Kirkdale intrigue

Put up your hand if you've driven past the ruins of the stone church on the side of Federal Highway just north of Collector and someone in your vehicle has commented ''oh, look at that quaint church,'' or similar words, reminiscing about a bygone era.

If the volume of correspondence to this column is any indicator, apart from the fort-like tree house near Campbelltown which turned out to be a tank stand (Getting Tanked, July 7, 2012), this historic church is one of the best-known landmarks on the road between Canberra and Sydney.

Melanie Tait, 666 ABC Canberra's Sunday presenter confesses that ''when I was a little girl I wanted to get married in it when I grew up

So many travellers stop on this busy stretch of highway to snap a photo of the picturesque place of worship, the local council ought to consider constructing a rest area nearby to reduce the risk of accident. Surrounded by a mix of towering pines and mature deciduous exotics, and with a westerly aspect, it is especially photogenic during the late afternoon when the surrounding countryside is bathed in a vibrant glow.

Perhaps it's this surreal light which has even moved some of this column's correspondents, such as Melanie Tait, 666 ABC Canberra's Sunday presenter, to confess that ''when I was a little girl I wanted to get married in it when I grew up''. I suspect Tait is not alone. Indeed, a quick ask around the office earlier this week revealed you'd be hard-pressed to find a more romantic place to exchange vows. Heck, even a couple of beefy blokes who'd be happy with a BBQ and beer at the local RSL agreed the old church does have ''an aura of sorts about it''.

Other readers, such as Amy Harris of Kambah, ask, ''is it still in use?'' In short, the answer is no - the Anglican Church of St Michaels and All Angels, or more simply the ''Kirkdale Church'' (named after the property it is on) has been derelict for many decades.

While I'm yet to uncover whether any weddings did actually take place in the church after it was erected in 1873, I recently discovered, flicking through Jill Roe's biography on celebrated author Miles Franklin (Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography, HarperCollins (2008), that the church had doubled as a school in the late 1800s. Furthermore, Roe hypothesises that the church may have once been where Franklin was schooled, albeit for a short time after moving from Brindabella to ''Stillwater'', a property located near Kirkdale, as an 11-year-old in 1890.

''If Stella Franklin or any of her siblings ever attended Kirkdale School … the experience could not have been pleasant,'' writes Roe, who reports that ''lacking a chimney, the tiny stone building could not be heated in the freezing winters.'' In fact, parents promptly petitioned the Department of Public Instruction and in mid-1890 a more convenient (and, presumably, warmer) classroom was found at nearby Thornford.

The last time I stopped near the crumbling church I took a peek through my binoculars (the church is on private land). Inside, it's just a shell, complete with graffiti, and, no, it's not the sort of language you'd expect to find adorning the pages of Franklin's much-lauded My Brilliant Career.

Up close, the stone building is also surprisingly diminutive in dimensions, so if Tait and other sentimental dreamers really do see it as an ideal place to tie the knot, then they may have to limit guests to just a handful of the faithful. Oh, and a couple of outdoor gas heaters might also come in handy, because it seems cold southerlies howl through here, even on a late summer's day.


Have you been enamoured by the ''Kirkdale Church''? If so, I'd love to hear from you. Even better if you know when the last church service was held within its stone walls.


The annoyingly sticky burrs of the native Bidgee-widgee (Acaena novae-zelandiae) are the bane of many a Canberra bushwalker, but for artist Nancy Tingey they are like spiky specks of gold.

Tingey is on the hunt for thousands of the irritating burrs, which are actually the fruit of the Bidgee-widgee, for a top-secret conceptual installation she is hoping to exhibit at the Canberra Museum and Art Gallery for their upcoming centenary exhibition.

''Various structures can be made by the seed heads without needing any adhesive or stitching to hold the parts together,'' says Tingey, who has worked with the barbed burrs before, exhibiting her first Acaena Screen in 2009. ''The trick is keeping the individual heads separated or in usable modules as they can't be pulled apart without disintegrating - and if you get the light through, the works are transformed from doormats to nets.''

Up until now, Tingey has been supplied burrs from a private property near Tumbarumba in southern New South Wales (no doubt now a bushwalking haven). However, Tingey feels it only fitting that for her centenary project she use ACT burrs only. Unfortunately, all the places in the ACT where she is aware of specimens growing are in nature parks, where it is illegal to collect plants (yes, even burrs). As a result, Tingey is on a mission to find a local source on private property.

If you can assist Tingey with her prickly problem, please email her at:

Having had more than my fair share of socks rendered virtually unwearable by the bristly burrs, and while Tingey is keeping details of her planned installation under wraps, I'd suggest that a giant sock would be not out of place.


On a recent visit to Canberra from his Forster home, Kokoda veteran and nonagenarian Ken Kell was spotted playing hide 'n' seek in the Duntroon Hedge Maze, which he was partly responsible for resurrecting in 1965.

First planted in 1871, by the Campbell family (who settled the Duntroon Estate in the early 1830s), the warren of dead-ends and wrong turns is a replica of the world's oldest and most famous hedge maze at Hampton Court in England, which was commissioned in the late 1600s by King William III after he arrived in England with his wife Queen Mary. However, in 1954 the Duntroon replica was purposefully destroyed when the Commandant at that time apparently became concerned that some of the senior cadets were taking their ladies there for a little ''quiet time''.

According to Robert Ewin, a Canberra relation, Kell ''hadn't seen the maze grow to completion and returning to the maze was both a special and emotional time for him.''

A past artillery warrant officer instructor, Kell ingeniously resurrected the Duntroon landmark in 1965, using aerial photos of the original maze to plant 514 hedge shoots purchased from the Yarralumla Nursery.


It seems that one of the long-running mysteries featured in this column (Grave Mission, August 10, 2012) may have finally been solved. Long-time Brindabella Valley resident Bev Johnson, who now lives in northern NSW, reports that it was her relative, Ian MacDonald who arranged in 1937 the brass plaque for Buddy, the pet dog of hermit Bob Reid, to be made and placed on his grave which is hidden in bush above the Goodradigbee River.

In his book, Recollections of Growing Up in the Thrilling Thirties (self-published Narrabeen, NSW, 2005), MacDonald writes, ''There were several interesting characters living in the valley. One was a first war digger who had been wounded in the head. He wore a metal plate bolted to his cranium, as he explained, 'to keep his few brains from falling out'. He lived in a hut in the bush with an old blue heeler as his only companion. He discouraged visitors, but we became friends after I had taken his mail to him a couple of times. He confessed to me during one of my visits that he had been devastated by the recent death of his best mate, an old dog of indeterminate ancestry. He had been bitten by a black snake and had died in agony despite the old chap's ministrations. He told me he had applied a tourniquet, cut the flesh around the bite and sucked the poison from the wound. Greater love hath no dog. He built an imposing headstone of concrete and I ordered a brass plaque when I returned to Sydney.''


After being cloaked in sheets of black plastic for six months during extensive restoration work (A Fishy Tale, April 21, 2012), and then suffering the further indignity of being displayed naked in public without her true colours (Naked Fish, June 23, 2012), this column's favourite ''big thing'' is finally flushed with some colour. Although her paint job isn't quite finished yet, there's a sneak preview of Adaminaby's new-look Big Rainbow Trout (in the photo gallery above) as snapped by my piscatorial spies just a few days ago.


Email: or Twitter: @TimYowie or write to me c/o The Canberra Times 9 Pirie Street, Fyshwick.

PS: Can the winning momentum in ACT sport, started by the victorious Canberra Cavalry baseballers last week, continue when the ACT Brumbies run out onto Canberra Stadium tonight for their first clash of 2013? I hope so. See you there.

Correction: Last week's photo of Bogong moths on Mt Gingera should have been attributed to CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences.