Rocky Truce

Rob Chalmers and Rosemary Hollow rummage through bushes on the slopes of Rocky Knob in search of their elusive childhood chairs
Rob Chalmers and Rosemary Hollow rummage through bushes on the slopes of Rocky Knob in search of their elusive childhood chairs Photo: Tim the Yowie Man

You'd think it would be impossible for a few rocks lying idle for 420 million years to cause such controversy. However, this column's recent expose on the boulder which Jim Powell, of Kambah, says resembles a chair (Devil's Seat, October 20) in Narrabundah's Rocky Knob Park has sparked a good old suburban stoush.

In one corner is 55-year-old Rob Chalmers, now of Tuggeranong, but who grew up in the shadow of the much-loved Narrabundah park, and who insists that the boulder of his boyhood is called King's Chair. Meanwhile, Rosemary Hollow, who also played in the park in the 1960s, is adamant that Devil's Chair is the name she knew the rock by. Further, both claim that their naturally-occurring chairs are completely different to the boulder that Powell calls the Devil's Chair.

He reckons it's ''to show her the park for the first time'' but I'm sure it's as back-up just in case some sort of fisticuffs break-out

In an attempt to resolve this somewhat peculiar dispute, earlier this week I arranged a covert late-afternoon rendezvous with both Rob and Rosemary at Rocky Knob. I arrive, looking somewhat cagey. It's my second visit to this neighbourhood park in as many weeks and as I stroll up the laneway from Carnegie Crescent, camera dangling around my neck, on the lookout for my chair combatants, I hear someone's door slam. Then a curtain is angrily pulled. I get the feeling some locals who live in houses backing onto the park have mistaken me for some sort of camera-toting peeping Tom.

Rob Chalmers in his beloved King’s Chair on Rocky Knob
Rob Chalmers in his beloved King’s Chair on Rocky Knob Photo: Tim the Yowie Man

Thankfully, both Rob and Rosemary show up on time and I avoid any potential, uncomfortable brush with the law (you try explain to the cops that you were lurking around the back of houses at dusk looking for a rock named after the devil - you'd probably be locked up without right of reply). Rob even brings his wife, Jane. He reckons it's ''to show her the park for the first time'' but I'm sure it's as back-up just in case some sort of fisticuffs break-out.

Like overgrown boy scouts and girl guides, we set off first in search of Rob's fabled King's Chair. Rob picks his way through a mass of weeds to a monolith that appears to have both a seat and arm rests carefully carved out of it with a very regal back-rest. Closer inspection reveals it hasn't been carved by hand, rather it has weathered into this throne-like shape over millenia. ''This is it,'' he emphatically announces, and to show just how big his chair is, Rob ushers Jane to join him, seated on the regal rock.

Suddenly, there's a rustle behind. Fortunately, it's not an eastern brown snake slithering away from the last of the day's heat; rather it's a hitherto restrained Rosemary rummaging feverishly through the bushes in a quest to find her chair. ''I've found it!'' she hollers, her head poking out of a green bush just five metres away. I help her pull back some low hanging branches to reveal a complex of a dozen or so rocks making up a mini grandstand of sorts. ''This is Devil's Chair,'' she says.

Rosemary Hollow surveys the view from Devil’s Chair on Rocky Knob
Rosemary Hollow surveys the view from Devil’s Chair on Rocky Knob Photo: Tim the Yowie Man

What follows is some sort of modern-day Mexican stand-off. Both combatants sit on their rocks, reflecting on their childhood, and not giving an inch to the other. I stand between them, note pad and camera in hand, like some sort of peacemaker.

''It's a more majestic, larger, natural chair, of ample proportions and symmetry,'' boasts Rob from his proud pose in the King's Chair.

''I remember the Devil's Chair as having a number of rocks behind it, not just one rock, plus these rocks would have commanded a great view over the suburbs prior to the weed growth,'' retorts Rosemary. ''Dad used to whistle to us from the back step when it was time to come home. And the tree we used to climb is still there! The Devil's Chair was part of the area we spent many hours roaming and playing around.''

Snow on Narrabundah’s Rocky Knob and beyond in 1967
Snow on Narrabundah’s Rocky Knob and beyond in 1967 Photo: Courtesy Rosemary Hollow

Having both staked their claims on the pedigree of their respective chairs, eventually Rob and Rosemary climb down off their posts and the pair chat amicably about the days growing up Canberra. Rosemary has even brought along photos of the park following the ''great 1967 snow fall'', and one thing they do both agree on is that the snow ''remained visible for two to three days''.

So where does this leave poor old Jim Powell, my original Rocky Knob informant - and his (third?!) chair? I hope Rob and Rosemary can accept that the two names and our three chairs can live side-by-side; ''I guess it depends what games you played as a kid,'' the diplomatic Powell says.

With Narrabundah's vociferous peacocks (a story for another day) heralding the setting sun, Rob and Rosemary shake hands and call a truce.

Jim Powell in what he claims is Narrabundah's Devil's Chair
Jim Powell in what he claims is Narrabundah's Devil's Chair Photo: Tim the Yowie Man

''I would like to feel this episode has cast some light on the urban folklore of a part of Canberra from earlier times,'' Rob says.

Indeed it has, and while Narrabundah's ''Three Chairs'' are unlikely to ever feature on the Canberra tourist trail, the stories behind them are what makes our suburbs, and our city, a special place to live. They enrich our sense of place. I'll leave the final remark to Kerry Mulgrue, who sensibly hasn't entered the naming debate, but who spent ''many hours during the '60s sitting on the ''chair'' gazing at the amazing panorama it affords of Canberra.

''Even now I occasionally visit Rocky Knob to reflect on the happy times I spent on that little outcrop - like riding a billy-cart down the crushed granite path that runs down to Hamelin Crescent. We were real Australian kids back then. Kids nowadays don't know the simple pleasure of playing in the streets and parks with your mates,'' Kerry says. I can see it now - in year 2062, two Gen Ys on an archaeological dig at the historic Mugga Lane tip uncover the rusted relics of both a Sony Playstation 3 and Microsoft's Xbox 360 and a barny ensues over which gaming console was best back in the ''the good ol' days''. Mmm. Give me a King's (oops, Devil's!) Chair any day. Is there a secret (preferably less contentious) in your suburban park? If so, I'd love to hear from you.

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