Canberra Park was the home of William Ginn and, later, his son Henry Thomas Ginn. The Ginns emigrated to Australia in 1857. Shortly after, the family travelled to Canberra and settled at Woolshed Creek, Duntroon in 1858 where William worked for Robert Campbell (McGrath, n.d.: 10).
William’s strong work ethics and efficiency were well regarded by Campbell. Campbell was quoted in Samuel Shumack’s autobiography Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers as stating: ‘I have the best farm hand now I ever had – William Ginn’ (McGrath, n.d: 10). However, comments such as this, when times were tough and competition among workers was great, could be considered a threat to other workers. Months after Campbell had made these comments, the Ginns were forced off the Duntroon property by vengeful actions from other employees. In his autobiography, Samuel Shumack (1938) states:
Several farm hands heard this compliment on Ginn’s efficiency and were offended… One of these was Alfred Mayo. Mayo handed Billy a frying pan handle and said, ‘Go down and knock on Ginn’s door and when he opens it knock him down with this, and I’ll give you a bottle of rum… Ginn opened the door and Billy then struck him with a blow across the mouth knocking out four teeth and splintering his jaw… Ginn staggered back dazed…(Billy) knocked him down, dragged him to the woodheap and had the axe in hand when Mrs Ginn intervened and prevented an awful tragedy (McGrath, n.d: 10).
Following this incident, Ginn approached Campbell to request alternative accommodation. Campbell agreed to lease him 90 acres of land for an annual fee of £1 per acre. A cottage was constructed for the Ginn family on this land, which later became known as ‘Blundells’ Cottage’. As a result, in 1859 William Ginn and his family were the first to occupy Blundells’ Cottage on the Duntroon Estate and remained there until 1874 when William selected 2 lots of 40 acres of land for himself (McGrath, n.d.: 10). Blundells’ Cottage went on to house other Duntroon farm workers and their families. It is named after a newly-wed couple, George and Fiona Blundell, who moved in to the cottage in 1874 after the Ginn’s vacated, and lived there for over 60 years.
It was in 1874 that the Ginns named their newly acquired property ‘Canberra Park’ and constructed a stone homestead there with stone and vertical slab outbuildings. (Surface remains of the stone homestead are extant). The naming of this property as ‘Canberra Park’ predated the official naming of the capital as ‘Canberra’ by more than 40 years. The name ‘Canberra’ is an Aboriginal name for ‘meeting place’. It is possible that Ginn named his property this either because Aboriginal people were in the area on his arrival, or due to his well known friendly relations with Aboriginal people, including his employment of them (McGrath, n.d: 32).
In 1899, William’s two sons, Walter and Henry, built a new homestead at Canberra Park of hand-made bricks, which remains standing and occupied today, as well as an associated pisé structure. In that same year, Henry married Elizabeth Winter, daughter of Jemima and John Winter of the nearby Red Hill (Gungaderra) property. Together Henry and Elizabeth settled at the new Canberra Park Homestead, where Henry engaged in farming and agricultural pursuits. William Ginn passed away at the Canberra Park property in 1904 (McGrath, n.d: 11).
In 1915 the property was acquired by the Commonwealth and the Ginn family continued to lease it, continuing their farming and grazing pursuits. After Henry Ginn’s death in 1939, Henry and Elizabeth’s son, Jim, took over management of the Canberra Park property until 1960. It was in that year (1960) that Elizabeth died and Jim ceased management of the property, moving away from Canberra Park. From this time (1960), Canberra Park was leased by the Gungaderra Pastoral Company, which also leased the nearby Well Station and Gungaderra Homesteads (McGrath, n.d: 13). The company employed Bernard McGrath as the farm manager for Canberra Park. The McGrath family remained there until 1977 (Mcgrath, n.d: 13).
The ACT Government acquired the lease on the Canberra Park homestead in 1977 for the future development of Gungahlin. The property has since become home to a number of short-term tenants.
The memory of the Ginn family as early and successful pioneers in the region lives on through nomenclature in the Canberra region today. Just opposite Canberra Park is Mt Ginn, Canberra’s first motor racing track. This is fitting, given that Jim Ginn’s brother, Bill Ginn, who also once lived at Canberra Park, was the first person to register a car in the ACT—a 1948 FX Holden with the number 1 on its registration plates (McGrath, n.d: 11). Ginn’s Gap is known as the saddle where the Federal Highway crosses Mt Majura, also named after this family.
Original 1874 homestead
The original homestead precinct consists of the surface remains of the original stone homestead, and two smaller ruinous structures. The site also contains many historical exotic plantings including rose, bay, fig, plum and a kurrajong tree. The original stone cottage constructed by William Ginn was located approximately 300m from the present homestead. Surface remains are evident, measuring around 14m x 7m. The structure contains a large stone oven. The exterior has been repaired with 1920s Canberra bricks. A single roomed stone structure with two windows and a doorway is located nearby. This was possibly a kitchen.
A second structure of the original homestead is located adjacent, and is likely to have been constructed of vertical timber slabs (Boot, 1990). Foundation stones remain.
1899 Canberra Park Homestead
The Canberra Park homestead constructed in 1899 is a single storey building constructed of handmade bricks. The clay for the bricks is thought to be local (McGrath, n.d.: 18). The gabled roof is clad in corrugated iron sheeting, though was originally shingled timber. The main foundations of the homestead are Eucalyptus mellidora posts, most likely obtained locally, from trees on the property.
The 1899 Canberra Park homestead consisted of two verandahs, a kitchen, two rooms and an adjacent pisé hut. Alterations and additions by successive tenants over time have altered this original floorplan considerably. During his later years at Canberra Park in the early twentieth century, Henry Ginn made many alterations. He built an adjoining structure with new bricks between the brick homestead and pisé structure, and enclosed the verandahs. Successive tenants have made additional changes, including an extension to the western end of the property.
[Edited extracts from Heritage (Decision about Provisional Registration of Canberra Park, Gungahlin) Notice 2011 Notifiable Instrument NI2011−632]
Click on the caption (⧉) to view photo details and attribution.
- McGrath, T., n.d., Canberra Park: Canberra’s Historical Gateway, student report submitted for Cultural Heritage Management, University of Canberra.
- Shumack, S., 1977, An Autobiography, or Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers, Australian University Press, ACT
- Heritage (Decision about Provisional Registration of Canberra Park, Gungahlin) Notice 2011. Notifiable Instrument NI2011−632