New to Canberra, I love exploring this city and the secrets that it holds with my family.
Published October 19th 2015
Take a tour into Canberra's early history
Mugga Mugga is a cottage built in the late 1800s for the head shepherd of the Duntroon Estate, in the early years of Canberra's development.
The cottage itself is basic, showing what life was like in the era for the working family with no electricity or running water. Homes were built with second hand materials sourced on the property, making this a rustic and interesting place to explore. Visitors can take a tour of the cottage and learn about the history and the hardships of day-to-day life in the era.
Located 10kms from the CBD, getting to Mugga Mugga is an adventure on its own. Set in a rural area, visitors drive over cow grates, past roaming horses and along a long windy, unsealed roads to the carpark. The surprise of this historic property is the view, with Mugga Mugga cottage located on a hill looking over Queanbeyan and the flat land of the original Limestone Plains. The perfect location for a shepherds home.
View from the cottage - with horses and Green Building, where you meet the guide.
Visitors meet their guide in the "Green Building" on the property for the half hour tour through the cottage, longer if you have questions. Firstly, the guide points out in the far distance the building of Duntroon, perched on the side of a hill far away. Duntroon is now a military academy but previously it was the stately home of the Campbell Family, who owned all the land between the Duntroon home and across the plain to Mugga Mugga. From his home, Robert Campbell could look over his property to see the sheep grazing on the land, looked after by the head shepherds who lived at Mugga Mugga at different times.
Although historians have a list of the previous occupants, it is the last occupants of the home, the Curley family, who have provided the most information. The Curleys moved to the home in 1913 when Patrick Curley became Head Shepherd for Duntroon Estate and he and his wife Annie Elizabeth moved in with their three daughters. They then made additions to the original floorplan to extend it to make rooms for their three daughters.
Just like Calthorpes House (one of Canberra's other historic homes), you can't take any photos within the home, but it could be only be described as "basic". The guide takes you from room to room describing the additions to the home, the low ceilings, points out the thickness of the walls, the primitive building techniques of the time and stories about when the Curly family lived there.
Out the back of the cottage is a separate kitchen building, common for this colonial era to prevent fires in the home. Interestingly, the guide explained that the kitchen was also used for shearing sheep in later years when the shed was full.
In a curtained off area outside the kitchen is the "bath". The area consisted of a small dark space and a metal tub. Cold water needed to be carried 200m up the hill from the well to fill the tub - not the ideal bathing experience in a cold Canberran winter.
The kitchen building, with blue curtain showing where they had a bath.
The guide then takes you outside to a modern shed that has a timeline of the history of the home and displays of the early years in Canberra. The information is provided by the last remaining daughter Sylvia Curly, now in her 90's, who passed over the management of her family cottage to the ACT Government in 1995 for preservation.
It took until 1932 for running water to be joined to the cottage and 1949 before electricity was connected, with the Curley family living by candlelight up to that point. The name "Mugga Mugga" is often seen around Canberra with streets named after it and the hill behind the property named Mount Mugga Mugga. The name "Mugga Mugga" itself is an aboriginal term for the area meaning "many snakes", so watch your step when visiting.
The highlights of this visit for myself was learning more about Canberra's early history, the views over the plains and the stories told by the guide. With knowledge, humour and a passionate approach, the volunteer guides at these historic homes are a treasure in themselves. They bring the homes to life with their stories and make the visit much more enjoyable.
Whilst there, you may get a visit from the friendly horses on the property, looking for hay.