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 the initial stages of a wheelchair-friendly loop
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 and 2018 the trail was improved and a
'mock trench' structure was constructed to enhance visitor
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.
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. These areas
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
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 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'.
The 'mock trench' under construction with
help from the Green Army 2017
(Images: Michael Maconachie)
Aerial view of the 'mock trench',
now with machine gun
2019 (Image: ACTmapi)
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
in that trench on the batteground.
These were installed with support
ACT Heritage Grants Program.
(Images: Lauren Brown)
A series of murals now face the Cycleway, created by artist Brendan
Tunks in 2018.
(Image: Michael Maconachie)
enhancements of the site
Our next stage is to improve interpretation of 'no man's land' and the
underground war, with:
- a new interpretive
- marking of barbed wire emplacements
- marking of
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.
about this book - Available
page - Read more about the writing of
Explore the full background to the Trench Trail and the 'Bombing
‘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