Aboriginal people lived in and managed the landscape in this region for thousands of years and have maintained a connection to the land to the present day. Generations of the local Ngunnawal people have cared for Country, and have been sustained, physically and spiritually through their relationship with the land, waterways and cosmology.
In the 1850s, European settlers, including members of the Shumack, Maloney and Read families, began to select land in what became known as ‘Upper Canberra’. These long portions of land laid out in an east-west direction traversed the ridge running north from Black Mountain towards Gungahlin. This part of the ridge was selected by Peter Shumack Jr (known as ‘Big Pete’) around 1863. His land became known as ‘Fern Hill’ and he built a two-room homestead a little way up the hill from St Ninian’s Church, in the area that is now Mackennal Street, Lyneham. In 1911, Fern Hill was sold to George Southwell. Fern Hill Park in Bruce is named after this property.
The original slab-timbered two-room homestead stood until 1958 when it was demolished to make way for the development of the suburb of Lyneham.
Parts of Fern Hill are now protected as part of O’Connor Ridge Nature Reserve – protecting Aboriginal heritage sites and dry forest vegetation characteristic of the area, including a small patch of critically endangered Yellow box-Red Gum Grassy Woodland. The open vegetation is important for woodland species including threatened or regionally declining birds. The northern end of O’Connor Ridge was used as a rubbish dump up to the 1970’s. Trees planted on the ridge were meant to hide it. On the north Lyneham Ridge a trial eucalypt plantation for firewood was planted but was not regarded as commercially viable and has been left as open forest.
In Archibald Street below O’Connor Ridge, three places of worship testify to the diverse cultures of Canberra in more recent times:
- St Volodymyr’s Ukrainian Catholic Church, a brick building in neo-Byzantine style, consecrated in 1984;
- The Sakyamuni Buddhist Centre and Van Hanh Monastery, commenced by Canberra’s Vietnamese community in 1988 – the first and largest Buddhist temple in Canberra;
- The Wat Dhammadharo Thai Buddhist Temple, founded in 1993, Canberra’s only Thai temple. The temple took over the original St Ursuline convent built in the 1960s.
Other buildings in Archibald Street include:
- The Sir Leslie Morshead Manor assisted living nursing home, commenced in the 1960’s;
- The El Alamein retirement village added in the 1990’s;
- The Canberra Aged Care Facility which specialises in dementia care;
- Mary Mackillop House – originally built in 1969 as a convent for the Sisters of St Joseph it then provided accommodation for female tertiary students from rural areas and now provides a residence for homeless women.