Sunday 13 November 2011 – Barton Heritage Housing Precinct

After walking in Telopea Park recently, I read about the Barton Heritage Housing Precinct,  and made a note of it for another day. As I gradually build back up to a decent length of walk, a 1.5km stroll round a nice, flat area seemed just the thing.

Map showing route of walk

The walk

ACT Heritage Council.
Entry to the ACT Heritage Register: 20012.
Barton Housing Precinct

Dac still can’t go for walks but he came along for the drive, and waited with his iPad in a shady Telopea Park carpark. We left home good and early – it was already getting hot at 9 am. I was looking forward to seeing heritage housing plus the National Trust’s  promise of:

Historic remnants of the original street furniture including street signs, fire hydrants and footpath lighting and other elements including kerbs and gutters and examples of brick drains within some verges.

I saw historic street signs and a fire hydrant, but the other elements escaped me. They could have been in the streets I didn’t visit, of course. I do hope one day to see brick drains. The footpaths were asphalt, which seemed unusual to me.

(Unless otherwise stated, all quotes in this blog entry are from the National Trust brochure on the Barton Housing Precinct.)

A 1920s street sign

Gipps Street and Telopea Park

For this short interval when Canberra is not in drought, when we’ve had some spring rain and the truly hot weather hasn’t yet struck, everything is green and growing. Walking through an area of 20s and 30s housing, I expected to see hedges: they’re an Old Canberra phenomenon. Bitching about public servants often includes the story that the Federal Government used to clip their hedges for them. I see from the Heritage Register entry that this wasn’t just an urban myth: “government supplied and maintained hedges”.

I didn’t expect the hedges to be so luxuriant that I would barely see anything else, however! According to the Heritage Register, “Hedges should not hide the contribution of the dwelling to the streetscape.” In order to catch a glimpse of the houses (“Features include door and porch arches, false windows and niches, various kinds of pillars and small six-paned windows”) I found myself peering down driveways, trying to look like a nonchalant passer-by rather than a burglar. It’s a prosperous area so you can imagine the residents might feel quite anxious about their joints being cased.

There’s been much renovation and modernisation, not all of it appearing to meet the heritage conservation requirements. I don’t know what force those requirements have, or whether there’s been a period of open slather at some stage, but it appears that the charm of modest period housing could be giving way to current fashion and opulence.

Different places in Barton

I was very taken with the first house shown above – it’s a red Canberra brick house, for one thing, and for another, the water tank reminds me of the country NSW of my childhood. This was also the house that had the best letterbox I’ve yet seen on my walks (see next photo).

Other curiosities above:

  1. middle left: a glimpse of an arched door,
  2. middle right: seven-paned windows, roof tiles completely covered with solar panels, and
  3. bottom: modern colour scheme, another arched door, a roof with an added clerestory window.

Now the letterbox:

Letterbox made of old painted wooden boxes


I didn’t feel I could stand around scrutinising it for long, but it seemed to be made from an old wooden crate, with a couple of little oil paintings tacked on for handles. I don’t know if I liked it so much because it was colourful or because it was recycled and improvised. Vive le bricolage!

Incense Cedar and Black Locust in Gipps Street

The trees that line these streets are 80+ years old. Later in the walk, I encountered “recreational signage” which informed me that Charles Weston, superintendent of Parks and Gardens from 1913 to 1926, was responsible for the planting of more than two million trees. Some of the Barton trees are cordoned off, possibly because they’re becoming hazardous. It’s hard to lose any tree, but losing a familiar streetscape is shocking. For a long time, every time you come home, it’s to an unfamiliar place. I feel for those residents who are losing street trees.

Mystery tree

Above is a street tree that is definitely not one of Weston’s – possibly even a volunteer caused by passing birds. I was intrigued by it because it had the spiked leaves and red berries I associate with holly. I don’t believe it can be holly, however, flourishing in the spring as it was.

They're everywhere!

Above, just to show that we can never escape, is a palm tree in someone’s yard.

More than six panes

I admired the leadlight window shown on the left – there should be more of ’em! – but I haven’t been able to work out what it represents.

When I came into Belmore Gardens, I decided to wander through the trees on the public land in the middle.

… one of a number of communal gardens incorporated into Canberra’s early suburban plans, in line with the ‘garden suburb’ principles adopted by John Sulman. The trees planted in Belmore Gardens are Silver Birch and Atlas Cedar.

As I wandered, I unnerved a chap who was perched on the gutter drinking coffee from a paper cup – not a street person, but a resident. He was gazing contemplatively at his house until I disturbed him, whereupon he strolled back across the street and inside.

At the top of Belmore Gardens I was able to have a good long look at Brassey House (see featured image at the top of this entry).

Originally called the Telopea Park Hostel, the building was opened in 1927. In that year, it was renamed ‘Brassey House’ after Sir Thomas Brassey, Governor of Victoria from 1885–91 and an early supporter of Federation. Brassy [sic] House is designed in the American Colonial style which differed from other government hostels. The building is set in a picturesque garden setting. When it opened, it provided full board for 60 people in 36 single rooms and 12 double rooms. In 1935 it was leased to the private sector and returned to Commonwealth management in 1959. Major extensions were carried out in 1964. It was sold in 1987 and, after major refurbishment, now caters to the short-stay tourist and business market.

It’s now called Brassey Hotel. I was interested to see its architectural style described as American Colonial: looking at it, I was reminded of big Parisian buildings, perhaps because of the venerable slate roof.

The “recreational signage” mentioned above was opposite Brassey House. I’ve transcribed it on another page. I snapped away at the hotel, gathering shots for the panorama above, and deranged a guest who was having a quiet smoke on one of the balconies. Maybe s/he was somewhere s/he shouldn’t have been, but I didn’t feel too guilty since it’s pretty hard to see that anyone’s there at all.

By Brassey House, I encountered the only evidence of a dog on this walk: wild barking emanated from the house on the left as I walked by.

A 1920s street sign

Young Street and Gipps Street

The suburb of Barton is named after Edmund Barton, the first Prime Minister of Australia, and its streets are named after assorted governors. I wondered about Gipps Street, where my walk started and ended. There’s a Gipps Street in the middle of Melbourne, which I remember Helen saying was a very useful street for a cyclist. Presumably it, like the Canberra one (and like Gippsland, for that matter) is named for:

George Gipps (1791-1847)

Captain-General and Governor-in-Chief of New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, 1838-46; much valuable exploration work was done during his term of office.

ACT Planning and Land Authority
Place Name search

Looking into Melbourne’s Gipps Street led me a merry dance just now. I read about the Hoddle Grid, the layout of streets in the Melbourne CBD, which originated during Gipps’s regime. I cannot forbear to pass on this unsourced remark from the Hoddle Grid Wikipedia article:

Gipps also insisted that all towns laid out during his term of office should have no public squares included within their boundaries, being convinced that they only encouraged democracy.

Perhaps they do! How nice! I will look upon public squares differently from now on.

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4 Responses to Sunday 13 November 2011 – Barton Heritage Housing Precinct

  1. Julie says:

    Thanks for sharing the history of Canberra. We’ll take a walk with you both when we visit. We have an area called Little Scotland in Goolwa that I plan on walking around soon with a brochure to give me the history. Julie

  2. Antoinette Lautenbach says:

    So interesting. I think you are right about the holly – looks like a holly to me. I understand it can retain its berries into spring, though the birds eat them in winter. Perhaps that’s it? No local birds fancy the berries?

    The local resident perching in the gutter is unusual. 🙂

  3. valkyrie1 says:

    Hard to imagine the zillions of currawongs, magpies and choughs around here passing up berries!

    There are weird things happening all around us. I thought the gutter sitter’s (guttersnipe’s?) behaviour was a bit onanistic. This is a harsh judgement, but one I’ve mentally applied for instance to someone’s flatmate who spent an entire Sunday morning shopping for and then wordlessly cooking an elaborate seafood dish which she proceeded to eat in front of the assembled multitude.

    Perhaps, on the other hand, the gutter sitter had been turned out!

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