'Mulligans Flat' is the name given to a district in the most northerly section of the Australian Capital Territory, straddling the Gundaroo Road. Mulligans Flat school (1896-1931) drew its pupils from the surrounding farming families, and was located in the centre of the district, where the old coach road to Bungendore departed from the Gundaroo Road to the east Today, the name is best known in connection with the Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve, almost a thousand hectares of protected environment, incorporating a fenced Woodland Sanctuary. Historically, it was within the Parish of Goorooyaroo, which was bisected by the Capital Territory border.
The suburb of Forde has extensive borders with the Nature Reserve, and the old Gundaroo Road passes through it, with heritage sites identified along the way. Neighbouring districts were Tallagandra to the north and Tea Gardens to the south, 'Tea Gardens' also being the name of John and Martha Ryan's homestead, formerly the home of Marth's parent, Anthony and Catherine Rolfe.
There is not yet any definitive explanation of where the name came from. A strong claim has been made that it is due to the Irish convict Edward Mulligan. Family tradition has it that in the 1840's he received a grant of land which is named after him. However, the descendants of another Mulligan convict - Cornelius Mulligan - also claim that Mulligans Flat was named after their ancestor. There was a property know as 'Mulligans Flat' well into the twentieth century, but enquiry into its origins is on-going.
The first European settlers in the Mulligans Flat area of Gungahlin were William Ryan and John Gillespie. Gillespie lived in the Gungahlin area from 1844 and in 1852 he and his wife Mary Ann established 'Horse Park', the oldest occupied homestead in the district. The Robertson Land Act of 1861 saw a major increase in the selection of smaller holdings, but established landholders also used the Act to extend their holdings. Examples include the Cavanaghs, John and Jemima Winter ('Red Hill', later 'Gungaderra'), Henry Gozzard ('Aston'), as well as Thomas Gribble, Archibald McKeahnie, Edward Ryan, Timothy Ryan, John Walsh and William and Walter Ginn.
The district was sufficiently populous around the turn of the century to have thriving cricket (established in 1896 using Gozzard's 'Aston' for matches) and tennis clubs, the latter playing matches against Tallagandra, Hall, Spring Range, Weetangera and Canberra. Sporting teachers were especially valued! Proximity to Ginninderra, four miles south, may have inhibited the development of a village. Teachers at the school found accommodation with local families, and mostly the Cavanaghs. This seems to have been the context for the marriage of Michael Cavanagh and teacher Ethel Harris.
As with other rural areas of the ACT the farming community that had grown up around the old Gundaroo Road was undermined by the resumption of properties by the Commonwealth, before the school finally closed in 1931, removing the key focus of community life. The name remains however and is well-recognised in association with the Nature Reserve.
Click on the caption (⧉) to view photo details and attribution.
- Gillespie, L. L. 1992. Ginninderra: Forerunner to Canberra. The Wizard (Canberra local history series): Campbell
- Cooke, H. 2010. A short history of Gungahlin, Canberra Archaeological Society Inc. Canberra.
- Williams D. & Barber M. 1999. A preliminary Cultural resource Survey of Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve, Areas B & C, Gungahlin, ACT. Report to Canberra Nature Park.
- Yates, C P, 1990. Historical cultural landscapes: Mulligans Flat school. The author, Canberra