Old Weetangera Road
Old Weetangera Road is one of the oldest roads in the Canberra region. Today the Old Weetangera Road Trail follows remnants of the road between O'Connor and the Murrumbidgee River. If you walk or cycle the trail, you will pass through bushland, urban areas and rural pastoral leases, and get a glimpse into the early landscape of Belconnen.
The earliest reference to a track between the Canberra and Ginninderra valleys is from the 1830s, and this was formalised into a road in the 1860s. However, it is very likely that most low points of the O'Connor Ridge have been traversed for thousands of years. There are many important Aboriginal sites and artefacts noted in the greater Black Mountain area.
Branching off the Yass-Queanbeyan Road near Lyneham High School, the Old Weetangera Road crossed the ridge on the same alignment as the current shared pathway from Dryandra Street to Bruce Stadium. The steep embankments and culverts visible date from the 1960s when this road was the main access route to the developing district of Belconnen.
Welcome to Flea Bog Flat
After crossing over O'Connor Ridge, the Old Weetangera Road descended into the area known as Flea Bog Flat. If you explore the bush across Haydon Drive from Calvary Hospital, you might come across old fencelines and drainage ditches which mark where the road used to run.
Roads in country NSW in the 1800s were notoriously treacherous. Samuel Shumack recalls that on this section of the road: 'on the east side the mud was about three feet deep for three chains or more, and like glue. On the west side it was a foot to eighteen inches deep, with the consistency of thin gruel.
This area was heavily frequented by Aboriginal groups, with an ochre quarry, artefact scatters and a report of over 300 people camping near the Emu Bank Homestead in 1858 and 1863. 'Queen' Nellie Hamilton is believed to have camped on Emu Ridge in the late 1800s.
Keeping the Roads Open
With more people settling in the Weetangera district in 1860s, tensions rose around road access. Several court cases were fought over the closing of roadways by owners of adjacent properties. One celebrated case in 1883 between Edward Crace and John Southwell was defended by barrister (and later Australia's first Prime Minister) 'Toby' Barton, who argued that Old Weetangera Road showed: 'abundant evidence of [being] an ancient and dedicated road' (Queanbeyan Age, 19th June 1883, p.2).
The meeting of Belconnen Way and Benjamin Way has been a major road junction since the mid-1800s. Here Belconnen Way closely follows the line of the Old Weetangera Road, sweeping down the hillside towards the 'Black Creek'. You can still see some old trees and remnants of pre-1960s culverts nearby. A track to the Emu Bank Homestead branched north here, close to the current alignment of Benjamin Way. The road also converged here with 'Finnerans Road', a track which still loops south through Aranda parkland.
In 1875, painter and travel writer Constance Gordon-Cumming travelled from Duntroon Station to Ginninderra Falls. She noted: 'as to roads, no one here thinks of them. [We] will turn off into the bush, drive in and out among the trees, grazing the old stumps which stick up in every direction ... choosing the easiest bits of creeks ... miles and miles without a fence...'
By 1881, Weetangera was one of the fastest growing communities in the region with 27 farm properties, around half the size of Queanbeyan. The Weetangera School (now a Canberra Tracks site) had been established and the community was active in cricket, tennis and ploughing competitions.
The Old Weetangera Road was upgraded and followed the current route of Belconnen Way. Coulter Drive closely follows the line of the branch road north to Ginninderra and Hall, which crossed the Ginninderra Creek near the Evatt Unmarked Cemetery.
Under Hawker College lies the old Kama Homestead, home to soldier-settler Oswald Henry Dixon and family from 1924 to 1963. Kama was built by Dixon in 1929, and was originally an old outstation slab hut with a hessian ceiling and newspaper-lined walls. Freda Cameron married Dixon in 1936 and they grazed sheep on land running from here down to the Molonglo River, covering most of what is now Hawker, the Pinnacle and Kama Nature Reserve. In 1963, just prior to development of the Belconnen District, they retired and moved to Campbell. Freda was a noted farmer and founder of the Country Women's Association in Canberra.
The Old Weetangera Road ran further to the north at this point, following closely the alignment of Belconnen Way. However, from the mid-1800s, a branch road turned south, passing Kama and up the rising ground towards the Weetangera Methodist Cemetery and the old Land's End Homestead.
Old Weetangera Cemetery
Up the hill on the left lies the old Weetangera church and cemetery. It is one of the oldest in the ACT and served the largely Methodist community of Weetangera for more than eighty years. Thomas Southwell first brought Methodism to the district in the 1840s. The church originally stood in 'Upper Canberra' (Lyneham) and was re-erected here by the Weetangera community in 1873. The roof was covered in stringy bark purchased from local Aboriginal people for a shilling a sheet. Services were held here until 1952, and the church was dismantled in 1955. A stone cairn in the cemetery marks the spot where the church stood.
The Kilby family of the nearby Land's End Homestead had a long association with the church. The original (now demolished) homestead was constructed in 1871 by William and Robert Kilby. In 1925, a new homestead was constructed further upslope close to the Old Weetangera Road (now Drake-Brockman Drive).
From the vantage point of the eastern end of Drake-Brockman Drive you can see south-west across the country towards the junction of the Molonglo and Murrumbidgee River valleys. Both of these valleys are well-used pre-European pathways and contain much evidence of Aboriginal use. The Old Weetangera Road ran down the shallow gully here from the 1830s to 1924, after which its alignment was changed to follow what is now Drake-Brockman Drive. 'Old Weetangerra', 'Weetar', or simply 'The House', home of Mary and Edward Smith and family, stood from 1870 where Pegasus Riding School is now located. The road passed directly south of the house.
The old road became what is now Stockdill Drive near Pine Ridge and crossed the Molonglo near its junction with the Murrumbidgee to connect with Uriarra Road. In 1859, it was the main road to the Kiandra goldfields, and numerous travellers would have passed through Weetangera on their way to try their luck at the diggings.
Edited version (with permission) of Old Weetangera Road Trail Notes, Action Heritage. 2019. A project by Steve Skitmore of Action Heritage, funded by ACT Heritage. Incorporated into Canberra Tracks
- Old Weetangera Road Trail Notes, Action Heritage. 2019