The Cooleman Ridge Parkcare Group maintains a history of the ridge, the homestead and the reserve. The group believes that it is important to preserve this history for future generations.
This information has been compiled from many sources over the years, including from local historians, newspapers, landholders and the general community. If you think you can contribute to the history in anyway, please contact us.
The following is a summary of this history.
Cooleman Ridge has been used as pastoral property since European settlement. It has been grazed by sheep and cattle for over a hundred years. As part of 'Yarralumla' property, 1899 maps indicate open forest. Latterly it was part of the 'Cooleman' grazing property when it was sown with Phalaris pasture grass and fertilised. It has been part of Canberra Nature Park formally since 1993 but was a reserve before that.
The ridge has been part of various pastoral properties over the years including the Yarralumla, Cooleman and Arawang properties.
The area in which Mt Arawang and the current Arawang Homestead are located was included in an 1841 grant of land to George Weston, a former captain in the East India Company. Those of you who remember your primary school history will recall that’s not long after Major Mitchell’s march through this area around 1836. It’s also interesting that Weston’s grant bordered the existing Yarralumla Estate founded by Henry Donnison, which means that property was parcelled out even closer to the passage of Mitchell. Stoney Hill (now Mt Arawang) was located on the edge of Weston’s property near land owned by a Francis Mowatt.
Frederick Campbell bought Yarralumla Estate in 1881 and over time acquired surrounding land such that his holdings expanded by 50 percent to total 39,000 acres (15,790 hectares). Land management on the Limestone Plains suffered in severe rabbit and grasshopper plagues in the 1890s. Early in the new century the destruction of old growth timber (Stringy Bark, Yellow Box, Apple Box and Forest Oak) on hill tops led to massive soil erosion in gully areas. Needless to say, this damage was exacerbated by the grazing of sheep. In 1908 the Yass/Canberra district was declared the site for the new national capital. The massive Yarralumla Estate was bought by the Federal Government in 1913 for £141,500.
From this time on the story of land occupation around Arawang was of swathes of country being divided into ever smaller parcels but still for use as rural properties. The 1,350 acres (547 hectares) known as “Arawang” extended from the Old Kambah Road to the Murrumbidgee River. It was a sheep and cattle property. Apparently the term “Arawang” means “deep water hole” and is assumed to have applied to aspects of the nearby Murrumbidgee. The term was used as a name for the property during the 1930s by the then owner, a Mr M Clothier.
The Arawang Homestead is located on the southwestern side of Mt Arawang on the northern side of Kambah.
The Arawang Homestead was built in 1952 by Robert Campbell on the western side of Stoney Hill (Mt Arawang). During the late 1950s droughts in the district were exacerbated by rabbits, foxes and saffron thistles (sounds familiar! Ed.)
In 1959, the property (now reduced to 274 acres [110 hectares]) was taken over by Mr Burt Thornely. As part of managing the land, clover, lucerne and phalaris were planted and fertilised with superphosphate (the leaching of which may account for the phosphate spike in the Waterwatch physical chemistry tests done since 2003 on the Old Dam on the Ridge. Ed.).
The early 1970s saw withdrawal of several pockets of land for the development of Kambah. In addition urban development on the north side of Mt Arawang resulted in increased numbers of dog incursions and trespassing by Chapman residents on the agistment land on Mt Arawang. The Thornelys handed back the lease to the government in 1975.
The current owner of the property is ACT Housing. Prior to Housing taking over the lease in 1984, the Department of Capital Territory’s Conservation and Agricultural Branch used the property as a Ranger’s residence.
From photographs in the source documents, the homestead looks unaltered from its early period. The grounds have changed, particularly the row of pine trees bordering the Pound paddock which were devastated by the 2003 fires. In fact the homestead was in severe danger during that event and was saved due to the efforts of the current occupant. (Sourced from documents provided by the current occupant of “Arawang” Mr Ross Bennett.)
The ridge became a nature reserve in the 1980's and has been part of Canberra Nature Park formally since 1993.
The most significant change to result from becoming a reserve is that intensive grazing and clearing largely ceased on the ridge.
This removed significant pressure on the native flora and fauna and they have been slowly recovering since then.
The group is now trying to accelerate this natural regeneration via its strategy.