If Oaks Estate isn't worthy of heritage listing then what is?
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If Oaks Estate isn't worthy of heritage listing then what is?

While heritage, like beauty, is often in the eye of the beholder it can be argued Oaks Estate, one of the oldest and most idiosyncratic villages in the ACT, has more of it than most.

Because of this the fact it has taken the ACT Heritage Council 16 years to decide The Oaks does not warrant a provisional listing on the ACT heritage register was always going to come as a surprise.

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This is, after all, the organisation that controversially ruled the Northbourne​ Avenue public housing flats did warrant such a listing in November 2015.

Despite now being better known for its own public housing units and the ongoing battles by residents to obtain basic services such as an ACTION bus, European occupation of the Oaks predates the founding of Canberra by almost a century.

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Prime real estate for millennia, the confluence of the Molongolo​ and Queanbeyan Rivers was a favoured spot with the Ngunnawal, Ngarigo and Walgalu​ peoples long before the white man came.

The first European settlers were drawn to the junction of the rivers for the rich grazing and access to a ford.

That river crossing attracted the attention of railway planners and the approaches to the suburb are still dominated by an impressive viaduct. In the decades that followed a village sprouted, industry arrived and the population grew.

Significant buildings and sites include The Oaks, the original homestead erected by Robert Campbell of Duntroon; Robertson House, an earlier 20th century workers' cottage; the heritage listed Queanbeyan Railway Station and the community hall which was once the dormitory at the Eastlakes Hotel.

The area is also notable for the first European cemetery in the vicinity of Queanbeyan and the ACT and a highly regarded river corridor which has been made readily accessible to the public thanks to the opening of a walking trail late last year.

There is, in short, much in the built and natural environment that is worthy of recognition and preservation. This is particularly the case given Canberra and the ACT are children of the 20th century with little surviving from the years before the end of World War I apart from the Royal Military College at Duntroon.

Oaks residents would be far from alone in wondering why, in a city in which the vast majority of buildings date from after 1960, there is so little interest in recognising and preserving an area closely linked to the earliest years of inland European settlement.

Timothy Beard, the pardoned convict and former Campbelltown publican, reached the area with his cattle about a decade after Blaxland, Lawson and Wentworth crossed the Blue Mountains and the subsequent foundation of Bathurst.

While a provisional heritage listing would not, of itself, have solved Oaks Estate's many woes, it would have brought renewed interest to bear on the tiny suburb's rich history and strengthened the case for improved services for its residents.

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