William Johnson was concerned for the fate of polar bears in Dalgety. Photo: National Library of Australia
If the good-natured people of Dalgety and region wanted to enliven this Sunday's Dalgety Show by burning an effigy of someone who had spoken ill of Dalgety, then a good candidate would be William Johnson, MP.
Here he is, late in 1908, speaking up in Parliament against the proposal that the federal capital city should be built at allegedly marrow-freezing Dalgety:
''Mr Speaker. Dalgety is a blizzard-swept plain covered with granite boulders … I'm told that an attempt was made at Dalgety to rear polar bears. But the first couple of bears that could be taken there got frozen and could not stand the climate, and the experiment has not been repeated.''
This Sunday, a promoter of the Dalgety Show assures us, ''100 years almost to the day [that Canberra's name was announced by Lady Denman], Dalgety celebrates 'not being the capital' at its Annual Agricultural Show''.
Yes, what must it feel like at this time as Canberra celebrates its centenary of capitaldom to be a person of the townlet of Dalgety and its neighbouring townlets and properties of the Monaro? Dalgety almost got the prestigious federal capital guernsey.
Dalgety was still the big rival of Yass/Canberra as, late in 1908, Federal Parliament in Melbourne voted for a site. The voting occasion was very much like a slow-motion running of a Melbourne Cup with 11 sites/horses. And in the funny and informative melodrama, The Battle of the Sites, currently being performed by the Queanbeyan Players, the players have wittily taken a journalist's actual description of it all and are performing it as a race call, with a quickening gallop to the finish. Why not try that for yourself, now? Place your bets! Bombala looks good at 45-1. Yass-Canberra and Dalgety are evens favourites. Now, read at a gallop.
''This afternoon's federal capital site ballot in the House of Representatives opened at 3 o'clock and continued till about dusk. By the exhaustive ballot system any site could be proposed … and in this way one after another of the sites lowest on the poll dropped out. The interest as the ballot went on rose considerably. Senators came across from the other side of the Parliament building and watched the proceedings with as keen an interest as those who were casting the ballots. On the third ballot Bombala - which had found a solitary supporter - vanished. Dalgety had risen to 28 and Yass/Canberra to 24. There were scattered votes for the other sites but Dalgety and Yass-Canberra were absorbing the whole of the attention … Meanwhile Tooma was rising. Tumut went out on the fifth ballot and Armidale remained until the sixth. It was not until the seventh ballot that Yass/Canberra began seriously to rise. It had 24 votes at that stage but as Lyndhurst fell out on the seventh ballot Yass-Canberra jumped up to 31 while Dalgety had only 27. The last three in it were Dalgety, Yass-Canberra and Tooma. On the eighth ballot Tooma came last on 14 votes … The ninth ballot, limited to Dalgety and Yass-Canberra, was to be decisive. Dalgety got 33 and Yass-Canberra [dramatic pause] 39. The Yass-Canberra men figuratively threw their hats into the air!''
You could forgive the people of Dalgety if, having come so close, today they felt spurned. But should you go to the Dalgety Show this Sunday and do a vox pop of locals you'll find them saying that they're relieved that the townlet and its corner of heaven have never been smothered by a big city.
Jacquelyn Fenton recently did and published in the Summit Sun a little vox pop on this subject.
''How would you feel if it was Dalgety that had become our nation's capital?'' she quizzed several folk. They included Noel Buckland, who said: ''I'm glad it's not. It's our little town.'' Ian Doust said: ''I like Canberra. I like it where it is. I like Dalgety too, just the way it is.''
On our most recent exploring and vox-popping visit a fortnight ago, I was fascinated to find that co-owners of the dog-friendly cabin we stayed at were Queenslanders! As Federal Parliament debated in 1908 where the federal capital should be, it was the thin-blooded, wussy Queenslanders, convinced that Dalgety would kill them with its cold, who fought the hardest against the capital and Parliament going there.
But today former Queenslanders Teresa McKenzie and Lyndal Hill live cheerfully, with little Australian terriers Stan and Rosie (who sometimes in winter run around with snow up to their shoulders) at Top of the Range near Dalgety. They bought the property together in 2009, having both been to the region on school trips when younger. As well as being snow sports enthusiasts, they both say that of course it's not as cold as the 1908 detractors fibbed, and, as well, is a beautiful part of the world.
McKenzie works in Canberra from Monday to Thursday and then comes home. When she describes her Monday morning commutes (beginning at the property at 5.30am and taking her down across Dalgety's handsome 1888 bridge across the Snowy) she gets a little rapturous about the loveliness of it all.
''Sometimes its just stunningly beautiful. You get the white frosts, you get the ice crystals, and you get the most amazing blue in the sky and everything's just got that tinge of blue. There are often times when I'm driving when I just want to stop and get out the camera and just spend hours photographing it. Then when you get to that 1888 bridge and you can see the steam rising off the Snowy and there's ice everywhere! It's just beautiful.''
The Queanbeyan Players' Battle of the Sites continues at St John's in Reid. Go to stjohnscanberra.org. This columnist is shyly involved, but not financially, in this production.
This Sunday's Dalgety Show (only two hours from Canberra, with the Maffra road from Cooma to Dalgety showing you the Monaro at its weird best) lasts all day but has its official opening by local footy hero Canberra Raider Brett White at 1pm.