Searching for the hidden obelisk on the brooding Monaro Plains. Monaro country.JPG Photo: Dave Moore
"Oh, you've got no chance of finding it. I've lived here all my life and never even heard of it, let along set eyes on it," warns Bredbo identity Tony Crimmins while downing a schooner of beer at the town's landmark pub.
My search for an historic eight-metre tall obelisk between Bredbo and Cooma began several months ago after flicking through Ruth McFadden's booklet The Road South: a picturesque and romantic history of a well-travelled track, which chronicles intriguing features of a 100- kilometre or so section of the Monaro Highway between Canberra and Cooma.
The booklet (sadly, now out of print) also documents a wide range of folklore, from stories of bloody bushranging heists to the bridge between Bredbo and Williamsdale under which Soviet defector Vladimir Petrov supposedly hid a cache of classified memos. However, what really caught my eye was the striking photograph of a metallic obelisk atop a partially-wooded hill.
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According to McFadden's expose, the obelisk was erected in 1973 to mark the 150th anniversary of when Captain Mark Currie, Brigade-Major John Ovens and Constable Joseph Wild became the first European explorers to venture this far south and "stood on top of a hill and marvelled at the extent of the Monaro's rolling downs".
McFadden explains that "the imaginative memorial topped by a silver cylinder … is hard to access," but unfortunately offers few clues as to its exact whereabouts except that it is atop a hill, "about 12km south of Bredbo and to the east of the highway," and "that it cannot be seen from the road except by those with extraordinary vision and a pair of binoculars".
Having searched in vain for the obelisk on regular road trips to the snow this winter and with McFadden no longer contactable, I turned to the next obvious line of inquiry - the Cooma Visitors Centre. While the good folk in front of (and behind) the counter had at least heard of it (also through McFadden's booklet) they had no idea where it was. Correspondence with a couple of Cooma-based historical societies also turned up blanks.
Fellow obelisk hunter Dave Moore at the hidden obelisk. Photo: Dave Moore
A shiny eight-metre tall monument of such historical significance can't just vanish, can it? Nor can it just be wiped from the collective memory of the Monaro. Heck, it was only erected 40 years ago - surely someone must know. So under this premise, a month ago, I dispatched a copy of the relevant page from McFadden's book to the Bredbo Inn where publican Ron Stapleton promptly pinned it to the pub's noticeboard, along with my request seeking further information as to its whereabouts.
Despite nightly check-ins with Stapleton, not one lead was flushed out by my impromptu ''wanted'' poster. "It's got everyone scratching their head, and some reckon the whole story has been fabricated," reported Stapleton during my last call.
So in a last-ditch effort to find the obelisk, I've high-tailed it to Bredbo for the weekend. And I'm not leaving town until I've found it, or at least found out what happened to it. To aid me on this mission, I've brought my secret weapon - Dave Moore. Regular readers might recall Moore's acute observation skills in which he was able to sniff out award-winning meat pies at 100 metres with his eyes closed (''Best pies from Canberra to the Coast'', July 20). By hanging out the window of my Jeep with binoculars, surely the eagle-eyed Moore will easily be able to spot a whopping big shiny tower on top of a hill. How hard can it be?
From the obelisk looking west toward the setting sun Photo: Dave Moore
So mid-afternoon, armed with the mud map in McFadden's booklet (oh, OK - and a couple of steak and mushroom pies from the Bredbo Pie Shop) and to the jeers of a chorus of the Bredbo Inn's barflies, off we head on our quest for the fabled obelisk.
There's only one road leading east off the highway. It's dirt and although listed on the map as a public byway, the number of ''Private property - no trespassing'' signs swinging on the breeze on every gate would have you think otherwise. It's hardly welcoming country and apart from the odd dust-encrusted tumbleweed the place appears lifeless. After an hour or two of turning around countless locked gates and with Moore hanging perilously out the window scanning every hill within cooee with his trusty binoculars, our search has turned up nothing.
We are about to call it quits and head back to the pub for a beer (with a side of humble pie), when we spot some cars in a clearing on a partly-forested hill. Moore and I look at each other. Do we approach them? Will they take pot shots at us? Will they let their dogs loose on us?
View over the Monaro plains from the obelisk Photo: Dave Moore
Luckily they do neither, and instead we're greeted by two flannelette-shirt-wearing men who turn out to be a father and son enjoying some quiet time at their weekender. Before I have a chance to unwind my window, they've completed a recce around the Jeep, no doubt checking we're not pig shooters scouting out possible late-night access or undercover coal-seam-gas prospectors.
After a somewhat uncomfortable exchange of pleasantries, I hold up a photo of the obelisk,anticipating the same looks of bewilderment given by everyone else I've shown the photo to over the last six months. Instead, almost in unison, the father and son say: "Oh yeah, that's on our property - just on the hill up there."
Ripper! When we ask if we can see it, at first they are a bit reticent, but when they understand our genuine interest they point us in the direction of a goat track which leads most of the way up the hill. "When you get to the end of the track, you'll have to walk the rest of the way," explains the son.
We found it! Photo: Dave Moore
Still wary that perhaps we've been sent off on a wild goose chase by a couple of country yokels, we reach the end of the track after about 20 minutes' driving.
Moore and I jump out of the car, cameras in hand and race each other to the top of the hill.
Eureka! Rising among the trees is a very shiny metallic tower. It looks in good condition after 40 years and afternoon sun shimmers off the silver cylinder. I presume there are more trees on the hill than when Currie and Co came through, and probably more than when the obelisk was erected. Nonetheless, through gaps in the trees is an expansive vista south and you really get a feel for the extent of the vast Monaro Plain.
The Barrett’s grass tree at Bywong Photo: Peter Barrett
We snap the obligatory photos, many more than we need but we're keen to arm ourselves with as much evidence as possible for the sceptical folk back at the pub. At the base of the obelisk are some screw holes where a plaque was at some stage affixed to its base. The plaque is long gone. I wonder where it is. But we've had enough mystery-solving for one day.
We arrive back at the pub on sundown, brandishing a portfolio of photos as evidence. It doesn't take long for news of our discovery to spread. The barflies are gobsmacked, totally.
"How could such a significant historical monument and of such size lie hidden, unknown to so many for so long," says Crimmins as he shakes our hands. Publican Stapleton shouts us our first round of drinks, an unknown local our next, and before long we are the toast of Bredbo. Even Matthew and Peter Lawlis, the beer-swilling brothers who just hours earlier had questioned our sanity, are genuinely impressed that a couple of blow-ins have rediscovered a lost chapter of their town's history.
Gary Poile serenades one of his monster grass trees near Collector. Photo: Gary Poile
Given it's hidden away on private property the explorers' memorial is never going to become a tourist attraction, but it's sure nice to know it's still there.
Bredbo Inn: 1 Monaro Highway, Bredbo (a 45 to 60-minute drive south of Canberra). Bookings: (02) 6454 4109. Look out for a newly hung photo of the obelisk on the noticeboard.
Missing plaque: Do you know what was written on the brass plaque at the base of the obelisk? If so, please let me know - Dave Moore and I would like to arrange for a replica to be presented to our newfound flannelette-shirt wearing friends.
The craze of Canberrans clambering up ladders to measure the height of their flowering Xanthorrhoeas (Flower Tower, 16 November) in an attempt to find the tallest suburban specimen, has spread interstate.
"While not in the ACT, I thought you might like to see a photo of my wife's 4m-high grass tree (Xanthorrhoea, right), writes Peter Barrett, of Bywong, who adds, "it is only 15 years old and was grown from seed collected from a friend's property near Murrumbateman."
Meanwhile, during the week, self-confessed grass tree hugger Gary Poile, of Collector, went to check on his patch of Xanthorrhoeas only to find that the big ones weren't in flower.
"They don't normally flower until Christmas but most around the district have gone early," reports Poile who, according to some Collector locals, is often spotted serenading his grass trees in the hope his dulcet tones will help them flower.
Email: email@example.com or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick. A selection of past columns is available at canberratimes.com.au/travel/blog/yowie-man.