Canberra has had an interesting and varied history, with the Ngunnawal people first occupying the district for thousands of years. In the 1820's, explorers then started to come from Sydney, looking for rivers and pastoral land to create farming and agriculture in the area. The Murrumbidgee was a river that they had heard of from local aboriginals and it was finally found, after a few attempts, by explorers in 1821. The first settlers then started to follow.
Robert Campbell is a name that often comes up in Canberra's early settlement, as Campbell was granted land on the Limestone Plains (where Canberra is now situated) as compensation for a lost cargo ship. By 1833, he had built a homestead on his property which he called 'Duntroon' - where the military college in Canberra is housed today.
Campbell then built cottages for his staff to live in and buildings in the area. A number of these remain today, open to the public.
The Old Schoolhouse was built by the Campbell family for the children of their workers and those from surrounding properties. It was built at the same time as St John the Baptist Church next door (see below) in 1845. It was used from the 1840's to 1907 by hundreds of local children. You are able to walk inside and the guide will tell you stories about the children who went there, show you the slates the students used to use and there are photos on the walls to show you what life was like for the first settlers. Entry is by coin donation.
See the St Johns website for opening times. At the time of writing it is open Wednesdays 10am - 12noon and 2pm - 4pm on weekends.
The Anglican Church of St John The Baptist was built in 1845, with the land being donated by the Campbell family and half the building costs paid by them also. As you walk inside there are plaques on the walls dedicated to various members of the Campbell family and previous Reverend's of the church from the 1800's. Pioneering families lay buried in the graveyard and you can walk around them to read the headstones.
Lanyon Homestead is a property that is accessible to the public, 30km's south of Canberra's CBD in Tuggeranong. The current homestead and outbuildings were built in 1859, however the land had been established since 1835 by John Lanyon and James Wright, who used convict labour to farm the land. The next owners were the Cunningham's who built the present day homestead in 1859. You are able to visit this beautiful property and take a tour (see website for prices), wander the gardens and visit the Lanyon Café. See here for more information.
Blundells Cottage is a six roomed stone cottage on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. It was built in 1860 by the Campbell family for their Ploughman William Ginn and his family (who lived there 1860 - 1874). After this, George Blundell, Campbell's bullock driver and his wife Flora made the cottage their home (1874 - 1933) before Shepherd Harry Oldfield and his wife lived there (1933 - 1958). Lastly the Sainsbury family lived there until 1961 before it was preserved for its local history.
Free tours are available of the cottage, see here for more information.
Mugga Mugga is a cottage built for Campbell's Head Shepherds to live in with their families and look after the sheep on the property. Settlement on the site commenced in 1838 with a makeshift hut, however it is the 1870's cottage that remains today which is open to the public for tours. See the Mugga Mugga website for more information and prices of tours. For an article and more photos of Mugga Mugga, see here.
Ginnenderra Village is located 12km's north of the city. Originally the village began in 1859 with the opening of the Post Office, then several other buildings followed including a Blacksmith, School House, Police Station and Church. Today, the few remaining buildings in the former village are a timber hall (the former St Francis Church) and the Ginninderra Schoolhouse which are both located within the tourist precinct of Gold Creek Village in the suburb of Nicholls. The Schoolhouse is now utilised by the very quaint Sweet Copper Café. See here for details.
Yarralumla, now known as Government House, was originally a prominent sheep station and homestead in the area in the1830's. When Frederick Campbell from the Duntroon Estate purchased the property in the 1890's, he built a homestead that is still part of the house that remains today. The Commonwealth Government bought Yarralumla from Campbell's in 1913 and is now the home of Australia's Governor General.
There are times throughout the year when you can enter Government House for tours, or take a cruise with Southern Cross Cruises to the property to explore the gardens.
There are also two historical homes from the 1800's that are still remaining, however they aren't easily accessible to the public. Tuggeranong Homestead (built 1859) can be booked for functions and events and Cuppacumbalong Homestead (established in 1839) is now farm stay accommodation.
Walking through these historical buildings gives you a sense of what everyday life was like for settlers in Canberra's early years. Setting up a community here wouldn't have been easy, with frosty winters and hot Summers, miles from anywhere.
With buildings still standing here 170 years later, they certainly knew how to build 'em tough in the 1800's.
Walk inside the St John The Baptist Church and admire the stonework, stainglass and history from 1845.