallowing cars, road signs, and trees.

[TV] But as you can see, it is back! And there is currently no project scheduled to fill it back in.

And it's a literal hole in the ground. I can see how, particularly if it's your car that's gotten swallowed, it's not so fun.

But there is one place where this is not the case. Mount Gambier is the second biggest town in South Australia, home to around 30,000 people. And according to TripAdvisor, its number one tourist attraction is a sinkhole.

I'm at the Umpherston Sinkhole in South Australia. And this is a remarkable geological formation which is transformed into a beautiful park. When people think of sinkholes, they normally think of some kind of disaster, a car or a house just vanishing. But this is different.

The sinkhole is a public park on the edge of town and it really is a quiet oasis. It's used as a garden and where it gets his name dates back to the 1880s, when its then owner, James Umpherston, transformed it into a garden and a place of interest for the who's who of the area. Back then, it was called the caves and attracted hundreds of people to come and visit it. So in late 1800s, Umpherston actually used this area to escape the heat during the summer. This area behind me would be filled with water, and boats would be on here, so different visitors and guests could see the sinkhole from different vantage points.

So what is a sinkhole? Well, water is often a key factor and essentially, pockets of water forms under the ground and erodes the bedrock before the land above falls through. Now in cities and urban places, they're often due to construction, leaking under water pipes, or even mine shafts. The Umpherston Sinkhole is a naturally forming one, however, that's due to the type of rock in this part of the country. And the sinkhole has been forming for 40 million years or so. It's made of limestone rock, and it's around 20 meters by 50 meters. There's a statue in the park which alludes to this kind of formation.

And over the years, the land was passed from owner to owner and eventually fell into a state of disrepair, and was even used as a rubbish dump. The water levels reduced and the lake dried up. It wasn't until 1970 that it was decided to transform it. Something that would take huge effort. And it took thousands of hours of volunteer labor to bring it up to the condition that it's in now. Putting in the plants, clearing the land, and even installing some barbecues. And in 1994, the area was given over to the Mount Gambier government who are responsible for maintaining it today. And today BBC documentary found the people that were responsible for that initial work.

[Ken Norton] We had as many as 50 working down there, every Saturdays and Sundays. People out of the mill and the townspeople. And we'd come down to find all sorts of things but it was no garden.

[Elizabeth Norton] It was nothing like it is today. Well, we started off, Ken wanted to have a very pretty garden. So we put some lovely roses and they lasted 24 hours. The possums ate them as fast as we planted them. And then we thought we'd plant something else. And the same thing happened. And eventually Ken said, well, what about hydrangeas? And the possums didn't eat those.

[Julian] There are some other spectacular sinkholes around the world. And sinkholes that occur offshore are known as blue holes and can make for some stunning dive sites like this famous one in Belize, but this one is different. It was a combination of nature and human effort to transform it into the secret garden that it is today.

And I think that's a great reminder of how a bit of effort can transform something into something beautiful. I'm Julian O'Shea. I hope you enjoyed this. If so, please do share. That's it for me.

[Outtakes] I'm at the Umpherson Umphis Umpherson Sinkhole. Umphers- Umphiston... Umphis. Umpherston. How do you say Umpherston, Kaylie? Umpherston?