Given that this is Canberra’s oldest building you would have thought it might be of significant importance and a major tourist draw-card. This is not so as:
1. There is not much to see
2. What is there is locked up
3. It’s hard to find
4. There are a few other similar era buildings which are more worthy of a visit (see below)
5. It’s not adjacent to any other site so you are unlikely to “stumble across it”.
That said, if (like me) you have a greater than average interest in the history of Canberra you will probably want to include a visit on your itinerary.
In 1825 Robert Campbell, a wealthy Sydney entrepreneur (banker) was granted a 4,000 acres (1619 hectares) land holding at Pialligo – Limestone Plains – as compensation for the loss, at sea, of his ship while chartered by the Government nearly twenty years earlier. Campbell soon settled at ‘Duntroon”, which he named after the family’s ancestral castle in Scotland. To-day the residential part of Campbell’s estate is the site of the Duntroon Royal Military College (RMC), an officers training school and the Australian Defence Force Academy.
In 1832 a stone dairy was built here just above the fertile and treeless pastures of the Mongolo River and about a kilometre from Duntroon House. To-day as you look down towards the lake imagine a small stream in its stead.
A cottage was added to the site in the 1860’s, built by dairyman (and builder) Ambrose Wilson. In 1864 the dairy briefly housed St John’s school when the schoolhouse was damaged by fire.
Wilson family members lived here to the 1940’s. Over the years various other buildings, outhouses and even a tennis court where added and remained in use into the 1960s. In the years after that property became neglected to such an extent that all structures apart from the dairy (the roof of which had fallen in) were declared unsafe in the 1970s and were pulled down. To-day (outside the refurbished dairy) only foundations and floors remain and even those were rather overgrown and exuded an air of neglect when I visited. The dairy building and surrounding “garden” area are maintained.
In 1977 an archaeological excavation was carried out and a significant number of artefacts were removed from the site. Many of these artefacts (including the original door lock from the dairy) are on display in the Canberra Museum and Gallery.
The dairy building houses an in-ground cistern (see diagram in attached picture) used to maintain internal temperature and source cool water to keep dairy produce cool. The estate was, as it had to be, totally self sufficient in dairy produce including both butter and cheese.
The Campbell estate, prior to the establishment of Canberra as the nation’s capital and the compulsory acquisition of land by the government, had gown to around 9000 acres. The Campbell’s owned or had an interest in quite an estate.
In addition to the Duntroon Dairy and Duntroon House (Campbell’s residence and now part of Duntroon RMC and not accessible to the public) the following pre-Canberra buildings remain in excellent repair and are worthy of a visit. I have completed a separate review on each.
*Blundell’s Cottage (in Commonwealth Park)
*St John’s Church and its graveyard (Reid just off ANZAC Parade). The Campbell family has a large burial plot here.
*St John’s Schoolhouse (adjacent to St John’s Church)
*Mugga-Mugga – Campbell’s head shepherd’s house.
Admission to site– Free
Location – Off Kelliher Drive, Russell
Kelliher Drive is within the Russell defence offices area where parking during office hours can be difficult. Look for a 1 or 2 hrs parking spot. An hour will be more than sufficient for the short walk to/from Kelliher drive and for viewing of the site.