A short bushwalk with indigenous & early settler history
Church Rock Heritage Loop is located in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, 40 minutes south west of Canberra's CBD. This nature reserve is rich in indigenous history, with the Ngunnawal people the traditional owners of the land with evidence dating back 21,000 years. In recent history, in the late 1800's, early pioneers came into the valley and started to make a life for themselves, building a school, houses and a small community in the area. The Church Rock Heritage Loop is a 2.5km walk which travels past some of the remaining sites left behind from the early settlers and heads up into the hills to view Church Rock, a tall granite spire which they thought looked like a church steeple. Although it is now covered in bushland, it once stood bare on the hill and the community of settlers believed it had religious significance.
Today, it makes for an interesting walk back in the footsteps of the early settlers and the indigenous people, who would have used this land for thousands of years before them.
Step back in time on the Church Rock Heritage Trail
Firstly, it costs $12 per car to enter the reserve, which is payable to the Visitors Centre at the entrance to Tidbinbilla. Visitors then receive a map which also lists all the walking trails through the reserve, with over 20 to choose from. When you are at the Visitor Centre, ensure you pick up the brochure on the Church Rock Heritage Loop, so you can refer to it on your walk.
The Church Rock Heritage Loop begins at Flints BBQ area at number 6 on the map. This large reserve with kangaroos is a pleasant place to stop for a picnic at the start or end of your walk. Just near the car park there is signage to read and a map which shows the loop and the numbered signs along it, which refers to the brochure from the Visitors Centre.
Pick up a brochure from the Visitors Centre when you enter
When you read the brochure and look for the number signs along the way, you come across some of the early settler sites and remains, from the late 1800's. It shows where Flints Homestead was built and its milking yard, where local resident Annie Flint would hand-milk the house cow and also churn butter. Sheedy's Home Site, at number 5 on the brochure, explains how the Sheedy family lived in the valley (known as Rock Valley at the time) for 5 years and Julia Sheedy was the only woman to be an official land owner in the valley at the time.
The Church Rock Valley School, at number 6 on the brochure, was a small school built in 1898, with twelve local children who attended it. Classes were held every second week for just 7 years, until another school was built nearby called the Gibraltar School (more information of this school can be found on the Birrigai Time Trail walk). There is now a plaque on a rock, where the school once stood.
The pathway slowly makes its way up the hillside and crosses over the main road that loops around the reserve, so look out for the zebra crossing on your walk. Eventually the walk leads up into a clearing with a perfectly-positioned bench to take in the mountain views - and another seat called "Eds Rest" on the opposite side. There is a sign to explain that the valley below was actually inhabited by a squatter George Webb in the 1830's, before the land was government-approved as somewhere that early settlers could live.
From here it is a short walk to Church Rock itself, through thicker bushland and down log stairs to its base. Please be aware of snakes in summer.
Today, Church Rock is mostly covered in bushland when you reach it, however you can still imagine how striking it would have looked on a bare hillside back the late 1800's. According to diaries and records from that time, mass would be held at its base and the school children would visit the rock for religious instruction. There is a sign to read at the bottom with photos taken from the 1950's. It also explains that Church Rock has evidence that indigenous people also used this rock as a place to congregate, however the reason is unclear.
From here the narrow path continues down through the bushland, before opening up to reveal the view of the undulating mountains in the distance. It is then a pleasant walk back to Flints BBQ area. If you are planning on having a BBQ lunch in this reserve, one option is that someone could be cooking the snags while the rest of the group go for this walk - and it would be ready on their return. After all that walking, it would be the perfect welcome back!
This walk is an interesting one for its history on the way up and its scenery on the way down. The bushland on the way up may not be very scenic, however its hills provide some good exercise and a good way to build up an appetite for that BBQ! I would recommend picking up the Church Rock Walking Loop brochure from the Visitors Centre to look at before the walk, as there are numbered signs along the way which refer to the brochure and if you don't have it, you miss the significance of the area.
Although it is a walk to learn about the early settlers in the valley, it does make you also wonder what the Ngunnawal people, the traditional custodians of the land, also did at Church Rock - although perhaps it is best just to leave it as a sacred story, just for them.