27th February 2024
By Engagement Committee
The iconic hexagonal building at the Australian National University was the venue for early meetings.

After our first meeting in October 1964 the Canberra Genealogy and Heraldry Group quickly settled into regular monthly meetings. We didn’t have a permanent home in those days. But thanks to connections through our founding member Dr Niel Gunson, the Group was able to make regular use of a Seminar Room in the Coombs Building at the Australian National University (ANU).   

The HC Coombs Building is one of the most well-known buildings on the ANU Campus because of its distinctive hexagonal design. Constructed in the 1960s, the building was named as a tribute to Herbert Cole ‘Nugget’ Coombs, a renowned economist and public servant and ANU Chancellor from 1968 to 1976.  

Niel Gunson moved into ‘the Coombs’ in 1964 alongside research scholars from the Research School of Pacific Studies. In later years, he and his colleagues had many stories to tell about the early years of Coombs and Niel contributed an essay titled Hexagonal Reflections on Pacific History in a book published by the ANU The Coombs – A House of Memories. A digital copy of this book is available to read on the ANU website.

Meanwhile, the Canberra Genealogy and Heraldry Group was creating its own memories in Room 145 at the Coombs - the venue for many of the Group’s meetings. As Niel was an ANU staff member, and the Group was regarded as a learned society, we were able to meet at the Coombs Building free of charge. Although we were a small group in number, we had big aspirations. At our second meeting, a suggestion by member Mrs Dorothy Ashton that Dame Pattie Menzies might, if appropriate, agree to become Patroness of the Group, was regretfully set aside until the Group ‘had become thoroughly established’. It was not until 1970 that the Canberra Genealogy and Heraldry Group was able to announce its first Patron, and alas it was not Dame Pattie.

A pattern was established at each meeting with discussion of group business, a speaker who talked about a genealogy or heraldry topic, and importantly an opportunity to catch up with fellow members over a light supper.  This formula worked and it’s a tradition that we still observe in 2024.

The Coombs Building quickly became a hub around which Group activities centred, and it is remembered with great affection.


Left to Right. Grahame Thom, Niel Gunson, June Penny, Bill Marsh, Michael D’Arcy reliving old memories of past meetings at the Coombs Building, Australian National University, (October 1989)



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