The grand Gungahlin homestead, until recently occupied by the CSIRO, was built in two stages by two 'squires' of Ginninderra: William Davis (junior) and Edward Kendall Crace.
In 1862 Davis purchased land at Gungahlin (originally known as Gungahleen: from the Ngunnawal meaning 'white man's house' or 'little rocky hill') to extend his Palmerville estate. He decided to build himself a new homestead there in about 1865. He constructed a Georgian-style double-storied gable-ended structure of stuccoed rubble. There were enclosing verandahs and shuttered windows.
It is said that in 1877, after the sudden death in a horse race of his nephew, Ernest, who had been managing the estate for him, William Davis was 'devastated'. He was very close to the young man and saw him as his successor, having no children of his own. Davis then employed Edward Crace as the new manager, but they did not see eye-to-eye. He soon sold his Ginninderra and Gungahlin properties to Crace and retired to Woodhouselee near Goulburn. Crace took over as the new 'squire' in 1880.
Davis had been an excellent pastoralist and had built up Palmerville estate and his other holdings into a model farming and grazing operation. Crace was similarly talented as a pastoralist and the station flourished under his control. He borrowed heavily over the years and added a large twin-gabled extension to Davis' Gungahlin homestead in the early 1880s. The sandstone appears to have been quarried from Black Mountain.
He also even added a third property, Charnwood station, to his holdings. In total, Crace was running over 8,000 sheep (mostly merinos but some Leicesters as well), almost 700 Devon cattle and 90 head of horses on 20,000 acres. He also had a 1,400-tree orchard planted and even built a miniature lake and gardens.
In the economic downturn of the early 1890s, like many other pastoralists, Crace struggled to keep afloat and to maintain his large interest repayments (annually ₤3,600). Nevertheless he had good revenue through careful management of his large wool clip and beef cattle herd.
The Gungahleen estate was described by the Queanbeyan Age in the following detailed terms in 1892:
Gungahleen is situated on the main Yass-Queanbeyan Road and district about 11 miles from the latter township and the property of EK Crace Esq who purchased 'Gungahleen' and 'Ginninderra' in 1877 and added the adjoining estate of 'Charnwood' 3,600 acres in 1880 with this valuable addition the property represents 20,150 acres of freehold land consisting principally of open plain and timber belts of gum and box and carries 16000 to 23000 sheep according to the time of the year. Since 1878 Mr Crace has been a large purchaser f the best merino rams and ewes procurable from the stub blocks of Merres David Taylor, W Gibson and sons and James Gibson and from the last named breeder's flock a splendid lot of 35 ewes were imported in 1883 at a cost of over 700 guineas.
The best known rams now in use are Royal Duke III, Remnus, King Density, Bright Billy, Loyality and Warrior. To these sires have recently been added the well known Tasmanian rams, Kanaka, The Peer and Lillywhite's Wonder. Each of the sires are mated with ewes especially classified for him and in separate paddocks. The Gungahleen stud ewe flocks by constant culling are kept down to a number of about 720 reached their present proportions at an expenditure of some £6000 or £7000.
In 1885 Mr Crace started a Devon herd buying from Mr F Reynolds of Tocal 10 heifers, supplemented by the following year by 15 picked cows from the herd of Mr HC White and bred directly from the herds of Lord Falmouth and the Queen's Farm at Windsor. The bull in use was First Lord bred by Mr White. To these here also been added within the last few months the purchases at Tabletop sales viz 57 cows bred by Mr A Town (?) and the bull Foreman II imported bred by Mr WW Williams. This valuable animal is a great English prize taker and should certainly do credit to the herd. He was secured at a cost of £273, Lieutenant and Adonis II by celebrated Adonis and bred by Mr HC White are also in use in the herd, which now numbers 97 cost of the purest breed to be found in the colony.
The estate is divided into about 40 paddocks all of which are well provide with water in any season and splendidly grassed, as all stock sales for years have testified. The sheep average about 8lbs of wool (half being ewes) which commands a high price in the market.
The arrangements of the head station are all of the highest order; the house is modern and commodious and the outhouses, stable, loose boxes etc well fitted up and splendidly situated.
One of the recent improvements is a large sheep house for preparing stud stock for shows and sales. It contains 24 roomy pens, opening on to a paddock laid down with English grasses. A farm of about 1290 acres near the head station supplied the necessary hay, potatoes, mangolds and turnips required for general use as sheep fodder.
Approaching the homestead from the main Queanbeyan Road an orchard of 1500 trees is passed and at the end of an avenue about one third of a mile long and beyond a beautiful willow fringed lagoon, the house can be seen nestling amid a grove of elm, oak and poplar trees, the whole highly suggesting of a smug English home. [Queanbeyan Age 30.3.1892]
In September 1892 Crace and his groom, George Kemp, drowned tragically in an attempt to cross the flooded Ginninderra Creek.
His widow, Kate, struggled to keep the estate together, although it is thought that she was assisted by her family's connections with Mort and Co. woolbrokers. Their eldest son, Everard Gregory Crace took over the running of the property. He lived with his family at Palmerville, while his mother continued to occupy Gungahlin.
In 1911, with the announcement of the new Federal Capital Territory, Crace, along with two other men from Ginninderra, joined the Vigilance Committee to represent the interests of affected landowners. Like many other Ginninderrans, he was to become a tenant on his own land. Kate Crace retired to Sydney. In 1915 with the resumption of the land, Everard Crace managed to remain on a portion of the old estate as a leaseholder and continued farming until he died in 1928 at Gungahlin.
After the Craces, the homestead shrank to a block of around 300 acres and the property was leased by local graziers, including Henry 'Babe' Curran.
The homestead itself was leased by two tenants - the historian, Frederick Watson; and in 1940 Ambrose Kitchen - until 1949 when the lease was taken over by the Commonwealth Government. The building was first lent to Canberra University College (the predecessor of ANU) for student accommodation and then to the CSIRO. More recently it has become home for 'Soldier On'.
Click on the caption (⧉) to view photo details and attribution.
- Barrow, G., Canberra's Historic Houses: Dwellings and Ruins of the 19th Century, Hackett, 1998
- Coulthard-Clark, C., 'Gungahlin Revisited', CHJ, no. 26 (1990) pp. 26-34
- Gillespie, L. L., Ginninderra: Forerunner to Canberra, Campbell, 1992
- McDonald, J., 'When Ginninderra Grew the Golden Fleece', Canberra History Journal, no. 75 (2015), pp. 15-23
- Meyers D. (ed. K. Frawley), Lairds, Lags and Larrikins: an Early History of the Limestone Plains, Pearce, 2010
- Shumack, S. An Autobiography, or, Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers (ed. J. E. and S. Shumack), Canberra, 1967
- Various editions of the Queanbeyan Age and Goulburn Evening Penny Post
- National Trust, 2017. The five squires of Gungahlin
Further information about Gungahlin Homestead can be accessed through the CSIRO web pages - Gungahlin Homestead and Landscape - which includes a link to Gungahlin Homestead precinct Conservation Management Plan (Eric Martin and Associates 2014)
Information about Gungahlin Homestead can also be found at Canberra Tracks