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New Ginninderry track boasts picture-perfect views | The Canberra Times


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I’m not sure who is more startled – your akubra-clad columnist or the red-bellied black snake that I clumsily almost plonked my left boot on. It’ll teach me not to look where I’m walking, especially at this time of year as snakes become more and more active. But you can’t blame me, with a view like this it’s hard not to be distracted. Backed by a bluer-than-blue sky, the Murrumbidgee River bounds joyfully between verdant green hills for as far as the eye can see. After recent rain, it’s like a Garden of Eden. I’m not the first to be enamoured with this panorama and I’ll be far from the last. Early 20th-century landscape artist Elioth Gruner also loved this vista. Weetangera, Canberra, his much-acclaimed 1937 painting of this river valley, won him several gongs including the prestigious Wynne Prize for its depiction of the Australian landscape. Someone else smitten with this vista is Darren Stewart of Makin’ Trax. Darren has spent the best part of the last three months creating this 3.4-kilometre track that leads from Shepherds Lookout into the heart of the Ginninderry Conservation Corridor, a near 600-hectare stretch of spectacular river frontage wedged up against the ACT’s north-western border. “It doesn’t matter where you are on the track or what direction you walk, there are just so many stunning views”, says Darren. That’s high praise coming from someone who has crafted many tracks around Canberra, including the Black Mountain Summit Trail and the Centenary Trail up to One Tree Hill. Although this track, which is so new it doesn’t even have a name yet, opens today (November 13), earlier this week I was lucky to get a sneak peek. But I was far from alone; apart from my reptilian friend, I was greeted by a menagerie of other critters, including a couple of wallaroos, a red-necked wallaby, and a surprisingly inquisitive echidna. Oh, and fields of orchids and yellow bulbine lillies smiling at me. Apart from the knock-out views (did I mention them?) of the’ bidgee backed by the Brindabellas, the best part of this walk are three short diversions. One leads to an ancient scribbly gum on a rocky knoll. Another through pink-tailed worm lizard habitat (I didn’t spot one but that’s not unexpected given their propensity to hide under small rocks) to a callitris forest, complete with rare (for the ACT) native mistletoe. The third leads to a wide concrete channel which disappears into a large green earthen mound from which I half expect Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and their Teletubby mates to emerge at any moment. However, it turns out its real purpose is much more mundane – it’s a drain to divert water running through the paddocks beneath the Ginninderry Sewage Trunk which runs through the mound, and which takes a third of Canberra’s wastewater to the nearby Lower Molonglo wastewater treatment plant. Gee, you don’t want to mess with that. This oversized concrete channel and conspicuous overhead power lines signal this river corridor is far from pristine wilderness. And it doesn’t pretend to be. To keep fuel levels down, cattle will continue to graze parts of the reserve and interpretative panels will soon be erected at key points along the track to detail the pastoral and rich indigenous history of this valley. While residents of the suburban sprawl of Ginninderry will incorporate this track into their daily exercise circuit, and twitchers (many birds of prey here) will add it to their bucket list, it’s art afficionados who will flock here in big numbers. Some will photograph the same scene that Gruner painted, while others may even set up their easel on the steel platform which frames Gruner’s view. But I’ll let you in on a little secret; the framed view isn’t in the exact spot Gruner set up his easel, but it’s very close. The actual location is about 30 metres higher up the hill, but due to its proximity to the busy Stockdill Drive pedestrian access, it’s not safe. It also appears as if the extreme left slope depicted in the painting was partially removed during road works in the 1970s. Regardless of the exact location of his easel, the outlook today is remarkably like that which Gruner painted 84 years ago, the main difference in vegetation being the large patch of tea tree which now grows on the western side of the river. You’ll also notice the colours of the landscape are much more vibrant, but that’s not due to the above-average rainfall this year, rather because Gruner liked to paint with a muted palette. In her catalogue essay that accompanied the Canberra Museum and Gallery 2014 exhibition titled Elioth Gruner: the texture of light, which featured many of Gruner’s most-loved works from Canberra and further afield, curator Deborah Clark explained: “Weetangera, Canberra shares the lyrical mood of Murrumbidgee Ranges [another of his local paintings, which also won a Wynne Prize – in 1929 ] and the same sense of enfolded landscape and dry, pastel-like application of paint.” Just as Gruner’s painting skillfully renders light, this track offers a range of light experiences – from the darkness of the tunnel-like tea tree forest to exposed rocky lookouts. Kids will especially enjoy the track – listening out for Pobblebonk frogs in the dam (about half-way along), skipping across the stepping stones, peering into wombat burrows (be careful!) and clambering over steep stiles. The best time to walk this track is dawn or dusk. Not only will you miss both the heat of the day and the crowds, which due to its ease of access and those views will fast make this one of Canberra’s most popular short walks, but you’ll also avoid any unwanted encounters with snakes. The track: The 3.4-kilometre (one-way) track connects Shepherds Lookout on Stockdill Drive, Holt, to The Link at Strathnairn. Limited parking is available at both ends of the track. The walk is relatively flat although there are some stairs and several steep stiles. Bikes are prohibited. Allow two hours return at leisurely pace. Gruner in Canberra: When painting rural scenes, Gruner (1882-1939) often stayed on nearby properties. However, there are two reasons it’s unlikely he stayed at Strathnairn when painting Weetangera, Canberra. Firstly, after he bought a car in 1929, Gruner often drove himself to locations and secondly Strathnairn Homestead wasn’t completed until 1938 – a year after he painted Weetangera, Canberra. Instead, it’s likely Gruner stayed with friends in Red Hill and drove out to the location along the old Weetangera Road. Although much of this road was later realigned in the 1970s to form Stockdill Drive, you can still see part of the old road including a short section just south of Stockdill Drive above the Gruner vista. A gate with a sign indicating the land beyond is managed by TransGrid marks this section of the old road. Ghostly remnant: In 2014, the daughter of a family Gruner sometimes stayed with in Red Hill told of a multicoloured spot on a fence along the old Weetangera Road, where he supposedly wiped his paint brush. It remained long after his death but is sadly now gone. Did You Know? On cold mornings when painting en plein air, Gruner often wrapped himself in chaff bags to avoid frostbite. Talk about an invigorating sensory experience. Where exactly is Weetangera? Although since 1968 there’s been a Belconnen suburb of the same name, Weetangera was originally a parish name. Historical references describe it as the land east of the Murrumbidgee River, south of Ginninderra Creek, west of Black Mountain and north of the Molonglo River. Clue: Border-line beautiful Difficulty: Medium Last week: Congratulations to Jeff Jones of Kambah who was first to correctly identify last week’s photo (below) as ”Wilson”, a Hazmat suit nailed to a tree on the side of the Kings Highway just below Government Bend on the Clyde Mountain. Wilson has been in situ since earlier this year and as yet no one has claimed responsibility for his appearance. Someone must know. How to enter: Email your guess along with your name and suburb to tym@iinet.net.au. The first email sent after 10am on Saturday, November 13, 2021 wins a double pass to Dendy, the Home of Quality Cinema. Someone a lot calmer around red-bellied black snakes than your heavy-footed columnist is regular contributor to these pages, Matthew Higgins. While recently ”shadowing” a red-bellied black near Bega, Matthew even had the composure to capture a photo as it slithered by his boot. “It just regarded me as part of the environment which is exactly what I try to be when around snakes, so I can observe their behaviour without either party getting stressed,” says Matthew. “The flared neck is not always a sign of aggression; snakes and lizards simply flatten themselves to maximise solar exposure.” Matthew has also made a short video of his observations of red-bellied black snakes near Bega. It’s on his You Tube channel. Just search for ”Matthew Higgins, Red-belly summer”.

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