William Lee

William George Lee

Blocks 24 & 26 Belconnen District - Property Name: 'Rose Hill'

William George Lee was born on the 15th September 1897 at Weetangerra district, although some sources give his place of birth as Tharwa. Lee was working as a butcher in Queanbeyan, NSW when he enlisted in May 1917. He served with the 7th Light Horse Regiment in Palestine from the middle of 1918 until the end of the war.

After the Armistice, war historian Charles Bean was anxious to revisit Gallipoli to examine the landscape, search for war relics for the future Australian War Memorial and check the facts related to him by those who fought in the campaign. To aid in the work a contingent of men from the 7th Light Horse Regiment, including Lee, spent two months at Gallipoli. On returning to Australia in August 1919, Lee worked as a groom at the Royal Military College, Duntroon.

Belconnen Block 26

Belconnen Block 26 was 538 acres (218 hectares) in area and originally leased by returned Soldier Settler, Eric Bondfield for ten years from the 14th June 1923. Bondfield soon concluded that there was insufficient land to make a living so swapped Belconnen Block 26 for the larger area of Belconnen Blocks 7 and 9 that had been leased to grazier John Fingleton of Gunning, NSW since March 1923.

However, it appears that Fingleton did not take up Belconnen Block 26 as Lands Inspector James Brackenreg recommended that the block, along with other land in the Belconnen District, be advertised for lease. Applications for these leases closed on the 22nd October 1923. Shortly afterwards, the Land Board recommended that Belconnen Block 26 be offered to Lee. He wanted a block with a house so that he could provide a home for his mother who he was supporting at the time. There was already a house on Belconnen Block 26 referred to as Rose Hill. Lee's lease began on the 1st December 1923 for ten years at a rent of £134/10 per annum. In 1925, Lee married Ethel McKeahnie.

Plan of Belconnen Block 26

Plan of Belconnen Block 26.

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On the 4th June 1925, Lee asked if he could get a £125 advance through the Repatriation Scheme but was told that funds were no longer available to new soldier settlers. Like Bondfield before him, Lee wanted more land because his block was insufficient to carry his stock that included 470 ewes, 200 hoggets and 300 lambs. He wanted at least 500 more acres (202 hectares) but was told that his block was not intended solely for grazing and that a considerable area of it was suitable for cultivation. In 1929 he bought the neighbouring Belconnen Block 24 of 153 acres (62 hectares) from Jack Kevans.

Google Maps image of area c2013 with Belconnen Block 26 boundary in red

Google Maps image of area c2013 with Belconnen Block 26 boundary in red.

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The site of Rose Hill was at the end of Thornton Place, Spence and was close to a crossroads, known locally as the Five Ways. Two spokes followed the route of Kuringa Drive from Fraser to the Barton Highway, another followed Owen Dixon Drive south easterly, a fourth went eastwards through land now occupied by the CSIRO to Ginninderra Village and the other went south westerly towards Copland Drive.

Sketch of Residence on Belconnen Block 26 - 1930

Sketch of Residence on Belconnen Block 26 - 1930.

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Rose Hill, according to an architect's report in 1930, was 1056 square feet (98 square meters) in size, built of slab and about 50 years old. It had been renovated by the Federal Capital Commission (FCC) around 1925 and covered with weatherboard, lined internally with T&G lining to dado, fibro cement sheets to ceilings and fibro ceilings with an iron roof. It was in fair condition though there was dry rot and white ant. Another report in 1933 refers to the verandah floor being almost rotted away and the iron roof as old and rusty with sagging roof supports. In 1934, Lee agreed to pay £125 cash for the house.

Sketch of Residence on Belconnen Block 26 - 1933

Sketch of Residence on Belconnen Block 26 - 1933.

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Lee was able to renew the lease for 25 years from the 1st July 1933. The area had been increased slightly to 542 acres (219 hectares) as a road deviation added more land to the block. By July 1940, Lee owed rent of £322, but he was suffering a serious illness and had undergone an operation at Canberra Hospital the previous October. Perhaps sensing what was to come, he sought advice on either mortgaging or selling his land to raise funds to pay for the hire of labour and to cover his medical expenses. However, the banks would not mortgage his property, as they did not regard it as a living area.

Belconnen Block 24

Belconnen Block 24 was 153 acres (62 hectares) and bounded on two sides by Ginninderra Creek and the Yass Road (now the Barton Highway). It had been part of the Gungahleen estate up until 1915 but it was leased for five years, beginning on the 14th June 1923, to Jack Kevans. On the 8th September 1929, Kevans requested permission to transfer the lease to his neighbour, George Lee, because he wanted to leave the district. Consent was given the following month and Lee took over the lease which ran from the 14th June 1929 to the 13th June 1934 at an annual rental of £70/15/3 per annum.

Plan of Belconnen Block 24

Plan of Belconnen Block 24.

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After the lease on Belconnen Block 24 expired in June 1934, Lee was given a new 25 year lease backdated to the 1st July 1933 and ending on the 30th June 1958.

Google Maps image of area c2013 with Belconnen Block 24 boundary in red

Google Maps image of area c2013 with Belconnen Block 24 boundary in red.

In August 1940, William Lee entered the Mater Misericordiae Hospital in Sydney for treatment but he died there on the 28th August and was buried in the churchyard at St. John's in Reid.

Lee's widow, Ethel, continued to run Rose Hill until the end of June 1958 when Belconnen Block 24 was resumed for use by the CSIRO. She received £620 on 22nd October 1958 in compensation.

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