Most Canberrans who cycle around Lake Burley Griffin rush through it, while the territory's merry band of birdwatchers are often found peering out from its hides, binoculars dangling around their necks and mouths agape. However, Jerrabomberra Wetlands is much more than just a popular part of the lake bike track and a hot spot for waterbirds; it's also home to three hidden chapters of our city's past, and all of which pre-date the creation of the lake.
One of the reasons these three features are so secret is that unless you view the wetlands from the air, or are a scholar of local military training (or both!), you wouldn't know where to look.
If you look closely at the aerial map , you should be able to spot a long channel which runs north-south at the western end of the wetlands. This man-made channel actually lies along Walter Burley Griffin's Causeway Axis and dates back to the second decade of last century. It was cut into the land to divert the Jerrabomberra Creek, and thereby to avoid the costly need of constructing a second bridge across the Molonglo for the Kingston to Civic Railway line, which opened for goods traffic in 1921.
According to Mark Butz, who is putting the finishing touches to his book, Floodplain in the city: a concise history of the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, which he is preparing for the ACT Government, "it was one of the few construction projects to be commenced and completed within the war years and signified progress in establishing transport infrastructure for the fledgling city."
Unfortunately, very large floods in 1922 and 1925 demolished all trace of the line and only the channel remains.
Running eastwards, almost at right angles to the man-made channel and reaching like long bony fingers into farmland are remnants of past movements of the Molonglo River and Jerrabomberra Creek across the floodplain. According to research undertaken by the University of Canberra, the Molonglo River has meandered across the floodplain over eons and the evidence are these features which are termed scroll bars, flood channels and palaeochannels.
Scroll bars are deposits of sandy material, while flood channels are still active in carrying overbank flows. Some of these naturally formed channels were part of the main river and are termed palaeochannels. When the lake was filled in 1964, many of these channels were partially flooded, effectively creating the Jerrabomberra Wetlands.
During World War 1, a system of instructional trenches, dugouts, traverses and communication trenches of the style then being encountered on the Western Front were established by the Trench Warfare and Bombing School at Duntroon.
The system was long-forgotten until recent investigation revealed some odd markings on early air photos of the area. According to Butz, "this system occupied about 15 acres on the southern bank of the Molonglo River", much of within what is now the Jerrabomberra Wetlands, and "was dug by a contingent of 60 soldiers from those who had volunteered in 'the Men from Snowy River' recruiting march".
The trenches were modelled on an advanced design which included a number of measures taken to block a direct sight line along a trench in case the enemy reached the flank, and to reduce the blast impact of explosives landing in the trenches.
Although little can be seen of the trenches these days, they must have been impressive for in a speech to troops in 1916, the Governor-General of the time described them as "the best system of trenches in Australia".
Dr Tim Denham and his students from the ANU School of Archaeology and Anthropology recently searched the site using ground penetrating radar, resistivity testing and magnetometry. The data is still being analysed but it is hoped that Dr Denham's team will unearth evidence of the trenches that will ensure this buried chapter of our city's past is not lost in time.
Check it out: Tomorrow (Sunday, February 1) is World Wetlands Day, and to celebrate, between 10am and 2pm there will be a free family-friendly community day at the Jerrabomberra Wetlands (2 Dairy Road, Fyshwick).
Expect: A family-friendly day with a number of displays, including a hands-on reptile exhibit for the kids (and big kids!)
Don't miss: Guided walks on the hour from 10am until 1pm which will explore the flora, fauna, indigenous culture and heritage, and European Heritage of the wetlands.
Don't forget: The binoculars apart from birds, you might spot frogs, turtles and other wildlife.
Did You Know? In the 1970s, earthworks from the construction of new Parliament House were dumped (from 1 to 5 metres deep) along the floodplain of Jerrabomberra Creek.
More: Ph: 1322 81 or visit tams.act.gov.au
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Last week's expose on the best fish 'n' chips on the coast (Quest for best fish 'n' chips), in which this column bemoaned that it could only find one takeaway outlet (Innes Boatshed, Batemans Bay) willing to wrap it's standard serve in newspaper, prompted Ben Jones of Kambah to comment about the changing uses for recycled newspapers. "Although it's fast disappearing from fish 'n' chip wrappers, these days more and more people seem to use newspaper sheets in the garden as a weed suppressant," reports Ben, who also asks "does anyone still uses newspaper as insulation?"
While I haven't seen any modern homes lined with newspapers to keep the draughts out (I think modern caulking have that market cornered) there are some historic huts in our region where you can still see newspaper used as insulation. In fact, earlier this month on a visit to the Long Plain in Northern Kosciuszko National Park, I spent some several minutes reading the "breaking" news stories of World War 1 on the walls of the 133 year-old Southwell House at the Coolamine Homestead site, where some of the papers lining the walls date back as far as 1883. Have you seen an older newspaper used as insulation? I'd love to see it, photographic evidence please.
Coincidentally, earlier this week, noted folklorist and historian Chris Woodland launched his latest informative tome, ARALUEN a History Through Photographs c.1840 - 2000. To Honour the Pioneers (available for $25 through Braidwood & District Historical Society) which features a 1981 photo of Woolla resident, Neta Davis in her home in which the walls are clearly plastered with newspapers.
According to Chris, "The Illustrated Sydney News was a popular newspaper for lining the walls as it provided, as the name implies, a good collection of graphics to adorn the inside walls." Further, in readiness for Christmas and the New Year, Chris writes, "that it was customary to remove the old paper, which by then would have been fly marked and browned by fire smoke from the previous year. It was then replaced in readiness for another year."
"You are writing into dangerous territory," warns Don Burns of Tuross Head. "Rating your beaches (Top five hidden beaches, December 6), is as contentious as rating one religion above another," warns my sun-kissed correspondent, who then proceeds, against his own advice, to nominate his own favourite hidden south-coast beach.
"Someday I hope your breath will quicken and your senses will burst with pure joy as you become one of a privileged few to feast your eyes on the magnificence of 1080 beach, roughly 10 kilometres south of Mystery Bay, near Narooma," waxes and wanes Don, who adds, "while it is hard to 'hide' a beach, the local council and road authorities do not encourage or assist visitors to find such gems. They are there to be found by intrepid explorers who are not overly anxious about their remoteness from patrols and rescue services."
For the record, this column has dipped its toes into the waters lapping this beach (Mystery solved, December 14, 2012), which has the rare distinction of being unofficially named after a poison ("1080" refers to the catalogue number and subsequently the brand name of a poison used to control some pests such as foxes). I don't know about you, but I prefer the much more enticing alternate name of Tilba Lake Beach.
With teachers sharpening their chalk and kids about to swap their thongs for school shoes, this week my photo quiz returns from its annual south coast sojourn to once again feature places closer to home. Good luck!
Cryptic clue: Not so 'Lucky' today
Last week: Congratulations to Denis Wylks of Holder who correctly identified last week's photo (inset) taken by Marta Yebra of Bruce as the 1881 lighthouse on Montague Island. The clue related to Australia Rock, a predominantly naturally-occurring hole in a rock at Narooma's Wagonga Head which resembles a map of Australia. Every summer many Canberrans take the 9km voyage across to Montague Island to not only visit the historic light station but also to get up close and personal with the island's unique wildlife, including its conspicuous (and sometimes whiffy!) seal colonies.
How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first email sent after 10am today, Saturday, January 31, with the correct answer wins a double pass to Dendy cinemas.
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