20 December 2023

2023 Year in Review: Stories from our community

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The best of the Canberra community shone through in so many wonderful stories during 2023.

Take a look back at the stories that gave us a smile (and maybe a tear or two) – and see if you can guess what was our most popular read.

17. Meet the woman behind Kambah’s mysterious gnome garden
by James Coleman

Garden gnomes

Shilo Preston-Stanley has been bringing garden gnomes across to Five Ways community garden in Kambah for three years. Photo: James Coleman.

Every morning in November from 6 am, you’ll find Shilo Preston-Stanley in the same place: at the Five Ways community garden on Bissenberger Crescent in Kambah, setting up garden gnomes.

After all it’s Gnomvember and, for kids in the area, that’s another way of saying Christmas has come early.

“I don’t see them, but apparently there were 12 kids here yesterday afternoon,” Shilo said, with several gnomes bundled up in her arms.

16. Then and now: Ainslie celebrates 60 years of its beloved IGA supermarket
by James Coleman

Ainslie Shops

Ainslie shops, then and now. Photo: Ainslie IGA/James Coleman.

It’s famous for the ‘Wall of Cheese’. Immaculately arranged fruit and vegetables. A collection of produce that spans more than 200 local businesses, including bread from Three Mills Bakery, prepacked meals from Italian & Sons, noodle bowls from Ramen Daddy and coffee from Lonsdale Street Roasters.

But it’s also been there for such a long time. The Ainslie IGA turned 60 this year, and they held a party on 20 May to celebrate.

Technically, the anchor store at Ainslie Shops started even earlier, in 1948, as a small supermarket and milk bar called Paragon. But on 20 May 1963, Nick and Alice Xyrakis bought it, and all these years later, members of their family are still greeting customers at the registers.

15. Northside, southside? Lake Burley Griffin is the heart of the city
by Marg Wade

Lake Burley Griffin, 1975

Lake Burley Griffin, in 1975. Photo: National Archives of Australia.

Southside? Northside? We may never agree on which is better, but surely we can all agree that Lake Burley Griffin is the heart of the city. But as Marg Wade explains, it almost didn’t happen.

14. Why there’s no swan song for these Queanbeyan love birds
by Sally Hopman

Injured swan

Mrs Swan recuperates in the home of her Queanbeyan carer, Melissa Pearce. Photo: Melissa Pearce.

Queanbeyan residents have been watching a black swan love story unfold on their river for years but it almost went horribly wrong this year.

Here’s how Wildcare Queanbeyan made sure the tale had a happy ending.

13. When marriage is still bliss, 70 years on – here’s to the happiest of couples
by Sally Hopman

Couple cutting 70th cake

Oliver and Dot Wilson cut the cake to celebrate 70 years of marriage at their Lyneham home. Photo: Sally Hopman.

From an English country town to the wilds of the Aussie bush, Oliver and Dot Wilson’s love story has lasted 70 years.

Here’s how it unfolded.

12. Felicia never expected to spark a mini-movement when she broke down during peak hour
by Travis Radford


The exit towards Tuggeranong Parkway from Gundaroo Drive attracts lots of traffic at the best of times. It’s also where Felicia Jane broke down. Photo: Felicia Jane.

Felicia Jane was travelling to work one morning when disaster struck. But her misfortune unexpectedly sparked a local mini-movement to help people learn automotive skills.

11. Mystery behind the Hackett Oval trees immortalised for all to discover
by Claire Fenwicke

Hackett Oval trees

It’s been discovered that the Hackett Oval trees were originally planted as a screen for a future cemetery. Photo: Chris Mobbs.

Take a wander through Hackett and you’ll notice an avenue of pine and eucalypt trees that are clearly older than the suburb.

Now the history of the Hackett Oval trees is visible for everyone to discover with the unveiling of a Canberra Tracks sign, making it part of the tapestry of the Territory’s history.

Hackett Community Association chair Chris Mobbs said it all started when the group was writing a book on the suburb’s history in 2018.

10. Canberra celebrates the life of Mr Franco, always a cut above the rest
by Sally Hopman

Three men

Happy times: The always dapper Mr Franco with his sons Sam and James Calabria. Photo: Calabria Family.

He was hairdresser to prime ministers and the everyman – and his family reckons he would have loved his funeral. It was standing room only at a Canberra cathedral to celebrate the life of Mr Franco.

9. Odd jobs: Hugh left the public service more than two decades ago to become a ‘luthier’ … a what now?
by Travis Radford

Hugh Withycombe

Canberran Hugh Withycombe is a professional luthier. Can you guess from the picture what he does? Photo: Travis Radford.

When Canberran Hugh Withycombe had his first brush with a cello in primary school, he had no clue he’d be the one making the instruments by hand some two decades later.

The luthier – or maker of stringed instruments – had his passion for music (specifically the cello) sparked as an eight-year-old boy at Canberra’s Forrest Primary School.

8. Ten Canberra mates come together for week-long fundraiser to honour lost friend
by Claire Sams

A group of Canberra mates completed a triathlon every day for the Crusade for Connor. They’re pictured here with Dock co-owner Ben Alexander. Photo: Elliot Young.

The first week of May was a big one for a group of 10 young men from the Canberra area.

Two ran a triathlon every day for a week, another played tennis for 24 hours straight and three hiked Mount Kosciuszko, heading through a snow cloud.

Three others undertook the David Goggins running challenge, while another spent 12 hours busking in Canberra.

7. Restoration plan for Canberra’s oldest train to go full steam ahead
by Sally Hopman

Jane Wheaton, in the driver's seat of the museum's 3016, a C30 class steam locomotive.

Chair of Canberra Railway Museum Jane Wheaton in the driver’s seat of the museum’s 3016, a C30 class steam locomotive. Photo: Supplied.

Members of the Canberra Railway Museum share a passion – ensuring the history of Canberra’s train network, unique to all other states and territories, stays on track.

This passion for all things railway has been rewarded with a $24,130 ACT Government Heritage Grant to Capital Heritage Rail Ltd, which manages the museum. The money will go towards a conservation management plan for the centrepiece of its collection, Locomotive 1210, which pulled the first train into Canberra in May 1914 – then a city under construction.

6. Then and now: Inspired by a cruise ship, the Town House was Canberra’s biggest motel
by James Coleman

Canberra Town House Motel

The site of the Canberra Town House Motel between Marcus Clarke and Childers streets. Photos: National Archives / James Coleman.

A three-storey motel on Marcus Clarke Street opened in 1961, styled by Italian architect Enrico Taglietti to look like decks on a cruise ship. It’s been demolished. You can still see some of his iconic work, but you’ll never guess where.

5. WATCH: Inside the oldest building in the ACT – it even has a ‘fridge’
by James Coleman

Duntroon Dairy

Inside Duntroon Dairy. Photo: James Coleman.

The Duntroon Dairy opened up to the public for this year’s Heritage Festival, and we took a sneak peek inside with Linda Roberts from the ACT Heritage Unit.

It’s perched into the hillside of Mount Pleasant, overlooking Morshead Drive and the Molonglo River, on a slice of what could be England and is the oldest building in Canberra, constructed about 1832 by one of the earliest European settlers in the region.

4. Beloved Queanbeyan butchery pulls up steaks after 50 years in the community
by Travis Radford

Steve and Daniel stand outside Dumbrell's Butchery

Daniel Dowling and owner Steve Clugston have been working side-by-side for more than 20 years. Photo: Travis Radford.

Steve Clugston started at Dumbrell’s Butchery aged 12. He never expected to be the one to own – and eventually close – the Queanbeyan shop that has been an institution for 50 years.

Located in an unassuming backstreet of Queanbeyan, Dumbrell’s Butchery is a far cry from the lit-up signs and trolley-scuffed floors of the regional city’s major supermarkets. It is one of only a handful of remaining butcher shops in Queanbeyan, down from an estimated 22 in the 1960s, according to one local butcher’s website.

3. WATCH: Canberrans turn out to celebrate US singer Tina Turner in Nutbush flash mob
by James Coleman

flash mob

Doing the Nutbush in a Tina Turner flash mob in Civic on 2 June, 2023. Photo: James Coleman.

The death of US rock legend Tina Turner had Australians kicking up their heels to her 1973 hit Nutbush City Limits in her honour, and Canberra did not miss out.

More than 200 people gathered outside the Canberra Theatre Centre on 2 June – some with puffy hair, a brave few with colourful wigs, and others with sequins or just in office garb – to do their best impression of a dance that’s become a tradition at weddings and other jovial events across the country.

2. Great for the plate or simply a pest – is there a place for trout in our waterways?
by James Day

ecologist monitoring blackfish

ACT Government aquatic ecologists inspect small two-spined blackfish as part of their monitoring program. Photo: Mark Jekabsons.

Trout fishing has always been contentious in the Australian angling community, with some fishers valuing them as a catch and others concerned about the harm they cause as an invasive species.

When they arrived here from the US and Europe in the late 1800s, trout’s popularity grew quickly due to their great taste and the challenge it takes to reel them in.

Unfortunately, that fighting spirit makes them a fierce competitor, and at times a predator, to native fish species.

1. What’s with the blue tree near Hindmarsh Drive?
by James Coleman

Blue trees

Painting a tree near Hindmarsh Drive blue for the Blue Tree Project. Photo: ACT Health.

Drive along Hindmarsh Drive in Lyons and you’d be forgiven for thinking you had entered a Dr Suess book.

A large dead tree along the arterial road in Canberra’s south was painted a vibrant blue as part of the ‘Blue Tree Project’.

Founded in Western Australia in 2019, the project has become a national initiative to ease conversations around mental health.

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