Place Identification Number
Acton, ACT 0200
ANU Heritage Classification
Australian National University
The earliest landowner to own land that is now covered by the ANU campus was John MacPherson (1798-1875) who was formally granted land in Canberra in the mid 1830’s. This farm extended over a roughly rectangular area bounded by University Avenue in the north, Clunies Ross Street to the west, the old Canberra High School (now the ANU Institute of the Arts) to the east and, to the south, the Molonglo River that formed part of the boundary with Corkhills' Farm. The area embraced the old Canberra Race Track, the original Federal Golf Course (at Acton before moving to Red Hill) and a large part of the present ANU, this property was known as Springbank. Canberry (or Canburry) Creek ran through this property and joined the Molonglo River near the tip of Black Mountain.
After the property passed through the hands of the Kaye family in 1844 it was eventually purchased by the Sullivan family in 1888 that had lived in the area since the mid 1850’s. William Sullivan (1829-1911) was born in Dumoon, County Waterford in Ireland and migrated to Australia in the 1850’s. Married to Anastasia Sullivan nee Pike, they had 10 children: James (b.1866), Elizabeth (b.1867), Mary Jane (b.1869), Micheal (b.1870), Martin Patrick (b.1872), William John (b.1874), Mary Elizabeth (b.1876), Alice (b. 1877), Tom (b. 1879) and Frederick George (b.1881). The Sullivans left the area in 1913 after the government in 1910 had resumed their land.
The name Canberry Creek was eventually changed to Sullivans Creek reflecting the fact that the Sullivans owned the property along both banks of this creek. When the name change came about is unclear, but it is likely that it refected the ongoing presence of the Sullivan family in the area and their importance in the early community of Canberra. Within the ANU property two bridges that cross Sullivans Creek reflect the history of the region. MacPherson’s Bridge was named after the original landowner John MacPherson, and Canberry Bridge so named for the original name of Sullivans Creek.
Prior to European settlement, the area of the Acton and Springbank properties was characterised by temperate grassland on the flats, extending into lowland woodlands on the foothills of Black Mountain. Grazing was the major activity in the area before the city of Canberra was established. Following the establishment of the institutions within the precinct, there was extensive planting, using both native and exotic species, which further altered the pre-European vegetation composition and structure of the site. The sites hydrology was also significantly changed with the course of Sullivans Creek altered to accommodate the layout and stormwater requirements of the city, and the urban portion of the creek converted to sealed stormwater channels that carry stormwater to Lake Burley Griffin.
Sullivans Creek is a 13 km long creek which drains 53 square km of both urban and rural land in the Australian Capital Territory before discharging into Lake Burley Griffin. The last 2 km of the creek passes through the University where it is a focus of the landscaping of the university grounds.
The University portion of Sullivans Creek can be divided into four major sections: Lake Burley Griffin to McPherson’s Bridge; McPherson’s Bridge to Cranberry Bridge; Cranberry Bridge to University Avenue; and University Avenue to Barry Drive.
Barry Drive to University Avenue
There is little specific information regarding this area of Sullivans Creek however aerial photography of the campus looking south in the years 1966 and 1967 show that it was during this time that the pond to the east of Willows Oval was constructed.
University Avenue to Cranberry Bridge
The most dramatic change in this section of the creek occurred with the removal of a large loop that originally took the creek around the front of the Chifley Library. In a map dated 18th July 1050 the removal of this loop is planned, aplanning proposal from 1955 shows this section of creek removed and it is no longer present in a 1960 plan of the campus. The location of this section of creek was mapped out by Julie Cuerden-Gifford showing this section of the creek running east along the northern edge of Fellows Oval, curving around to the south on the western edge of the Pauline Griffin Building and curving back westwards through the AD Hope Building and Union Court. If this section of creek was extant today then it would extend through the ANU Arts Centre. Visual examination of the area has shown what appears to be a section of the original creek line in the northeast corner of Fellows Oval. The contour line of this section of creek is visible along the northern edge of Fellows Oval and can be seen, though greatly reduced, in the green area to the south and west of the Pauline Griffin Building. An analysis of the locations of major stormwater drains in this section of creek show that there are two that enter Sullivans Creek at almost the exact points that demarcate the ends of this curve along the current creek line. The stormwater drains would be expected to follow natural drainage lines and their location corresponds to the drainage lines that this curved section of creek followed. In 1978 the creek banks were rebuilt in this section of creek.
Cranberry Bridge to McPherson’s Bridge
A section of Sullivans Creek was expanded out to the west just after McPherson’s Bridge, changing the original straight course of the creek. This change is first noted on a site plan prepared on the 18th July 1950. This area is located tothe northwest of South Oval. The remains of the original creek line can be seen in this area. This area was widened as first shown on a map dated to September 1960. In 1974 reinforced walls were added, widening these ponds creating the current Middle Pond. Work by Julie Cuerden-Gifford has placed the original flow of Sullivans Creek to the east of the eastern bank of Middle Pond. Heavy redevelopment in this area has made it difficult to determine the original course of the creek.
McPherson’s Bridge to Lake Burley Griffin
The course of Sullivans Creek from Lake Burley Griffin to McPherson’s Bridge has not undergone much change from when the Lake was created in 1963. The creation of Lake Burley Griffin has led to this portion of Sullivans Creek becoming wider and straighter with much of the meandering lost. The greatest change to the course has been the exclusion of a curve to the west of Sullivans Creek. The course of the creek was straightened with this curve being dammed off. The curve is still visible in the landscape however no water runs through it today. The southern edge of this curve is adjacent to Parkes Way with the northern end coming out almost opposite the Boathouse on the ANU.
Running from Canberra’s inner northern suburbs Sullivans Creek enters the Acton Campus at Barry Drive flowing to the rear of Toad Hall. In fact, the university adopted the name 'Toad Hall' on the recommendation of the first residents of the hall where the setting, beside Sullivans Creek amongst mature trees, reminded them of The Wind in the Willows. A small pond had been constructed at this end (eastern) that helps contribute to the ‘feel’ of the area that was recognised by the first users of Toad Hall.
Meandering past a purpose built deck in the beer garden of the University Bar, Sullivans Creek crosses under University Avenue and continues onto Cranberry Bridge at Fellow’s Road. This section is lined with poplars and willows providing areas of sun and shade that is utilised by members of the University community daily. On the southern side of Sullivans Creek a pedestrian path follows its course.
Moving westerly from Cranberry Bridge is the second pond area of Sullivans Creek, known as Middle Pond. The original path of Sullivans Creek was somewhere south of its current location, possibly running adjacent to an Eucalyptus rubida (Candle bark) that marked the boundary between the Acton and Springbank properties, located on Fellow’s Lane.
Middle Pond spans the distance between Cranberry Bridge and MacPherson’s Bridge (on Ward Road). It has a wide variety of aquatic plants (included rushes and reeds) that help to support many different species of animal life. Conifers line the western end of Middle Pond with some exceptional examples of Eucalyptus viminalis (Manna Gum) on the south bank near South Oval. The pedestrian path continues to follow the course of Sullivans Creek providing the main east-west thoroughfare through this part of the campus. Beyond MacPherson’s Bridge, Sullivans Creek widens and straightens and it continues on to Lake Burley Griffin.
A recent ecological survey that examined animal species along the entire length of Sullivans Creek identified a large diversity of bird, mammal and frog species along the length of Sullivans Creek. The area of Sullivans Creek within the Australian National University supports more water bird and frog species than any of the other survey areas. Beyond its aesthetic and cultural importance, Sullivans Creek provides a habitat to many animal species enhancing its value to the University and to Canberra as a whole.
Statements of Significance
Sullivans Creek provides the major east-west axis for the Acton Campus of the Australian National University. It provides aesthetic vistas that contribute to the social, cultural and historical values of the site as well as being a well-known and significant identifier for the campus itself. It is lined with a mixture of native and exotic vegetation that provides a tranquil environment for users and visitors to the Acton Campus, as well as being home to a number of diverse species of animals that contribute to the important biodiversity of the Acton Campus.
Estcourt, G. (2007): Acton Heritage Study. A report prepared for ANUGreen.
Cross-References to Other Records
AC0037 – Toad Hall
AC0041 – University Avenue