It's a modest island emerging from Lake Burley Griffin's West Basin but Springbank Island, beneath the surface, could be much more culturally significant than meets the eye.
Now the ANU is driving a community archaeology project to unearth clues to the area's historical significance among early indigenous and European settlers.
Undergraduate archaeology students will team up with the community in an excavation of the island to find remnants of one of the region's earliest homesteads and other clues of early settlement.
ANU lecturer Dr Duncan Wright said early works would begin in the next few weeks, thanks to an ACT Heritage $17,000 grant.
"This particular area was one of the first areas where European settlers were living – in a sense the first breath of Canberra was on this location," he said.
"This has sort of gone under the radar. We know there are a number of homesteads outside of the area but I get the sensation that because there's no obvious foundations, it's not seen as a significant place."
What might remain of the early homestead dates back to 1831. But Springbank Island was also the centrepiece of an even earlier and significant indigenous meeting point.
"This would have been on the top of a hill above the Molonglo River and close to a major meeting ground of different communities and an Aboriginal ceremonial area," Dr Wright said.
He said providing archaeological students with more hands-on experience drove the idea to explore the island more deeply.
The community project will have geophysical works begin on the island in the next three weeks to see what lies beneath the surface, before an excavation in March next year.
Students will work alongside community members, including descendants of the homestead and the area's indigenous community. The YMCA Sailing Club will ferry participants to and from the island.
How long the project lasts will depend on what the team finds. And it could be a real coup.
"There's likely to be a level of disturbance because we know for a start the bulldozer shaved the very top of the island when Burley Griffin was flooded in the first place," Dr Wright said.
"That said, we think we can track [the homestead] down. We might find the rubble foundation. And historical sources suggest there were burials on the island.
"We're hoping we're going to find stone artefacts and evidence of the earlier history too."
But it is hoped the project will reverberate more widely than the artefacts.
"I really like the idea of students coming to ANU getting proper field experience, and to really understand Australian archaeology is just as exciting as archaeology overseas," Dr Wright said.
"The same goes for the wider Canberra community. The cultural heritage we're literally sitting on is absolutely fantastic. It would be great to celebrate that."
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