Archaeological excavations at Birrigai Rock Shelter have confirmed the existence of Aboriginal habitation in the Tidbinbilla Valley going back some 21,000 years.

The first European to settle in the valley was George Webb who squatted here in1832, prior to obtaining formal government approval, in the 1860s. There is some debate as to when the original homestead was constructed here by English settlers George Green and George Hatcliff, who built many properties in the area. Best available evidence suggest that it was built in 1895 for Henry Ffrench Gillman, an Irish poet and grazier who christened it Nil Desperandum, the name it retains today. Regular readers will know that if there is an Irish connection with anything I visit I like to find it… I was surprised with this one!


Nil Desperandum or in its longer form Nil Desperandum Auspice Deo roughly means “Don’t Despair, Trust in God” or in the Australian vernacular – “give it a go”.

Why Gillman christened it so is not clear but by settling in the area at that time he was certainly “giving it a go” and needed all the help from above that he could muster.

On Nil Desperandum, Gillman wrote:
Tho’ many cities I have seen, now I dwell neath the blue gum tree
Nor change would I for palace walls my home in forest free.
Nil Desperandum is its motto – always mine in days that’s past
I’ve graved it on my homestead flag, and nailed it to the mast.”

Post Gillman, the cottage was occupied by the Blewitt (1931-1950) and Gilmour families (1950-1994) though the Government acquired the property in 1988. Gillman returned to Ireland and died in 1835 so contrary to what you might hear or imagine he had no part in the Eucalypt Distillery which existed here in the 1940s. This particular one, and there were many in the region, was the work of three Czechoslovakians. Apparently the aroma of steaming eucalypt/peppermint could be smelt throughout the valley when distilling was underway.

The original four room rammed clay cottage did change a bit over the years (the bathroom – now gone – was painted a deep purple in 1975!) and was ruined and indeed almost obliterated in 2003 when bushfires raged through Tidbinbilla and made it into the southern suburbs of Canberra (picture 3 -courtesy Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve literature).


The cottage was reconstructed and its current layout is as it was when built in 1895.

Around the cottage you can find traces of the former distillery and old rusty beds etc – reminders of the 2003 bush fire.


Down from the cottage is a nice lake  – used for water and irrigation purposes in days gone by. The gardens and surrounding area are both well maintained and the current cottage can be rented out (contact the visitors centre) for around $149 (2017) for up to six people. Be aware – the cottage is basic and abolition facilities are outside. My final attached picture is of the kitchen / dining room as it stood – Oct 2013.


The cottage is accessed via the Nil Desperandum Walk (separate tip) – a 3-4 hour hard walk from the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve’s visitor centre. As far as I know there is no access for non park vehicles – check with the visitors centre if you are seeking to stay here.

For details on park entrance fees and other general information about the Reserve and links to other walks see my introductory Tidbinbilla review.

Address: Paddy’s River Road, via Cotter Road (Weston Creek
Directions: Follow Tourist Route 5 from Canberra.
Website: https://www.tidbinbilla.act.gov.au/home

This blog entry is one of a group (loop) of entries on Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.  To continue with my next entry chick HERE.

To start at the beginning of this loop click HERE.


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