Mark Butz
Trench Trail motif
Trench Trail motif
Trench Trail motif
In 2014 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 nature reserve. 
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 the initial stages of 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 Service.

Since that time, during 2017 and 2018 the trail was improved and a 'mock trench' structure was constructed to enhance visitor experience.
This was enabled by the Green Army program and additional resources from the ACT Parks & Conservation Service, with additional support from the ACT Heritage Grants Program.  

ANU geophys work Nov 2014 - Mark Butz
Trench excavation Jun 205 - Mark Butz
Trench excavation Jun 2015 - Mark Butz
Archaeological work & media Jun 2015 - Mark Butz
Initial archaeological investigations at the trench site - Nov 2014 and Jun 2015 (Images: Mark Butz)
Interpretive signs
The entrance sign is part of the 'Canberra Tracks' system.  It introduces visitors to the 'Bombing Paddock' and outlines 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 system 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'.

Marker posts (totems)
These steel posts mark the inferred alignments of the trenches below the surface.  Each carries one or more coloured hexagonal tags that label the specific trench to which they relate.  This enables visitors to discern the approximate alignments from post to post along the length (north-south) and breadth (east-west) of the system.

Loop trail
The initial stages of a wheelchair-friendly loop trail were installed in 2015-16.  These provide access to the interpretive signs and observation platforms. These areas can 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 loop was completed in 2018.  The trail on the eastern stretch 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.

Canberra Tracks - Bombing Paddock sign
Trench trail signs - Michael Maconachie
Trench trail platform - Michael Maconachie
Interpretive signs and markers, with sinuous lines and
hexagonal observation platforms 2016
(Images: Michael Maconachie)

Self-guiding leaflet
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'.

Brochure front Brochure verso
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 found. 
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 island traverse. 
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 a machine gun emplacement, and two additional interpretive signs. 

Organised trench tours allow visitors to use periscopes to see beyond the trench without being exposed to 'the enemy'.  

Mock trench Michael Maconachie
Mock trench with fire step & duckboards Michael Maconachie


The 'mock trench' under construction with
help from the Green Army 2017
(Images: Michael Maconachie)

Mock trench Duckboards Michael Maconachie
Mock trench aerial Jun 2019

Left: Aerial view of the 'mock trench',
now with machine gun emplacement, 

June 2019  (Image: ACTmapi)

Right:  Machine gun emplacement 2018
(Image: Michael Maconachie)

Machine gun emplacement 2018

Two additional interpretive signs illustrate important features of the trench design, and prompt visitors to imagine what it would be like to serve in that trench on the batteground.  

These were installed with support from the
ACT Heritage Grants Program.
(Images: Lauren Brown)

Mock trench sign 1
Mock trench sign 2

The murals

A series of murals now face the Cycleway, created by artist Brendan Tunks in 2018. 
(Image: Michael Maconachie)
Murals Brendan Tunks

Future enhancements of the site
Our next stage is to improve interpretation of 'no man's land' and the underground war, with: 
- a new interpretive sign 
- marking of barbed wire emplacements   

- marking of the lines of underground saps/tunnels and galleries


Reminders for Visitors
The entry to the loop trail is about 600 metres walk from the reserve car park off Dairy Flat Road.
The trail is in a nature reserve - no dogs are allowed. 
The 350 metre compacted gravel trail is marked and formed, but sensible footwear is recommended.
When cattle are grazing (to control the grass growth) some gates may be locked, but this does not affect access to interpretive signs next to the Cycleway or the 'mock trench'. 
Please take care on uneven or muddy ground and near the river bank.
Caution is required to avoid encounters with snakes. 
Please take a hat, sunscreen and personal water supply. 
There are no toilet facilities on the trench site.  


Explore 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 School,
Jerrabomberra Wetlands Nature Reserve, Canberra
by Mark Butz  

(ISBN 978-0-9945748-0-0 - Published 2017 by Learnscapes and the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust, Canberra)
All proceeds from the sale of this publication benefit the work of the Woodlands and Wetlands Trust

Read more about this book - Available for purchase from this page  - Read more about the writing of the book
Trench book cover


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Last update 18 September 2020