Sitting on an unassuming chair under an old English Elm Tree opposite the Belconnen Library and the Altitude Complex on Chandler Street, one doesn’t realise the historical importance of what or where you are.
This was the site of one of the houses built for workers on the large Ginninderra property. The Shumack family lived here for 11 years, farming the land for William Davis. Matthew and Catherine O’Brien were one of the last families to live here.
This part of the Ginninderra property was referred to as the Emu Bank Paddock, but most of it is now under Lake Ginninderra. Regarded as tastier than marsupials, emus were once plentiful on Emu Bank Homestead but became easy targets for shooters with nowhere to hide on the open plain.
The Emu Bank Homestead Elm Tree and the many other mature elm trees in Australia are thanks to the demise of elms in the northern hemisphere as a result of the Dutch elm disease pandemic, now regarded as amongst the most significant in the world. One of the oldest known exotic trees in Victoria is the sole survivor of four planted in the newly established Royal Botanic Gardens in 1846.
The Emu Bank Homestead site can be found 100m from Eastern Valley Way Inlet on Lake Ginninderra by taking the Belconnen Library Walk towards Westfield Belconnen.
“This English Elm tree is the only surviving evidence of a flourishing 10,000 acre sheep station established here in about 1826 by Ginninderra’s first landowner, George Thomas Palmer. He built Emu Bank Homestead on this site to house his estate managers, and visited it frequently. This area was known as ‘the Emu Bank Paddock,’ even though the last of the formerly prolific emus had been shot in 1869.
“On Palmer’s death in 1854 his daughter Susan Adriana inherited his estate. After her marriage in 1862 to the property’s manager, William Davis, the estate continued to flourish. However, Davis’s real claim to fame was his invincible cricket team – the Ginninderra Eleven. In 1877 he sold Palmer’s Ginninderra and Gungahlin properties to Edward Kendall Crace.
“One of the last families to live at Emu Bank was that of Matthew O’Brien, for many years a boundary rider for the Crace family. He became well known in the community as a champion sportsman, and for playing the violin at local dances.
“The land was resumed by the Commonwealth Government in 1915 and became part of the Federal Capital. The Emu Bank Paddock now lies under Lake Ginninderra, formed in 1969 by the damming of Ginninderra Creek. Other sections are now occupied by the Cameron Offices and Belconnen Mall, which were built in the 1970s. As you travel along Emu Bank or enter the library, reminisce about Belconnen’s rural past.”