8 November 2022

The case of the mysterious nature reserve sign at Blewitt's Block solved

| James Coleman
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Molonglo River Reserve bushwalkers

Blewitt’s Block was designated as part of the Molonglo River Reserve for only a few days. Photo: Blewitt’s Block, Facebook.

It was only there for a couple of days, but it was enough time for hopes to be raised and dashed.

A sign designating a patch of bushland as a nature reserve was installed near Denman Prospect in the Molonglo Valley by the ACT Government, before being removed two days later.

“It just popped up,” nearby Weston resident Alice Wells says.

“It was in a very strange place anyway because it mentioned the Molonglo River Reserve, but it was on the other side near Denman Prospect. It was quickly removed, but the publicity has done us a good turn.”

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But it was almost a dream come true. Alice is one of more than 50 locals who have spent years campaigning for the area known as Blewitt’s Block to be protected from bulldozers.

She and her husband had been living in Weston for 30 years when they first noticed a “very fine-looking patch of trees” while exploring near Mount Stromlo in 2019.

“We were surprised by the absolute beauty of the area – the diversity of the flowers and insects.”

World War I veteran Elvin Joseph Aubrey Blewitt was granted the block in the early 20th century as part of a soldier’s settlement for farming and cattle rearing. Much of his original lease has been swallowed up by the growing suburb of Denman Prospect, but elevated areas of woodland close to Uriarra Road remain undeveloped.

Residential construction

Residential construction sites in Denman Prospect. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Blewitt’s Block is currently earmarked for potential future development in Stage 2 of Molonglo Valley, but Alice and her friends are pushing for it to be spared for its ecological value.

“We’ve been pushed off a bit by government,” she says.

“We do have some strong support within the ACT Legislative Assembly, but Planning Minister Mick Gentleman has given us the usual public-service response by saying use of the area is still being considered.”

The ACT Government is investigating the future of Blewitt’s Block, also known as Blocks 420 and 403 Stromlo, along with 9800 hectares of land to the west of Canberra’s metropolitan area.

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The so-called Western Edge Investigation includes land generally bordered by the Murrumbidgee River and the existing urban areas of Belconnen, Molonglo Valley, Weston Creek and Kambah. The area also includes Mount Stromlo.

A number of studies for the land are being done over several years to lay out a masterplan, which may include nature reserves, environmental protection areas and urban sections.

The Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate has not changed its plans for Blewitt’s Block, however.

“Over the last two years, the ACT Government has completed a range of preliminary background investigations that are necessary to provide a complete and informed picture of the environmental issues associated with the area,” a spokesperson says.

Group of bushwalkers

Locals preparing to tackle the bushwalks at Blewitt’s Block. Photo: Blewitt’s Block, Facebook.

Ongoing environmental surveys are looking at the potential location and size of development and conservation areas, keeping in mind road connections and bushfire threats.

“Any government decision or potential development in the Western Edge area may be more than 10 years away, depending on the outcomes of future studies and investigations.”

The spokesperson says the nature reserve sign was incorrectly installed near Blewitt’s Block as part of the Government’s upgrade of signage at the Molonglo River Reserve.

“As soon as the incorrect installation was reported, the sign was removed. The ACT Government apologises for any confusion caused.”

Alice still holds out hope, however.

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“It would be contradictory if the Government degrades that area of bushland while frantically planting trees in the streets and parks of Canberra to increase green cover,” she says.

“We hope this very fine bit of bushland and grassland will be conserved for future generations.”

One thing is for sure – there is plenty of community support for Blewitt’s Block staying the way it is.

A dedicated Facebook page – created by local retiree and ACT Environmentalist of the Year 2022, Jean Casburn – is made up of more than 800 members sharing photos of rare orchids and birds found along the fire trails.

“Blewitt’s Block is one of the few remaining areas of natural bushland containing heath in the south of Canberra,” the description reads.

“We need to appreciate this wonderful heathland and varied habitat, containing many special species of flora and fauna.”

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