MEJ Masthead

A festival showcasing our heritage

Emma Macdonald

Twenty days, 80 tours, 21 talks, 16 exhibitions and 12 open days.

The 2017 Canberra and Region Heritage Festival provides an opportunity over the next three weeks for everyone to connect with Canberra, its region and its history.

In its 35th year, the festival is now a drawcard for local and interstate visitors alike – last year attracting 20,000 people to a series of beautifully curated and organised events that show us where we have come from and point to where we are going as a city.

While some may think a heritage festival is a rather sedate look backwards, organisers have gone to great lengths to make this festival rich with politics, customs, rituals and stories. It also promises a little bit of retro and vintage styling thrown in for good measure.

This year, the festival marks the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum that saw Indigenous Australians finally included in the census, and recognised formally as Australian citizens. The festival theme “Questions & Change” will focus on commemorating this achievement as the country continues its conversation around Indigenous recognition, reconciliation and celebration of a unique cultural heritage. The festival has included 20 specific events connecting visitors to Canberra and Australia’s Aboriginal heritage.

Meanwhile, for those of us who will always appreciate a beautiful stately home, this year is the first year that the Gungahlin Homestead, located in Crace, will be open to the public.

gun homestead 1890

Gungahlin Homestead in 1890.

Heritage Festival Coordinator Linda Roberts said it was a rare opportunity to tour a site that has a special significance for the region.

“This building is as important to our heritage as Duntroon, Lanyon or Mugga Mugga and played a vital role in the early life of the region.”

The property was first granted in 1828 to John Palmer, who arrived in Australia with the First Fleet on 20 January 1788. His son George Thomas Palmer became the first squire of Gungahlin after taking his father’s lease in the early 1830s and building a homestead around five kilometres from the current building.

The land stayed in the family and by 1865 a large rendered brick two-storied house was built. It had Georgian twelve-paned windows, a metal-tiled roof and wide ground floor verandas on three sides. Descendants of the original family would leave the home after decades of pastoral prosperity when tragedy struck – which you can see in this video.

The site was then acquired by the Australian National University – then Canberra University College – for student accommodation. From 1953-2015 it served as a CSIRO research centre and it’s now occupied by Soldier On which supports those needing care after serving our nation.

Those keen to see the building with changes made over the centuries will need to block out time on Saturday 22 April between 10am and 3pm.

Not only will there be tours of the homestead, but entertainment will be provided by Warehouse Circus, Sing Australia, and the Jumptown Jammers with stalls to showcase a range of skills, such as woodcraft and lace-making. Classic cars will on show as well as a camera collection and talks on conserving your heirlooms.

Festival organisers have kept most upcoming events accessible and family-friendly with 102 events listed as free or having a gold coin entry.

Kids will love a chance to visit schools, farms, and homesteads, learning the stories and traditions of yesteryear and how they have shaped the Canberra we know today. 

Those keen to see what’s on offer can grab a free program booklet  from ACT Libraries, Dickson Shopfront (16 Challis Street, Dickson) and the Canberra & Region Visitors Centre at Regatta Point or go online here.

The festival runs until 7 May.


Emma Macdonald

Emma Macdonald has been writing about Canberra and its people for more than 20 years, winning numerous awards for her journalism - including a Walkley or two - along the way. Canberra born and bred, she’s fiercely loyal to the city, tribally inner-north, and relieved the rest of the country is finally recognising Canberra’s cool and creative credentials. More about the Author