28 April 2015
Day 7 Mugga Way to O’Malley
Guest dog: Toby
Mugga Way, where we start today, is one of the most prestigious addresses in Canberra. Its mansions, many of which are ambassadorial residences, are camouflaged behind disciplined hedges and autumn-toned European trees, which in turn nestle among the street-trees, towering airy eucalypts. When Parliament was transferred from Melbourne to Canberra in the mid 1920’s some of the earliest Canberra homes were built on the lower eastern slopes of Red Hill in the new suburbs of Griffith, Forrest and Kingston. These homes were built for senior public servants in Spanish Mission, Colonial and Mediterranean styles. Many remain, though they have been altered and extended over the decades. One of the earliest homes, Calthorpe’s House, which was occupied by members of the Calthorpe family from 1927 to 1979, is now a house museum.
The track runs between the suburbs and Red Hill Nature Park, one of the last undisturbed yellow box and red gum woodlands in south Canberra. There is a marked contrast between the manicured suburbs with their Mediterranean pencil pines and noli me tangere hedges and the unkempt, natural freedom of the native woodland with its waving grasses and scarred and wrinkled old trees shedding ribbons of bark.
Before European settlement, Red Hill was a visual marker and vantage point for the local aboriginal groups. When Canberra was selected as the Capital, it formed part of the Duntroon grazing property owned by the Campbell family but was subsequently acquired by the Commonwealth. Walter Burley Griffin’s vision for the city included the regeneration of native vegetation on the hills which had been cleared and debased by grazing. On Red Hill, he recommended the planting of red flowering plants such as the callistemons and grevillias we see today.
We are not surprised to miss the Centenary Trail sign (if there is one) that would have directed us to descend Red Hill via La Perouse Street. We continue too far on the higher track but are compensated by remaining longer close to the woodland and, when we decide to descend, by the lovely streetscapes of Tamar, Endeavour and Cygnet streets, lined with magnificent Apple Box trees. On Dalrymple Street we encounter two Centenary Trail signs that have been knocked over, perhaps in the tangle of traffic winkling its way into the suburb from Hindmarsh Drive.
We cross Hindmarsh to the Mount Mugga Mugga Nature Reserve. Mount Mugga Mugga is one of the most abused mountains of the Australian Capital Territory. The quarry near its summit produced all the crushed rock for Canberra’s handsome road network but left the mountain in a sorry state visually and environmentally. It has other unhappy connotations: it is the site of the Symonston Periodic Detention Centre, the Dog Pound and the Mugga Lane rubbish tip. But all is not lost. As we continue along the old access road to the now disused quarry we find a sign announcing proposed works to upgrade the access road to allow clean infill of the quarry, rehabilitation of the site and its return to the Canberra Nature Park system.
For a while the track runs parallel to Mugga Lane with views over woodland across to the airport. Dump trucks and other heavy vehicles race along Mugga Lane on their way to and from the tip. Higher up the mountain we come across indications of former industrial activity: drains, sumps, sluices, piles of rubble. There are also many weeds, including the famous ‘Canberra weed,’ cotoneaster, and blackberry bushes. And an enormous tyre, on which Carol and Toby, our guest dog for today, take a rest.
Rounding the mountain we descend into a wooded valley strewn with cut logs and with a large cleared horse paddock, furnished with walls of discarded tyres.
From here we ascend towards Isaacs Ridge and soon encounter the mansions of ‘new’ O’Malley and the view across the suburbs of Farrer, Pearce and Torrens to the Brindabella Mountains. ‘New’ O’Malley has even bigger dwellings than ‘old’ O’Malley. Many look more like office blocks than houses, possibly because they serve both purposes for the transient diplomatic families who occupy them.
Apart from the usual pleasures of walking the Centenary Trail, today’s section has been particularly interesting for the contrasts it presents between the natural environment and various historic stages of urban development and industrial activity.
5 May 2015
Day 8 O’Malley to Isaacs
Surprise dog: Minya
A very short walk along Isaacs Ridge. At first the track overlooks the vast roofs and huge satellite dishes of O’Malley and extends to the Brindabellas. Soon, however, we are enclosed in a mixture of native forest and the remnants of the pine plantation that existed before the two suburbs were developed.
This is a well-frequented section of the Trail by the dogs of O’Malley and Isaacs and their owners, of whom we meet several in the course of an hour. It’s shady and pretty. At the O’Malley end, the trees on the upper hillside are eucalypts, while on the lower side they are pines. This arrangement changes further along where pines have been retained on the steep upper slopes, probably to control erosion. Then it changes again, and the native woodland takes over the upper slopes.
A service truck is parked at the side of the track with hoses running down the slope to where operators are spraying blackberries and other weeds and garden escapees.
We hear a horse trotting along behind us. The horse, Buddy, is a beautiful dappled grey of whom no praise is high enough. He is known to us and so is his rider. Buddy stands with tolerant insouciance while the humans yammer away pointlessly. He conceals his relief to be off again when his best friend, Minya, a dog of indeterminate origin but profound soul, bounds over the hill gesturing impatiently at her watch. At her insistence, the three continue ahead of us, Buddy neatly side-stepping the spray-hoses, Minya racing up the slope through the trees to cut the other two off at the pass, where they pause and wave like the Lone Ranger before disappearing over the hill.
We descend into the tranquil cul-de-sacs of Isaacs to where we have parked a car. (We could easily have walked back.)
At this point, because we will be occupied elsewhere, we must suspend the Centenary Trailer. We will be back in August.