A long history

The Tuggeranong Homestead holds many layers of history. From its’ indigenous occupants, its convict connections, its pastoral period, its links to Federation and its association with the writing of the Official History of World War One.

The Cunningham family purchased the homestead in 1858 from Thomas Macquoid, the son of the Sheriff of the Supreme Court of New South Wales, who drowned in the wreck of the Dunbar in August 1857.

James and Mary Cunningham lived at the Homestead from the time of their marriage in 1889 until the Commonwealth Government acquired the property for military purposes in 1917. James and Mary Cunningham played a significant role in the establishment of the National Capital.

War Historian Dr Charles Bean and his staff occupied the Homestead from 1919 to 1925 where they commenced the task of writing the Official History of Australia’s involvement in World War One. Bean recorded feats of heroism on the battlefields of Europe and articulated the ANZAC spirit that began to forge Australia’s unique identity.


The McCormack family leased the property from 1927 to 1976 and transformed the operation of Tuggeranong with the introduction of mechanised farming. These changes are evident when comparing the stone barn, built by convicts in the 1830s to the machinery shed and petrol bowser constructed in the 1940s. The house also reflects changes in the architectural style of the 1950s.

To find out more about this site’s rich history, come and visit. We have numerous pictorial displays as well as booklets and maps available.


Pre-1829 - Indigenous Occupants

The local Aboriginal tribe, the Ngunawal peoples,1consists of a number of different clans bounded by the broad language groups of Wiradjuri, Ngrio (Ngarigo), Gundungurra and Yuin. The Tuggeranong2 plain of Canberra is at the southern extremity of Ngunawal country. The Canberra region is generally understood to have been a meeting place, suggesting that there was a reliable food and water supply and that pathways were significant as people moved from place to place through transitional cultural boundaries following river and creek corridors and the ridges and spurs of hills and mountains. Pathways may be the means of access across the region and, in the case of the main ranges visible from the highpoints of the Tuggeranong area, a physical and visual link to major spiritual centres and gathering places in the Snowy Mountains.3

For Aboriginal culture there are inextricable links between sacred and secular landscape values. Aboriginal people always did things with a witness, whether it is the spirits of a mountain, the water, the flowers. Therefore, open sites such as the stone artefact scatters found around the Tuggeranong homestead will be related to other landscape features by story and association.4 Similarly, grinding grooves, such as those located east of the Tuggeranong homestead, may be found in association with a significant rock outcrop yet equally suitable rock is not used in other places.5 Put into the local context, Ngunawal Dreaming refers to people emerging from their origins beneath the rocks.6

A corroboree was witnessed and recorded at Tuggeranong by William Edward Riley sometime during the 1820s prior to January 1828.7 However, by 1834 the record of distribution of government blankets from “Jane Vale” (Tuggeranong) indicates that Aboriginal society in the region had already been severely affected by colonisation. G A Robinson, Protector of Aborigines, in 1844, provided a chilling indication of what may have happened to some of the early “Onerwal” (Ngunawal) of the Yass area when he wrote, “Yass and Bathurst blacks in the early settling of the colony were said to have been troublesome, and that in consequence commandoes had been sent out against them.”8 However, most journal references of the early settlers in and around the Tuggeranong plains suggest that the relationship between the new settlers and the remaining Aboriginal people who moved through the Canberra region was relatively amicable. The occasional corroboree and other ceremonial activities were mentioned into the 1860s, with Aboriginal groups and individuals congregating on the edge of pastoralists’ properties, villages and towns. Government polices eventually marshalled Aboriginal people of the region to missions near Yass and Tumut till the mid 1950s.

Today, our understanding of traditional Aboriginal cultural lifestyle and community values of the region depends on the continued guidance of the descendants of these early Aboriginal communities

Karen Williams – 6 February 2007

1. The spelling of ‘Ngunawal’ can only ever be an approximation, the result of an early European attempt to write an Aboriginal spoken word from an oral tradition and, as such, there are many variations to be found. 2. Tuggeranong is an anglicised Aboriginal word that means cold plain. 3. Mason, R. 2003, pers. comm. 7 December. 4. Mason, R. 2003, pers. comm. 7 December. 5. Boot, P. 2003, Archaeological approaches to understanding the Yuin sacred landscape, paper presented at to the Australian Archaeological Association Conference 2003, Jindabyne, December. 6. Bell, D., pers. comm. 7. Riley, W.E. ML MSS A 109 (mfm CY 738) Documents, 1817-1856, p. 114 (courtesy of Rebecca Lamb). 8. Mackaness, G., 1941, George Augustus Robinson’s Journey Into Southeastern Australia, 1844, Royal Australian Historical Society – Journal and Proceedings, Vol 27, Pt 5, p. 25-26.

1829 to 1858 - Thomas MacQuoid

Irishman and former merchant Thomas MacQuoid arrived in Sydney in 1829 to begin his appointment as the Sheriff of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. In 1835 MacQuoid purchased ‘Waniassa’, now the Tuggeranong Homestead, from Peter Murdoch, a former superintendent of Convicts of Emu Plains. In 1830 William Wright, MacQuoid’s overseer, and a number of convicts were already living at ‘Waniassa’ pasturing sheep for the Church of England’s Churches’ and Schools’ Corporation.

1829 to 1858 - MacQuoid Family

Irishman and former merchant Thomas MacQuoid arrived in Sydney in 1829 to begin his appointment as the Sheriff of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. In 1835 MacQuoid purchased ‘Waniassa’, now the Tuggeranong Homestead, from Peter Murdoch, a former superintendent of Convicts of Emu Plains. In 1830 William Wright, MacQuoid’s overseer, and a number of convicts were already living at ‘Waniassa’ pasturing sheep for the Church of England’s Churches’ and Schools’ Corporation.

MacQuoid named his property ‘Waniassa’ after the estate in Java where he lived and had produced coffee crops for the East India Company.

MacQuoid built a stone cottage and barn using convict labour extending his ‘Waniassa’ holdings northwards into the Tuggeranong valley. The barn still exists although it is adapted for a range of modern uses. Part of MacQuoid’s cottage was incorporated into the drawing room of the homestead when it was remodelled 1908.

Sheriff MacQuoid suffered from depressed economic circumstances, caused by severe drought, and ended his own life at his Darlinghurst villa in 1841. MacQuoid’s elder son, Hya, gained the respect of his father’s creditors who allowed him and his aunt and housekeeper, Alecia, to remain on the farm. Through determination and assisted by improved pastoral conditions Hya retrieved the good name of the family by managing the estate until the debts were paid.

Hya returned to visit his family in England and on his return in 1857 drowned aboard the wreck of the clipper ‘Dunbar’ at South Head, Sydney. Hya’s body was never recovered.

Andrew Cunningham from nearby ‘Lanyon’ purchased ‘Waniassa’ in 1858 and it gradually became known as ‘Tuggeranong’.

In 2006 local author, Rebecca Lamb, wrote Sheriff MacQuoid’s biography. The book, entitled ‘MacQuoid of Waniassa: Portrait of a Colonial Sheriff’, examines MacQuoid’s meticulous, intelligent personality and hard working career; one that promised prosperity and prestige in a new colony for him and his family. MacQuoid, instead, stepped straight into controversy, struggled to make a quick fortune and attain a comfortable lifestyle but, like many of his contemporaries, the pressures of office, risky financial ventures and the vagaries of drought and the effects on the colonial economy thwarted their jealous ambitions. MacQuoid’s Supreme Court administration was plagued by controversy and vilification until, 1841, his life ended in tragedy.

1858 to 1914 - Cunningham Family

The wealthy pastoralist Andrew Cunningham acquired a number of grazing properties along the Murrumbidgee River in the 1840s and 50s. The two main acquisitions were Lanyon and Tuggeranong which together covered about 8,400 hectares. He purchased Tuggeranong (at that stage known as the Waniassa estate) from Sheriff Thomas MacQuoid’s son in 1858. The property became the centre for Cunningham’s sheep-breeding and the sheds saw the shearing of all his flocks and those of neighbouring farms.

In 1874 Andrew Cunningham’s youngest son, Jim, moved to the property which took the name ‘Tuggranong’ to distinguish it from the surrounding parish, ‘Tuggeranong’. He lived in a small stone cottage on the property and superintended the shearing and the care of the stud sheep. In 1889, aged 39, Jim married 19-year old Mary Twynam, the daughter of Edward Twynam, the NSW Surveyor General. In January 1890, they returned to ‘Tuggranong’ in the middle of a severe drought, after a honeymoon spent abroad. Mary and Jim raised 8 children at the homestead between 1890 and 1903, all but the eldest, Jane, being born at the homestead with the Queanbeyan doctor, Sidney Richardson, in attendance. Over the years, as the family grew, additions were made to the house with a new and much larger homestead being built in 1908.

The colourful and often tragic story of this family is told in Jennifer Horsfield’s biography of Mary, ‘Mary Cunningham: An Australian Life’ (Ginninderra Press, 2004). All the children attended boarding school: the boys went to Geelong Grammar and the girls to Ascham School in Sydney and then to Frensham at Mittagong. Being country children they looked forward to the long summer holidays and often brought friends to stay at Tuggranong where they enjoyed games of tennis, long horse rides and picnics by the river. One friend who visited Tuggranong from Sydney was the young Grace Cossington Smith, who established herself as one of Australia’s leading modernist artists between the wars.

Mary’s eldest daughter, Jane, died tragically at Tuggranong in 1910, from an infected appendix. She was just 20 years old. Andrew Twynam Cunningham, Mary’s eldest son, had a dashing but controversial career in the Light Horse during the Great War, winning a Military Cross for courage shown in the battle of Gaza in 1917.

The Cunninghams left Tuggranong in the middle of 1914 and moved to their sister property of Lanyon, which Jim had purchased after the death of his brother, Andrew Jackson Cunningham. After the establishment of the Federal Capital Territory in 1911, all land within the territory was to be eventually acquired by the Commonwealth. Jim negotiated with the government to purchase Tuggranong along with two outstations, Congwarra and Tidbinbilla, on the western side of the Murrumbidgee River.

1919 to 1925 - C E W Bean

War historian Charles Edwin Woodrow Bean and his secretarial staff occupied the 65 acre property, residing in the homestead and other cottages on the site from October 1919 until April 1925. The team of historians, draftsmen and secretaries recorded the Official History of Australia in the War of 1914 – 1918. In 1921 Bean and his associates built a cricket pitch (now the oldest concrete pitch in Canberra) and established the tradition of regular cricket and tennis matches at the Homestead. While living at Tuggeranong Charles Bean married Ethel Young, a nurse from Queanbeyan. He was transferred in 1925 to Victoria Barracks where he completed further volumes of the work over the ensuing decades.

1927 to 1974 - McCormack Family

Timothy McCormack, a grazier and horse breeder from Wheeo near Crookwell, NSW, leased the Homestead reverted it to a fine grazing property, introduced mechanised farming, planted cereal crops and improved pastures. He moved here with his wife Mary and family in 1927. Tuggeranong became a lively centre for sporting events and social life and supported three generations of McCormack family enterprises, continuing an established farming tradition and producing world class fine Merino wool. The land was compulsorily resumed in 1974 by the Commonwealth Government for suburban development and only about 70 acres remain from the original 1500 acres.

Tim McCormack built a racetrack on the property and initiated the Tuggeranong Racing Club. McCormack won the inaugural Canberra Cup with his horse ‘Spec’.

1976 to 1993 - No Man’s land

The Homestead was temporarily occupied during this period by a number of transient tenants. It was under-maintained, suffered damage by fire, theft, vandalism and overgrazing and was at risk of being destroyed. Part of the property was subject to declassification of its heritage status. The Tuggeranong Homestead and environs site is not only an example of an intact 19th century European heritage site, but one of significance to the Aboriginal community, both of which are considered rare in the Canberra region.

1992 to Current - Minders of Tuggeranong Homestead

In 1992 a proposal to develop a medium-density housing estate on the site was approved by the ACT government. A non-profit, community lobby group, Minders of Tuggeranong Homestead (MOTH Inc.) was founded on the 21 October 1992. It galvanised the community into action and successfully appealed against the proposal on the grounds that the heritage value of the property would be irrevocably compromised. The ACT Legislative Assembly had already approved the proposal. MOTH maintained that this type of development was inappropriate and oversupplied, and that part of the site had been contaminated from an old sheep dip. Subsequently the ACT Government withdrew plans for housing development. MOTH’s action resulted in recognition by the ACT Government of the site’s natural and cultural heritage, which in turn led to the renovation of the buildings and gardens, and the creation of a commercial presence. In 2001 an amount of $675 000 was awarded by the Centenary of Federation Grants Program to restore the buildings to a suitable standard and allow for their use by the public.

MOTH is committed to fostering a viable and respectful future for the remnant historic property based on the values of preservation, restoration and enjoyment for all Australians. MOTH demonstrates this commitment by undertaking various landcare and practical tasks and promoting cultural heritage values to the wider community.

1996 to 1999 - Lease Period

The Homestead was used as a private residence and horse agistment with limited access to the public during this period.

1999 to 2006 - Lease Period

The Tuggeranong Homestead buildings were leased as a venue for small conferences and functions and there was limited public access exept for use as a commercial venue for horse agistment.

August 2006 to November 2014 - Lease Period

In August 2006 opened as a café, conference and events facility and is the focus for a wide range of community events in pleasant, historic surroundings. The Lake Tuggeranong Lions’ Club held monthly markets at the site. The buildings at the Homestead have been sympathetically converted to provide comfortable multi-purpose facilities as part of a government ‘adaptive re-use’ policy. The convict built stone barn is the oldest extant building in the complex dating from the early MacQuoid era of 1835 – 1841.
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