Geology of Cooleman Ridge

Canberra is built largely on rocks of Ordovician age (420 million years old). Cooleman Ridge sits almost entirely on Ordovician volcanic rocks referred to as the Laidlaw Volcanic Suite. This suite is divided into two units or formations which are slightly different in composition. The older unit is referred to as the Deakin Volcanics and the younger unit as the Laidlaw Volcanics. The saddle between Narrabundah Hill and Cooleman Ridge forms the boundary between the Deakin Volcanics and the Laidlaw Volcanics. The Laidlaw Volcanics underlie most of Cooleman Ridge to Mount Arawang and beyond to the south. For further and more detailed information see Geology [link]

Dr. John F. Lindsay

Indigenous People and the Ridge

Cooleman Ridge is within an area rich in Aboriginal cultural heritage sites. However, there have been no significant discoveries of artifacts or cultural sites of importance on the Ridge. Most discoveries of such sites have been made in areas where there have been concentrations of human activity over many generations. In the ACT these areas are found along the river corridors, particularly at river junctions. The junction of the Molonglo and Murrumbidgee Rivers is particularly important, as it was a meeting place for the past 10,000 years of Aboriginal groups moving annually between lower altitude areas to the south and the mountain valleys of the Brindabella and Tindery ranges in the north.

Cooleman Ridge is one of many ridges which overlooked the annual movements along the Murrumbidgee River. It is likely the Ridge was visited irregularly by small groups. These groups would have done much more than just wander at random. They would have had cultural and spiritual connections with the Ridge. Along with their hunting and gathering, they would have noted the condition of the vegetation and done necessary caring work. Frequently this would have included the lighting of fires to burn with moderate heat over small patches. It was this style of land management which produced the landscapes and ecologies which we are now working to recover and protect.

Mike Morriss

European Grazing

The area in which Mt Arawang and the current Arawang Homestead are located was included in a grant in 1841 to George Weston, a former captain of the East India Company.

A large property called Yarralumla was purchased in 1881 by Frederick Campbell. He turned it into the largest and most prosperous sheep run on the Limestone Plains. However, the landscape of the area was duly modified by contemporary grazing practices and by the introduction of European fauna and flora. By the end of the nineteenth century tree thinning and ring-barking had taken place on the property, rabbits and grasshoppers were in plague proportions and exotic weeds were driving out the local native flora and fauna.

Early in the 1900’s the destruction of old growth timber (Stringy bark, Yellow box, Apple box) on hill tops led to massive soil erosion in gully areas. This was exacerbated by the grazing of sheep.

After the Canberra region was chosen as the site for the new federal capital, the Commonwealth began acquiring land in the district. Yarralumla was one of the first properties to be acquired. The valuation of the property was completed in July 1913 and it was resumed by the government shortly afterwards. Much of the property later became the suburbs of inner Canberra. Cooleman, a subdivision of Yarralumla, was leased by the Champion family from 1937 until 1996 and run as a grazing enterprise for high-yielding merino sheep. No more clearing occurred but there was extensive grazing by sheep and aerial application of superphosphate and pasture seeds.

In 1997 the lease on the property changed hands and the area to the west of the Ridge became an equestrian centre. The Ridge itself, which had been set aside as a reserve along with the 187 hectares of public land, was formally declared part of Canberra Nature Park in October 1993.

Jenny Horsfield, with revision by Linda Spinaze

The Homestead

The Arawang Homestead is located on the southwestern side of Mt Arawang on the northern side of Kambah.

It was built in 1952 by Robert Campbell on the western side of Stoney Hill (Mt Arawang).

In 1959, the property was taken over by Mr Burt Thornely. As part of managing the land, clover, lucerne and phalaris were planted and fertilised with superphosphate. 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 and was fortunately saved from the 2003 fires.