Can Charles Sturt solve another riddle of the rivers at West Belconnen?

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The Canberra Times, 7 May 2015 by John Thistleton

Explorer Captain Charles Sturt, a property developer at West Belconnen, and Doug Anthony's former press secretary have each seen amazing land we ordinary types rarely get to see.

Anthony's ex-staffer Barrie Virtue presents talks on various topics to Probus, Rotary, U3a, charity and church groups. Consequently, while planning a trip to Perth via Adelaide with his wife, Virtue realised the number of times he would cross the Murrumbidgee River on the driving leg of his journey would provide material for a talk on the river.

His research led to J. H. L Cumpston's 1951 book on Sturt and the explorer's thoughts leading up to and including that wonderful moment when he and his party sailed from the Murrumbidgee River into the Murray River. Sturt's mission was to discover where inland rivers flowed to, to solve the riddle of the rivers.

Artist's map impression of the West Belconnen masterplan.
Artist's map impression of the West Belconnen masterplan. Photo: Supplied

As he launched his boat into the Murrumbigee River past Gundagai, he reflected: "Where I shall wander to, God only knows. I have little doubt, however, that I shall ultimately make the coast.

"... The river took a general southern direction, but, in its tortuous course, swept round to every point of the compass with the greatest irregularity. We were carried at a fearful rate down its gloomy and contracted banks. At 3pm Hopkinson called out that we were approaching a junction, and in less than a minute afterwards we were hurried into a broad and noble river."

Imagining how fantastic being suddenly swept into the little-known Murray River would have felt for these men, who had hauled their boat on a bullock waggon from Sydney to Jugiong and then to Gundagai. Virtue searched online for the junction of the two great rivers. Not only was there little reference to the place in the middle of nowhere, when he drove there he came along a rough road through the scrub to the junction.

Line map of Sturt's original grant near Canberra.

Line map of Sturt's original grant near Canberra. Photo: Supplied

"It is amazing the countryside we never get to see," says Virtue, who because of his interest in Sturt and the Murrumbidgee, took a harder look at map of the new cross-border subdivision proposed for West Belconnen in the Canberra Times this month. It spills into NSW, and is bounded by the Ginninderra Creek and its junction with the Murrumbidgee River. This illustration sent Virtue back to Cumpston's book which has a map of 5000 acres (2000 hectares) given to Sturt by the government about 1835 as thanks for his river exploration. The two maps are remarkably similar.

Since the closure to the public of Ginninderra Falls in 2004, this too is amazing land we never get to see. Undaunted that the land that includes Sturt's patch crosses into NSW, the Riverview Group is proposing a huge residential subdivision. Since airing its plans, numerous people have filed in Riverview's office at Kippax Fair shops to tell director David Maxwell of their experiences visiting the spectacular falls.

Riverview's heritage and conservation consultants Eric Martin and Associates duly noted Sturt's connection to the land in documents which support the case for rezoning the NSW and ACT land into residential lots, with a woodland reserve along the river and creek.

Sturt recorded some excitement amid plans to stock his gently sloping land with 1000 sheep and 200 cattle, but never intended to actually build on it and soon after sold it to the Campbells.

Planning advocate and prolific letter writer Jack Kershaw reckons ACT surveyor Charles Scrivener, in determining parts of the border with NSW, missed a tributary which if included would have placed the junction of Ginninderra Creek and Murrumbidgee River [and beautiful falls] on the ACT side, not the NSW side. Riverview's consultants are grappling with the issue too, along with government agencies on both sides of the border, because the territory will likely provide services across the border for 5000 homes in NSW.

It is yet another riddle of the rivers to unravel, and who knows, Sturt's 2000-hectare lot could be the blueprint of resolving this one too.

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