Sunday 22 May 2011 – Yarralumla Brickworks

I wanted to find evidence of the old brickworks railway at Yarralumla. I hadn’t been to the brickworks for decades – not since it was an antique market, which was 1982, according to an ACTPLA timeline I found. I regret to state that, like the Tuggeranong Siding, the brickworks railway seems to be something everyone else can find.

The brickworks opened in 1913. During the First World War building activities in the city slumped and production ceased.

The brickworks reopened and expanded in 1921 when large scale construction recommenced in Canberra. It again closed during the Depression years of the early 1930s. The brickworks reopened again in 1944 and continued making bricks for Canberra until it closed in 1976. A railway line ran from the brickworks to transport the bricks to the buildings [sic] sites of the city. A remnant bank from this line can be seen near Denham Street.

National Trust brochure, A heritage tour of Yarralumla (the second tour)

Following the instructions in the National Trust brochure, we found our way to Lane Poole Place, a part of Yarralumla I’d never seen. The traffic was positively hectic on this rather grey Sunday morning. Bentham Street, which leads to LP Place, terminates in the Federal Golf Course shortly afterwards.

Brickworks chimney from Lane Poole Place

It was surprising to find a little street of mostly townhouses pressed right up against the derelict brickworks.

Dac with the chimney

Dac was dubious about my announcement that we’d strike out around the brickworks fence, but he had to admit there was a track. In places it was a real mess – trees had been felled, leaving big holes and piles of woodchips, and the terrain was very uneven.

Given that I can fall over in the smoothest environment, he was keen for me to avoid what he terms “gashing opportunities”. His warnings date back to our trip to the Perth Zoo twenty years ago, when I fell over for no apparent reason and caused us to spend the best part of a day in Emergency at Perth Hospital.

On this occasion I managed to stay upright.

Kilns at the Yarralumla brickworks

The disused brickworks is a melancholy sight. It seems likely it will  eventually be turned over to medium density housing, with buildings up to four storeys high.

A $94 million cultural hub and medium density housing is the favoured option for the redevelopment of the old Canberra Brickworks at Yarralumla.

– ABC news on 18 August 2010.

The Land Development Agency consultation page contains a “3-Dimensional fly-through … to illustrate the Adaptation Masterplan” (= a 7-minute film, which you’ll find about halfway down the page). The same page states that feedback on the options closed on Monday 28 February 2011, so I wonder what’s happening now.

Brickworks through wire

As we came round the second side of the brickworks, we found ourselves on Denham Street. I looked in vain for the “remnant bank”, “the formation between Denman [sic] Street, Yarralumla and the west side of the brickworks area”. Not a sausage.

A ruin beside the brickworks

We were intrigued to encounter chunks of what appeared to be melted bricks:

Melted bricks

It was up hill and down dale in Yarraluma, so most of my attention was focused on breathing. Few people were about. I spotted a couple of dog walkers in the distance, but this was the only dog I managed to photograph. It was lying obligingly in a driveway:

Basking in the sun

The length of the walk wasn’t entirely clear (about 2.5km). When we descended towards the area identified by the National Trust as an interesting sample of Yarralumla housing – the block “bounded by Hooker, Hutchins, Bentham and Banks Streets” – Dac drew the line. (This line is shown in red on the map.) We had a fair uphill walk ahead of us, and he thought we shouldn’t make it even longer. Puffing and panting as I was, how could I disagree? We postponed Yarralumla housing for a drive-by, and persevered up Bentham Street. Here’s the obligatory view of Telstrayama <tm> The RiotACT:

Black Mountain Tower from Yarralumla

By the time we arrived back at the car, the weather had taken a turn for the better.


Driving past the “housing sample” made me sad. Nearly all the old brick cottages have been demolished and replaced with boxy modern houses.

The subdivision consists of sixteen blocks with houses built between 1921 and 1927 as government housing. … These houses are all now privately owned. Some have been demolished and others substantially altered…

I don’t know why I am so keen on old-fashioned brick cottages. They seem almost the definition of a house. They are simple and welcoming. The windows look like eyes, the door looks like a mouth, and the face is friendly. How I would love to live in a red Canberra brick house!

My attempt at a child's drawing of a house

_This_ is a house

Given that the older suburbs where the red brick houses are (or were) have always been out of my price range, I manage to be pretty happy living in my grey brick house. Some of the bricks in my now-demolished chimney were red Canberra bricks from Yarralumla, and the builder had a mate who snaffled them to make garden paths. If I’d known they were there, I might have done so myself.

I don’t know why I am so intolerant of boxy modern houses. I don’t like houses that look like aerodromes either. Picky, picky!  I’ve made a gallery of them to contrast with the drawing above. Still, having these prejudices gives me something to think about as I stagger through the suburbs. 🙂

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5 Responses to Sunday 22 May 2011 – Yarralumla Brickworks

  1. dac says:

    I had to stop you from following the ‘figure 8’ extension to the walk — it was -downhill-, but the inevitable ‘gravity tax’ would apply when it was time to traipse back.

    We tried to have lunch at the Yacht Club, but it was -so- packed, we went to that place in Garran instead, and just made it in time to have a very pleasant Sunday lunch (we got there at 12:45pm and they closed at 1pm)

    There was no observable train stuff — I don’t see how any trains would manage with the steep gradients involved around the brickworks. I think you would need to get very specific instructions on -where- to look. Recalling the track-marks in Reid, which were really just two parallel rows of trees near the Tech College, it’s very difficult to find these ‘old railway’ sites.

  2. albertine says:

    Top quality post – full of such a variety of delights both verbal and visual. I especially like the photo which makes Dac look like part of the brickworks tower; – and the collage of lots of photies; and the melted bricks. Doggo looks good too – they’re all good – not fait to single out any, really.
    Yay!!!! Telstrayama!!!!! Can I call myself Telstrayama in another life?

  3. Antoinette Lautenbach says:

    I remember tracking all over the site itself a few times when I was young – I suppose we walked the dog there. It was picturesque with interesting ups and downs. I can see one of the ups in my minds eye – yes it could have been an embankment, but it never occurred to me that there had been a railway there.

    I share your dislike of modern boxes. The old brick houses had a “people” feel about them which the modern boxes lack. Even more lacking are the colourbond shoe boxes so often constructed now – houses for builders, not for people.

  4. japanesemarketsource says:

    The dog in the photo is Buffy – owned by Robbie Swan of the Australian Sex Party. They have recently moved and we miss Buffy who was a fixture in the neighbourhood.

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