Saturday, July 31, 2010


Some interesting snippets of information from a comprehensive article written by a Mr. Walter? Gale in 1927 called Pioneers of the district - History and Prophecy. Gale discusses Aboriginal habitation, native fauna, and the preparation and eating of the Bogong Moth (info). He goes on to discuss the early explorers of the area, Currie and Lhotski and Canberra's first 19th century European settlers.

Two items of particular interest to me in the article is the mention of a stand of gum trees at the foot of Mount Ainslie (post here) where James Ainslie first folded 700 sheep as he established Campbell's Duntroon Estate (post here) and Canberra's link with the weeping willow which droops over Napoleons grave at St. Helena (info)...

The Sydney Morning Herald - 9 May 1927

National Library of Australia (here)

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Friday, July 30, 2010


The 1920s saw considerable progress in establishing Canberra as a city, with particular attention being paid to building the new Provisional Parliament House and it's grand opening by the The Duke and Duchess of York.

Late in the day of 9 March 1927 the Duke planted an English Oak (Quercus robur) and a Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii) on either side of Federal Avenue (now Kings Avenue) near the corner with Capital Circle (now State Circle), as the initial plantings of Coppice (info) No. 5.

HRH The Duke of York - Canberra 1927

In 1931 the Commonwealth Government made available funding to plant 74 additional trees on the 1.7 hectare (4 acre) site. To provide relief work for the unemployed during the Great Depression and complete the planting of the coppice the government utilised Sustenance Workers to complete the project.

Sustenance workers were men during the Great Depression (info) who were required to labour on government projects in order to receive sustenance (principally food rations). Today the plantation of 75 mature English Oak trees is laid out in a regular grid with the trees spaced 12.19 metres (40 foot) apart at the base of Capital Hill.

Sustenance Workers

The National Capital Authority is currently upgrading the park. Installation of low-height perimeter walls, directional paths and associated landscape works are being built to protect the heritage listed plantation. The surrounding walls are being constructed of stone sourced from nearby Wee Jasper in NSW.

The new improved park is set to re-open to the public in mid 2010. The National Capital Authority's upgrade information is (here).

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Thursday, July 29, 2010


When I was a young man I spent a fair bit of time exploring the mountains and plains of Canberra's Brindabella Mountain region. Of particular note was the abundance of small beautiful black and vivid bright yellow striped frogs. One literally only had to look near a creek, soak or bog and there they would be. Around any water source the sound of  frogs permeated the air.

Only officially described in 1953 the Southern corroboree frog (Pseudophryne corroboree)(info here) is now so rare that amphibian specialists seeking them can take weeks to locate an individual frog. The territory for the frog is restricted to a tiny 10 km² area in high country sub-alpine Sphagnum Moss bogs where it has adapted it's lifestyle and breeding functions to endure the climactic extremes of hot dry summers and frozen, snow covered winters. Unusually the frog over-winters up to 300 metres from the bog in bushland under logs and fallen bark and walks overland more like a lizard than a frog with it's four web-less feet.

Southern Corroboree Frog habitats

Corroboree frogs reach maturity when they can breed at around three years of age. They mate in late summer laying their eggs in moss-lined nests made by the smaller male during mid summer around 30cm up on the bank of a bog. From his pre-prepared nest the frog sings his love song to attract females.

Up to 13 females deposit up to 30 pearl-sized eggs in his nest. He is left to guard these eggs until the autumn rains raise the level of the water in the bog and trigger the tadpoles to hatch. The tadpoles then wriggle their way down into the bog where they wait eating algae until they turn into frogs in early summer.

The frog's rapid decline has been mainly from two factors, a fungus and low rainfall.

The Southern corroboree frog, as with other frogs in Australia, has been severely affected by the chytrid fungus (info), a disease that is often fatal. The fungus eats keratin the main protein in frog skin. The frogs skin is not only used for protection but also for breathing and water intake and infected frogs simply suffocate.

The fungus was probably introduced to Australia through the trade of exotic amphibian pets such as Axolotyls and infected frogs arriving in rainforest plants and agricultural produce. The chytrid fungus was first reported in Australia in the 1990's however examination of museum specimens show the fungus has been active in frog populations from as early as 1978. Luckily however the Southern corroboree frog's eggs are immune to the fungus.

Sphagnum Moss Bog

Even though the lifecycle of the corroboree frog can withstand the onslaught of the chytrid fungus it still requires a regular autumn cycle of rainfall. Unfortunately until recently the frogs territory had also been in drought since the early 1980's.

Regular rainfall is required to flood the frogs nest and trigger the tadpoles to emerge whilst assisting them to enter the bog. Even if the tadpoles make it to the bog, if the bog drys out prior to the tadpoles turning into frogs they will perish. The drought has severely impacted on the frog's numbers.

Lets hope some remedy is found for the fungus and that a regular rainfall pattern allows these amazing creatures to repopulate the bogs. I for one would like to be able to show them to my grandchildren.

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Bushranging by escaped convicts on the limestone plains of present day Canberra was an emerging problem in the early days of settlement exasperated by the lack of permanent government authority. The southern plains of the colony of New South Wales were effectively law-less.

From one interested in the welfare of the southern districts came a call for mounted police to be stationed nearby to protect the "respectable settlers" of the Limestone Plains. This newspaper article from the Sydney Herald dated 29 September 1834 laments the fact that settlers had to report bushranger activity in the area to the government authorities in either Goulburn or Inverary Park, Bungonia, both being over 50 miles(90 km) distant...

National Library of Australia (here)

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Tuesday, July 27, 2010


In the following newspaper clipping from the Canberra Times dated 2 May 1951 W.P. Bluett from "Koorabri" Brindabella writes to the Canberra Times concerned with a spate of tree deaths in the Canberra area. He relates a story of a meeting in 1912 with Frederick Campbell, the owner of Yarralumla Station (post here), who himself describes an unusual tree death event that occurred on his property in 1888. He relates the subsequent land clearing of the dead timber by the use of a small Aboriginal tribe that was residing on Yarralumla at the time...

National Library of Australia (here)

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Monday, July 26, 2010


Portraits of Canberra's convicts is a series of photos I took of the displays in the convict built barn at Lanyon Homestead interspersed with convict paintings and drawings. The physical descriptions of the convicts from the individual convict's records give us a glimpse of not only crime, sentence and age but also how they looked, what tattoos and scars they had and in some cases their mannerisms such as how they spoke.

The instrumental soundtrack the 'Fairytale Waltz' is supplied by Marc Gunn a Celtic American musician and podcaster, singer songwriter/instrumentalist who also has an album available for free download (here).

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Sunday, July 25, 2010


A little background before the video...

Bordering today's northern suburbs of Canberra is a working remnant of Canberra's pastoral history, "Elm Grove". This fine merino wool property was established by James Gillespie next to his parents 1852 property "Horse Park" when he and his wife Isabella built a timber cottage on Portion 186 Parish of Goorooyarroo in 1882.

James was a well known personality in the Ginninderra district and he was involved in the establishment of the nearby Mulligan's Flat School (post here). He also wrote a regular news article titled "Ginninderra Notes" for the Goulburn Evening Penny Post under the pseudonym “The Wizard”.  For 40 years this column strengthened community development and political activism in the Ginninderra region and today provides a unique record of district events.

James lived on Elm Grove until he died in 1926 and Isabella until her death in 1938. Harold Gillespie (1890- 1974), their son, worked the property until his death in 1974. In 1986 Mr and Mrs Carmody purchased the lease from the Gillespie family. 

YouTube introduction:

"The first part of a program that looks at the history of Canberra before it became Australia's capital. How many of us stop to think about what was here before the nation's capital. Here we visit Elm Grove, one of the ACT's only surviving sheep properties that has been owned by two families in 160 years. Presented by Richard Snashall, with funding from the ACT Heritage unit".

Elm Grove heritage citation (pdf here)

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Saturday, July 24, 2010


Walnuts were being imported into the colony in the early 1800's and by at least 1838 they had made their way to the Limestone Plains. Walnuts, after importation, I would have thought been a luxury item in the colony. The walnuts from the clipping below were imported from Valparaiso Chile (info).

The Sydney Herald - 16 October 1840
National Library of Australia (here)

I was visiting Lanyon homestead (post here) recently whilst they were repairing the stonework in the walls of the "old kitchen". The old kitchen was the original L'anyon Estate homestead and was built circa 1838 by James Wright during the heyday of his pastoral and agricultural empire at Lanyon. The exposed stone "blocks" held a little surprise, 170 year old walnut shells.

These shells were interred during the construction of the original homestead after having already had a long sea voyage to Australia and then being transported the arduous trip from the Sydney colony to the Limestone Plains. Were these walnuts the luxury food of James Wright? or were they a treat for the convict stonemasons? we will never know, however, someone threw their discarded shells into the walls...

Factfile - Australian walnut Industry Association  (here)

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Friday, July 23, 2010


The best living evidence of Aboriginal occupation of today's Australian Capital Territory exists in the form of an abundance of scarred trees left dotting the Canberra landscape. These scars were made by the purposeful removal of bark to be used in the manufacture of canoes, coolamons (vessles), and warriors shields.

The Aboriginal process of removing bark does not harm the tree but does leave the inner "heartwood face" exposed leaving a distinctive "scar" as the outer bark of the tree over the following centuries tries to "cover" the dead heartwood wound. The wound on this tree in Kambah is the "typical" one metre ecliptic scar found locally on trees in the ACT.

I have driven by this particular tree 'thousands' of times in my life and have never noticed it before today because of the growth of branches from below and beside the face of the wound.

The dried, dead "heartwood face" on this tree readily burns and has been blackened by the 2003 Canberra bushfires. The same sunlight that revealed the scar's presence to me also made photographing it difficult.



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Thursday, July 22, 2010


Gibraltar Falls is one of the largest and most accessible waterfalls in the Australian Capital Territory. From the top to the bottom of the falls the Gibraltar Creek cascades 50 metres before entering a narrow 800 metre granite-walled gorge. The headwaters of Gibraltar Creek originate at 1,320 metres above sea level, which is well above the snow-line, before descending to 720 metres on the valley floor below the falls.

The area is very significant not only for it's natural beauty but also it's heritage aspects, having been an important location for the original aboriginal inhabitants. A rock shelter, axe grinding grooves (post here) and stone artifact scatters in the area show a long history of indigenous inhabitation of the Gibraltar Valley.

European settlement in the mountainous area first occurred in the late 1890's by the Woods family. They called their property 'Gibraltar Creek'. and until the Corin Dam Road was established in the 1960's the station was very difficult to access and travelling stockmen were about the only ones to ever pass by.

The Gibraltar falls are also a refuge for the rare Waterfall Redspot (Austropetalia patricia) (dragonfly) that lives in the splash zones of waterfalls, sphagnum swamps and small trickles in mountainous areas. They can live out of water in damp areas between rocks and on the ledges of waterfalls. This dragonfly has a reddish-brown head and body with small yellow markings and distinctive red-spotted wings. These spots, and the fact that it is usually seen near waterfalls in the spring, give the dragonfly its name. Gibraltar falls is the only known habitat for the dragonfly in the Australian Capital Territory.

Waterfall Redspot

All up a very beautiful and special place to visit...


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Wednesday, July 21, 2010


A nearly extinct plant clings desperately for survival at 550 meters above sea level on the eastern banks of the Murrumbidgee River at Canberra. Originally discovered in Tuggeranong in 1997 "Muehlenbeckia Tuggeranong" was first described (info) from a single female plant and six male plants that were found in the Murrumbidgee River Corridor at Pine Island (post here) in the Australian Capital Territory. In May 1999 one more male plant was discovered a short distance from the other seven plants. This brought the total to 7 male and one female plant known to exist.

Tuggeranong Lignum is a sprawling woody shrub that grows to 1 meter high in a loose tangled mound of wiry stems extending between 1-2 meters across. The plant has singular green ovoid leaves that grow at intervals along the length of the stem. The flowers are cream-green on a lax spike. Flowering occurs from December and late March annually. It grows in medium to course textured alluvium, mainly quartzitic sand and gravel, with local richer pockets of silty sand soil.

The plant grows in pockets in rocky outcrops on the edge of the river. These river bank terraces are prone to seasonal flooding events with some plants being only 1.5 meters above the flow line of the river. Other plants grow not far up a gentle slope. Although extensive searches have been carried out this population appears to be the only one in existence.

The river at the location is typified by rapids, boulders and sand beaches with uneven rocky flood terraces.

Attempts are being made to establish a second population at Pine Island of plants propagated for the purpose. It remains to be seen if the new population will have the genetic diversity required to re-establish.
  • A new species R.O Makinson and D.J Mallinson (here)
  • National recovery plan for Tuggeranong Lignum (here)

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010


The competition to design the new Federal Capital City of Canberra in 1913, having 136 entries, ended with the decision to award Walter Burley Griffin (1876-1937)(bio) the win for his blue-print of a geometric design cleverly worked into and around the plains and hills of the Molonglo River. Landscaping on a grand scale would provide a man-made recreational lake as the centerpiece to the Australian Government's Federal "Parliamentary Triangle".

Walter Burley Griffin

The hills and mountains of Canberra in Burley Griffin's plan define three axes, a water, a land and a municipal axis. Circles, triangles and semi-circles connect avenues and boulevards that cross the lake forming radial spokes emanating from the seat of government on Kurrajong (Capital) Hill. The central lake was to be semi-circular and the east and west basins circular. Burley Griffin's sketches however prompted discussion as to whether the design had other deeper meanings.

National Library of Australia (here)

Burley Griffins design for Canberra has been linked by many different theorists to esoteric places such as Stonehenge, Ancient Glastonbury and the Great Pyramids of Egypt. The plan has evoked speculation of links to symbolism such as the Kabbalah (info), Freemasonry (info) as well as the Occult (info). Whether the interpretations are correct or not, people seem to see more in Burley Griffin's plan than simple architectural geometric design.
  • An Australian Theosophical (info) view of Canberra's symbolism (here)
  • ABC Compass interview - hidden secrets in the Canberra plan (here)
  • Ancient Cosmological Symbolism in the Initial Canberra Plan
    by Peter R. Proudfoot .pdf (here)
The following video gives an idea of what one person sees in Burley Griffin's plan. YouTube describes the video as a comparison in symbolism between Australia and America - The Occult history of Canberra...

The 1912 Competition to design the city of Canberra "An Ideal City" (here)


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Monday, July 19, 2010


The term for an armed robber in colonial Australia was "bushranger" and the Australian Capital Territory region had more than it's fair share of them. The word bushranger first originated from an article published in the Sydney Gazette in February 1805 mentioning that a cart had been stopped by three unknown men "whose appearance sanctioned the suspicion of their being bushrangers".

After this time the term bushranger was used to describe any criminals who attacked travellers in the Australian bush. John Thomas Bigge (1780-1843)(bio) described bushranging in 1821 as "absconding in the woods and living upon plunder and the robbery of orchards." Charles Darwin (1809-1882)(bio) also recorded in 1835 that a bushranger was "an open villain who subsists by highway robbery, and will sooner be killed than taken alive".

On 1 June 1866 the entire town of Michealago on the outskirts of the Australian Capital Territory was taken hostage by a bushranging gang comprising of the Clarke brothers, Thomas (1840?-1867)(bio) and John (1846?-1867), Patsy Connell and two un-named accomplices. They kept the entire town captive as they waited for gold being escorted from Kiandra and stayed to drink the town's liquor supply before returning to 'Beefcask' their Tinderry mountain hide-out.

The Clarke brothers had been actively bushranging in the ACT area since 1865 raiding stations, stores and performing an armed holdup on the Queanbeyan Mail. A third brother James Clarke had been involved with the Ben Hall (1837-1865)(bio) gang's robbery of the Cowra Mail station. He was later convicted and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment for receiving stolen goods.

Thomas Clarke was arrested in October 1864 for highway robbery but later escaped from the Braidwood Goal. He then began terrorising the area around Braidwood and through to Moruya on the New South Wales coast. During a holdup at the Gulf Diggings near Moruya where a man was killed, one of the gang, William Fletcher, was shot by Constable Miles O'Grady who was then himself shot dying a few days later.

Four men who were sent by the authorities to help capture the Clarkes were found dead in their camp on Jinden station and a reward of £ 5,000 was posted in January 1867 for the capture of those responsible. The reward later rose to £ 10,000 for the capture of Thomas Clarke.

The following newspaper clippings begin with the brothers, being only in their early 20's, are thought to have killed five policemen and committed 36 holdups.
The "Brothers Clarke" were ambushed on 26th April 1867...


The Argus -23 May 1867
National Library of Australia (here)


The Mercury -  6 June 1867

National Library of Australia (here)


The Queenslander - 6 July 1867

National Library of Australia (here)

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History lost through lack of funding

  The following ABC article laments the possible loss of many historical audio visual records that are waiting for digitising into modern fo...