A WEEKEND AWAY FROM CANBERRA: Namadgi National Park
The ACT is not all just roundabouts and broken political promises, there’s actually a lot of good stuff there too
When most people think of the ACT (Australian Capital Territory), ‘politicians’ would probably be the first word that comes to mind. If the next two words to be in their thoughts are ‘go bush’, then they’ll be in luck. Nearly half of the ACT land area is taken up by bush in the form of Namadgi NP.
Only 25km south-west of Canberra and generally overlooked by visitors to our nation’s capital, Namadgi NP offers a great range of bush activities including a very scenic route to the Snowy Mountains. The Indigenous people have been present in the area for over 25,000 years, while European history only goes back to the 1830s. There is plenty to offer for the interest of adults and kids alike.
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The vast majority of people heading to the Snowy Mountains, whether in summer or winter, will travel down the Monaro Highway – but why not take the back road and spend a bit of time exploring the area? Space tracking facilities, cattlemen’s huts and Aboriginal rock art are all there near the road less travelled.
This is the road that links Tharwa in the north and Adaminiby in the south. It is open all year round but may be impassable to 2WD vehicles. There may be a sign that says the road is closed as you pass through Tharwa… this however may only mean it’s closed to 2WD traffic. It’s best to call the Rangers at the Namadgi Visitors’ Centre for the latest update (6207 2900).
Boboyan Road can receive snow at any time of year as it crosses the ranges at an elevation of over 1,400m. It is clay-based and can get very slippery when wet – so engaging 4WD is worthwhile. Angle Crossing is a causeway which crosses the Murrumbidgee… which regularly floods and becomes impassable if travelling from the Monaro Highway near Williamsdale.
The frost hollows and grasslands make a perfect habitat for roos and wallabies, so take it slow if travelling close to dusk or dawn. The views are worth taking in as the road climbs and descends through forests of snow gums. The Hospital Hill Lookout has excellent views to the west and is about 3km south of the Old Boboyan Road intersection.
Yankee Hat Rock Art
One thing that surprised me when I visited Namadgi NP was the Aboriginal rock art site. There is evidence of Aboriginal people living in the area for thousands of years, but the rock art found near Yankee Hat is the only known site in Namadgi NP.
Carbon dating puts Aboriginal folk using the rock shelters in the area at more than 800 years ago, and perhaps as long as 3,700 years ago. The paintings are thought to have be been painted over hundreds (and possibly thousands) of years.
The paintings depict animals with a kangaroo, turtle and dingoes. Some images seem to be abstract human-like figures. The significance and real meaning of the images will never be fully understood as the traditional lifestyle of the Ngunnawal people was destroyed in the mid 1800s with the arrival of European squatters.
To see this rock art, there is an easy 6km return walk from the parking area on Old Boboyan Road. The track has a gentle gradient and crosses extensive grasslands where you will see hundreds of grazing kangaroos.
When you get to the rock shelters, take the time to absorb the atmosphere as the huge granite rocks rest in the snow gums where they have lain for thousands of years. Imagine the stories that must have played out over the eons as you walk between the rocks and snow gums.
The Space Connection
From pre-historic Aboriginal rock art to the first human footprints on another world, Namadgi can uniquely claim a connection to both. Although many would believe that Armstrong’s first steps on the moon were first received by the Parkes radio telescope, this is not the case.
It was in fact the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station that received the signal from Apollo 11 as Armstrong climbed down the ladder and then beamed those images around the globe – as the world’s population sat transfixed by grainy black-and-white TV sets.
The first eight-and-a-half minutes of the 1969 moonwalk signal were received by Honeysuckle Creek, before the signal was taken over by Parkes. Although mission-critical to the success of Apollo 11 and other space missions at the time, not much remains at the Honeysuckle Creek site.
The antenna has now been moved to Tidbinbilla so all that remains of the old tracking station is a few concrete slabs and some signs providing visitors with some insights into the historical significance of the place.
Although wood slab construction was common in the High Country before the spread of huge hardware stores, Brayshaw’s Hut is only one of two slab buildings remaining in Namadgi. It was originally built in 1903 of local materials, including felled mountain ash for the walls and granite stones for the fireplace. David Brayshaw lived in it for 28 years.
After falling from his horse at the age of 79 and dying of exposure, tenure of the hut went to David’s nephew Ted and wife Roma, who had their first son born there in 1933. In those days, this was still a pretty remote area with roads often blocked by snow in winter. To keep the draughts out, Roma wallpapered the hut with newspaper. Some of this can still be seen today.
The first Europeans ventured into the region in the 1820s and squatted with their cattle and sheep. These areas became leases, predominately run by the Brayshaw and Crawford families, until they were resumed by the Government to become nature reserves in the 1970s and ’80s.
Mt Clear Campsite
Some 47km south of Tharwa along the Boboyan Road is the Mt Clear campground. It’s a small campground suitable for tents set amongst the snow grass and black sallee gums that grow in the frost hollows. These hollows were often favoured by the settlers as they were close to streams; but they are also known for being particularly cold at night, as the cold air flows down and settles in the hollows. Bring your warm gear… even in summer.
Facilities include wood barbecues but you will need to bring your own wood. Large wooden picnic tables and a pit toilet are also available. The road down to the campground is unsealed and can get muddy after rain. Pets are not allowed and it is advisable to book ahead of your stay (online).
There are a number of walks in the area and Mt Clear is a very pleasant spot to camp as you explore Namadgi NP.
For more information: www.tccs.act.gov.au