research located the site of a long forgotten World War I instructional
trench system in Canberra, now largely within the Jerrabomberra
Wetlands Nature Reserve. Initial ANU geophysical
investigations in 2014 proved inconclusive, and these were followed by
archaeological excavation in mid-2015. This revealed that the
trenches are still visible below the surface, and indicated their
layout relative to today's surface features.
Late in 2015 the first steps were
taken to develop an interpretive trail at the trench site within the
This had several components: interpretive/educational signs at key
locations, marker posts indicating key trench alignments and
junctions across the system, and a self-guiding leaflet for
visitors, with a wheelchair-friendly loop trail.
These developments were funded by the ACT Government through the ACT
Heritage Grants Program and through the ACT Parks & Conservation
Since that time, during 2017 the trail was improved and the first stage
of a 'mock trench' orientation structure was erected to enhance visitor
This was enabled by the Green Army program and additional resources
from the ACT Parks & Conservation Service.
archaeological investigations at the trench site - Nov 2014 and Jun
2015 (Images: Mark Butz)
The entrance sign is part of the 'Canberra Tracks'
system. It introduces visitors to the 'Bombing Paddock' and
the background to establishment of the trench system in 1916 and its
subsequent fade from memory.
A sinuous path to the next sign illustrates at real scale a trench
layout designed to minimise damage from bomb or shell blasts and to
assist defence of a trench from enemy raiders.
The second sign explains establishment of instructional trench systems
around the nation from 1915 and the Duntroon Trench Warfare &
Bombing School in particular, acknowledging the efforts of the scheme's
leader Maj. E L D Brownell. This sign is adjacent an observation
platform in the hexagonal shape and dimensions of an island traverse, a
major technological breakthrough used in this trench system.
The third sign outlines the kind of training undertaken here,
illustrated by images taken on site in 1916. This sign adjoins a
forward traverse, another device used in a sophisticated trench layout.
The next hexagonal observation platform is just forward of the line of
the 'attack trench' from which troops would advance on the enemy
lines. Here a fourth sign explains the layout of a model trench
of the time, detailing a sequence of specialised trench structures,
each with a physical form that is matched to its specific purpose.
This is mirrored at the opposite end of the system, behind the line of
the 'enemy trench'.
These steel posts mark the inferred alignments of the trenches below
the surface. Each carries one or more coloured hexagonal tags
label the specific trench to which they relate. This enables
to discern the approximate alignments from post to post along the
length (north-south) and breadth (east-west) of the system.
The initial stages of a wheelchair-friendly loop trail were installed
in 2015-16. These provide access to the interpretive signs and
observation platforms. At present they are limited to areas that
be mown, separated by gates and fences from the rest of the system
which needs to be grazed to control grass growth until such time as the
whole site can be mown.
The trail on the eastern stretch of the loop will be constructed
works are completed to remove dead trees from the site and from the
banks of the river.
This will provide a very pleasant riverside walk that approximates the
line of a north-south communication (entrance) trench, with marker
posts to signify that line and its intersection with east-west trenches
in the sequence. It then crosses 'no man's land' and the zone of
barbed wire and subterranean saps and galleries to intersect the line
of the 'enemy trench' and the observation platform that provides a view
back along the system.
signs and markers, with sinuous lines and
hexagonal observation platforms 2016
(Images: Michael Maconachie)
The leaflet is dispensed from a box next to the Canberra Tracks sign at
the entrance to the site. It gives brief background, along with a
diagram of the system layout and information about the function and
form of each element. These are colour-coded with the hexagonal
tags on the marker posts to aid navigation.
The site has its own identity within the system of trails within the
nature reserve, designated the 'Trench Trail'.
|The 'mock trench'
Archaeological excavations in 2015 showed that the modern water table
in the floodplain is too high to permit examination of the floor of the
trenches, where most of the artefact mkaterial is likely to be
It also demonstrated that there was no option available to leave a
section of excavated trench open for inspection.
If we can't go down, then why not go up? In 2017 a 'mock trench'
was commenced - a timber structure which simulates the depth and
breadth of a fire trench and its complex layout, with a full scale
This allows visitors to experience the dimensions of a trench and the
difficulties of knowing what is going on beyond it, or along it if
enemy raiders penetrate it.
Subsequent work has added a fire step and some sections of
Organised trench tours allow visitors to use periscopes to see beyond
the trench without being exposed to 'the enemy'.
Future enhancements include loopholes and marking of sandbag
lines. The front line fire trench in the system is known to have
included both machine gun emplacements and offtakes of saps and
tunnels, and these are also planned as enhancements to the 'mock
'Mock trench' under construction with
help from the Green Army 2017
(Images: Michael Maconachie)
about this book - Available
Read the full background to the Trench Trail and the Bombing Paddock' in
‘The best system of trenches in
Australia’: World War I training site, Duntroon Trench Warfare and Bombing
Jerrabomberra Wetlands Nature Reserve, Canberra
978-0-9945748-0-0 - Published
2017 by Learnscapes and the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust,
proceeds from the sale of this
publication benefit the work of the Woodlands and