I arrived in Canberra on 2 March 1959, along with others in the first ever group of Statistics Cadets selected by the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
The first group of Cadet (Statistics) March 1959, I’m standing on the far left. Official photo, photographer unknown.
I was meant to move into the new wing of Narellan House in Reid, but it wasn’t quite ready. So, we were put into the Hotel Kurrajong on the southern side of the Molonglo River which flowed through the sheep paddocks between the northern and southern suburbs of Canberra.
Heavy rains soon flooded the paddocks, rising so close to the deck of the original Commonwealth Avenue bridge that it was closed for safety reasons. The only route from our new digs to the Canberra University College where we were to partake of Orientation Week activities was via Queanbeyan. But none of us had cars or even bikes, so we could go no further than the swollen river and look across to the northern side.
A week later, our rooms in the brand-new wing of Narellan House were ready and our first tertiary education lectures commenced as we embarked on our quest to gain Bachelor of Commerce degrees from the University of Melbourne.
But this story is more about Narellan House.
On 11 March 1947, Federal Cabinet approved a program to construct 3500 homes in Canberra over the next five to seven years, with an annual allocation of £1 million. Nevertheless, between 1946 and 1950 only 1147 houses were built.
In the meantime, the government resorted to other measures. It built a series of guest houses and hotels to accommodate public servants and enlarged some existing facilities. New facilities included Lawley House and Turner Hostel. Lawley House was located at Barton and opened in 1949 (it is now a training college for the Australian Federal Police). Turner Hostel, located at Acton, also opened in 1949 (it has since been demolished). Later facilities included Reid House (1950) and Havelock House (1951).
The government also recycled former defence facilities. The first was Mulwala House, built in 1947 from Air Force materials relocated from Mulwala in the Riverina district of New South Wales. Eastlake Hostel, which also opened in 1947, was a former Air Force camp near the present railway station. Narellan House, located at Reid, opened in 1949. It was built using defence materials relocated from Narellan, south-west of Sydney. Riverside Hostel, located at Barton, was also built from former Narellan materials.90
The buildings initially used for Narellan House started life as part of a vast military camp near Camden during the days of the Second World War. Narellan Military Camp was built beside State Route No.69, the Northern Road, running from Narellan, NSW, to Richmond. It was established at the turn-off to Cobbitty.
At the end of the war, the army huts of Narellan were a blot on good dairy grazing land. The Chifley Federal Government brought the huts, asbestos and all, on five semi-trailers for storage in Canberra.
Narellan House, on Coranderrk Street in Reid, became one of the Government Hostels in Canberra, housing 49 guests and a staff of 8. At Narellan it was ladies in the north wing and gents in the south. It survived all the other hostels and, with the addition of a new wing in 1959, became a residence for tertiary students, including me.
Front entrance of Narellan House showing the part of the original buildings, March 1959 © Brian Rope
On a personal note, one of the people I became closest to during my year at Narellan was another Cadet (Statistics), Derrick Low Choy. His room was directly opposite mine.
Derrick Low Choy in the grounds of Narellan House, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Derrick and I spent a lot of time in my room listening to my newly acquired pink mantel radio and devouring massive quantities of delicious potato crisps that his mother made and sent to him on a regular basis from her home in Queensland. We listened to the 2SM Sydney Top 30 hit parade broadcast weekly by 2XL Cooma trying to win a prize for accurately predicting which songs would fill which positions the next week.
My pink radio in my room at Narellan House, March 1959 – © Brian Rope
Having stood in its tranquil setting in Reid in a tranquil setting, just across from Glebe Park, since 1949, Narellan was demolished in May 1992. The last historic link with Narellan Military Camp near Sydney was severed. The site was redeveloped as an apartment complex, now Monterey apartments.