IT DOESN'T seem that long ago that on any weekend you could have fired the proverbial cannon down Eildon's main street without hitting anything, apart from an innocent local on the way to the milk bar.
But, as the rains have come and the dam has filled, it's a changed picture indeed. ''The place is buzzing again,'' says the co-ordinator of the visitor information centre, Jim Coulson. ''The streets are lined with boats and ski boats and cars. The caravan park and the motels are full, with bookings going through the roof.''
As he spoke, Lake Eildon had reached more than 66 per cent of its capacity - an extraordinary turnaround from the 7 per cent it had during May 2007.
''That's fantastic,'' Coulson says. ''It doesn't matter what other attractions or events we have, people come here for the water. The water comes back, the people come back.''
And the level will continue to increase in the short term because there is no demand from the downstream food bowl irrigators. They have plenty water of their own.
When the dam is full, Lake Eildon is twice the size of Port Phillip Bay, with a shoreline of more than 600 kilometres and a length of 70 kilometres, a vast playground for water-based recreation from water skiing to a quiet spot of fishing. But Eildon is best known for its houseboats and is home to more than 700 of the craft.
As the waters fell, however, houseboat manufacturers, repairers, brokers, marine operators, boat clubs, outboard motor servicemen and boat hirers all felt the squeeze. Several hirers closed up shop or cut their fleet and sold the vessels to be transported interstate and to the Murray River.
Not any more. The water is back and the boats are out.
Houseboat rentals vary according to season and on-board facilities. A 12-passenger luxury vessel is $4400 a week during the Christmas holidays and $1590 for four nights mid-week in low season. See lakeeildon.com. Lake Eildon is 140 kilometres north-east of Melbourne, an hour's drive from Lilydale along the Maroondah Highway.