According to Irish tradition, hanging a horseshoe on the door of a home brings good luck to those inside. A recent discovery at ANU – a horseshoe possibly dating from the 19th century – should bring some good luck to the campus but has certainly brought smiles to the ANU Heritage Office.
This seemingly small discovery has given us a clue to the history of this area long before the campus was established. The horseshoe was found during construction of the new extension of the ANU College of Law. At about 18 centimetres wide and high, this huge horseshoe must have been used for a draught horse – these tall and muscular horses would have been useful for the early European pastoralists who developed properties in this area, including the Springbank Property, which was surveyed on this site in 1832.
The find is further evidence that there was a blacksmith’s workshop located here sometime after 1832 but before the government resumption of the land in the early 1910s. Another clue is a magnificent 200-year-old Blakely’s Red Gum (Eucalyptus blakelyi) growing on the western side of Fellows Road, that was noted as the ‘Blacksmith Tree’ by eminent ANU botanist Lindsay Pryor and John Banks (Trees and Shrubs in Canberra, 2001) due to several pieces of iron rods embedded in the trunk of the tree. It is thought the blacksmith would have used these to forge horseshoes into shape.
It is not the only tree in the immediate area that holds clues to the past. Across the road is an exceptional Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora) with evidence of both Aboriginal and European scarring, as well as some more pieces of iron, perhaps used by the blacksmith. See if you can spot them as you walk past Chancelry, towards Fellows Oval.
This horseshoe helps tell just one of the many stories of the place where our University is built, and we promise to keep it safe in the ANU Heritage collection. The second horse shoe pictured (showing the vast difference in size) was found at 28 Lennox Crossing, the old Constable’s Cottage (1912-13), which still has its buggy shed and loose box intact, further highlighting the lifestyles of the early pastoralists and those who lived in the area in the earliest days of Canberra’s establishment.