Thursday, June 30, 2011


This post is a continuation of a post Pioneers graves - Nass Bridge, another clipping. It should be read first to fully understand this news clipping. Note that Nass River was a part of the De Salis property Cuppacumbalong and not all burials were at the Desalis cemetery. It should further be noted that the Cuppacumbalong cemetery at Tharwa is not the Tharwa cemetery.

The Tharwa cemetery is a private affair for the community. It is located well away from the village on private land and in my opinion is best left alone at peace overlooking the Murrumbidgee.

As this article suggests the Emanuelsons were not the bodies removed from Nass to Tharwa but those of Micheal Herbert of Nass and two grandchildren. This leaves me with the question where are the Emanuelsons buried or were they ever buried in the area at all? Anyway... The first post did however spur me to discover the location of the Tharwa cemetery and the second learn the tragic tale of the Nass Herberts...

The Canberra Times - Saturday 25 February 1939

National Library of Australia


Saturday, June 25, 2011


I like these old poems.

One for the fishermen... a Queanbeyan (I presume) resident's 1917 poem dedicated to an experience whilst fishing for trout on the streams around Tidbinbilla. Fishing was a popular pastime in Canberra whether residents were casting for fish, dynamite fishing or fishing for dingos.

Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer 
Tuesday 30 January 1917

National Library of Australia


Thursday, June 23, 2011


I have a new interest... developed because I have found that searching YouTube provides very little information on 19th century Canberra heritage. This I think is surprising as surely people must take videos when they visit these places. Apparently not in Canberra. My new interest will give me fresh reasons to get out and about and walk the dog...

If you would like to follow along I will post the videos here of course or you can subscribe to my YouTube channel here. If you are new to Canberra's 19th century history you can brush up with a few older posts from the past 12 months organised alphabetically usually with keywords in the title in the archive


Saturday, June 18, 2011


Out of all the characters in Canberra's history my favourite is undoubtedly King O'Malley. One of Canberra's advocates in the capital's selection process and Minister for Home Affairs at Canberra's inception I admire the grand visions he expressed for a Canberra of the future.

The newspaper clipping below is a letter to the editor re: naming the Federal city dated 1913. Written before the announcement by Lady Denman of the name 'Canberra' the writer unaware of the name is critical of this 'King of Australia' and entertains the reader with his thoughts.

To understand the sentiment in the article a little better a bit of info about him...

From the Wikipedia article. (highly recommended)
Historian Gavin Souter describes O'Malley:
"O'Malley's monstrously overgrown persona seemed to be inhabited simultaneously by a spruiker from Barnum's three-ring circus, a hell-and-tarnation revivalist, and a four-flushing Yankee Congressman.
 He was a moderately big man, auburn-haired with watchful grey eyes and a red-brown beard, wearing a wide-brimmed felt hat, blue-grey suit with huge lapels and a low-cut vest, loose cravat with a diamond collar stud, and in the centre of his cream silk shirt-front a fiery opal." 

My other newspaper clipping posts about the man. King O'Malley - Government as shopkeeper - Foundation stones - Taxation without representation - Prohibition lifted at Canberra. - Other bios - Wikipedia - Australian Dictionary of Biography -

The Advertiser - Saturday 25 January 1913

National Library of Australia

Square dinkum.


Friday, June 17, 2011


This letter to the editor dated 1932 suggested the erection of three granite memorials. One for the City of Canberra's place of discovery near Duntroon, One at Pine Island in Canberra's south and a possible final one at Isabella's Plain at Tuggeranong.

Firstly I like memorials to significant events and people. I like reading their brass plates and discovering the place's European history. I can stand at Botany Bay at the point of Cook's landing and read the 'plate' or signage.

I can go to the 'Hovell tree' at Albury where the explorers Hume and Hovell carved their names on a tree on 17th Nov 1824 and know this because I can definitively locate the place and read the hopefully informative signage.

Fredrick Watson of Gungahleen gives us some pretty good reasons why the aforementioned Canberra places are significant, names the men associated and suggested erecting granite memorials. I could only find a few links to the main player's bios. Joseph Wild - Charles Throsby - James Vaughan - Mark John Currie - J Owens -

Is it ever too late to erect a memorial to an historic event from a communities past?

Perhaps before the ACT buys it's next $400K fibreglass owl we might look at spending some of the budget on something that has meaning and would be significant to us as a community. Eighty years on Freddie's idea still seems appropriate.

The Canberra Times - Thursday 3 November 1932

National Library of Australia



The two articles below relate to the today very rare Tiger Cat or Tiger Quoll or Spotted Tailed Quoll as we like to call them here in Canberra. The first written after the second relates to a time before Federation when the marsupial was apparently abundant and the collective attitude of the day towards the carnivore sought its eradication.

That 19th century attitude, still practised in the 1950's, seemed not only to persist to a by then rare species but also extended to another marsupial in the local area, the Rock Wallaby. Today of course the Southern Brush-tailed Wallaby is officially declared as locally extinct in the Australian Capital Territory.

The wonderful habitat of Tidbinbilla is today however again being used for a breeding program to help save another population in the Grampians of Victoria and the ACT government announced in February the birth in the wild of a Joey from a mother bred at Tidbinbilla.

The second article written in 1936 tells the tale of a trapped Quoll by then so rare that it caused interest and the dead specimen deemed worthy of presentation to the Institute of Anatomy. 

I think what struck me most about both articles was the colonial attitude to fauna carried over from a colonial past. It's an attitude reminiscent, and crucial to, the eventual extinction of the Tasmanian Tiger or Thylacine in Tasmania in 1936.

The end of the story is sadly we succeeded in exterminating the Rock Wallaby population from our mountains and we had nearly succeeded in killing off the Quoll. It still could happen...

The Sydney Morning Herald - Thursday 25 November 1954

National Library of Australia

The Canberra Times - Friday 17 July 1936

National Library of Australia

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011


A lovely old article written 13 years after the founding of Canberra as the name of Australia's new national capital in 1913. Quite some debate raged however as to the meaning of the name Canberra. Today of course the generally accepted meaning is 'meeting place' which is highly significant in that federal parliament resides within Canberra's parliamentary triangle.

Anyway there was a lot of conjecture and varying opinion as to its meaning. The head, a woman's breasts, a corroberee ground, meeting place and even canned berries. This newspaper clipping from 1927 seems to summarize the arguments quite well. You can make your own mind up...

Other posts on Canberra's name - Naming of Canberra -  Canberra origin - Naming of Canberra - Old canberry's berries - The name Canberra and the bloke who appears to have organised it all King O'Malley.

The Mail (Adelaide) Saturday 8 January 1927

National Library of Australia


Monday, June 13, 2011


To fully understand the context of this post I would suggest reading 'Queen' Nellie Hamilton for some background info - There are also mentions of Nellie - Ngambri ACT's traditional owners? and the Naming of Canberra

Nellie Hamilton, known by the residents of the Limestone plains as 'Queen Nellie', was described as the last of her race (last full blooded) when she died in Queanbeyan in 1887. I have tried to sift the little information I can find about this 19th century Aboriginal woman and what I have found is contained in the links above.

Nellie was a remarkable woman who I have often described as Canberra's first Aboriginal activist. I think she gives a glimpse of the true impact of European settlement on the traditional owners of Canberra. I put Nellie as being a child when the first explorers came through in 1822. She would have experienced the sudden appearance in the late 1830's through to the 1880's of colonial development and experienced first hand an expanding colony take away her traditional lifestyle. She also was quite prepared to speak her mind in protest and is probably only truly being heard today... She died just prior to Federation.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post. At some point Nellie was quoted as saying the following;

'I no tink much of your law.
You come here and take my land,
kill my possum, my kangaroo; 

leave me starve.
Only gib me rotten blanket.
Me take calf or sheep, 

you been shoot me, or put me in jail.
You bring your bad sickness 'mong us'. Nellie Hamilton

I don't know why but I had always attributed the quote to her appearance at the opening of Tharwa Bridge in 1895 but this is incorrect. I have discovered by way of Jonathon that it is not the location. Nellie actually made the comment to a leading Queanbeyan citizen in a discussion outside Queanbeyan's Goal. The quote though is authentic and I think looking back in time today it is very powerful.

My blog is a record of my stumbling through Canberra's history and I stress to anyone that reads it that I am an amateur historian so please keep in mind it's a historical journey for me and a hobby. I try and update anything nonfactual in previous posts when alerted and I was pleased to receive the true source of the quote as supplied and I learned a few more things as well. Thanks Jonathon. I'll be doing some updating.

E-mail: Jonathon Crane

"Her words were recounted after the fact by Samuel Shumack. His manuscript which includes a version of Nellie's quote is held by the national library, but the most widely quoted version was from a letter he sent to John Gale who related the anecdote in his book about the history of Canberra. There is no mention in either of these about her being at the Tharwa bridge opening. "

 Anyone wishing to know more about Canberra's traditional owners I highly suggest you visit the Ngambri Website.

Dave Reid

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Sunday, June 12, 2011


I love these old ghost stories from early Canberra. The two 'reputable citizens' in this clipping that witness the apparition must have been quite convincing because apparently  it caused quite a flap in Canberra...

I have found before a story about a Canberra ghost called the 'winged spectre of Red Hill' dating back to 1886 so was surprised to discover that this Adelaide newspaper was claiming Canberra's first ghost as being in 1930. Even if after reading the lengthy  Red Hill Spectre story and discovering that it really wasn't a ghost at all the claim still cannot be made of it being Canberra's first ghost as there is always Yarralumla's blackfellow ghost from the late 1800's to take the ribbon.

Something I have noticed with these old news clippings from around this time is a general fervour of the national papers to publish just about anything to do with the new fledgling 'city'. Things like possum hunts, brown snakes in Civic and even as it seems the reporting of Canberra's 'first' ghost...

The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA) - Saturday 6 September 1930

National Library of Australia


Saturday, June 11, 2011


Canberra is I think very lucky in that most people are in walking distance, if not a short drive, from a nature reserve. Most allow dogs on a leash and I travel to a variety within a short distance of my home in order to do just that. One small oasis of nature not far from home is a small knoll called Simpson's Hill...

I'm not sure if it is a part of the Canberra Nature Park but if  it is, it is somehow a forgotten part if the noxious weeds allowed to flourish are to go by. 

Wikipedia under it's Suburb of Chisholm entry describes Simpson's Hill in the suburbs of Canberra thus:

"Chisholm and Gilmore are separated by Simpson's Hill, which provides some wilderness with walking tracks over it, popular for walking dogs."

That appears to be the only information I can find on the Internet about this little Canberra remnant of native habitat.

The summit seems the home of birds, a few eucalyptus and an old kurrajong tree. The kurrajong's sturdy limbs support some local children's rope swing and the slope below is covered thick and high with grasses interspersed by natives and stray exotics alike. A few tracks into the grass, probably by animals, but apart from that I don't think many wander off the path very often. 

Drawn to the hill fairly regularly because of the dog and it's proximity, the hill offers a pretty special surprise in the view offered after the very easy walk to the top. An amazing panorama of western Tuggeranong, the Bullen Range and the Brindabella Mountains suddenly appears to the west of Canberra.

For anyone reading not from the Capital Canberra has a remarkable natural backdrop of National Park affectionately called the 'Brindies'. My phone camera certainly doesn't do the view justice.

The hill sits like an island in the suburbs separated from the mainland of Canberra's hilly western border. A unique little patch of remnant hill grassland left to regeneration since it's surrounding suburbs were built in 1985.

Before this time the area was a part of the Tuggeranong station and had been grazed consistently since the 1840's. Still prominent are blackberry bushes and other exotics and general weeds that have escaped from neighbouring suburbia.

I am actually surprised in the preceding 30 years no-one had thought to care for the 'reserve'. This area certainly needs a little love by removing everything noxious and replanting and perhaps nurturing what was there before suburbia started it's crawl.

.A point in example: the picture to the right is of a suburban wooden-paling fence line bordering the reserve and evidently something exotic steadily radiating out from it's source.

Along the fence's length were clusters of what looked suspiciously like Prickly Pear I could be wrong but even if it isn't I'm sure whatever it is shouldn't be allowed to creep into the reserve.

Perhaps someone local to the area reading this might have the time to pursue the regeneration of this parcel of hill. I know the Southern ACT Catchment group supports people willing to undertake these sort of projects.

Quite surprisingly another point of interest on Simpson's hill is on the eastern side where the local Gilmore Primary school has its ANZAC memorial. As the plaque states the children

"...gather on the eve of ANZAC day to commemorate the memory of those lost at Gallipoli and in subsequent conflicts".

There is a white flagpole and the remnants of wreaths and flowers from their last commemoration.

The hill is very quite during the week when you will probably find you have the whole area to yourself. All up an interesting place to walk the dog with a few park benches located at the summit to drink in the amazing view of the Brindabellas...


View Larger Map


Tuesday, June 7, 2011


 I was walking my dog 'Scruff' on Macarthur Hill in Tuggeranong the other day when I noticed an old, and rare for Canberra, Kurrajong tree growing on the top of the western slope. Lovely to see. In march it was reported that an old tree had been cut down with an axe in an act of mindless vandalism further south (post here) which highlighted the importance of these old slow growing trees from a heritage aspect.

The sight of one of these fine trees is not all that remarkable until I noticed the three smaller trees, obvious offspring, growing nearby and a smaller established sapling growing just down the hill.

The Kurrajong tree being sparsely distributed and indeed often solitary was not generally cleared for grazing because its reputation as a 'fodder' tree was well known and the tree was an asset to graziers during periods of extended drought. This being the case unfortunately the Kurrajongs germinated seedlings were also a tasty morsel for stock reducing natural reproduction.

The Canberra suburb of Macarthur was first settled as a residential area in 1983 and leased grazing of the area would have ceased a few years prior to that. Allowing a few seasons for flowering and seed distribution this will have allowed the existing tree about 25 years unhindered by the grazing and trampling influences of cattle and sheep. My thoughts are that this lonesome solitary tree was a lot more numerous pre-settlement. It should be noted that Capitol Hill, the home of Australia's Parliament House was originally known as 'Kurrajong Hill' because of a lonesome specimen.

Apart from the tree's use as European animal fodder traditional Aboriginal use of the tree was widespread with the roots of the tree being edible and the seeds utilized in some form after processing. Fiber from the bark of the tree was used for making twine (ref). I have also read that a palatable coffee substitute can also be made from the ground roasted seeds.

The last photo below shows the Kurrajong sapling down the hill just taking form as a strong looking tree. Left unmolested it will in turn now mature, flower and distribute its seed. The regeneration of our urban Canberra habitat can with time be quite remarkable...


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Saturday, June 4, 2011


 A video from ABC News describing the re-discovery of a drawing by the designer of Canberra, Walter Burley Griffin, a hundred years ago. Canberra historian David Headon found the lost annotated legend of Canberra titled the 'View from the Summit of Mount Ainslie' after it's disappearance from the original collection of 16 drawings 80 years ago.

When I was working for Hansard in the early 1980's, on a trip to the now extinct Government Printing Office, I once 'discovered' a near original set of leather bound, gold embossed with 'second reporter' federation hansards. They had been stored in an unused toilet in cardboard boxes.

The area had become damp and going unnoticed for what I suspect was a very long time many were damaged. It leaves me wondering what else is sitting 'lost' in the vaults of government departments in Canberra...


Thursday, June 2, 2011


This photo is of a gum tree that grows at the end of my childhood street in Canberra. It's an old tree and not all that different from any other of it's species on the slopes of Mount Taylor however this tree is significant.

Not because it was a tree we climbed and built tree houses in as children but that (as I found out later in life) it had been scarred by the original Aboriginal people of the region prior to or only shortly after European discovery in 1822.

The scars were produced by skillfully cutting the desired shape with an axe (stone and after settlement steel) and stripping the bark from the tree in a sheet to be fashioned into what we would refer to as either a Coolomon or Wira (vessel or a container) or sheilds, canoes, baby carriers and, I am sure, many other general use items produced by the practice. Once the bark was removed the living 'heartwood' of the tree died leaving the enduring scar on an otherwise completely healthy tree that remains today. Depending on the lifespan of the tree Aboriginal scars can be hundreds of years old.

Because I found this new knowledge interesting I devoured the limited information available about scarred trees (identification manuals here and here) and realising that I had seen many of these trees in the ACT over the years decided last year to track as many down from memory as I could. A little Googling and the publicly 'known' trees were at Westridge in the Diplomatic district and south suburban Wanniassa with it's excellent examples of canoe trees and others. Historic Lanyon has trees I could not access and there are others identified at Pialligo and Majura also inaccessible.

I then remembered the ones from the past seemingly unknown and in far better condition than the unfortunately termite affected trees of Westridge. The childhood one in Pearce, a ghostly gum on the slopes of Red Hill and one I subsequently noticed on the Parkway in Kambah. I have been told others have been identified from Kambah to the Murrumbidgee river and it is obvious we have a numerous, rich and 'tangible' collection of living artifacts linking Aboriginal heritage to today.

I am by no means now claiming to be an expert but after seeing a lot of examples and learning to identify what is NOT a scarred tree (branch fall injury, fire damage, stock rubbing etc.) 'blind freddy' could identify one. It amazes me that the existence of these living artifacts is not more widely known and I have published the information on the trees in the ACT that I have discovered. Because of this I am occasionally contacted by people to help them identify trees in their communities that they have discovered. Some are, some are not. Last night I received an email from South Australia asking...

Email: Hi Dave,

I don't live in the ACT (I'm in SA) but was wandering around where I work today and came across this tree (attached). So is it what I think it is? Maybe a coolamon tree? It's in an area where most people won't go....on private property next to a fire track in Charleston, SA (a rural area ) My boss wasn't aware of it either.

Went to do some google searching about aboriginal trees and came across your website (great site by the way).....I knew about canoe trees (there's quite a few around the river down here) but wasn't sure what these were called till I found your site....that is, if it is one of these trees.....doesn't look like it occurred naturally however.

It is quite a ways up the tree...and didn't see any lower branches where someone could have easy access, but was thinking that if it was done a while ago, it may not have been that high up back then maybe? (due to the tree being younger?)

So do you think that's what it is?  Kind regards, Jules

Both photos enlarge...

Reply: Hi Jules,

If it was at ground level I would have dismissed it as a probable cattle rubbing however it is too high for that The shape is consistent with aboriginal scarring and unless there are visible "hatchet marks' would have been cut with a stone axe and probably pre-dates European settlement of the area.  

I would be contacting your local heritage body and reporting the tree for formal identification. In my opinion it is probably an extremely significant find in terms of surviving Aboriginal heritage and appears in very good condition. It seems to conform to all requirements of a coolomon but it is so big! I have seen much smaller scars high on trees before and wondered how the craftsmen worked so high up but they obviously had some method. I am thinking more of a shield? perhaps?

There is an identification manual here (pdf) and another here (pdf). All the info I have on our local trees is here with a video showing how they made them. I really can't help you much more but would be very interested in discovering the outcome... Cheers Dave
 -------------------------------------------------------------- end

And I am very interested... I think the South Oz community that has this heritage asset are very fortunate and hope they appreciate it still existing with so many lost to bushfire, age and past land clearing practices. I also hope that somebody 'qualified' to identify these remarkable relics does so and gives the tree the protection that it's heritage value warrants.


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...