Page 4312 - Week 13 - Thursday, 17 November 2005

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Historic records and oral histories, as well as archaeological evidence, provide insight into Aboriginal lifestyles of the more recent past. Early records in particular indicate the richness of Aboriginal culture in the region and highlight the importance of ceremonial and social gatherings. Accounts describe large numbers of people coming together to share abundant food resources, exchange goods and participate in ceremonies.

The Tidbinbilla region also holds significance for the early European settlers, with settlement dating back over 160 years. Initial settlement can be traced to 1839, when George Webb selected land in the area following a dispute with a neighbour near Lanyon. Originally he occupied 6,500 hectares and bred cattle and horses, but in 1876 he left for Uriarra. A number of smaller landholders arrived during the 1880s and for the next 70 years or so the area was used for a variety of farming activities.

One interesting fact is that there was a distillery at Tidbinbilla that produced eucalyptus oil from peppermint gum leaves. This venture was established by five Czechoslovakian refugees who escaped from Nazi occupation in 1940. For a number of years they cut branches during the week and distilled the leaves on Saturdays, with the product being transported to Melbourne in large drums. Two of the original left soon after and another two returned to Czechoslovakia after World War II. The fifth, Jan Jandura, remained in Australia and was notable for being the first naturalised Australian in February 1949.

The Aboriginal people and early European settlers recognised the true worth and importance of the Tidbinbilla precinct. This was formally recognised in 1936, when approximately 810 hectares was set aside as a public reserve. In 1962 the government acquired additional land to establish a national park and fauna reserves and today the total area has grown to 5,450 hectares.

The reserve now consists of a large valley floor, the Tidbinbilla mountain range and the Gibraltar range. It borders Namadgi National Park, which links Kosciuszko National Park in New South Wales—my apologies, Mr Stefaniak, for not pronouncing Kosciuszko correctly—on to the chain of alpine parks that extend into Victoria. Tidbinbilla plays an important role in the unbroken corridor of natural bush that stretches from the ACT to New South Wales through to Victoria. This corridor of bush habitat is home to the diverse array of wildlife and flora for which the area is now nationally recognised.

Tidbinbilla is utilised by thousands of locals and visitors each year, but I believe its true worth was not fully appreciated until the 2003 bushfires swept through the area. The 2003 wildfire storm decimated the flora and fauna population in the region, killing 95 per cent of the captive and free-ranging animals, including many associated with the national threatened species recovery programs. Much of the reserve infrastructure was also destroyed.

However, nature always finds a way to regenerate and, with the assistance of the ACT government bushfire recovery program, the plants and animals affected by the fire have shown remarkable resilience and have largely returned to the area. The grasses and plants are growing back and the trees, in particular the eucalypts, are regenerating. Importantly, many of the animals have moved back into these regenerated areas.

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