Mapping the past, online

MapAs a land custodian I’m often reminded that the environment we see before us today has been influenced, altered by the touch of the human hand. As Europeans first ventured upon these limestone plains the vista before them spoke of boundless opportunities.  

There were vast open grassy woodlands idyllic to graze hungry stock, meandering rivers full of native fish and plentiful freshwater to quench a dry thirst. There was also an abundant supply of timber by which a rustic shelter could be fashioned. It was a landscape upon which to build hope and prospect for the future.

The life giving qualities of this landscape was certainly not lost on the first inhabitants. For thousands of years local aboriginal communities had been living as one with this land. In the 1820s with the arrival of Europeans on horseback change was inevitable. This change was brought about over time, perhaps ambivalent to the inevitable consequences of the human hand.  

With the click of a mouse, Canberrans can now glean a remarkable insight to this distant past. Beautifully hand drawn historic maps dating back to the pioneering era have been painstakingly added to ACTmapi, a wonderful community resource.

These truly exquisite maps have been scanned and now presented as a means of overlaying the past onto aerial photography of today. With accessibility in mind you can easily compare the past with the present, so as to help guide our future.

Dating back to the 1800s these maps graphically display the sheer size of pastoral holdings of the day. A standard portion (as leases were called back then) at the time was about 40 acres in size. The parish maps and portion plans show the original grantee and one of the largest holdings in and around the Limestone Plain was Robert Campbell’s grant of 4000 acres. That property, known as “Duntroon”, was equivalent to one and a half times the area of Kambah.

Such is the delicate detail in which these maps have been drawn, intricate features of buildings, natural, geographical and historical elements have all been captured.

The maps have been preserved as a time capsule for future generations.  

Where Goorooyaroo Nature Reserve stands today, the Mulligans Flat Public School once proudly stood where it educated and shaped the minds of pioneering children. The original Old Coach Road rambled past on its way through to Bungendore.

The online tool vividly portrays maps from 1830 to 1930 revealing settlements and rural pastoral boundaries, location of cottages, huts, land cleared and fences built. The 1915-1930 maps even show a cricket pitch submerged today by Lake Burley Griffin and an Aboriginal cultural site known as Kurrajong, which had a natural water spring, on what is now Capital Hill.

These historic maps provide an enthralling insight into the history of land ownership. You will quickly recognise the family name of many early settlers. Localities such as Campbell, Crace, Weetangera and Weston are all today immortalised in our day-to-day vernacular.

To step back in time to a bygone era visit

Brett Mac

Brett McNamara - Regional Manager with ACT Parks & Conservation Service

Brett loves our national parks almost as much as the Gang-gang on his uniform. He is prone to using the word 'majestic' when referring to the bush capital. He loves talking. A lot. His favourite animal is the playful Platypus.

Article also appeared in The Chronicle