The Mystery Chimney Ruin of Michelago

Michelago Chimney - Monaro Highway

About 40 minutes to the south of Canberra, you will discover a small ruin – just a chimney – sitting forlornly beside the Monaro highway. I’ve passed this remnant of forgotten history so many times. I’ve watched it flash by my window and thought fleetingly of who might have lived there and why it was now a ruin.  I’ve often wanted to just stop and pause for a time. But we are always in such a rush in these modern times, aren’t we? Well, on my last trip, I finally did stop.

The Michelago Chimney

Michelago Chimney - Monaro Highway

Michelago Chimney – Monaro Highway

As you can see, the chimney stands right by the side of the road surrounded by a bit of wire fencing. There is no plaque or sign to explain its significance or existence. And yet the wire fencing suggests some kind of gesture of care.

After returning home, I did try to research the back story but could find no information about it except for a scant listing in the 2013 Cooma-Monaro Local Environmental Plan under Heritage items. The listing just says:

  • Suburb: Michelago
  • Item Name: Ruin-chimney
  • Address: Monaro Highway
  • Property description: [blank]
  • Significance: Local
  • Item no: I1791

So I suppose the chimney has some kind of significance…some kind of story, but what that story may be remains a mystery to me.

Questions and Echoes

What is it about seeing a ruin that is so evocative of the past?

An old historic house can be quite fascinating in an academic kind of way, especially seeing how people used to live with the rooms all decked out with historically accurate furniture and so on.

But, somehow, if you see a fragment of a wall, a chimney, grasses growing tall amongst the tumbled stones – you are transported.

What happened here? Was there a fire? Did the people just leave? Was it destroyed through malice – perhaps war? Where did they go?

All kinds of emotions can be stirred.

Perhaps your family experienced hardship. Maybe their house burned to the ground or they were evicted, never to return. Maybe they sailed to foreign lands and new lives. And all that may be left is this fragment of their lives – a haunting reminder of their time in this place.

Abandoned Scottish village Arineckaig

The Scottish village Arineckaig was abandoned in the highland clearances. The chimney stack of one of the largest houses still stands.  [By David Balmer, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14186614%5D

Remembering the Stories

Sometimes the chimneys help us to remember.

Museums Victoria has set up a Victorian Bushfires Collection to remember the events of Black Saturday, 7 February 2009 – the day of the worst bushfires in Australia’s recorded history. The bushfires claimed 173 human lives and over 2,000 homes.

As part of that collection, Museums Victoria dismantled a chimney from a nineteenth-century homestead called ‘The Uplands’ at Kingslake and installed this chimney in the Forest Gallery at Melbourne Museum. The chimney was all that remained of the homestead after the fire.

But why a chimney? Well, as Museums Victoria explained:

This chimney is an evocative symbol of the impact of bushfires on landscape, families and communities. While it embodies a clear connection to the impact of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, it also represents the enduring nature of bushfires across Victoria’s settled history. The sight of a lone chimney standing in an abandoned property is familiar to anyone who has travelled the back roads of Victoria.2

Chimney - 'The Uplands', Kinglake [ Copyright Museums Victoria / CC BY (Licensed as Attribution 4.0 International) - https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1487715 ]

Chimney – ‘The Uplands’, Kinglake
[ Copyright Museums Victoria / CC BY (Licensed as Attribution 4.0 International) – https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1487715 ]

Museums Victoria has a fascinating series of posts about the homestead, the operation of dismantling and removing the chimney, and the stories they learned through the process:

Symbol of Destruction…and Survival?

But why is it so often just the chimney left standing? There are many suggestions and theories. The simplest ones seem the most likely.

In some places the house was made of wood but the chimney of stone. So it lasted longer. Or the chimney design is such that it is stronger and can withstand fires or strong storms while the rest of the building is destroyed.

So, over time, a lone chimney has almost become a visual shorthand for fire or destruction.

Poster: Was This Your Fault? - NSW Bush Fires Advisory Committee (1939-1945) [Australian War Memorial - https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/ARTV02508 ]

Poster: Was This Your Fault? – NSW Bush Fires Advisory Committee (1939-1945)  [ Australian War Memorial – Public Domain]

But I think the chimney ruin could also be a symbol for survival and endurance. Amid the rubble, debris and despair, the chimney stands tall.

More Chimney Ruins and Stories

The Australian landscape is full of these remnants. Little mysteries of past lives and forgotten stories.

People are often captured by the romance or mystery of these places. On the Internet, you can find hundreds of photos and stories of little ruins and abandoned sites from all over the world. Here are just a few examples for you to explore:

Perhaps you know the story behind the Michelago Chimney Ruin. If so, I would love to hear the story from you.

Sources:

1 Australia, New South Wales government. (2016, August 5). Cooma-Monaro Local Environment Plan 2013. Retrieved June 12, 2017, from http://www.legislation.nsw.gov.au/#/view/EPI/2013/614/sch5

2 Museums Victoria (n.d.). Item HT 23963 Chimney – ‘The Uplands’, Kinglake, 07 Feb 2009 (Bushfire Damaged). Retrieved June 12, 2017, from https://collections.museumvictoria.com.au/items/1487715

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This entry was posted in Genealogy, Mystery, Photograph and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to The Mystery Chimney Ruin of Michelago

  1. Yvonne Spokes says:

    I would also love to hear the story of your chimney. Was there an early settlement there Ian coming to Canberra in November and hopefully my daughter will know of it.

    Like

    • Hi Yvonne. Yes, there was an early settlement in Michelago – about the 1820s, apparently. It is still a small but thriving community – about 600 people still live there. If you find out any stories, I’d be happy to hear them! 🙂

      Like

  2. crissouli says:

    I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS in FRIDAY FOSSICKING at

    https://thatmomentintime-crissouli.blogspot.com/2017/09/friday-fossicking-22nd-september-2017.html

    Thank you, Chris

    I also love to imagine what the original home looked like, what dreams were realised, how many families have called the place home….all from a lone chimney or perhaps a flowering bush as the sole remainder of a garden..

    Like

  3. Diane says:

    Hi, the chimney on the Monaro Hwy is what’s left of Levy’s Store which was raided by the Clarke gang on June 1st, 1866. The white building that stands on the opposite side of the road was known as the Hibernian Inn. It’s now known as Soglio and is said to be haunted. It was purchased in 1906 by the De Salis family and is still in their family. Not sure who owns the land the chimney is on.

    Like

    • Wow! That is wonderful! Thank you so much for sharing the story. How do you know of the story? Do you live or grew up in the area? Or is it in a book or on a website? If so, could you share the name/url? Thank you for so much for taking the time to respond. 🙂

      Like

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