Some of Canberra’s Oldest and Newest Sites

I started my day with a coffee with author Russ Morison who has just published a book about the RAASC in Vietnam (Sustaining the Fight). He has incorporated some notes from my website into his book. Normally, books like this are written about the fighting units in wars and only rarely do those units, like mine, that supported them with supplies and aervices get a mention. I haven’t read all of the 240 pages of his book yet but I can see some very interesting photos. If you would like Russ’ contact details to order one of his books, please leave a comment and I’ll pass them on to you.

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One of the oldest places that we visited today was St John’s Anglican Church at the bottom of Anzac Avenue. It is the oldest surviving public building within Canberra’s inner city and the oldest church in the Australian Capital Territory. Jill’s Grandfather, Grandmother and Uncle are buried in its churchyard. Her Grandfather was a News South Wales police officer, retiring as an Inspector of Police before becoming the Coroner in Queanbeyan. We’ll have more to say about him later in March when we plan (covid willing) to travel to a number of places in NSW where he served in his police role, initially as a Mounted Constable.


The churchyard was closed to new burials in 1937 unless exclusive rights to a plot were held.

Just outside the church lychgate in Anzac Avenue is a new military memorial to the men who served in the Boer War. Although that war too place in South Africa between 1899-1902, this memorial was only constructed in 2017. It is the newest memorial on Anzac Avenue, and I think the most stunning. Its design has four horsemen navigating through a stoney field with two blue-copper walls or plinths running one behind and one in front of the horses.


Special colouring techniques are used to give various hues to the figures, such as khaki for the soldier’s clothes, tan for the horse’s bodies, and black for the horse manes and tails.

Next door to it is the memorial to the Desert Mounted Corps. This was the first memorial to ever be built on Anzac Avenue, unveiled in 1932.


This memorial commemorates Australian and New Zealand soldiers who died in service or were killed in action in Egypt, Palestine and Syria during World War One.  More commonly known as the Light Horse Memorial, it commemorates the men of the Australian Light Horse Brigade as well as the New Zealand Mounted Rifles, the Imperial Camel Corps and the Australian Flying Corps who served in Egypt, Palestine and Syria between 1916 and 1918.

The men of the Australian Light Horse Regiment are famous for conducting the world’s last mass calvary charge in an assault on the oasis at Beersheba in Palestine in 1917. The memorial shows a mounted Australian Light-Horseman defending a New Zealand Mounted Rifleman standing beside his wounded horse.

A little further along Anzac Avenue is the memorial that I relate to the most – the memorial to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Three broad curved concrete pillars rise from a shallow moat to form a triangular shaped enclosed centre space that is designed for quiet contemplation. The back wall features a photograph by Australian Army photographer Mike Coleridge showing soldiers waiting to be airlifted back to the Australian base at Nui Dat after an operation in the field. The walls also provide anchors for wires that suspend a halo of blocks. A scroll containing the names of all Australians who died in Vietnam is sealed into one of the blocks.

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After a bite of lunch, we headed off, on Vicki Goulder’s suggestion, to another of Canberra’s newest features – The National Arboretum. The arboretum is a 250-hectare (618 acre) site and was created after the area was burned out as a result of the Christmas 2001 and 2003 Canberra bushfires.

The site has been planted since 2005, and includes ceremonial trees planted by visiting heads of government and ambassadors. It was officially opened in February 2013. It has around 100 small plantations (forests) each of around 60 – 100 trees of rare and endangered species. There are all very young and it will be spectacular after another decade of growth.


There are some wonderful views across thew arboretum and some interesting sculptures. There are over over 20 kilometres of walking, cycling and horse riding tracks within the arboretum area.


Our final destination for the day was at the Dam on the Cotter River, about 17 kms west of Canberra. The Dam is a concrete gravity and rockfill embankment dam. It was started in 1912 and finished by 1915 when the city of Canberra was being established. Its purpose was to provide drinking water for the developing city. The height of the dam wall was raised to a height of 31 metres (102 ft) in 1951 in order to increase capacity of the reservoir. Today, it was overflowing – a rare sight at this location.


There is a lovely grassy picnic ground along the river bank and lots of trees for shade. It was very popular with families picnicking there in the 25C warmth of today.

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This area has a sad place in Jill’s family history. Her uncle (buried in St John’s churchyard ) was drowned at this place at the age of twenty one, while trying to save his girlfriend who got into trouble while swimming in the river. She survived, but unfortunately he died.

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2 thoughts on “Some of Canberra’s Oldest and Newest Sites

  1. Bruce, really enjoying your daily reports of in and around Canberra. Would be interested in the info about the Vietnam book.

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