In fact, your Akubra-clad columnist was completely unaware of the curious copse of seven gnarly old gums until I received an email from Klaus Hueneke, of Palmerston, who had only recently stumbled upon them himself during a stroll through the little-known Gungaderra Grassland Nature Reserve.
When I first received his missive, which screamed, "they are amazing, I've just got to show you these magnificent trees", I thought Hueneke may have been exaggerating. How could a stand of trees have survived the axe and chainsaw, when located less than a kilometre from the homestead and just a couple of hundred metre from the busy Barton Highway.
However, following an excursion with Hueneke to the trees earlier this week, I can attest that they definitely live up to expectation. In fact, I'd have to say they are the most remarkable copse of inland scribbly gums (Eucalyptus rossii) that I've seen in the ACT.
The sight of the first one took my breath away with its bulbous base rippled like an old elephant's trunk, but then within one hundred metres were six more barked beauties, each full of character and rivalling Enid Blyton's fictitious 'Faraway Tree'. Not because of their tremendous height, but for their twisted and contorted forms, hollows to hide in, and criss-crossing branches to clamber-up. A tree climber's Garden of Eden.
The trees aren't sign-posted and part of the fun is finding them so I'm hesitant to provide precise directions, suffice to say they are in the south-eastern corner of the forested area of the reserve near the Barton Highway.
We visited mid-afternoon, but at sunrise or sunset with that angled golden sunlight they'd be a photographer's dream.
Curious Copse: The trees are in Gungaderra Grassland Nature Reserve, a 281 hectare low lying grassland which rises to Gungahlin Hill in the suburb of Crace. The ACT Environment website notes the reserve "features nationally endangered natural temperate grassland and supports populations of striped legless lizard, key's matchstick grasshopper, golden sun moth and perunga grasshopper." But those trees. Wow. Worth a reserve just for them.
Did You Know? Gungaderra is a combination of the two names GUNGAhlin and GinninDERRA.
Meanwhile, more than 3000 history buffs flocked to the recent open day at Gungahlin Homestead. Among them were a number of long-time Canberrans with close connections to the historic homestead, including Geoff Mannall, of O'Connor.
Prior to the open day, the previous time Mannall had climbed the homestead's grand staircase was more than 65 years ago when the historic house was briefly (1950-1952) used as a Hall of Residence for predominantly diplomatic cadets at the Canberra University College.
"The rooms were doubled-up with students; at one stage I was in the big room upstairs with the bay windows, sharing with only one other person," recalls the 85 year-old, who was the only undergraduate out of the 18 students who bunked down at the grandiose residence.
"As I was younger than everyone else, they all called me 'the pup'," recalls Mannall, a Sydney boy who moved to the bush capital to undertake a personnel cadetship at the Department of External Affairs.
Although, as the O'Connor octogenarian explains, "it was quite a studious place and we were closely supervised by a Warden from Attorney Generals Department," like most university residences there were a couple of infamous incidents.
"Soon after one of the diplomatic cadets, a certain Dick Woolcott was told he would be posted to Moscow, he hit the town with mates and on returning early in the morning proceeded to chop down the flag pole for which he got into great strife," recalls Mannall. "He was fined five pounds for restitution of the flag pole."
It's a wonder Woolcott wasn't able to use his diplomacy skills to avoid the penalty for he went on to lead a career as a distinguished diplomat, including as Australian Ambassador to the United Nations and Head of Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
The trip down memory lane to his old stomping ground did however prompt Mannall to dig up old photos. "One shows four of the diplomatic cadets, including Woolcott, just in shorts and bare torsos preparing for a fire-fighting drill," explains Mannall. "Hardly appropriate attire for such a purpose!"
Despite the bumper crowd at the open day no attendees were able to confirm rumours that the homestead's cellar was once a holding place for convicts-come-prisoners in the mid-1800s. Like me, Mannall suspects the story is mere urban legend. "I never heard any such tales," he reflects. "I've actually very little memory of the cellar."
Mannall does, however, admit: "Walking back into the house was quite nostalgic, especially to see my old bedroom, now used as an office. I want to thank everyone involved in preserving the homestead — it's an historical treasure."
Keeping it in the family
During the week a wonderful letter from Derek Holyoake, of Queanbeyan, a veteran of the Battle of the Coral Sea landed in my in tray.
Holyoake points out that John Crace, the son of Edward Crace, owner of Gungahlin Homestead in the late 1800s, "went to England in 1899 to become a Midshipman in the Royal Navy as there was no Australian Navy at this time".
According to Holyoake, "in 1939, Crace was promoted to Rear Admiral Commanding the Australian Squadron and in 1942 flew his flag in HMAS Australia, becoming the first Australian Naval Officer to command a combined American and Australian task group in the Battle of the Coral Sea".
Further, Holyoake poignantly points out it was this very week 75 years ago that "Crace and his group cut off the Japanese Port Moresby Invasion Group."
Did You Know? Atop the Hilltop Reserve in the suburb named after his pioneering father is a memorial to Sir (he was knighted in 1947) John Crace. "After hearing of his role in blocking the Japanese invasion of Port Moresby during World War II, CIC, the developer of the suburb donated money for it to be built," says Holyoake, who, along with fellow Battle of the Coral Sea veteran Gordon Johnson, of Weetangera, had lobbied for many years for a memorial to the highly regarded navy commander.
Earlier this week, I enjoyed a reflective moment at site. What a beautiful spot which commands views over north and south Canberra and to the full sweep of the Brindabellas on the horizon.
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Cryptic Clue: A long way from Ireland.
Degree of difficulty: Medium
Last week: While Robert Knight, of Bywong, thought it was "the bottom pub in Bungendore," and Marie Coleman was convinced it was "the main street of Braidwood," congratulations to Jenny and Geoff Wardrobe, of Gordon, who were first to correctly identify last week's photo as an historic scene in Gundaroo featuring William Affleck's Store (also known as Caledonia Store) and Motor Garage.
The reference in the clue referred to Joseph Wild, who, in December 1820 was the first European to 'discover' the area we now called Gundaroo. To mark 20 years since Matt Crowe, a Gundaroo icon, died on May 3, 1997, the Gundaroo & District Historical Society are currently displaying historic photographs at the Gundaroo Colonial Inn. Crowe was born in the wine bar and took over when his mother died, running it with his wife Beat and daughter Kaye, until he died.
The exhibition will be officially opened on Saturday May 6 at the Colonial Inn at 2.30pm and will be on display during normal pub hours until May 13. Gundaroo is located 40 minutes' drive to the north of Civic, via Sutton Road.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to email@example.com. The first email sent after 10am, Saturday May 6, 2017, with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.