Robert Butt

Robert John Butt

Block 31 Belconnen District – Property Name: 'Emu Bank'

Robert John Butt was born at 'Kirkdale' near Yass, NSW in 1892. He was working as a share farmer in the Yass area when he enlisted at Goulburn, NSW on the 14th March 1916.

On the 30th September 1916, Butt embarked from Sydney aboard the HMAT Aeneas as a Private with the 5th Reinforcements to the 56th Battalion. He arrived at the 5th Division Base Depot Etaples, France in December 1916 seeing action in February 1917.

On the 26th September 1917. at Polygon Wood, Belgium, Butt sustained "shell deafness". His military medical report states:

"Shell burst nearby on above date and he was struck in the back of the neck by a piece of mud. Since then has been deaf and getting worse. Was not evacuated, but while on leave in Feb 1918, reported to H.Q. London & was sent to No.1 aa H Harefield. Discharged thence 22-2-18"

Butt did not return to the front and was repatriated to Australia on the HMAT Medic in August 1918. He disembarked in Sydney on the 13th October 1918 and admitted to No.4 Australian General Hospital at Randwick. Butt was officially discharged in Sydney on the 8th November 1918.

In February 1923, Butt applied for a Soldier Settlement block in Belconnen District. The Federal Capital Commission (FCC) allocated Butt his fourth choice, the 649 acre (263 hectare) Belconnen Block 31, for a period of 25 years. His annual rental was £181/3/7. However, the Commonwealth Surveyor General informed Butt, "that owing to continued dry weather possession of the land cannot be given to you at present."

Map of Belconnen Block 31

Map of Belconnen Block 31.

In April 1923, Butt requested access to his block so he could carry out fencing in preparation for moving his sheep onto the block. The FCC permitted Butt to proceed with fencing with the understanding that he will not be charged rent until he took full possession. Butt was also informed, "in the meantime you are not to put any stock on the land."

Google Maps image of area c2014 with Belconnen Block 31 boundary in red

Google Maps image of area c2014 with Belconnen Block 31 boundary in red

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Butt took full possession of Belconnen Block 31 on the 14th June 1923. He named his block 'Emu Bank', despite only around 40 acres (16 hectares) of the block sitting on the former 'Emu Bank Paddock', part of the earlier Ginninderra property. This part of Belconnen retains the name Emu Bank.

Letter from Robert Butt to Commonwealth Surveyor General date the 3rd March 1924

Letter from Robert Butt to Commonwealth Surveyor General date the 3rd March 1924.

In August 1924, the Commonwealth Surveyor General requested Butt pay £22/10/0 for "15 chains of netting fence" that the Commonwealth had erected along his Weetangera Road frontage. Butt argued that, " fencing has been done by the Commonwealth since I got possession of the block and all fencing and improvements come under term of five years payment from the date I took possession..."

The Commonwealth Surveyor General responded that the fence was part of the conditions of Butt's lease. As it was necessary to fence off a new road before Butt took possession, the FCC had erected the fence. He continued:

"What is desired now is that you will forward your cheque for the sum of £22.10.0 to purchase the fence, in order that you may maintain tenant rights over the whole of the fencing on your lease."

Chief Lands Officer, James Brackenreg, continued to pursue payment from Butt. On the 25th June 1925, Butt replied to Brackenreg's latest demand for payment stating:

"I have to inform you that I have already paid for the construction of the fence mentioned in your letter and hold the original receipt for the same. Will you kindly look up book 42 and receipt-No 4159 you will see where it was paid on April 15th 1925. Trusting to receive an acknowledgement of your error at an early date."

A note on Butt's letter states, "The matter was explained personally to Mr Butt 3/7, J.C. Brackenreg"

In November 1925, Brackenreg drew Butt's attention to Clauses 2(t & u) of his lease, that the lessee shall insure all fixtures and improvements in the name of the Commonwealth. Brackenreg sent a reminder to Butt in January 1926. On the 28th January 1926, Butt asked, " I have half the improvements paid for would I have to insure for full amount..." This would be Butt's last correspondence with the FCC.

Letter from Robert Butt to James Brackenreg date the 28th January 1926

Letter from Robert Butt to James Brackenreg date the 28th January 1926.

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Robert Butt Tragically died is a fishing accident on the 31st January 1926. The Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer ran the following report on the 2nd February 1926:




"Died from injuries accidentally received on the 31st of January, 1926, through the premature explosion of gelignite which he was preparing to use for an unlawful purpose, to wit, the destruction of fish in the Molonglo River, in the territory of the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth of Australia."

Such was the verdict recorded by Mr. Coroner Gale at the conclusion of an inquest held by him yesterday afternoon at the Courthouse, Queanbeyan, touching the death of Robert a John Butt, of Murrumbateman, near Yass. The details elicited showed that on the previous afternoon deceased, accompanied by his two cousins (young men named English, also residents of Murrumbateman) went to the Molonglo River with the intention of destroying fish by the means of explosives. Deceased took with him several plugs of gelignite from the locality where they had been at work using this explosive in splitting timber for fencing purposes. On arriving at the river, about a mile from its confluence with the Murrumbidgee, deceased put six plugs of gelignite into a pickle bottle; and attaching a fuse to it, lighted the fuse, and was in the act of stuffing some paper into the neck of the bottle when it exploded in his hands with terrible consequences. This was shortly after 4 o'clock in the afternoon.

When the explosion took place the two Englishes were watching the operation at a distance of about four or five yards, and yet marvellously escaped injury. Both hands of deceased had their fingers blown off, his right leg was shattered, his face terribly lacerated, and, in fact, as Dr. Christie expressed it, his entire body was peppered with injuries more or less severe. Deceased was quite calm and conscious, and at his request was placed in some shade, while one of his companions went a distance of two or three miles to Mr. Evan Cameron's place for assistance, and the other remained in attendance with the sufferer. Mr. Cameron arrived as soon as possible with his motor lorry and the injured man, was taken to the residence of Mr. Webber at Weetangara whose daughter is a certificated nurse. During the time that passed in the procuring of the lorry, the younger English did what he could to staunch the terrible flow of blood which was fast exhausing the sufferer.

Accompanied by Nurse Webber speed was made as fast as possible to the Queanbeyan Hospital, the medical officers of the institution having been advised by 'phone of what had happened and was being done. Dr. Christie proceeded along the road to render what professional aid was possible at the earliest moment. About five miles out he met the sufferer, a cursory examination of whom showed that nothing could be done till the patient was in hospital. It was about half-past eight In the evening when Butt was admitted, and his condition was such that it was deemed advisable to place him on the operating table.


The patient's injuries, when more closely looked into there, were thus described by Dr. Christie: "I found him suffering from extensive injuries to the right leg, both hands and arms, and minor injuries to the face—in fact, he was more or less peppered all over. All the fingers were blown off both hands. Dr. Blackall was with me at the examination and gave the anaesthetic. The patient was suffering very much from loss of blood. He died at about 11.30 the same night. The cause of death was hemorrhage and shock, apparently caused by an explosive. He was too far gone to attempt an operation. Apparently, he was a healthy and robust man."

The sensation produced by the spread of the news was intense, and an expression of unfeigned sorrow general. Deceased was a returned soldier, 31 years old, and about to be married, He was possessed of a military lease at Emu Bank, near Weetangara, of about 600 acres, on which he grazed sheep and cattle, and apart from his holding had chattel property estimated at from £800 to £900.

Owing to the mutilated state of the body, it was expedient that the interment should take place as soon as possible, for which reason the Coroner's order for burial was issued before his court was held, and the coffin containing the remains was taken to Murrumbateman. The funeral, took place this afternoon, the remains being interred in the Methodist portion of the Murrumbateman cemetery.

Richard Andrew Butt, Robert Butt's father, was the executor for the estate. In April 1926, Richard Butt applied for the transfer of Robert's lease to Percy James Butt, Robert's younger brother. The FCC granted approval for the transfer beginning the 14th June 1926, provided that Percy repaid the FCC £246/19/7 owed by Robert. During Percy's time on the block, he constructed a five-room residence close to the current site of Belconnen Public Library.

Emu Bank house plan

Sketch by Percy Butt of proposed house plan for 'Emu Bank'.

Percy Butt remained on Belconnen Block 31 until he sold it in 1939 to Hugh Read, a master butcher who lived in Griffith, ACT.


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