Tidbinbilla was once the site of a eucalyptus oil distillery, Oaks Estate once had a Chinese market garden, and the All Saints Ainslie church was once a train station for a cemetery in Sydney where trains would carry the mortal remains of the dead to be buried at Rookwood.
These and other amazing historical facts will be on show during the 2021 Canberra and Region Heritage Festival, which begins on 6 April and runs until 26 April.
More than 150 events will take place across the Canberra region, including workshops, tours, talks, suburban walks, and virtual events. The theme for the festival is ‘Reimagine’.
The Heritage Festival is now in its 38th year and is becoming a drawcard for tourists across the region.
The festival’s program coordinator, Linda Roberts, says she is excited about the number and quality of events on the program this year after the festivities were cancelled in 2020 due to COVID-19.
“Bookings will be essential at many of the events,” she says. “There’s so much going on this year – a picnic at Rock Valley homestead at Tidbinbilla, with old-fashioned games, damper making, and people can bring a picnic and learn about the pioneers and the history of the place, including the eucalyptus distillery.
“The National Trust is staging Hidden Treasures to uncover our Chinese heritage in the district, with mining, business and market gardens bringing many people into the area. Descendants of those first Chinese pioneers still live in the region and have contributed their family stories to this tour.
“We have a 60,000-year history, and our Ngunnawal elders will be leading talks and walks at the Australian National University and Black Mountain. There are also wonderful craft and artworks at the National Arboretum and the Burrunju Art Gallery on Lady Denman Drive.
“When you go overseas, you go and see magnificent buildings, but we have them here as well, including our churches. We have the ‘little Sistine Chapel’ at the Free Serbian Orthodox Church [in Forrest] which will be open to the public.
“It has frescoes on the ceilings – proper frescoes – and the Macedonian Orthodox Church interior is stunning.
“How many times have you driven past St Andrews on State Circle? You can go inside and see the beautiful stained glass windows, and learn about the history of the building.”
The Heritage Festival program is available online, and hard copies can be picked up from any of Canberra’s public libraries or from the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre at Regatta Point.
Linda says this year regional towns such as Bungendore, Yass, Goulburn and Queanbeyan are also participating in the festival, with events highlighting the history of the region, including an event reimagining the age of steam at the historic waterworks in Goulburn; a photographic exhibition, ‘Streets: Now and Then’, at Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council buildings; and the Yass and District Historical Society exhibition entitled ‘AJ Shearsby Renaissance of Man’.
“The people of Bungonia have written a play called The Interesting Mrs Abel, and they’ll be performing it in Bungonia, then Marulan and then Goulburn,” says Linda. “There’s a walking tour so you can understand the setting and the situation of colonial women depicted in the play.”
With more than 150 events scheduled for the festival, there is plenty to explore, and although there are still restrictions on gatherings due to COVID-19, Linda is confident the smaller events will prove just as popular.
“The large open days may not be happening this year, but the events are smaller and more intimate,” she says.
“I think people will enjoy that intimacy, learning about the history and heritage of our region.”
You can view the Canberra and Region Heritage Festival program online, or pick up a hard copy at the Canberra and Region Visitors Centre or at any ACT library.