21 December 2021

Can you believe this is what we used to do in Canberra?

| Tim Gavel
Join the conversation
Lake George. Photo: Bradley Pillans.

Lake George: once home to the Canberra Yacht Club. Photo: Bradley Pillans.

As Lake George approaches a depth a generation of Canberrans have never witnessed, it brings back memories for many of a bygone era when the lake was home to the Canberra Yacht Club.

The Canberra Yacht Club operated from Geary’s Gap on Lake George with the Royal Military College. The club was formed in 1959 and hosted many regattas on Lake George.

I remember speaking to Sir James Hardy in my role as an MC at a Canberra Yacht Club function as he spoke about coming to Lake George to compete in competitions run by the CYC.

The club moved to Canberra in the summer of 1964-65 when Lake Burley Griffin was established. Despite the amount of water now filling Lake George, it would be impossible to ever race there again because of the number of submerged fences littering the lakebed.

The place on which Lake Burley Griffin now takes prominence, on the Acton site, was previously the home for many of Canberra’s sporting teams and clubs, including Royal Canberra and Federal Golf Clubs, the Canberra Racecourse and sporting fields.

Canberry Fair

As it was: Canberry Fair, Watson. Photo: The Canberra Page.

When I came to Canberra in the 1980s, Canberry Fair in Watson was nearing the end of its days as a theme park, but in its short life, it made an enormous impact on the people of the city.

It had a bit of everything: a theme park, a historical village, an ornamental lagoon, oversized bird boats and there was a pub, Clancy’s. Canberry Fair was particularly popular as a wedding venue and a site for children’s parties. There are reports that on New Year’s Eve in 1981, the year in which the park opened, 20,000 people converged on the site to celebrate the New Year.

Apartments now populate the area.

Starlight sign. Photo: Zango.

Starlight drive-in sign at Watson. Photo: Zango.

Across the road was the Starlight Twin Drive-in, which closed in 1993. The concept of sitting in your car with the speaker box watching a movie may seem foreign to anybody born in the past 30 years, but back then, it was seen as an absolute treat.

The drive-in sign is still there, but apartments surround it, where once the drive-in existed.

Another highlight in Canberra in the late 1980s to mid-1990s was lawn bowls. Our venue was the Canberra City Bowling Club at Braddon until it too made way for development – the fate of bowls clubs across Australia.

There was also the golf driving range at Lyneham, which are now apartments. The driving range was adjacent to Next Gen and the Yowani Golf Club.

These days it is hard to imagine sailing on Lake George. And it’s equally difficult envisaging playing golf or going to the races on the Acton site, or going to a wedding at Canberry Fair, or even watching a movie at the drive-in cinema at Watson. These are all distant memories. Vital, though, as our city expands and changes at a rapid rate.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

I remember Canberry fair, strangely my mum’s house purchased in 2019 actually sits upon where the fair was. Yowani golf club was the first licensed venue I had a beer and played the Cardies(pokies now) with a fake birth certificate, I was 15 , feb
1993. The drive in , one of the earliest memories I have . Cherished

I miss this place.

HiddenDragon6:33 pm 30 Dec 21

Not all memories of sailing on Lake George were happy –


But on the broader point of this piece, a smaller and less affluent (on paper) Canberra may have had more options for people whose idea of a good time is something other than being glued to an electronic screen or wandering around a shopping mall, or sitting in a queue of traffic to get into a shopping mall.

No shortage of rose-coloured glasses in the comments today!

I was broken-hearted when Canberry Fair aka The Australian Heritage Village was bulldozed. It was a place you could take anyone, The best pub Clancy’s the Quilters group met in one of the buildings. There was an authentic Water Wheel mill pond. The buildings were all authentic replicas of buildings on this continent in Victorian times. There were Peacocks roaming around. So many people had significant memories made here. A real loss to Canberra

Not in Canberra but nearby, Rehwinkel’s Animal Park was another place we used to like to visit.

And the drive in had heaters .. A novelty for me.
In Darwin you went to the drive in, put the speaker on the hood, sat in folding chairs in the front of the vehicle, with room for the esky.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.