Having visited the one building in Canberra I’d specifically come to see, All Saints’ Church, Ainslie, I looked for the obvious tourist sites like the National Gallery and the National Museum of Australia and the obscure, unlikely places that often prove to be more interesting.
I enjoyed, for instance, the National Museum of Australia, not least for the excellent salmon sandwich and pot of tea overlooking the West Basin of Canberra’s enormous artificial lake. Like the National Maritime Museum in Sydney, entry is free and the standard of presentation is top-quality. It supplemented my learning in a number of ways, not least because it displays an example of the gold-diggers’ wooden cradle which I’d read about and couldn’t visualise.
I’d decided to pursue my trail of buildings by the architect Edmund Blacket (1817-1883), who had built, amid much else, St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney and some of the minor churches I’d spotted in Sydney and around Maitland and Morpeth, New South Wales.
I spotted that Edmund Blacket built the 1865-70 tower to the older Church of St John the Baptist, Reid, consecrated in 1845, sixty-odd years before Canberra was even thought of.
There’s a photograph of it c1864 with an earlier tower, surrounded entirely by flat fields. It’s the oldest building in the area, with a narrow nave and chancel because the original cell was small and has been three times lengthened. It has the warm, modest atmosphere of an English parish church. Edmund Blacket’s tower and spire of 1870 sits neatly at the end of the 1841-45 nave, and the chancel is 1872-73.
The walls are worth reading. One panel alerted me to the existence of an abortive St Mark’s Anglican Cathedral project, for which the federal government provided a site at Rottenbury Hill in 1927, though nothing has yet been built.
There is also a monument to the first minister of St John’s, Rev G E Gregory, who was drowned on August 20th 1851 “while attempting to swim across the Queyanbean [River] on his return from ministering to the scattered colonists on the banks of the Murrumbidgee”.
Outside in the churchyard, the so-called ‘Prophetic Tombstone’ to Sarah and George Webb has as its inscription Hebrews 15:14 – “For here we have no continuing city, but seek one to come”.