In response to this column’s recent feature on Canberra’s ‘‘stairs that lead nowhere’’, I’ve been besieged with photos of even more peculiar passageways and intriguing impasses in and around our city. Here are my top 5.
1. Roadside Rungs
Sitting forlornly in a paddock in the Aranda Bushland and within sight of the busy Glenloch Interchange is a bushwalking stile. A stile in a nature park is usually nothing out of the ordinary, however, unlike similar stiles in the Aranda Bushland which provide visitors with a safe passage over fences, this lone stile does little more than help the intrepid hiker over little more than a few blades of grass.
“Up until a year or two back it straddled a fence,” reports Ian Loiterton of Dunlop, a regular visitor to the Aranda Bushland. “With the fence now removed, it no longer serves any real purpose other than to make people wonder why it is there.”
What a cracker.
2. Senate Steps
The front stairs at Old Parliament House (OPH) will forever be linked to the dismissal of prime minister Gough Whitlam on November 11, 1975, but this landmark Canberra building harbours another set of infamous stairs, these lesser-known to the public, but much-loved by staff of the Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD).
In fact, the partially hidden stairs, which lead off the Senate Courtyard rear access corridor are often referred by MOAD insiders as ‘‘the secret stairs’’. The dozen or so steps which curve a little to the left and then disappear partially out of sight from the stairwell’s entrance, lead straight into a brick wall.
While some may argue that the stairs are symbolic of many a political career which hit dead-ends in the hallowed halls of OPH, their original purpose was much more mundane. According to a spokesperson for MOAD, “the stairs originally allowed the house staff quick access to and from the Members Dining Room from the downstairs kitchen and staff areas”.
“At some point after 1988 [when the politicians moved up to new Parliament House] the floor design changed to its current configuration”, thereby negating the need for the stairs.
Just a stone’s throw away and adjacent to another service door into the rear of the Senate Courtyard are three steps which lead up to a wall with a window. According my MOAD insider, “the middle section to these stairs was removed post-1988 with a ramp installed and new doors fitted”.
This was apparently to provide trolley access from the rear of the building into the Senate Courtyard.
3. Creepy Crawl
This set of stairs, located under the Woden Library at the southern end of Furzer Street are passed by hundreds of office workers and shoppers every day.
“I suspect the building was modified at some stage, ‘capping’ the steps at about waist height,” reports Craig Collins of Coombs who finds “the resulting nook rather amusing.”
“Even a three-year-old would find themselves having to stoop fairly quickly as they attempted to ascend into the ACT Government’s hidden chamber,” exclaims Collins. “Perhaps that’s where they keep all our taxes.”
Intrigued as to what really is hidden in the nook, during the week, your Akubra-clad columnist, torch in hand, hesitantly crawled into the curious cavity to take a photo. Expecting to dodge syringes and other anti-social objects I was instead surprised to find it partially filled by a pile of decaying autumn leaves and adorned with stencil graffiti of comic character Tin Tin attempting to clamber up these suburban stairs to nowhere.
According to Antoinette Buchanan, who works nearby, “the stairs have been covered for at least 16 years, possibly covered over when Access Canberra Shopfront first moved in”.
4. Curious Climb
Leading up from the riverside bike path that winds beneath Malcolm Fraser Bridge at Morshead Drive are a long flight of around 40 stone stairs that if you climb will lead you directly into a steel guardrail. This remnant from when the road above was engineered for a different traffic configuration amused geocacher Thomas Schulze (official Geocache nickname: tankengine) so much that he recently hid a cache near here.
5. Lonely ladders
In fact, tankengine wins the award for submitting the most photos of stairs that lead nowhere. The prolific geocacher also nominated stairs that once led to the caretaker’s house on Mt Mugga Mugga (now cordoned off due to asbestos contamination) and a set of stairs at the little-known and seldom-visited Stony Creek Nature Reserve near Casuarina Sands Reserve on the Murrumbidgee River, which once led to a water monitoring station.
“But that facility is long defunct - so now they go nowhere,” he reports. However, the crowning glory in tankengine’s photographic collection of Canberra’s stairs that lead nowhere is a daring selfie snapped on the dramatic staircase at nearby Cotter Dam.
You don’t need me to tell you we’ve endured some chilly nights this winter. The long run of sub-zero mornings has resulted in a thin layer of ice covering my backyard fish pond, and with a regularity I haven’t observed before, often not melting until late afternoon.
However, my frozen pond pales into insignificance when compared to some of the frosty scenes encountered by back country adventurers in the Snowy Mountains. Last week, while cross country skiing to Horse Camp Hut, Matthew Higgins, this column’s regular high country correspondent, captured a photograph of thick icicles hanging off the remote hut’s tin roof. Heck, you wouldn’t want that to slide off and land on your head.
En-route to the hut, Higgins, author of the recently published and warmly reviewed mountain book Bold Horizon: High-country Place, People and Story (Rosenberg, 2018), noticed an equally striking sight - the tracks of an unknown cross-country skier who had skied down the narrow gap beside the extraordinarily steep Guthega Power Station penstocks.
“It’s the narrowness which makes it so difficult, the penstock on one side and the bush on the other means it would be very hard to get turns in,” reports Higgins, an experienced back country skier.
In Huts of the High Country (ANU Press, 1982, and most recently reprinted by Tabletop Press in 2008), fellow Canberra author Klaus Hueneke explains how the narrow space beside penstock “is sometimes used as an ultimate skiing challenge for the great masters of the Telemark”, adding “legends passed on to me suggest that Steve Coleman, a wilderness guide, was the first to pull it off”.
When, earlier this week, Higgins showed his photo to Norm Kopievsky, a retired operator at Guthega Power Station, Kopievsky revealed that “in the 1970s army ‘commandoes’ used to ski that run straight and pull up at the bottom in a massive stem-christie stop!” To add an extra level of difficulty, according to Kopievsky, “they were fully equipped with rifles and backpacks”. James Bond eat your heart out!
If you’ve photographed or filmed any equally extraordinary scenes in the Snowies this season, please send them to the address at the end of this column, I’d love to see them.
While recently traipsing about in the bush capital, ParkCare volunteer Michael Sim stumbled upon a number of faces naturally eroded into the bank of the near-dry Scrivener Creek between Mt Mugga Mugga and Isaacs Ridge. I love the long nose and prominent upper lip of the ‘sad-looking’ middle sentinel. Perhaps he is praying for enough rain to fill the creek. It certainly has been a dry winter to date.
Contact Tim: Email: firstname.lastname@example.org or Twitter: @TimYowie or write c/- The Canberra Times, 9 Pirie St, Fyshwick. You can see a selection of past columns online.
Where in The Snowies?
Clue: Historically nicknamed the ‘Crossroads of the Snowy’.
Degree of difficulty: Easy
Congratulations to Sophie Peterson of Kaleen who was the first reader to correctly identify last week’s photo, right, as a carriage of the Skitube Alpine Railway which transports snow bunnies from Bullocks Flat through a series of tunnels to the ski fields at Perisher and Blue Cow.
Peterson, a first-time entrant in this competition, just beat David Jansons of Duffy and Peter Lambert of Campbell, to the prize. Meanwhile, David Evans of Fadden, a regular passenger on the Skitube which has been running each winter since 1987, reports, “My wife and I try to get the seats facing uphill both ways on the train so you don’t slip off the downhill facing seats.”
Stephanie Boxall who “used to work as a lifty for Perisher Ski Resort in the mid 90s” reports when riding the skitube early morning to work she “used to participate in staff relays and competitions of getting from one end of the carriage to the next without touching the floor or the seats.” Not done during peak hours though!
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday 4 August, 2018 will win a double pass to Dendy - the home of quality cinema.