Local History of Hackett

A grassroots community mystery
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Chris Mobbs, Chair of the Hackett Community Association (HCA), first discovered Trove while researching the local history of Hackett, a suburb in Canberra’s north. 

Local newspapers – particularly early editions of The Canberra Times from the 1920s through to 1996 – were instrumental in Chris’ research.  

“What struck me about Trove was its capacity to find so many topics about Hackett. And it wasn’t just articles – searches picked items such as ‘for sale’ ads and ads for house sales – in these cases Trove was outstanding in finding these ads which had the word Hackett in them, along with a description of the item or house. The ability to find such small items based on one word was incredible.” 

This research culminated in the publication of a book in 2018, Hackett – 50 years plus: Story of a north Canberra suburb.

Book cover of Hackett - 50 years plus: Story of a north Canberra suburb
Book cover of Hackett: 50 years plus, trove.nla.gov.au/work/234594878

A deep-rooted mystery 

While preparing the book, however, a local mystery came to light. On the eastern side of the Hackett Oval stands an avenue of pine and eucalypt trees, with ‘roots’ older than the suburb itself. When were they planted? For what purpose? 

Initially the HCA were unable to find any records to help answer these questions. That is until Chris received the tip-off that in early plans of Canberra this area had been considered as a site for a future north Canberra cemetery. Back in Trove, Chris found some early maps of Canberra which confirmed the proposed development.  

The most valuable map in Chris’ research is this Plan of Canberra, which shows the proposed north-Canberra cemetery site and plantation. Chris found this map – which had been previously superimposed over a recent street map of Canberra by another community member – within the National Library of Australia’s Map Search tool. The results showing that the map’s cemetery plantation perfectly aligns with today's existing trees, which, it turns out, were planted to screen off the proposed cemetery. 

Map showing section of north Canberra, including area of proposed cemetery and plantation
National Capital Planning and Development Committee, Plan of Canberra, c.1929, nla.obj-234026981

Grassroots impacts 

This discovery changes the way the local Hackett community can be viewed. As Chris says: 

“Discussions about old Canberra often focus on the earliest suburbs such as parts of Ainslie and Reid. Because Hackett is much younger, it is often not considered part of old Canberra. But the history of these trees goes back to the early days of the development of Canberra. A decision made almost 100 years ago has given the suburb a valuable aesthetic feature and a valuable site for wildlife. 

I believe that to understand our world today you need to have a good understanding of its history. In the case of these trees, their history helps residents and visitors have a far better appreciation of what we have and why it makes the suburb such a pleasant place to live.” 

This piece of local history has been celebrated with a new Canberra Tracks sign, featuring the historical Canberra map from Trove. The sign, unveiled on the 11 April 2023, joins around 110 other Canberra Tracks signs across the ACT. 

metal sign in a park showing historical images and maps, and telling the story of the trees' history
Canberra Tracks sign for the Hackett oval trees

This Trove discovery has sowed the seeds for ongoing research into Hackett’s history. The community is continuing to uproot its local history using historical archives to search for answers to ongoing questions. For example, the trees are estimated to date back to the 1930s – approximately 30 years before the suburb’s first houses were built in 1963 – but the search continues for the date they were planted. The community are also curious to uncover why the former National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) decided to not use the area for a cemetery, and how it incorporated the trees into the overall layout of Hackett. 

This research has also been used to support the HCA’s application to have the trees placed on the ACT Heritage Register. 

What have you found out about your local area in Trove? Get in touch with us to share your research stories, interesting uses of Trove and the way Trove has helped you.