Sunday 5 December 2010 – Railway Embankment, Reid

We didn’t go everywhere in Reid: just a flat circuit of a couple of kilometres that took in the heritage-listed Reid Housing Precinct and the railway embankment in Amaroo Street. Our route was based on the National Trust brochure, A heritage tour of Reid. I found it (while looking for information about the ACT’s vanished railways) linked to a National Trust of Australia (ACT) page called Local Walks Program and Tour Brochures. The direct link downloads a 1.32Mb PDF.

I can’t fit in more obsessions on top of railways, passing dogs, and strange letterboxes, but the tour brochure offered me sore temptation in the form of translations of all the street names (“Reid’s street names all have Aboriginal origins”) and identification of all the street trees. I will mention the translations of the streets we walked down. I’ve always assumed they were the names of plants. Mostly they aren’t.

The temperature was 20°C at 9am. I slept in (!) so we didn’t leave till after 10. Given the phenomenal amount of rain that has fallen on the ACT in the past week, we weren’t confident we wouldn’t get wet, but the closest we came was having to dodge the odd puddle.

Puddle on the path

Puddle on the path

This wasn’t the biggest spontaneous lake we saw – just the one I had the camera out for. As you can see, Dac strides on ahead. If I stop to take pictures, he has to stop too, or we really wouldn’t be taking the same walk. Sometimes it feels OK to yell out to him; sometimes it doesn’t. As we walked down the quiet pathway above, into Geerilong (Star in the Sky) Garden, it didn’t.

Reid was a good choice for a hot day: it’s full of enormous trees, and very shady. It’s “Canberra’s oldest continuously inhabited residential suburb”: many of those trees were planted in the 1920s. Most of the houses on our circuit were built in the 20s and 30s. (The older part of Reid, around and including the Church of St John the Baptist, dates back to the “long-departed pastoral era” of the 1840s. That area, not containing any evidence of railways, will have to wait!)

We parked in Doonkuna (Rising Ground) Street, outside the Uniting Church, half an hour before morning service was due to start. Our progress up Coranderrk (Christmas Bush) Street was accompanied by choir practice emanating from the church hall. As we struck out along Elimatta (My Home) Street, many dogs were being walked – on the other side of the road. Perhaps they were coming home from Reid Sports Oval. I must have driven past it on the Limestone Avenue side hundreds of times in the past 42 years, but I’d never noticed it before. Neither had Dac, who used to live in Reid.

Elegant house with elegant screen door; north end of Geerilong Garden

Sights of Reid 1: Elegant house with elegant screen door; north end of Geerilong Garden

I don’t know many people who live or have lived in Reid. The brochure tells me it was designed for “Canberra’s middle range of public servants”, while “many lesser mortals across in Ainslie had to make do with little timber rental cottages” and “the less numerous ‘top brass’ in Forrest were able to live in style”. Reid is so close to Civic, so convenient and elegant, that residents must have dug their heels in. By the time I was thinking about housing, in 1976, it seemed very exclusive. I’d never heard of group houses like the one Dac lived in – only of families who’d lived in Reid forever. I once went to a party in Reid, when a friend was house-sitting there, and that’s been almost the extent of my contact with the suburb until now.

My swimming mate Sue lives in Reid, though. If you’re looking at the separate page version of this blog entry, you can see a peace rose from her garden on the right of the featured image at the top of the page. I took those pictures with my phone on 25 October, a day when the heating wasn’t working at Civic Pool: Sue and I chose a small walk around Reid over hypothermia. (It would take a-whole-nother blog to tell you about all the complications of our swimming life.)

Ant nest, galah, currawong, power substation with outline graffiti
Sights of Reid 2

More sights as we strolled down the path to, through and beyond Geerilong Garden. Until this walk, I’d always thought there were two of each of the Reid gardens, and referred to them in the plural. It seems that Geerilong is a single garden bisected by Currong (Silver Wattle) Street, while Dirrawan (Emu) Gardens, similarly bisected, are plural.

I should really have discarded the top half of the picture above. The ant nest was seething,  and ought to have been the subject of a video. The galah and the currawong looked closer than they turned out to be. Could be time to swear off bird shots (as I had to swear off zoo shots years ago, finding myself with dozens of photo wallets full of specks on the horizon).

I’m glad I photographed the power substation with the line faces, though, and even gladder that hours of searching finally turned up the RiotACT reference that had alerted me to them: Stormwater art – the line faces. There’s a suggestion they’re by local artist Luke Chiswell.

We crossed Booroondara (Shady Place) Street where Dac used to live. The brochure calls it one of the best-designed streets in Canberra, and suggests a diversion to appreciate it, but that will have to keep, along with examining the early street sign on its corner with Euree (Sleep) Street. We were headed for Amaroo (Beautiful Place) Street and evidence of trains.

Colonnade of trees between which a railway line ran, 1920-21

Railway embankment 1

This is it, folks. This space between the Reid CIT campus and Amaroo Street is “a remnant of an early railway track that terminated at Civic, and was built to accommodate trains carrying building materials from Kingston for construction uses in the new federal capital”.

Colonnade of trees between which a railway ran in 1920-21

Railway embankment 2

“The slight curve of the eucalypt planting reflects the path of the old railway.” And unless Morwenna (another swimming mate) had told me it was there, I might never have known. Here’s another map attempting to show where the 1920-21 line went:

It’s based on a map in Walter M. Shellshear’s chapter of Canberra’s Engineering Heritage.

After scrutinising the embankment, we walked further in and examined the carpark at the CIT where Dac used to race his first remote-control car, in the days when remote-control cars were custom-built and rare. He pointed out the drain down which his friend Pat nearly sent it. These things stay with us. I have a vivid memory of Helen’s remote-control car (a big black shiny landroverish machine) whizzing up and down a ramp outside St Andrew’s Church. She was entertaining herself while I was involved in rehearsals there; I can’t remember of what, or exactly when.

Sky above Canberra Institute of Technology, Reid, with Black Mountain Tower

Sky above Canberra Institute of Technology, Reid, with Black Mountain Tower

We were impressed by the variety of clouds above us at that stage, and it’s always nice to have Telstrayama <TM the RiotACT> in a Canberra photo.

On the homeward stretch we sat for a while in the southern Dirrawan Garden, as Dac had a temporary ankle problem. A young woman walked by with a jaunty little curly-tailed dog, but when I asked if I could photograph it, she said I’d have to be quick. She was right: the dog was long gone by the time I was ready to snap it.

Reid's heritage sign - transcriptions in blog text

Reid's heritage sign

On the edge of the northern Dirrawan Garden, we found the above sign, the first of its kind that I’ve seen, although it’s evidently part of a scheme called Canberra Tracks. Here are the components of the sign, left to right.

Early 1920s photo of Reid (from Heritage sign)

Early 1920s photo of Reid

I was just about to write: “No railways there” when I realised we’re looking south, along Burley Griffin’s land axis from Mount Ainslie to Parliament House. The big pattern in the middle is Anzac Parade. St John’s (and therefore Reid) is on the right. There’s a faint diagonal line between the bottom of Anzac Parade and the church: it could be the railway line.

The sign goes on:

In his foreword to The Heritage of Reid (Dutta, 2000), Professor John Mulvaney commented on this suburb’s nomination by the Australian Heritage Commission to the Register of the National Estate in 1979, as follows.

‘This constituted one of the Commission’s first decisions to place an entire urban complex on the newly created Register. Reid exhibited unusually diverse and well preserved heritage values. These included many variants of the architectural designs erected in 1926-27, before Parliament House was opened; they housed the subsequent influx of public servants; the uniformity of urban landscape, the tree planting and street furniture enhanced the historic values and amenity. That Reid still exhibits so many significant features today is surely a matter of civic pride among Canberrans.’

I’ll spare you (probably temporarily) a diatribe about our planning minister, who recently gave a talk entitled Walter Burley Griffin is dead. I agree with Professor Mulvaney: the preservation of Reid (and not just Reid!) is surely a matter for civic pride.

Next we have a map:

Map of Reid (from Heritage sign)

"A 1927 map depicting the urban design of Reid"

That’s part of a map held by the Library of Congress. The railway line it shows is the one Walter Burley Griffin planned, rather than the one that briefly existed. The title of the map is Plan of Canberra, the Federal Capital of the Commonwealth of Australia and the words that are truncated to the right above read:

Compiled & published by the Federal Capital Commission from the first premiated design by Walter Burley Griffin & from surveys conducted under direction of C.R. Scrivener, late director of Commonwealth Lands & Surveys with approved detail modifications of design to May 1927.

“Premiated” means prize-winning, and apparently the scale of the map is [1:19,200] “1,600 ft. to an in.”.

Next we have one of the 20+ standard houses designed by the Federal Capital Commission for construction in Canberra – first the design:

Federal Capital Commission house design & plan no. 9, from Reid heritage sign

Federal Capital Commission house design & plan no. 9

Then an existing example:

Example of Federal Capital Commission house design & plan no. 9, from Reid heritage sign

Example of Federal Capital Commission house design & plan no. 9

On the right side of the sign is the following timeline:

1820     First Europeans named the plains the Limestone Plains
1825     Land grant to Robert Campbell
1841     Foundation laid for St John’s Church
1845     St John’s is consecrated, schoolhouse built
1863     First Post Office (Limestone Avenue)
1873     Glebe House completed
1909     Scrivener selects Canberra as the site for the Capital
1912     Griffin’s design declared the winner
1918     Original layout of Reid by Griffin
1924     Reid replanned by John Sulman
1925     Henry Rolland designed houses for Federal Capital Commission
1927     Provisional Parliament House opened. First houses in Reid
1928     Reid Methodist Church completed
1929     Reid Tennis Club completed
1941     Australian War Memorial opened
1944     Reid Residents’ Association formed
1945     Reid Preschool opened
1950     Reid House built
1954     Glebe House demolished
1956     Commencement of Currong, Allawah and Bega Flats
1957     National Capital Development Commission established
1962     Reid Campus of Canberra Technical College opened
1964     Lake Burley Griffin filled. Kanangra Court commenced
1965     ANZAC Parade officially opened
1979     Reid nominated for inclusion on the Register of the National Estate
1981     Reid House building demolished
1989     Self Government for ACT

And at the bottom are the acknowledgements: logos of the ACT Government and the National Trust, followed by the words “This project was assisted through funding made available by the ACT Government under the ACT Heritage Grants Program”. The Canberra Tracks / See how far we’ve travelled logo, and on the right “Heritage Places”, then “DESIGN: BIG ISLAND GRAPHICS”.

Quite a digression. We looked across at the 1929 tennis court, and at the 1928 church:

Reid Korean Uniting Church, 1928

Reid Korean Uniting Church, 1928

We crossed Coranderrk Street to Doonkuna Street to examine the 1927-28 bus shelter:

Side and front shots of a weatherboard bus shelter built in 1928

Reid bus shelter

And the surviving example of the earliest form of street sign, designed for pedestrians rather than drivers:

Short signpost (for pedestrians) from ?1928

Early pedestrian signpost

And then we came home.

Next weekend, the walk might be Sunday morning at the Art Gallery.

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5 Responses to Sunday 5 December 2010 – Railway Embankment, Reid

  1. dac says:

    That’s a big ‘weekend walks’ edition. Lot of old diagrams and maps with ‘funny’ place names.

    I lived in two places in Reid — Euree/Booroondara in 1979, and then Coranderrk street in the early 1980’s. Was a nice suburb to live in. Ever since then, I’ve lived in suburbs ‘south’ of Lake Burley Griffin so that counted as my stint in Canberra as a ‘Northsider’.

    When I was there, I never knew of the ‘railway embankment’. Distinctly recall the remote control car incident tho, one little makeshift antenna caught the top of the drain, stopping the $300 car (this was in 1979 dollars, say about $1,200 “2010” dollars) from going into oblivion.

  2. Laurence says:

    Very interesting and well written post. I never knew Canberra had a train – I went and had a look at Amaroo street and I could see the curve!

    • valkyrie1 says:

      Thank you for your comment. I was enraged when I found out there used to be a railway platform in Garema Place. O’course it hadn’t been used since 1922 or so – but why couldn’t it have been maintained? 🙂

      • Laurence says:

        The Wikipedia page says:
        “In July 1922, a flood on the Molonglo River washed away the legs on the trestle bridge, leaving the bridge deck suspended by the rails and sagging into the water. The bridge was never reconstructed and the rails were removed in 1940.”

        I’m not sure why they couldn’t fix the bridge though? But it’s good rail is finally returning to Canberra!

  3. valkyrie1 says:

    I agree!

    I should have said in my first comment: Canberra had more than one train, although the one between Kingston and Civic was probably the only one that took passengers. There’s another railway embankment (which I haven’t been able to find) in Denman Street Yarralumla, from a train that used to run between the Brickworks and (Old) Parliament House. And there was a steam tramway at (I think) the Mount Mugga Quarry.

    If you look at Sunday 14 November 2010 – Tuggeranong Town Centre Lake Walk – – the section entitled _The start of a railway obsession_ – there’s more about local railways.

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