Peak Footsteps

There are so many events this long weekend I'll be surprised if by Tuesday our whole city isn't exhausted from blowing out hundreds of candles, hoarse from singing Happy Birthday to ourselves and bruised from beating our chests with civic pride. However, if you want to escape the pomp and ceremony for half a day, here are a couple of suggestions that will allow you to not only avoid the crowds but also to remain loyal to our city's roots.

1. Arise Bimberi

Earlier this week, while enjoying a sunny autumn afternoon atop Mount Ainslie and reflecting on our city's unique design, I asked a dozen or so of the never-ending tide of walkers and runners on their daily constitutional if they could name the ACT's highest peak. Sure it wasn't much of a sample size, but not one aspiring athlete could name Mount Bimberi (1911 metres) as our territory's high point.

Heck, sitting on a park bench atop Mount Ainslie, even if having your headwear ridiculed by a passer-by, is sounding better by the minute.

In response, about half of those on the summit asked me to point out Bimberi, which I duly did. To say it left most somewhat underwhelmed would be an understatement. "What - that little bump in the shadows is our highest peak," quipped one twentysomething jogger before she turned on her heels and bounded energetically down the track toward the War Memorial.

Little wonder Mount Bimberi is so unheard of, a non-descript bump poking its head over the back of the mountains, it's difficult to even make it out with binoculars on a clear day. Nor is it easily accessible.

However Bimberi hasn't always been lost amongst the shadows of our distant horizon. In fact, during our city's design phase it was thrust well and truly in the limelight. In the cyclorama that was provided to all competitors (along with a contour map and a three dimensional model), Mount Bimberi appeared both prominent and snow-capped. Sure it has more than a generous coating of the white stuff for most of winter (and sometimes longer) but it's hardly an imposing sight from anywhere in suburban Canberra.

Nowhere was Bimberi's idealised peak more highlighted than in Walter Burley Griffin's winning design for Canberra. In his wife's delightfully detailed drawing titled View from Summit of Mount Ainslie, Mount Bimberi looms high above the surrounding mountains and is the terminus of a 25-mile- long (40.23-kilometre-long) land axis (which along with a water axis formed by the damming of the Molonglo River to form a lake were the centrepieces of Griffin's winning design), which extends all the way from Mount Ainslie. Not surprisingly, this land axis as we know it today extends between Mount Ainslie and Capital Hill, beyond which it virtually vanishes into the foothills of Namadgi National Park.

So what sort of place is Mount Bimberi? "It's certainly a very rewarding peak to get to because of its remoteness," says Chris Bashcroft who recently climbed it. Meanwhile, this column's ubiquitous bushwalking correspondent, Pastor John Evans, has clambered up the territory's top peak numerous times. "The magic is the effort required to get there and the view - it's a stupendous 360-degree panorama to the north and east over the wild heart of Namadgi National Park and south and west into Kosciuszko National Park," Evans says.

Check it out for yourself: Head to the top of Mount Ainslie and squint, or look through your binoculars for a non-descript bump on the horizon at the end of the land axis that extends down Anzac Parade and across to Parliament House. Alternatively, if you fancy a bit of a drive, you can view it from the Corin Dam wall - Bimberi is the rounded hill above the far end of the water. However, if you want to actually summit our ''magical'' mountain yourself then you'll need a bit more than a couple of hours. Evans advises, "You can get to it from the Orroral Tracking Station car park via a walk along the Australian Alps Walking Track and a footpad up from Murrays Gap - it's a mere 15 hours return trip of 50 kilometres and a total trip vertical climb of nearly two kilometres!" Another way is to drive up the side of Tantangara Dam and walk a return trip of around 18 kilometres to the Peak. Either walk should only be attempted by experienced bushwalkers. Heck, sitting on a park bench atop Mount Ainslie, even if having your headwear ridiculed by a passer-by, is sounding better by the minute.

Original visions for Canberra: See the original, rarely displayed designs for Canberra by the 1911 Federal Capital City Design Competition finalists, including the winning entry by Walter Burley Griffin (featuring the imposing snow-capped Mount Bimberi) at the National Archives of Australia. On show now until September 8. Open daily. Free entry. See: www.naa.gov.au

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2. A stroll up Red Hill

After arriving in Canberra in 1913, Walter Burley Griffin discovered that many of the hillsides were largely denuded due to grazing. He promptly planned to revegetate the main hills - in a particular colour scheme - Black Mountain was to be planted with ''white and pink flowers'' and Mount Ainslie in ''species of yellow flowers and foliage''. Other hills to be revegetated included Mugga Mugga (white only), Mount Pleasant (purple) and Red Hill (not surprisingly red - it wasn't officially so-named until 1928). According to the hot-off the press A Vision Splendid: How the Griffins Imagined Australia's Capital (National Archives of Australia, 2013) "through such expansive, colour co-ordinated plantings, Walter sought to transform the entire Molonglo Valley into a cultivated, luminescent garden".

Griffin's tenure was short-lived so he never saw his planting plans to completion. At least two hills were partly-planted in his hues. The slopes of Mount Mugga Mugga were planted with white-flowering gum (best viewed nowadays from atop Hindmarsh Drive, near the quarry) and between 1917 and the early 1920s more than 5000 crimson bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus) and rosemary grevillea (Grevillea rosmarinifolia) shrubs were planted. Michael Mulvaney of the Red Hill Regenerators (a Park Care Group who have been busy weeding and caring for the lofty landmark for 25 years in an attempt to return it to the woodland it was prior to European settlement) reports that, "despite enduring numerous bushfires, remarkably many of these shrubs still thrive today and in some spots have even multiplied in number". In fact, as part of their work program this year, to mark the Centenary, the Regenerators plan to "clean-up some sections of the crimson bottlebrush so it can be clearly seen how they were planted in rows."

"They are a Canberra floral icon and ought to be given some sort of heritage status due to their link to Griffin's original plan for Canberra," says Mulvaney, who's also "seen them put to good use by generations of inner-south Canberra school kids who hide amongst them smoking".

Check it out for yourself: Don something red, and take a stroll along the 3.2-kilometre Red Hill loop track. Allow one to two hours for a leisurely ramble. Park at the main lookout car park and look for the Red Track map on a sign near the picnic table behind the cafe.

Suitable: For the whole family. My five-year-old daughter Sarah and I recently joined Michael and Ruby Taplin, his ten-year-old niece, on the track. It's great fun, especially trying to spot the red birds ''hiding'' on numerous colourful information boards.

Don't forget: Griffin's vibrant vision for our hills. While stepping out along the summit, cast your eyes towards Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain and imagine what it would be like if they were cloaked in flowering colours envisaged by Burley Griffin. In fact, for next year's Enlighten Festival, wouldn't it be great if each hill was somehow illuminated in the colours planned by Griffin!

Cost: Free, although if you take the kids along you might be hit up for an ice-cream or two from the cafe atop Red Hill. You'll probably deserve a coffee and treat as well.

BEST WEEKEND

Binalong shoot-out

If you're driving along the Burley Griffin Way (well, with the Centenary it is a big week for Walter after all!) near Binalong this afternoon don't be alarmed if you see a number of gun-toting troopers dashing through the bush (or even across the road!).

As part of a ceremony to launch a new self-drive trail (and associated whiz-bang website) on the Gold Rush in our surrounding region, a re-enactment of the ''shoot out'' that brought to an end the bushranging career (and life) of Flash Johnny Gilbert will take place this afternoon.

When: Today (Saturday 9 March 2013) 3pm. I suggest arriving at 2.30pm to ensure you get a park within close distance of the event.

Where: Gilbert's grave - on the side of Burley Griffin Way, Binalong (located twenty minutes from Yass).

Don't worry: Hopefully there won't be any wayward shots as the same troopers recently honed their skills in a similar re-enactment at Jugiong, which involved the Hall Gang bailing up the Gundagai to Yass Royal Mail.

Gold Trails: Stretches along the Lachlan Fold Belt, the main geographical region for gold discovery in NSW from Hill End in the north to Kiandra in the south; Yass in the east to Forbes and West Wyalong out west.

See: goldtrails.com.au

Mystery: Following this column's recent appearance of Gilbert's grave in my photo competition (December 8, 2012), a number of readers including, Father Brian Maher, author of Binalong - Beyond the Limits suggested Gilbert's initial resting spot may have been a bit closer to the edge of the highway than its current location. "I remember the grave being much closer to the road 50 years or so ago," says Father Maher, who wonders "if the gravesite itself or perhaps just the memorial marker may have been moved further from the road to avoid vandalism.''

CONTACT TIM

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

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