A Potted History of the School Site
Prior to European settlement, the area which is now Aranda and Bruce was in the land of the Ngunnawal Aboriginal people. It was a place where the forest on dry hillslopes met the more open woodland of gentler slopes, with large trees and a grassy understorey, with plenty of game and a wealth of plants providing sustenance to the first owners of the land.
Less than 25 years after the founding of the colony at Sydney Cove, a series of explorers in the early 1820’s confirmed the existence of reliable water in the Murrumbidgee River, and good grazing land at Limestone Plains and Isabella Plains. The first settlers followed shortly after, to change the face of the area forever. By 1824 Joshua Moore had camped at Canberry on the site of old Canberra Hospital, and by 1826 George Thomas Palmer had established Palmerville on Ginninderra Creek.
By the early 1830’s when the first maps were drawn of landholdings, there were selections along all the major rivers and creeks in the area. The area which is now Aranda, Bruce and Macquarie had no permanent water, so while it was almost certainly used for grazing pasture, it was not leased or purchased. It lay between the holdings of Palmer and Langdon on Ginninderra Creek and Mowatt and Palmer on the Molonglo River. Further to the west, adjoining both these watercourses and the Murrumbidgee River was the 5000 acre land grant of the explorer Captain Charles Sturt.
Ginninderra was the first sizeable settlement north-west of Black Mountain, and the earliest school was started there in about 1844. By 1847 the only schoolhouses between Goulburn and Melbourne were those at Braidwood, Queanbeyan, Canberry and Ginninderra.
As the intensity of settlement increased many smaller land holdings were drawn up. Where the school and the ovals now stand was taken up as relatively flat and open land and it was cleared even further. It lay between the extensive holdings of the Shumack family, who had first moved to Emu Bank (near what is now Lake Ginninderra College) in 1858, and the dry forested north-western foothills of Black Mountain.
The main access to the area was by the Weetangera Road. The path of this road and many of the old trees which grew along it, can still be traced leading from near the present day Motor Village, looping around a steep hill past the Canberra Institute of Technology, through the low land next to South Bruce, and along the north side of the Aranda ovals to take a pronounced bend past the rise on which Canberra High School now stands. From there it headed westwards to Pine Ridge, its path lost under development.
After the Federal Capital Territory was removed from NSW, all the land progressively reverted to the Commonwealth. At this time the site for the school and ovals lay in two 40 acre land portions beside the Weetangera road, bounded on the east by a Forest Reserve. By the late 1950’s this and much of the former Shumack holdings (which had been leased by a P Allan) were withdrawn from lease in preparation for urban development.
On 23 June 1966, the new town of Belconnen was inaugurated at a ceremony at the little stone wall in a grove of birches which mark the site of an old homestead, near what is now the southern approach to the suspension bridge over Belconnen Way. Aranda was the first Belconnen suburb to be developed, although work commenced on Macquarie and the western part of Cook at much the same time.
The north-western part of Aranda, including the School and ovals were built on old farming land, leaving very few old trees, while its south-western part was cut into timbered foothills. The eastern half was removed from the Black Mountain Forest Reserve, with the old boundary line marked by the bushland spine, Banambila Street as it passes the school, and the eastward line of the old Weetangera Road.
In the late 1960’s the design of the Aranda neighbourhood was celebrated as a model of town planning principles, boasting many design features that we take for granted today. The neighbourhood size was determined by residential density, walking distances from shops and schools (maximum half-a-mile), traffic patterns, the landform and the required size of an infants' and primary school, which were located with ovals. The design had roads laid out to suit, rather than dominate, the landform and the emphasis was on internal access with through-roads around the outside of the neighbourhood.
The design also sought to retain as much as possible of the original tree cover, with the bushland spine a vital part of the recreational open space and the walking access with its underpass. When an unfortunate amount of the tree cover was removed in the construction phase, a major planting of native tree species began. This was an unusual landscape treatment at the time and Aranda owes much of its character to that decision.
The naming theme chosen for the suburb of Aranda and all its streets was the names of Aboriginal ‘tribal units’, now more correctly known as ‘linguistic groups’. The names selected represented Aboriginal groups from all States and Territories except Tasmania and the ACT. Local Aboriginal groups had to wait until the establishment of Gungahlin to be recognised in the naming of suburbs and streets.
The first residential leases in Aranda were auctioned in March 1967, in Bandjalong Crescent–Nungara Street and Banambila Street-Gidabal Street, followed closely in June 1967 by the opening releases in Arabana Street. By 1968 about 2000 people had moved into Aranda, Macquaire and Cook. For education they were served by Macquarie Primary School from 1968, with Aranda Primary School opening its doors to pupils on 28 January 1969. The relocated Canberra High School (which was originally planned as Aranda High School) was opened in August 1969, while the first students started at St Vincent's Primary School in the second term of 1970.
Since those early days major changes to the population of the area have taken place with the construction of the eastern part of Cook from about 1978, South Bruce from 1983 and West Bruce from about 1990.