With Canberrans exploring local nature reserves and walking tracks in record numbers, this column's inbox is filling fast with reports of suburban curiosities. At the top of this list are a couple of concrete stairs hidden along a bush track near Downes Place in Hughes.
"These stairs really intrigue me, what was here?" asks Emma Sommerville who first noticed them earlier this week while running in the area. Meanwhile, Christian Fabricius of Hughes is more intrigued about "the footprint of what appears to have been quite a substantial building next to the stairs".
"The roughly 15-square-metre area is littered with red bricks and more parts of what appear to have been concrete foundations," reports Christian. "Apart from an outline of the site of the former building on Google Maps, I've not been able to find out what this structure once was."
The stairs were first brought to the attention of this column by Martin Leonard back in 2018 when we opened that can of worms of ''stairs that lead nowhere'', of which we have more than our fair share in the ACT. At the time no one could solve the mystery of the Hughes ruins.
So, earlier this week I enlisted the help of Michael Hermes of Ainslie - a serial suburban mystery solver, who, using a combination of historic aerial images and memories of a book he'd once read on the history of the Federal Golf Club (Federal), which adjoins the site, was able to solve the mystery.
According to Michael, the stairs and associated concrete slabs were part of a small number of buildings that formed the original clubhouse and greenkeepers cottage for Federal, which after moving from its first site at Acton (which was eventually submerged under Lake Burley Griffin) opened their 'new' Red Hill course in 1949.
Those of you familiar with the current location of Federal might wonder why the clubhouse wasn't built at the entrance to the club at the end of Gowrie Drive which runs off the road that winds up to Red Hill Lookout. However, as reported in The Federal Golf Club Story (1933- 2011), in the 1940s, the road over the Red Hill spur wasn't yet built and the only way to access the site was via current-day Deakin/Hughes.
The historical tome also provides more details on the original clubhouse. "In 1948 two masonite huts were erected comprising a main room, measuring 24ft by 16ft, with two smaller rooms for associates and a kitchen. The building had a pleasing log cabin appearance and with a bar not much bigger than table". Bingo.
I suspect one of the reasons this mystery took so long to solve is that only a handful of Canberrans would remember the original clubhouse, because just a few years later, in 1953, a new clubhouse was built at the Gowrie Drive entrance to the course.
The greenkeepers cottage was promptly hauled across the course to its new location and then in 1954 "a band of willing workers transported and re-erected the old clubhouse on a site adjacent to the new building".
Apart from confirming Michael's theory on the ruins, the Federal Golf Club Story also provides some insights into how Red Hill and surrounds has changed over the last 70 years. The authors quote Doug Droops who grew up near Red Hill and joined Federal in 1949. "Living on Red Hill in those days was a real Huckleberry Finn life. You could stroll out your front door with a rifle over your shoulder, an ammunition belt around your waist, come up here on Red Hill and shoot four or five rabbits, skin and gut them, take them home."
In 2004, Federal's board of directors "discussed a proposal for the original clubhouse site to be formally recognised by the placement of a plaque" but unfortunately, "nothing came of it".
Perhaps now is the time for that proposal to be dusted-off.
While the exact identity of the Beast of Bookham remains unknown, the future for the main suspects, the bush stone-curlews that were reintroduced in recent years at Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve, looks rosy.
"There is now a robust population with multiple generations of bird families living at Mulligans Flat and we've moved some across to the newly fenced Goorooyarroo Sanctuary," reports Shoshana Rapley, researcher and PhD candidate at the Fenner School of Environment and Society at the ANU.
As part of her research into the ground-dwelling bird whose call is often mistaken for that of a ''screaming woman in distress'', Shoshana has attached tiny GPS backpacks to several of the birds at Mulligans.
"The backpacks record a GPS point every minute and are detailed enough to tell ... when birds are just walking around compared to searching for food," she reports.
So far, the data suggests some of the curlews have wandered as far as Lake George and Googong, before returning home to Mulligans.
While none of the birds with GPS backpacks have travelled to Bookham or Yass yet, Shoshana doesn't rule out the possibility the Bookham creature could be "one of those curlews from Mulligans not wearing a backpack".
In more good news, Shoshana reports: "2021 is set to be the best breeding season yet. Over a dozen curlews are breeding right now and they can nest multiple times between now and the end of summer."
Aww. Stay tuned for fluffy chick photos both here and on Shoshana's twitter feed @shobird.
After being named and shamed as the lead offender for rolling jaffas down the aisle during film screenings at Hall village's Kinlyside Hall in the 1950s and early 1960s, Leigh Brown of McKellar contacted this column seeking urgent clarification of his role.
While Leigh "pleads innocence to being the main culprit" he does, however, confess "to possibly being an accomplice".
"On picture night my father would open his store (the Hall Premier Store) at interval, and I'd help him serve the rush of movie-goers wanting milkshakes, ice creams, and of course Jaffas," explains Leigh.
"So, while I might have supplied said product, it was probably others who rolled them down the aisles during the show," he muses.
As a peace offering, your akubra-clad columnist despatched a packet of the orange-flavoured chocolate balls to Leigh which his grandkids, Joe and Ray, plucked from his letterbox. Not willing to wait for cinemas to reopen, the kids apparently tested the jaffas' rollability on their grandad's floor. "It sounded just like the old days," reports Leigh.
Still on this column's favourite ACT village (sorry Tharwa'ites), John Gray of Mawson believes I was remiss not to feature a tree planting in 1919 to mark 'Peace Day' in my Top 7 secrets of Hall.
"This planting, for which Charles Weston provided advice and assistance with plants, was intended to ensure that a tree was planted for each soldier who had left the district for the front," explains John. "Weston's explanation for his suggested mixed deciduous/evergreen scheme was because he "...thought the springing into life annually of the deciduous trees might serve each year as a reminder of the object for which the trees were planted".
Gee, what else have I missed out? Maybe I needed a Top 50.
WHERE IN CANBERRA?
Cryptic Clue: Testing times
Degree of difficulty: Easy - Medium
Last week: Congratulations to Kevin McDonald of Yarralumla who was first to identify last week's photo, sent in by Lyn Willson as a mural on the ICON water facility at Callum Brae Nature Reserve in Symonston.
On a recent walk along the Centenary Trail in Kambah, Rose Higgins and her two boys stopped in their tracks when they reached this footbridge spanning the Tuggeranong Creek. "Why could they possibly need a metal track running the full length of the bridge?" she asks. "It looks like it's designed for a monorail of sorts."
A stampede of correspondence followed this column's review of Anthony Sharwood's The Brumby Wars (Hachette Australia). Despite the divisive nature of the issue, many views reflected those of Pam McDougall who wrote: "I am very interested in matters equestrian and also our natural heritage but unfortunately brumbies are not compatible with our alpine areas." Also, several readers asked if Banjo had written his famous poem about a feral pig or other invasive species, would we even be having this debate? Food for thought.