State of the Environment Report 2007 

Snapshot: Historic homesteads – rescued from despair

The disastrous 2003 bushfires affected natural and built environments, rural and urban. The Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve lost much but now can tell a new story of saving our past. Within the Reserve, the historic Rock Valley and Nil Desperandum homesteads, damaged in the bushfires, were to be demolished. Fortuitously, another course was taken after ACT Heritage Unit officers checked whether all options had been explored. The project managers came up with a strategy to restore Rock Valley as a ruin, while Nil Desperandum has been made habitable; overnight stays there will remind the traveller of the harsh and austere lives of 100 years ago.

These small homesteads were of rammed earth (pisé) and dated back to 1885 in the case of Rock Valley, built by George Green when he selected land in the Tidbinbilla Valley, and 1896 for the Nil Desperandum homestead also built by George Green and George Hatcliff, who together constructed a number of buildings in the ACT region. George Green invited his intended to the Antipodes with a promise of vast tracts of virgin land, and she responded faithfully. Their nuptial abode of wattle and daub, built further up the valley, hardly met the great expectations of the bride, and weather played havoc with her increasingly debilitating arthritis. Under threat of her return to Britain, George Green constructed the Rock Valley homestead from more substantial materials and in its more amenable location. Its survival today is a testimony to George’s construction skills, or perhaps to the seriousness with which he regarded his wife’s threat.

The Rock Valley restoration technology is impressive, the conservation work outstanding. The garden too will be restored in accordance with the known historical plantings of George’s wife, Mary Ann Green, and the garden redesign plan by their grandson Eddie Green, which won an award in Sydney in the 1940s. Eddie was born at Rock Valley, and its verandah served as his bedroom for most of his formative life. Many years of gazing over the garden from beneath his possum skin rug in the early mornings would have served as inspiration for the garden design which also will be subject to reconstruction in the near future.

The outcome is the preservation, for current and future generations, of the spirit of this place. Canberrans and tourists alike can now discover for themselves something of the lives, conditions and circumstances of our early settlers.

living sustainably

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