6 April 2023

Heritage Festival celebrates 40 years of sharing stories

| Lizzie Waymouth
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historic cottage

Blundells Cottage – one of Canberra’s oldest permanent homes. Photo: File.

The Canberra and Region Heritage Festival is back for the 40th year, with 150 events encompassing the theme of ‘sharing stories’.

The festival across the ACT from 11-30 April includes talks, exhibitions, workshops, open days and tours, as well as dedicated events for children during Kids Week (17-22 April).

Festival coordinator Linda Roberts told Region the Heritage Festival had something to offer everyone, from native Canberrans to new arrivals.

“It’s really important we have an understanding of where we live, we have a connection,” Ms Roberts said.

“Even for those newer arrivals to the region, understanding the land we live on [and] what has happened on that country gives us that connection, and that pride we can have in the community.

“And there are just so many wonderful stories to tell.”

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Alongside some familiar tales, this year’s Heritage Festival will allow Canberrans to find out more about the darker side of the city.

“What’s been really interesting is some of the themes that come out each year. We’ve got sort of this spies and spooky theme,” Ms Roberts says.

This includes ‘Spies in the Capital: Canberra’s Hidden History of Women in Espionage’, a walking tour of the inner south by She Shapes History; ‘Stories, spies and spaces!’ at the National Archives; and ‘Foreshore Ghosts and Tales’, a guided tour of the area by Sarah Stewart.

Roslyn Hull will also be telling spooky tales at twilight around the campfire in the historic grounds of Blundells Cottage – a stone workers’ cottage built in 1860 and one of Canberra’s oldest permanent homes.

“We also have Family History ACT doing twilight tours of St John’s Churchyard,” Ms Roberts said. “That’s quite an evocative way to learn about who’s buried there.

“It’s one of the earliest burial grounds and, and in some ways … you’ve got a Governor General, so Viscount Dunrossil was buried there, and then a few plots down, you might have a typist, and then you’ve got a baker…”

Ms Roberts said these headstones told such interesting stories of those early pioneers who came to Canberra.

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For those wanting to learn more about Canberra’s history, there will also be opportunities to visit places not usually open to the public including Duntroon Dairy, believed to be the oldest surviving European building in the ACT.

The dairy was constructed about 1832 and is one of the few survivors from Canberra’s early farming days.

The heritage-listed Cotter Pumping Station designed by the first chief architect for the commonwealth, John Smith Murdoch, will also be opening its doors to visitors.

The building was completed between 1912 and 1915, making it another of the oldest permanent structures in the ACT. It will be open for tours on 14 April.

“The Heritage Festival provides that richness of experience,” Ms Roberts said.

“I get a real thrill when someone who’s lived in Canberra all their life attends something and says ‘Oh, I never knew this was here’, or ‘I’ve never been inside’, or ‘I’ve been wanting to do that’, or ‘I never knew that’.”

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Alongside some of Canberra’s oldest permanent buildings, the Heritage Festival showcases the area’s more recent history, particularly its mid-century architecture.

A number of events celebrating modernist buildings in the ACT are being presented by Canberra Modern.

“It really highlights what a wealth of this style of architecture we have … Canberra is known as the Palm Springs of Australia,” Ms Roberts said.

“So we’ve got brilliant architecture … Whether it was Robin Boyd who designed Manning Clark House, or Roy Grounds who did the Shine Dome, Harry Seidler, [Enrico] Togliatti who designed some wonderful buildings that Canberrans can be very proud of.”

Ms Roberts, who has coordinated the festival for 14 years, is especially proud of the breadth and diversity of events that take place every year to honour Canberra’s heritage.

“The Heritage Festival provides that richness of experience. And usually the response I have is ‘Oh, there are so many things in such a variety of activities that are within the program’. So it’s a wonderful eclectic mix,” she said.

The Heritage Festival runs from 11-30 April.

Full details of events for this year’s festival can be found on the Heritage Festival website.

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