John Donnelly

John Francis (Jack) Donnelly

Block 40 Woden District

John Francis (Jack) Donnelly was born at Bywong near Gundaroo, NSW on the 28th June 1885. His parents belonged to the pioneering Donnelly and Massy families who are associated with the Gundaroo and Bungendore districts of NSW.

Donnelly was part of the Light Horse Guard at the Canberra Naming Ceremony in 1913. Donnelly was serving on the staff of Sir William Bridges as Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant when World War 1 began. Along with his younger brother Patrick Donnelly, he embarked for Egypt in October 1914. Donnelly was wounded at Gallipoli in 1915 and in early 1916, transferred to the 2nd Pioneer Battalion on the Western Front.

During the Second Battle of Bullecourt in May 1917, Donnelly commanded several companies in the construction of a communication trench while under intense enemy fire. The trench was a lifeline which enabled the movement of troops and supplies to the front line. The achievement was regarded by war historian Charles Bean as the finest work in the war by the 'Pioneers'. For his efforts, Donnelly was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He finished the war as Commanding Officer of the 1st Pioneer Battalion.

Jack Donnelly in uniform

John Francis Donnelly in uniform. Photo courtesy of Cathy Dwyer.

Jack Donnelly returned to Bungendore after the war and became an auctioneer while grazing became a sideline. In October 1920, he applied for a Soldier Settlement block in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). He was allocated his second preference, the 772 acre (312 hectares) Woden Block 40 at an annual rental of £180/2/8. Although he had £800 in cash, Donnelly successfully applied for a repatriation loan to buy stock but repaid it shortly after. In 1922, about 110 acres (44 hectares) fronting the Cotter Road were resumed for a camp for sewerage workers. Donnelly, who did not live on the block, soon complained because the workers were leaving gates open which allowed his stock to stray.

Google Maps image of area c2014 with Woden Block 40 boundary in red

Google Maps image of area c2014 with Woden Block 40 boundary in red.

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Perhaps becoming wary of short term leases near Canberra, Donnelly became interested in a lease held by Frank Hyles at Murryong in the District of Kowen which was about to expire. By February 1924, Donnelly had agreed to swap his lease at Woden for Hyles’ Kowen Block 1. However, in April 1924, the Land Board met at the Acton Amusement Hall and approved the allocation of Block 40, reduced in size to 660 acres (267 hectares), to another returned soldier, Thomas Cargill. Donnelly's lease over Woden Block 40 formally terminated on the 7th July 1924. In December 1925, Woden Block 40 was incorporated into the larger Woden Block 26A.

In 1923, Donnelly married Ellen Cranney in Queanbeyan, NSW. In the late 1950s, the Donnelly family moved to Canberra. Jack Donnelly died on the 18 September 1962 and is buried in Woden Cemetery.


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