A homestead was built at Emu Bank by Ginninderra's first land-owner, George Thomas Palmer (senior), supposedly to house his estate managers. Amongst the early occupiers were Donald Cameron and his wife Anne, and their eight children. Cameron was put in charge of the Goat Station (Coppins Crossing) and Emu Bank outstations. He and his eldest son lived at the Goat Station while his wife and remaining children stayed at Emu Bank. Donald Cameron died in 1853, after which his family moved to became tenants of The Glebe.
Emu Bank is on the southern bank of the Ginninderra Creek close to the current Belconnen Town Centre. Following settlement, both the homestead and an associated paddock were known as Emu Bank. Emus were apparently once plentiful in this locality and were regarded as tastier than marsupials. Unfortunately they were also easy targets for shooters, having nowhere to hide on the Ginninderra Plains. It seems that at some stage Emu Bank became an 'out-station' on the Ginninderra estate, from where shepherding was undertaken.
Thus in October 1858 when Richard Shumack and his family left Duntroon to work for William Davis Jnr, then the 'Squire of Ginninderra', they moved into Emu Bank with principal duties of shepherding. Chronicler Samuel Shumack records that on their arrival, the home was not ready for occupation:
"we arrived at Emu Bank at sundown and found the house we were to occupy still tenanted by Thomas Flint and his family. However Joseph Shumack went to Ginninderra and from the homestead brought back a large tarpaulin which father erected as a rough tent, and beneath this shelter we spent the first three nights.... Our new home was close to the Ginninderra Creek and its junction with the Black Creek" [Shumack:1967:27-28]
Richard Shumack's initial 'terms and conditions' at Emu Bank included wages of ₤60 a year and a paddock of four acres for his own use. In return he had to care for two flocks of sheep. Samuel recounts his first assignment as a shepherd:
"After the first year at Emu Bank I was entrusted with my first flock of sheep. I was now ten years of age. I had what was known as the Round Hill Run – now Mount Painter – and sometimes I would take the Bandicoot Run, which was John's area. The location of this run is now called Gungahlin. While we were busy tending the sheep, father was otherwise employed about the estate". [Shumack:1967: 32]
The Shumacks spent eleven years at Emu Bank before selecting land at Weetangera and established their own farm at 'Springvale'.The 100 acres selected was part of Davis' Ginninderra Estate. Davis gave Shumack notice to quit Emu Bank in 1869, when the family moved to 'Springvale'
Amongst later tenants at Emu Bank were Matthew O'Brien and his wife Catherine, who also worked for William Davis Jnr. When Davis sold the Ginninderra and Gungahlin properties (1877), Matthew continued as boundary rider for the new owner, Edward Crace. Matthew later worked for General Legge at Cranleigh. From 'Canberra Tracks' we learn that "Matthew O'Brien was a crack pigeon shot and all round sportsman. His shooting prowess was valued for the many hunting parties that took place, from wallaby drives to hare, rabbit and fox drives......... It was reported in 1894 that a drive at Emu Bank accounted for 375 hares". [Canberra Tracks, Emu Bank].
The property name 'Emu Bank' lived on after resumption of the land by the Federal government. Robert John Butt was born at 'Kirkdale' near Yass, NSW in 1892. He was working as a share farmer in the Yass area when he enlisted at Goulburn, NSW on the 14th March 1916. After the war applied for a Soldier Settlement block in Belconnen District. The Federal Capital Commission (FCC) allocated Butt his fourth choice, the 649 acre (263 hectare) Belconnen Block 31, for a period of 25 years.
Butt took full possession of Belconnen Block 31 on the 14th June 1923, and named his block 'Emu Bank', despite only around 40 acres (16 hectares) of the block sitting on the former 'Emu Bank Paddock', part of the earlier Ginninderra property. This part of Belconnen retains the name Emu Bank.
Tragically, just under three years after taking up the land Robert was killed. Ironically, having survived two years at the front, he accidentally blew himself up. The Queanbeyan Age of February 2 1926, provided a graphic report of the accident, Robert's injuries and his death. The formal finding of the inquest into his death was: "Died from injuries accidentally received through the premature explosion of gelignite, which he was preparing to use for an unlawful purpose, to wit, the destruction of fish in the Molonglo River."
"The Queanbeyan Age" noted: "The sensation produced by the spread of the news was intense, and an expression of unfeigned sorrow generally. Deceased was a returned soldier, 31 years old and about to be married. Owing to the mutilated state of the body, it was expedient that the internment should take place as soon as possible and the coffin containing the remains was taken to Murrumbateman – the remains being interred in the Methodist portion of the Murrumbateman cemetery."
After Robert's death by misadventure, Richard Butt, his father, who was the executor for the estate, successfully applied for transfer of the lease to Robert's brother, Percy James Butt, who duly took possession on the 14th June 1926. During Percy's time on the block, he constructed a five-room residence close to the current site of Belconnen Public Library.
Click on the caption (⧉) to view photo details and attribution.
- Shumack, S. (ed. J. E. and S. Shumack). 1967. An Autobiography, or, Tales and Legends of Canberra Pioneers. Canberra
- Archives ACT. Repat and Rabbits. www.archives.act.gov.au/repatandrabbits
- Stanhope, John, 'Belconnen forgets its first war-hero landowner', City News, 1 June 2021