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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Old Coach Road (Mulligans Flat)

The first European settlers in the Mulligans Flat area of Gungahlin were William Ryan and John Gillespie. Ryan was living in the area when his son was born in 1844 and by 1856 he held a lease over a section of Mulligans Flat (Gillespie 1992:13). Gillespie lived in the Gungahlin area from 1844 and in 1852 he and his wife Mary Ann established the 'Horse Park' homestead, which is the oldest occupied homestead in the district.

Until 1861 the majority of landholders took up large blocks, or amalgamated smaller holdings into larger agglomerations (as in the case of the Rolfes and Gillespies, for example). The Robertson Land Act of 1861 saw a major increase in the selection of smaller holdings in the district. The selectors were limited, because of earlier land alienation, to the less desirable and less-well watered lands in the northern and western part of Gungahlin, and longer established landholders (and free selectors themselves) used the Robertson Act to extend their land holdings. Examples include Jemima and John Winter ('Red Hill', later Gungaderra), Henry Gozzard ('Aston'), as well as Thomas Gribble, Archibald McKeahnie, Edward Ryan, Timothy Ryan, John Walsh and William Ginn and Walter Ginn.

The Old Coach Road, constructed in 1880 was the main route which linked the early rural settlements in the Canberra/Queanbeyan region to Bungendore, Lake Bathurst and eventually Sydney. It was also a link between Bungendore and Gundaroo, offering a much shorter route than the former way via Queanbeyan and Canberra. It provided a valuable social function as well as essential services which included the mail coach, a means to get to school, church and other social activities and a supply route. The road was traversed on foot, by horse and cart, bullock drays and the single bushman/farmer on horseback. It soon became an important road linking dotted homesteads and isolated rural regions to the railhead at Bungendore after 1885. From there the train would make the long journey to Sydney more comfortable and efficient. The Old Coach Road also shortened the distance of traversing the region and thereby enhanced the quality of life for people on the land in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

In the ACT the road ran through gentle sloping country, first passing the Mulligans Flat School, which opened in April 1896, near the Gundaroo Road junction and several of the early settlements and dwellings in the area, such as, "East View" owned by the Cavanagh family, 'The Retreat', 'Aston', 'Inglewood'—the home of Joseph and Elizabeth Winter, and finally Walter Ginn's property and orchard at "Dungarvon" as it crossed the border. For most of its route through Mulligans Flat the road was confined between 6-wire fence on its northern side and a log fence on its southern side and crossed the property boundaries by gateways across the road.

By the 1880's, however, it was not heavily utilised and most likely served only as a local link after the railway line linking Cooma, Queanbeyan and Bungendore was completed in September 1887 (Andrews et al. 1990: 6). The 1915 Federal Capital Territory Feature Map (Sheet 1) shows the route beginning at Gundaroo Road and running east to pass out of the ACT border on the lower slopes of Gooroo Hill (NSW). The road then turned southeast and later south and then linked with Macs Reef Road to cross the Lake George Range and join the Great Southern Road at Bungendore.

The term 'road' when applied to the Old Coach Road, and indeed many of the other rural links in the last decades of the nineteenth century is somewhat a misnomer. Like many of the rural link roads, the Old Coach Road was rutted, poorly maintained, often deteriorating into watery morasses at creek lines and low lying areas. It sometimes proved more a hindrance to progress and "one which outlived a good many of those who struggled" along it (Lea-Scarlett 1968: 89).

The Old Coach Road formed a link between the Gundaroo Road, and Bungendore linking up with Macs Reef Road in New South Wales. Although much of the original route of the Old Coach Road no longer exists in its original form, part of the section traversing Mulligans Flat Nature Reserve still retains a good deal of its original fabric and structural form. This section of the Old Coach Road is clearly defined, extending from the visitors' information board on the main walking trail east for approximately one km in an easterly direction towards the ACT/NSW border.

The road surface is compacted earth made from the naturally occurring geological elements and was most likely the original surface for much of its route through Mulligans Flat. This surface is evident for approximately one kilometre to a point adjacent to where a walking trail and bird walk trail meet. At this point a drainage line and a small artificial embankment form a barrier across the road and mark the visible termination of the road surface.

The Old Coach Road is a rare example of a nineteenth century transport link in an isolated rural region of what has since become the ACT. Where once there were a number of roads linking the rural homesteads and properties in the region and providing access to and from the region, many of these have disappeared from the landscape due to more recent development. These roads provided a mode of access between isolated rural homesteads and properties, and provided vital links for the bushman, the homesteader, the school child and churchgoer, the local magistrate or parson, the mail carrier and the bullock dray driver. The Old Coach Road also provided a major transportation link by which goods and services could reach the rural settlements of the Canberra area and by which the rural residents could travel and keep in contact with family members.

For a short period The Old Coach Road was the major link between the northern rural settlements and the railhead at Bungendore. The remnant of this road today demonstrates an important layer of ACT history in that it was a vital aspect of daily life, reflecting the connectivity and relationships between nineteenth century

(edited extract from Heritage Registration, Old Coach Road, 2011


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