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A kookaburra sits in an old she oak chuckling at us. And it's little wonder. He's no doubt laughing at the three of us scrambling aimlessly up the northern slopes of Mount Majura. It's like the blind leading the blind for we don't even know if what we are looking for is still here.
We're in search of a ''large dry stone wall like something you'd find in the Cotswolds'' which Anne Forsythe, of Ainslie [and formerly The Canberra Times], stumbled upon several years ago but despite several earnest attempts to relocate it has never been able to. ''It's almost as if it has disappeared into thin air,'' penned Forsythe in a letter to me which prompted this little excursion up the slippery slopes of Mount Majura.
''It might have been up this way,'' Forsythe says as we cavort like headless chooks onwards (and upwards) through the scrub.
Joining Forsythe and your Akubra-clad columnist on this anomalous adventure is Mike Hermes, also of Ainslie. Regular readers might remember Hermes as the fella who unearthed a set of 50-year-old dentures from the dry bed of Lake George last year, which sent this column into a frenzy as to their origins. Well, on a recent bike ride along the dirt tracks above the Carotel Motel on Antill Street, Watson, Hermes stumbled upon a find somewhat more tangible than some fake teeth - a stone wall of unknown origins.
Anne Forsythe at the ‘Great Wall of Watson’ Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Yes, as odd as it might seem, in the same week, I received two independent reports of two completely different stone walls on Mount Majura.
Although only a kilometre or so from the supposed location of Forsythe's wall, Hermes wall isn't hidden in the bush, and in fact hundreds of people must walk, run and cycle past it every day.
''It doesn't appear in the cultural heritage inventory of Canberra back in 1988 but it appears to be some sort of an attempt at a stone wall maybe 10 metres long,'' explained Hermes in his email.So earlier, on the way up the slopes of Mount Majura we stopped by Hermes' wall to investigate further. The wall's short length and out of proportion width led us all to agree that it was probably not a wall after all, but rather some sort of mock barrier defence (we found the remains of a rudimentary wooden bridge on the site as well), the sort you'd expect to find on a military training ground. Perhaps it formed part of a training facility at this location?
Mike Hermes at the stone structure in north Watson Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Anyway, back to the much more perplexing case of Forsythe's disappearing dry stone wall.
''It might have been up this way,'' Forsythe says as we cavort like headless chooks onwards (and upwards) through the scrub. I'm not sure what the rush is - if there really is a stone wall hidden here, it's unlikely to hear us coming and crumble to bits before we set eyes on it!
There are loose rocks, gnarly gum trees and dead she oaks everywhere, but no dry stone wall. In an attempt to improve the efficiency of our search, we eventually fan out in a line across the mountain's northern slopes. Hermes takes the left flank, me the right and Forsythe clambers up the middle.
Mike Hermes stands at the site of the old bridge in North Watson Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
After only around 10 minutes huffing and puffing Hermes eventually hollers: ''Here it is!''
I scurry over to find Hermes and Forsythe admiring the stonework. And with good reason, at first glance, it's quite a signifcant structure - it extends as far as we can see up the slope before disappearing into a copse of kurrajongs.
We step it out at 300 metres in length. Along the way, half-buried among the stones are dozens of ageing timber posts and railings suggesting that at some stage the stone wall formed the basis of an old post and rail fence. There are also a number of ring-barked trees in the vicinity of the fence perhaps dating from the same time.
Part of the 300-metre ‘Great Wall of Watson’ Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Averaging waist height and almost at chest height in some places, it'd have to be one of the craziest spots I've ever come across to build such an ediface. This country would have been marginal at best for any sort of grazing, and the effort to put a wall in would have been substantial. One can only imaging a boundary dispute in the mid to late-1800s resulted its construction. Perplexingly, the wall also stops abruptly at either end.
While taking a breather and marvelling at the effort that would have gone into its construction, down below we can clearly hear the steady flow of traffic racing along the Federal Highway. Meanwhile from our lofty vantage point, the she oaks and kurrajongs occasionally open to reveal views over the new development in North Watson below.
It's remarkable that a man-made wall of this size can remain hidden to so many given it's close proximity to the popular recreation tracks of Mount Majura and the Canberra Nature Park. Equally as startling is that there is no interpretative sign to highlight its historical significance - which given its design, size and location must surely be a fascinating one.
A view over North Watson from the 300 metre long stone wall on Mt Majura Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Do you know anything about the Great Wall of Watson?
OTHER STONE WALLS OF THE ACT
1. MYSTERY WALL OF GLENDALE
Part of Namadgi National Park’s mystery stone wall Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
Where: Deep in the scrub above Glendale Crossing, Namadgi National Park.
Description: A 30-metre-long chest-high fortification carefully constructed from stones linking a number of in-situ boulders in a straight line down the side of a hill.
Purpose: Unknown. Various theories abound from the logical (some sort of boundary fence on old Gudgenby Station, but why on the side of a hill and why such a short section?) to the far-fetched (a bushranger hideout).
Tuggeranong’s Dry Stone Wall Photo: Tim the Yowie Man
2. TUGGERANONG DRY STONE WALL
Where: Located at the Pine Island end of the Pine Island to Kambah Pool walking track in Tuggeranong. It runs up the small hill away from the river and turns at right angles towards the Tuggeranong Town Centre, ending just before Anketell St and Athllon Drive.
Description: A remnant 790-metre long dry stone wall.
Purpose: Built between 1867 and 1875 as a boundary between the Tuggranong (historic spelling) and Yarralumla properties. Oral history sources indicate it was built by Chinese gold miners, as labourers from the Kiandra goldfields, to prevent the cattle from the two properties from intermixing.
After rabbits swarmed into the region in the early 1900s, rabbit-proof fences were added on both sides of the wall, as required by an 1891 law. There was a ''ditch and bank'' extension that is marked by a row of poplar trees adjacent to the Tuggeranong town centre swimming pool that used to extend all the way to the old Tharwa Road.