Canberra is Ngunnawal country. The Ngunnawal are the Indigenous people of this region and its first inhabitants. The neighbouring people are the Gundungurra to the north, the Ngarigo to the south, the Yuin on the coast, and the Wiradjuri inland. It is a harsh climate and difficult country for hunter-gatherer people. To live here required great knowledge of the environment, skilful custodianship of it and close cooperation.
People normally moved in small family groups but there were, on occasion, big gatherings of a thousand or more people at a time, coming together to make use of resources which were seasonally abundant (most famously the Bogong moth and the Yam Daisy). Important ceremonies were held, art was painted in rock shelters, marriages were arranged, goods were traded, important news was shared and old friends met again.
In summer, people visited the high country where the Bogong moth, in millions or billions, could be found hiding in rocky crevices to survive the warmer weather. The moths were rich in stored fats and oils and were enthusiastically eaten (some say the taste resembles peanut butter). The moths were shaken and teased out from under rocky overhangs into nets and then roasted on a fire. Some were smoked and stored as cakes for use in more difficult times. At other times, the lowland resources of plants, like Yam Daisies, and the freshwater resources of creeks and lakes could be harvested. In the harshness of winter, fur cloaks were worn for warmth and people would gravitate to the coast to share resources with the others there. Others moved further inland.
Indigenous people have been living here for at least 20 000 years, perhaps from the time when the extreme cold of the last Ice Age eased. The hunter-gatherer lifestyle continued to be practised into the early nineteenth century, until the arrival of Europeans with their sheep flocks and cattle herds. The arrival of introduced diseases, like smallpox and measles, quickly affected Aboriginal numbers.
Introduced animals with hard hooves and big appetites rapidly reduced the abundance of plants like Yam Daisies, damaged water holes and creeks, and the essential food resources there. Graziers may also have restricted Aboriginal movement, and movement was essential in this region. Despite this, thousands of people continued to gather in the Snowy Mountains in Bogong season and, in 1826, some 1 000 people gathered at Lake George to protest the behaviour of shepherds.
Aboriginal people adapted to the arrival of Europeans by taking jobs as stockmen, and proved their knowledge and skill could be applied to introduced stock. However, government policies and the pressures of this new occupation created severe social pressures on the Ngunnawal community and neighbouring Indigenous peoples.
The Ngunnawal people have always remained in the area, and in recent years they have become more visible in the general community, and increasingly involved in affairs at the local and national level.
In the years after 1927, Canberra established itself as a meeting place for politicians and lobby groups. Just as it had traditionally been a place where different groups of Aboriginal people could come together from distant places, it would be so again.
Canberra is Ngunnawal country. The Ngunnawal are the Indigenous people of this region and its first inhabitants. The neighbouring people are the Gundungurra to the north, the Ngarigo to the south, the Yuin on the coast, and the Wiradjuri inland.
For some decades now, the national capital has provided the Indigenous people with a forum for celebration, discussion and protest.
In 1963, the Yirrkala Bark Petition (now on permanent display in Parliament House, in the first floor gallery, opposite the 1297 Magna Carta) was presented to Parliament. This was one of the most celebrated acts in the continuing effort for Indigenous Land Rights. It had come from the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land and was a response to the announcement that mining leases had been granted in the area. It protested bureaucratic secrecy, the Government’s lack of consultation and the likely effects of mining on the people’s livelihoods. It concluded by requesting a parliamentary inquiry.
In 1972 there was another historic event. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy was erected on the lawn outside (what is now known as Old) Parliament House in Canberra on Australia Day, 26 January. This was in response to a policy statement by Prime Minister William McMahon, in which he announced a new form of general-purpose lease for Aborigines, conditional upon their ‘intention and ability to make reasonable economic and social use of the land’. There were almost immediate attempts to remove the embassy, which have continued at intervals. The Aboriginal Tent Embassy continues to be a symbolic and actual focus for Aboriginal protest. Australians all over the country have signed their names on 120 000 plastic hands that make up the ‘Sea of Hands’ to register their support for the principles of Native Title. In October 1997 the ‘Sea of Hands’ was arranged on the lawns outside Parliament House. The hands in the colours of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags — red, black, yellow, white, blue and green have been installed in many regional locations and every major city. The ‘Sea’ began as a protest but has become even more strongly a movement for reconciliation.
The first Aboriginal person to become a Senator was Neville Bonner (1971). His work for his people, within the system, is remembered with an artwork in Reconciliation Place. Alen Ridgeway was the second Aboriginal person to sit in Federal Parliament as a Senator from 1999 - 2005. In 2010 Ken Wyatt was elected as a first indigenous member of the House of Representatives.
National institutions such as the former Department of Aboriginal Affairs (at one time led by Charles Perkins), the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC), and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) have been established in the national capital. The activities of such national organisations, where Aboriginal people from distant parts of Australia can meet and debate policy matters, have greatly helped in the continuing efforts to obtain social justice, rights and broad recognition for Indigenous people.
The first European settlement of the area, later known as the Limestone Plains (or ‘Manarro’, as it was called by local Aboriginal people), occurred when Joshua John Moore established a station at what is now Acton (site of the National Museum of Australia) in 1823. When he sought to purchase the land in December 1826, he referred to the location as ‘Canbery’, a name later used with various spellings for all the surrounding areas.
The local Aboriginal people were referred to by early white writers as the ‘Kamberra’, ‘Kghambury’, ‘Nganbra’ and ‘Gnabra’, all of which share some resemblance to ‘Canberra’ - the name of the capital announced at the Foundation Stone Ceremony by Lady Denman on 12 March 1913. There is little doubt that ‘Canberra’ is an anglicised version of the Aboriginal words, which is said to mean ‘meeting place’.
Robert Campbell’s station was the second to be established in the Canberra district. Campbell, a wealthy Scottish merchant, was promised a 4 000-acre (1 618 hectares) grant as compensation for the loss of one of his ships. A site was chosen at Pialligo, where Campbell eventually had a substantial residence erected, which he named Duntroon. Duntroon became an important grazing property and remained with the Campbell family until it was taken over by the Commonwealth in 1910 as the site of the Royal Military College. Blundells Cottage, built in the 1860s, is one of the few remaining stone worker’s dwellings, part of the Duntroon estate.
Further settlement occurred near the Murrumbidgee River in 1834 on a property named Lanyon, after John Lanyon the joint owner. His partner James Wright ran sheep and cattle, relying mainly on convict labour. Financial difficulties forced Wright to sell Lanyon to Andrew Cunningham in 1848 and move to Cuppacumbalong across the Murrumbidgee River.
Andrew Cunningham erected a large, new residence at Lanyon and continued to develop the property, adding to it with the purchase of other grants, including Tuggeranong. His sons ran the two properties for many years. Many of the local Aboriginal people worked on the stations in the area. Today, Lanyon is still a working property. Both Lanyon and Tuggeranong Homesteads are open to the public.
Around this period, in the same area, William Farrer engaged in the experimental development of strains of rustproof wheat at Lambrigg station. Farrer made a singular contribution to the Australian wheat industry and is recognised worldwide. He and his wife are buried on a hill behind Lambrigg, their graves being marked by a monument.
Another station which contributed greatly to the development of the district was Yarralumla. Frederick Campbell (a relative of the Campbell family at Duntroon) purchased the property in 1881 and had a new residence built, which has since become Government House, residence of the Governor-General of Australia.
The 1860s and 1870s witnessed a new wave of European settlement. The Robertson Land Act of 1861 allowed Crown land to be purchased in much smaller lots. This heralded a rush by poorer settlers to purchase small areas, where they often eked out an existence in difficult circumstances.
St John the Baptist Church has been at the centre of life in the district since the 1840s and was officially consecrated on 12 March 1845. A schoolhouse adjoining the Church was also open from the early 1840s. As settlement took place in the outlying areas, additional schools were founded and new villages were gazetted at Tharwa (near Lanyon) in 1862, and Hall in 1882. Both Tharwa and Hall retain their ‘village’ heritage to this day.
The first bridge in the district across the Murrumbidgee River was opened at Tharwa in 1895.
Opportunities for recreation and sport had been very limited in the early years of settlement but, as the population increased, woolshed dances, balls, concerts, athletic sports and cricket were organised. The best cricketer in the area in the 1850s-60s was an Aboriginal man, Johnny Taylor. By the 1870s itinerant entertainers and circuses began to visit the district.
By the turn of the century, the district which is now the Australian Capital Territory was an established wool and grain producing area, with some stations well known for breeding horses and cattle.
Lyall Gillespie, Canberra 1820–1913, AGPS, 1991
Thursday and Saturday 10am to 11.30am and 12pm to 4pm (except public holidays)
St John’s Schoolhouse Museum
10am – 12pm Wednesdays
Federation of the Australian colonies had been discussed as early as 1847, but it was not until the 1880s that the movement gained any serious momentum. First, the ‘Federal Council of Australasia Act 1885’ established the Australasian Federal Council (which New South Wales refused to join). On 24 October 1889 Henry Parkes – Federation’s highest profile advocate – delivered a speech at Tenterfield, in northern New South Wales, where he declared that the time was ripe for a federal government.
The impetus for Federation focussed on the ideals of a new nation and the economic and military advantages likely to follow from a centralised system of government. Parkes’ sentiments were strongly supported at the Australasian Federation Conference, held in Melbourne in February 1890 and then, more significantly, at the National Australasian Convention in Sydney just over a year later. Appropriately, Parkes presided over this convention, where debate centred around his resolutions, which set out the first principles of an Australian Constitution. At the Convention banquet, Parkes famously proposed a toast to ‘One People, One Destiny’.
The move towards Federation received further boosts at numerous conferences: Corowa in 1893; Bathurst in 1896; and in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne in 1897-8 for the Australasian Federal Convention. In spite of many alterations, and altercations, this Convention adopted an amended Commonwealth Bill, paving the way for it to be put to the people of the colonies by referenda.
The third and fourth days of June 1898 were fixed as the dates on which four of the colonies would vote on the Bill. Queensland did not participate and Western Australia waited to see what the other colonies would do. All four colonies voted in favour, but the statutory vote of 80 000 required in New South Wales to pass the Bill was not reached. This failure to achieve the necessary minimum vote in the most influential state gave New South Wales Premier, George Reid, the opportunity to seek concessions from the other premiers. Thus, a premiers’ conference was convened in Melbourne in January 1899 and discussion concentrated on the resolutions put forward by Reid.
One of his prime concerns was to have the federal capital in New South Wales, a concession he gained, but only at a price: it must be outside a radius of 100 miles (160km) from Sydney. At the next referenda, all colonies voted in favour of Federation. Ironically, those living closest to what would eventually be the future capital – Canberra – did not favour Federation. In the Queanbeyan electorate, 770 voted against and only 623 for the Commonwealth Bill.
The final step necessary to achieve Federation was to present the Australian Constitution Bill to the Imperial Parliament in London. The Bill had an almost uninterrupted passage through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords. Queen Victoria gave the Royal Assent on 9 July 1900. She issued the Royal Proclamation constituting the Commonwealth of Australia on 17 September 1900. The date selected for the commencement of the Commonwealth was 1 January 1901, but the opening of the Commonwealth Parliament did not occur until 9 May 1901.
Soon after the 1899 referenda, action was taken to select the federal capital site. Alexander Oliver, President of the Land Court, was appointed to investigate a site for the capital. Advertisements in metropolitan and provincial newspapers invited persons to bring to the notice of the Commissioner any area of 64 000 acres (25 878 hectares) that might be suitable as a site for the capital. The response was overwhelming, and Oliver quickly set to work to visit the nominated areas.
One of the early groups to respond to the advertisements was the Queanbeyan Federal City Committee. Ultimately, Oliver reported that any one of three sites – Orange, Yass or Bombala-Eden – would be suitable for the Seat of Government, but his final statement was that Southern Monaro was entitled to first place.
Despite Oliver’s painstaking work, colonial bias, controversy and backroom politicking continued to delay the choice of the national capital site. Finally, on 9 October 1908, members of the House of Representatives voted for Yass-Canberra by 39 votes to Dalgety’s 33. The Senate also supported the Yass-Canberra vote.
The next task was to determine the best site for the capital city within the Yass-Canberra area. Prime Minister Andrew Fisher obtained the services of surveyor Charles Scrivener, on loan from New South Wales, and established an Advisory Board, of which Scrivener was also a member. Scrivener completed a report on possible sites in the Yass-Canberra area in about two months and, in March 1909, the Advisory Board made its recommendations to the Minister for Home Affairs.
Scrivener had favoured Canberra for a number of reasons, including the availability of water for drinking and the fact that the flood plain of the Molonglo River could be dammed to form an ornamental lake in the centre of the city site. The Advisory Board followed Scrivener’s recommendations.
Thus, on 1 January 1911 – exactly a decade after the Australian colonies became states in a Commonwealth – the Federal Capital Territory of 910 square miles (2 356 square kilometres) came into existence after legislation was passed by both the Commonwealth and New South Wales Parliaments.
Lyall Gillespie, Canberra 1870–1913, AGPS, 1991
In the first day of January 1901, the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania joined together in a new Commonwealth of Australia. Both before and after Federation, there was much public bickering about what and where a federal territory and Seat of Government should be. The Constitution said that the Parliament must choose a site at least one hundred miles (160km) from Sydney and that the Parliament would sit in Melbourne until a new parliament house was built in the new capital.
King O’Malley, a member of the first federal parliament and later Minister for Home Affairs, proclaimed his belief that ‘cold climates have produced the greatest geniuses’. He later became the most outspoken advocate for a federal district in the Snowy Mountains area of southern New South Wales.
More than 60 country centres in New South Wales were promoted as sites for the capital because of their bracing climate, the purity of their water supplies or an abundance of stone and timber for building. Towns along the main railway line from Sydney to Melbourne offered accessibility to both cities, but sites in the far south of the state around Albury were deemed to be too close to Melbourne. Sites in the north of the state, such as Armidale and Tamworth, were considered too far from Sydney and much too far from Melbourne.
In the winter of 1902, members of both Houses of Parliament left the comforts of Melbourne to inspect many of the nominated sites.
Despite the freezing conditions in the mountains, the politicians were strongly attracted to sites in the south-east of the state. When the Parliament held its first vote, the Senate proposed Bombala but the House of Representatives selected Tumut. Six months later, both Houses agreed to Dalgety, a small township just north of Bombala.
Surveyor Charles Scrivener was instructed to find an attractive setting for ‘a beautiful city … embracing distinctive features … worthy of the object, not only for the present but for all time’. In a bold move, the Government conducted an international competition for the design of the capital which entrants were told would be the ‘official and social centre of Australia’.
The winning design of Chicago architect Walter Burley Griffin was truly a magnificent plan for a city in the country. It was said that Griffin’s design would create ‘the only really modern city in the world’. When the Federal Parliament sat for the first time in Canberra in 1927, Canberra was seen as the ‘modern and the picturesque blended into a composite and harmonious whole, cradled in a setting that for its purpose can have no peer’.
In 1913, when the Canberra area was no more than an outback sheep station divided by the Molonglo River, a ceremony was held to name the city. ‘Canberra’, as a new name for the capital, was a sentimental favourite and logical choice. The name probably derived from a local Aboriginal word for ‘meeting place’ and had been in common use in the district for more than three-quarters of a century. The people of Australia, nevertheless, responded with imagination and good humour to a Government invitation to find a suitable name for their future capital. ‘Cookaburra’, ‘Wheatwoolgold’ and ‘Kangaremu’ headed a list of Australiana which also included ‘Sydmelperadbrisho’ and ‘Meladneyperbane’. Politics prompted other names such as ‘Swindleville’, ‘Gonebroke’ and ‘Caucus City’.
It was something of a relief when at noon on 12 March Lady Denman, the wife of the Governor-General, mounted a crimson-draped platform and declared in a clear English voice:
‘I name the capital of Australia, Canberra – the accent is on the Can’.
Frederick Watson, A Brief History of Canberra, Federal Capital Press of Australia, 1927
In 1908, the Yass-Canberra district was selected as the site of the future capital of Australia. The government declared that the new capital would be ‘the finest capital city in the world’ and announced an international competition for the design of the city. More than 130 architects and town planners from Australia, North America and Europe submitted plans. In May 1912, the government announced that Walter Burley Griffin, a young American architect and landscape architect, had prepared the winning design.
Griffin’s winning design showed a chain of lakes along the Molonglo Valley and a triangular framework for a central national area laid out along major vistas from Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain. On the southern side of the central lake, Griffin proposed a terraced group of government offices leading to the ‘Capitol’, his place of the people (now the site of Parliament House). Lower hills in the valley were reserved for other government and national institutions, a university, military college and municipal buildings, including a city hall.
Marion’s drawings of the future capital showed that this would be a new type of Australian town plan, where buildings, roads and gardens could work together to make a picturesque and liveable city. It has been said that, of all the designs submitted in the competition, only Griffin’s plan showed an artistic grasp of town planning. It was a simple but splendid concept, laid out in an attractive geometric pattern intricately developed from the topography of the valley, with long tree-lined avenues and boulevards integrated into the Canberra valley.
Griffin came to Australia in 1913. He was appointed as Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction in order to supervise the detailed planning of his modern city. But lack of money, the intervention of the First World War and bureaucratic obstacles made it difficult to realise his plan. Many of his main avenues and parks were laid out on the ground at that time but there are no buildings in Canberra designed by Griffin.
Due to many differences with the administration and his own uncompromising vision, Griffin left Canberra at the end of 1920 to work as an architect in Melbourne. His planning skills were called upon in designs for the New South Wales country towns of Griffith and Leeton, and he designed a wide range of private buildings in Sydney and Melbourne, including a university college, cinemas and office buildings. At Castlecrag in Sydney he designed and built the prototype of an idyllic suburban community using natural materials and his own system of prefabricated concrete.
In 1924 the government gazetted the Griffin plan for Canberra so that no changes could be made without the approval of the Commonwealth Parliament. This protection has ensured that Canberra remains essentially as Griffin intended it to be — a logical expression of the site, and a city which fulfils a national capital’s primary function as the Seat of Government. The strength of Griffin’s design is also shown by the ability of the plan to adapt to growth and change without the loss of its character and meaning.
Paul Reid, Canberra Following Griffin: A Design History of Australia’s national capital, National Archives of Australia, 2002
As a modern capital city, Canberra has an international reputation for its unique landscape. This landscape is a reflection of the inherent beauty of the site’s plains, fringing wooded hills and distant mountains, combined with the skill of a horticulturist and a landscape architect.
The establishment of Canberra as a ‘city in the landscape’ owes much to three people: Charles Scrivener, who selected the site for the capital in 1909; Walter Burley Griffin, who provided the prize-winning design for the city in 1912; and Charles Weston, who pioneered the ‘greening’of the area and its surrounding hills between 1911 and 1926.
European settlement after the 1820s had a significant impact on the site for the capital. Of principal concern was the destruction of tree cover on the hills surrounding the site and the consequent degradation of the shallow soils in these areas which created widespread water and wind erosion. Rabbits, in plague proportions, added to the problem.
In 1911-12, the Australian Government proceeded on Weston’s advice with an ‘experimental and testing nursery’ at Acton (on the site of the National Museum of Australia). This work, which reflected new ‘conservation’ thinking in Australia at that time, led to Weston’s permanent appointment, firstly as Officer-in-Charge (Afforestation Branch), later as Director, City Planting, and finally as the Superintendent, Parks and Gardens.
When Weston arrived in May 1913 to take up his Canberra appointment, his initial priority was experimentation. He assessed the suitability of a wide range of exotic and indigenous trees and shrubs for the site and devised the best methods of planting and establishment. On a 160-hectare site at Yarralumla, Weston supplemented the Acton Nursery with a much larger nursery and arboretum. Both are still in use today. The nursery served not only as a place for experimentation but also for the production of plants. The arboretum, to test the growth of trees, was commenced in 1914. By 1920, almost 45 000 trees had been planted there.
Weston next turned his attention to measures to rehabilitate degraded hill areas. Between 1915 and 1924 he treated over 1 000 hectares of public land. Some of this work was successful commercially and Mt Stromlo, in particular, became the first step in the establishment of a major pine plantation industry. Weston took the first steps in the conservation of the Australian Capital Territory’s rural landscape. He laid down a set of conditions to achieve control over the lopping of vegetation for fodder and the killing of trees by ring-barking. In addition, he issued trees free-of-charge to landholders.
With the Government’s decision in early 1921 to transfer the Commonwealth Parliament to Canberra, Weston turned his attention to creating a landscape for the growing city on the treeless plains. Over the next six years, with dense plantings of indigenous and exotic trees and shrubs, he created a special landscape character for the streets, avenues and parklands of the emerging city. His work, which was influenced particularly by new ‘garden city thinking at that time in Australia, achieved strong seasonal colour effects and provided protection from the bitter cold and hot dusty winds. The planting in the vicinity of Old Parliament House and Government House, and in the inner suburbs of Braddon and Reid, are fine examples of his work.
Charles Weston’s successful ‘greening’ of Canberra in its foundation days made an unparalleled contribution to the achievement of a unique national capital. The Weston legacy is the creation of Canberra as a ‘city in the landscape’.
Dr John Gray
The founding of Canberra followed the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901. The federation of the six Australian colonies meant that the new nation needed a national capital to represent its aspirations and to become the Seat of Government. Section 125 of the Australian Constitution provided that the Commonwealth Seat of Government should be in Commonwealth Territory, not less than 100 square miles (258 square kilometres) in area, situated within the state of New South Wales not less than 100 miles (160 km) from Sydney.
The competitive spirit between the two most influential colonies, New South Wales and Victoria, meant that the Federal Government would not be located in either Sydney or Melbourne. Therefore, one of the first tasks of the new Commonwealth Parliament, sitting temporarily in Melbourne, was to decide on a site. After investigating a number of alternatives in 1908, the parliamentary committee chose the site of modern-day Canberra. It was officially named by Lady Denman (wife of the Governor-General) on 12 March 1913 – now celebrated as Canberra Day.
In the Australian colonies the 1890s was a decade of intense political activity. The period involved several official constitutional conventions, street meetings, and ultimately ratification of a draft constitution by citizen referenda in each colony (1897–8). The Commonwealth of Australia Act 1900, an act of the British Parliament in London, is the Australian Constitution. The passage of the Act and the royal assent given by Queen Victoria on 9 July 1900 followed a long period of debate about the terms under which the colonies would federate. The long process came to fruition when a delegation of colonial leaders took the draft Constitution to London and convinced the British government to adopt it.
The Australian Constitution creates the institutions of central government and the powers that those institutions possess. These powers, found in Part V, Section 51 of the Constitution, are broadly those of a national and international nature, such as defence, foreign affairs and trade, as well as those for which national standards are necessary, such as currency.
The Constitution sets up a Commonwealth Parliament with two houses. The House of Representatives, the lower house, is elected on the basis of population. It is known as the ‘peoples house’ and is the larger of the two chambers with 150 Members. By convention the Prime Minister is a member of the House of Representatives and most legislation originates there. Budget legislation, so-called ‘money’ bills, must originate there.
The Senate, known as the ‘states house’, comprises an equal number of members from each state to protect the smaller states from being overwhelmed by the numerical predominance of the states with larger populations. There are now 12 senators from each of the six states and two from each of the two territories.
The Constitution also made provision for a court. In 1903, the Commonwealth Parliament inaugurated the new High Court of Australia. Its role is to adjudicate disputes between the Commonwealth and State governments by interpreting the Constitution, and to act as a court of appeal from State Supreme Courts.
Canberra is the major centre for social and cultural institutions of national significance. The first to be built was the Australian War Memorial (1941), and this was followed in the coming decades by many others including: the Australian National University, National Library, National Gallery, National Portrait Gallery, National Archives and the National Museum. Other important institutions include the Commonwealth Scientific, Industry and Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Royal Australian Mint, the Australian Defence Force Academy, the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Australian Institute of Sport.
As the centre of national politics, Canberra also houses the national headquarters of each of the major political parties, as well as organised national groups such as the National Farmers Federation and the Returned & Services League.
Professor John Warhurst
H. Irving, ed., The Centenary Companion to Australian Federation, Cambridge University Press, 1999
The first steps towards an Australian federal capital were modest. In 1911, before the development of a formal city plan, the first administrator, Colonel David Miller, determined that the temporary administrative centre for the new city should be at ‘Acton’, now the site of the National Museum of Australia.
Here, overlooking the Molonglo River, the first buildings of the new city were erected. By the following year, the site housed a huddle of small timber buildings, surrounded by a sea of tents for construction workers and a small plant nursery. This first tentative footing for the new capital was confirmed with the erection of ‘The Residency’, now known as Old Canberra House, at the crest of the Acton promontory in 1913.
That year saw the capital’s commencement celebrations at Kurrajong Hill, now the site of Parliament House, on 12 March, and the naming of the capital. It was also in 1913 that the American winner of the design competition for the new capital, Walter Burley Griffin, arrived in Canberra to convince the federal administration of the worth of his plan. In the face of considerable departmental opposition, on 17 October 1913 Griffin was appointed Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction.
With the acceptance of a city plan, new projects were commenced. Water, roads and sewerage engineering works were begun, and by 1918 Griffin had produced his ‘final design’ for the city and its environs. By late 1920, however, Griffin had gone - a victim of unbending administration and his own uncompromising, creative genius. Development over the next four years was to be directed by a Federal Capital Advisory Committee (FCAC).
The Committee’s task was to investigate the work already completed and to advise the government on completing new works within Griffin’s plan. The Committee firmly stated a vision for an initial Canberra phase as ‘a garden town, with simple, pleasing but unpretentious buildings’. The Committee commissioned a number of new buildings, including ‘Provisional [Old] Parliament House’ (1923) and the flanking East Block (now the National Archives of Australia) and West Block. The provision of housing estates at ‘Civic’ (now know as the Braddon Conservation Area), and an estate at Kingston adjacent to the Kingston Power House, were also commissioned.
By 1925, Canberra had been transformed from a construction camp site on a winding, picturesque river, to a small country town with aspirations to future greatness. It was the same year that the Federal Capital Commission (FCC – the successor to the FCAC) took over the Federal Capital project. The FCC assumed, as its primary role, the relocation of Parliament - and the associated task of relocating departments and public servants from the capital cities of Australia (primarily Melbourne and Sydney) to the infant capital of Canberra. The following five hectic years witnessed: the completion and opening of the provisional Parliament House (now known as Old Parliament House) in 1927; the planning and building of large areas of housing according to the innovative designs of the FCC Architects Department; and the constructions of the Institute of Anatomy. The ‘Sydney’ building in Civic, the city centre, was started in 1927.
By 1930, with Parliament transferred and the nucleus of the city created, responsibility for the building of the city transferred to the Department of Works and Railways. The early Depression years initially halted all development, except for the completion of Manuka Swimming Pool and the first National Library on Kings Avenue. Talented architects such as Malcolm Moir worked on the drainage works at York Park. By the mid-1930s, building activity recommenced and major projects such as the Australian War Memorial, the Patents Office, a new city hospital and the Telopea and Canberra Public Schools were commenced.
The war years once again dampened building activity. A new advisory committee for Canberra’s development was established in 1939. This committee, the National Capital Planning and Development Committee (NCPDC), was established with a similar structure to its counterpart in Washington DC. This Committee commenced its advisory work at the onset of World War II but, following the war and into the early 1950s, little building of consequence was undertaken and the most dramatic development was an ‘ad hoc’ departure from Griffin’s ‘Canberra’ plan. The principal achievements were the establishment of suburban shopping centres such as at O’Connor and Ainslie, and the Works and Planning. However, the 1950s were generally characterised by ‘ad hoc’ responses by planners and architects to short-term needs identified by bureaucrats and politicians. Put simply, the Federal Capital was rudderless.
It was not until the late 1950s, and with the active intervention of Prime Minister Robert Menzies, that an active and political interest in the development of a planned Federal Capital re-emerged. In 1958 the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) was created to make Canberra, in Menzies’ memorable phrase, a ‘worthy capital’.
John Overall, Canberra Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow – A Personal Memoir, Canberra, The Federal Capital Press of Australia Pty Ltd, 1995
The planning and development of Canberra from the selection of the site in 1909 to the mid-1950s was frustrated by bureaucratic bickering, political indifference and the effects of the Great Depression and the World War II.
A Senate Select Committee was appointed to ‘Inquire into and report on the Development of Canberra’. The Committee reported in 1955 and, as a result, the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) was established in 1958 as a statutory authority to ‘plan, develop and construct Canberra as the national capital’. The NCDC was fully supported by the Prime Minister of the day, Robert Menzies.
The NCDC assembled the critical ingredients quickly: planning, development and construction capacities. It recognised that if the Commonwealth was to make a difference, it had to find a way to stimulate and plan substantial growth. The NCDC had to build on Griffin’s original plan for the city and adapt it to the trends and demands of the second half of the twentieth century.
Key planning documents published by the NCDC in 1965 and 1970 spelt out the strategy for expanding Canberra to a population of 250 000 and one million people respectively.
The ‘Y-Plan’ guided the development of Canberra for more than 30 years. ‘New Towns’ beyond the scope of Griffin’s central Canberra were developed in Woden-Weston Creek (begun in 1961), Belconnen (1966), Tuggeranong (1974), and more recently in Gungahlin (1997). ‘Town Centres’ were opened in Woden (1971), Belconnen (1977), Tuggeranong (1987) and Gungahlin (1998).
In order to give impetus to development of the national capital, the Federal Government committed to a program of transferring public servants to Canberra, mainly from Melbourne. The transfer of the Department of Defence resulted in the development of the Russell complex, and the prospect of other departments moving to Canberra stimulated new plans for Civic Centre.
The most significant commitment secured from the Commonwealth Government by the NCDC was the decision to build Lake Burley Griffin and associated works such as Kings and Commonwealth Avenue Bridges. Opened in 1964, Lake Burley Griffin is the centrepiece of the Griffin Plan. Its development united North and South Canberra and established a distinctive image for the national capital.
Other major buildings and national institutions complemented the Lake Burley Griffin initiative. The NCDC commissioned Civic Square (1961), ACT Law Courts (1963), Scrivener Dam (1963), the Royal Australian Mint (1964), Anzac Park offices (1964), Anzac Parade (1965), and the National Library of Australia (1968). In 1963, the Monaro Mall (now part of the Canberra Centre) was the first enclosed shopping mall opened in Australia.
In the 1970s the NCDC focussed on the development of the new towns, ensuring coordination of housing and community facilities. Civic Centre grew rapidly during the 1980s and the High Court of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia were completed in 1980 and 1982 respectively.
Much of the credit for the planning of the new Parliament House must go to the NCDC, although a special purpose authority - the Parliament House Construction Authority - was established to manage its construction. The new building opened in Australia’s Bicentenary year, 1988.
By the mid-1980s Canberra was well established, both as a national capital and as a city in its own right. With the advent of self-government in 1989, the NCDC was dismantled and planning responsibilities were divided between the National Capital Planning Authority (NCPA) and the Territory planning authority.
In its 30 years, the National Capital Development Commission transformed Canberra from a national capital in the making, to a city of international renown.
John Overall, Canberra Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow, Federal Capital Press of Australia Pty Ltd, 1995
Queen Elizabeth II opened the Australian-American Memorial, affectionately known as ‘The Eagle’, on 16 February 1954. It stands at an imposing 73 metres in the forecourt of the Defence Offices at Field Marshal Sir Thomas Blamey Square, Russell. The Memorial symbolises both the deep gratitude felt by Australians to American service personnel for their assistance during the World War II (1939-1945), and the close ties which were established during that conflict.
In 1948 the Australian-American Association resolved ‘to establish a memorial in Canberra in the form of a monument or statue, to perpetuate the services and sacrifices of the United States forces in Australia and to symbolise Australian-American comradeship in arms’. To give effect to this resolution, a Federal US Memorial Committee was appointed. Among the members of this Committee were the Rt. Hon. R.G. Casey, Federal President of the Australian-American Association (later to become Governor-General of Australia), and Sir Keith Murdoch, Victorian President of the Australian-American Association and father of media owner Rupert Murdoch.
It was thought that a memorial of considerable size and striking design was essential, and an Australia-wide competition was held in 1949. From the 32 entries received, the design by Richard M. Ure won the competition. The winning design provided for an octagonal aluminium column surmounted by an aluminium eagle with wings upswept in a victory sign.
The search for a suitable site for the Australian-American Memorial was extended from 1948 to 1951. Eight different locations were considered before the site now occupied, at the apex of the Kings Avenue, was selected and approved by the Commonwealth Government. The area at the time was bushland.
In 1950 the Prime Minister R.G. Menzies launched a nation-wide appeal to raise the amount of 50 000 pounds, a vast sum at the time, to build the Memorial. Within six weeks, more than 63 000 pounds had been raised. The population of Australia at the time was only eight million people. The Commonwealth Government later made a substantial donation to cover rising costs and the Memorial was finally completed at a cost of 100 000 pounds. Work commenced in December 1952 and was completed in just over one year. Vice President of the United States of America, Richard Nixon, visited the site in the early stages of construction.
The Australian-American Memorial has a hollow octagonal column with a steel framework, which is sheeted with aluminium panels and sandblasted to give the appearance of stone. Nine tons of aluminium was used to cover the shaft. The inside of the column has a system of ladders — 22 inclined and vertical ladders lead to the top of the Memorial. Two murals feature at the base, one relating the story of American combat in the Pacific and the other a profile map of America in copper. The column is topped with a bronze sphere surmounted by a stylised figure of the American Eagle by the distinguished sculptor, Paul Beadle.
‘The Eagle’ was constructed in Sydney and transported to Canberra by road. The eagle and sphere alone are 11 metres high. Calm weather conditions were needed to place the eagle on top of the column, which was done by crane at night. The Memorial’s height and unique design make it one of Canberra’s best-known and most recognised monuments.
From the surplus funds available after the appeal, state memorials were erected in Brisbane and Adelaide.
The Canadian Flagpole is located in a prominent position on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin at Regatta Point. Its erection was one of the catalysts leading to the eventual development of a significant central park – Commonwealth Park – for the national capital.
In 1955 the Hon. C.D. Howe, Canadian Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, offered this large flagpole to the Australian Government as a memento of his visit.
In November 1955 a 40.2 metre single green spar of Douglas Fir, logged from a forest in British Columbia and weighing 7.1 tonnes, arrived in Sydney with its bark still attached. After being submerged in Sydney Harbour for several days for quarantine reasons, it was transported by train to Canberra straddled along the length of three railway trucks, arriving on 24 November. Subsequently, under the watchful eye of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Commonwealth Forestry and Timber Bureau, and the Department of Works, the pole was trimmed to 39 metres, debarked and shaped. It was encased in felt and kept constantly damp by water sprays. Eventually it was transferred to a 42.7 metre polythene plastic film bath, where it lay for three weeks in a special mix of chemicals to ensure protection of the timber.
His Excellency T.W.L. MacDermot, High Commissioner for Canada, handed the pole over on 20 November 1957 to the Hon. Allen Fairhall, Australian Minister for the Interior and Works.
On 1 July each year a special flag-raising ceremony takes place to celebrate Canada’s National Day. The Canadian Flagpole has also become a centre of celebration on Australia Day.
John Gray, Commonwealth Park, Canberra A Review of its History 1913–1993. A Research Report to the ACT Heritage Council, October 1994.
Lake Burley Griffin is an integral part of Canberra’s design and is a vital element in the plan for the nation’s capital. The lake consists of the waters of the Molonglo River between Scrivener Dam and the Dairy Road Bridge.
Competition for the site for the future national capital was intense. In 1908 the Yass-Canberra area was chosen by Parliament owing to its ‘bracing’ climate, good water supply and natural beauty. Charles Scrivener, the New South Wales Government Surveyor, was instructed to explore all possible sites in the Yass-Canberra district. Scrivener’s task was to investigate possible water catchment for the area and to prepare a contour survey for a site appropriate to the Seat of Government.
Named after Walter Burley Griffin, winner of the design competition for the national capital in 1912, the lake is a key element in Griffin’s plan for the city. The heart of Griffin’s plan was a central artificial lake and a ‘Parliamentary Triangle’, in which the most important national buildings were to be placed. The plan was structured on two major lines. One, the Water Axis, runs southeast from Black Mountain along the line of the formal central lake. The other, the Land Axis, starts at Mount Ainslie, intersects the Water Axis at a right angle, crosses to Capital Hill, and out to Mount Bimberi in the distant Brindabella mountains.
Griffin’s original plan was modified to become a lake controlled by a dam at the site originally suggested by Scrivener. This is now called ‘Scrivener Dam’. The two bridges on Griffin’s ‘direct lines of communication’ visually divide the lake into three water basins as originally proposed (East, West and Central Basins).
The bridges are each twin carriageways. Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, consisting of five spans totalling 310 metres in length, was opened in November 1963. Kings Avenue Bridge has seven spans, is 270 metres long and was opened in March 1962. In 1959, the Commonwealth Government agreed to the construction of Lake Burley Griffin and committed funds for the project. The design and construction of the lake and Scrivener Dam were undertaken in two stages. The first stage commenced in 1960 and involved the construction of the dam, lake floor, two bridges, jetties and edges to over 843 hectares of lake foreshore. The impounding of the lake waters commenced in 1963 with the closing of the valves at Scrivener Dam. Prime Minister Robert Menzies officially commemorated stage one, the filling of the lake, on 17 October 1964. The second stage involved detailed landscape development of the foreshores and is an ongoing process.
Different sections of Lake Burley Griffin have different uses appropriate to their special physical characteristics, their foreshores and their water quality. The formal nature of Central Basin provides an appropriate setting for the nationally important buildings of the parliamentary area.
As an important freshwater ecosystem, the lake and its margins are a significant wildlife refuge and bird habitat. The Jerrabomberra Wetlands, at the eastern end of Lake Burley Griffin, provide a valuable habitat for many species of waterbirds.
Westlake and West Basin are the main areas for sailing, sailboarding and swimming. There are many areas around the lake where public recreation has priority, such as Commonwealth, Kings and Grevillea Parks, Lennox Gardens and Commonwealth Place to name a few.
Lake Burley Griffin is a shallow lake occupying the flood plain of the Molonglo River, with a maximum depth of 17.6 metres near Scrivener Dam and a mean depth of four metres, with the shallowest part at 1.9 metres at East Basin. Scrivener Dam maintains the lake level. Lake Burley Griffin is approximately nine kilometres long and has a width varying from 300 to 1 200 metres. It is located at an elevation of 555.93 metres above sea level, approximately 300 kilometres south-west of Sydney.
The water area covers 664 hectares and the distance around the shoreline is 40.5 kilometres. There are three large islands and three small unnamed islands within the lake. Aspen Island (the site of the National Carillon) is located in Central Basin. Springbank Island and Spinnaker Island are located in the West Basin.
Lake Burley Griffin is managed and maintained by the National Capital Authority on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia.
Located on Aspen Island in Lake Burley Griffin, the National Carillon was a gift from the British Government to the people of Australia celebrating the 50th anniversary of the national capital.
Queen Elizabeth II officially opened the National Carillon on 26 April 1970. John Douglas Gordon, after whom the Aspen Island footbridge is now named, played the inaugural recital. The National Carillon was refurbished in 2003, with the clavier chamber and function room on the top floor being substantially expanded and renovated. Two new bells were also added.
A carillon is a set of at least 23 cast and tuned bronze bells, played from a mechanical-action keyboard. With 55 bronze bells, the National Carillon is large by world standards, and the largest in Australia. The pitch of the bells ranges chromatically through four and a half octaves, and each bell weighs between seven kilograms and six tonnes. Cast in England by John Taylor & Co of Loughborough, they are fine examples of the art of bellfounding.
Carillonists play the suspended stationary bells from a keyboard of wooden batons and pedals, called a clavier. A system of individual cables and wire linkages draws soft iron clappers onto the bells as each wooden baton or pedal is struck by the carillonist. A separate system of operation allows the quarter-hour striking of the Westminster chimes.
Much variation of musical expression is obtainable in the hands of a talented carillonist. Carillon ‘schools’ are well established in Europe and North America and carillonists regularly participate in international recitals.
Timothy Hurd, QSM was appointed as the National Carillon Director in Canberra in July 2001. His graduate training in music was at Yale University, followed by carillon studies in the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States. In the early 1980s Timothy was awarded the Dutch ‘Prix d’Excellence’ in carillon performance and, in 1994, he received the Queen’s Service Medal for services to music. Timothy has performed concerts and taught master classes throughout the world.
Local and visiting carillonists perform recitals at the National Carillon throughout the year. All styles of music are represented, from compositions specially written for the carillon to popular song arrangements and improvisation. It is often used to celebrate special occasions and in conjunction with other events.
The best location to listen to the National Carillon is anywhere with an unobstructed view of the tower, within a radius of about 100 metres. The carillonist may be greeted at the base of the tower approximately five minutes after the recital.
The National Carillon tower, rising to a height of 50 metres, was the prize-winning design of Western Australian architects Cameron, Chisholm & Nicol.
The design of the tower consists of a cluster of three shafts, each a triangle in shape, aligned with the three sides of a central equilateral triangle. Each of the shafts serves a different function: the highest contains a passenger lift, the next shaft holds a steel staircase, and the lowest is a service shaft. The first floor is approximately halfway up the tower and contains the chamber for the clavier that operates the bells. On the next floor is the bell chamber and above that again, at 36 metres from the ground, is a function room. The tower is faced with precast mineral aggregate panels of white marble chippings and white cement.
The tower’s height allows the music of the bells to drift across Lake Burley Griffin and through Kings and Commonwealth Parks. The tower is lit at night, providing a magnificent landmark in the national capital.
National Carillon Recital Times
Information and bookings
Access to the National Carillon is via Kings Avenue (north bound lane only) or from Constitution Avenue. Turn into Wendouree Drive and proceed under Parkes Way, following the lakeshore through Kings Park.
The National Carillon, Aspen Island is managed and maintained by the National Capital Authority on behalf of the Commonwealth of Australia.
The Captain James Cook Memorial, incorporating the Water Jet and Globe, was constructed by the Commonwealth Government to commemorate the Bicentenary of Captain James Cook's first sighting of the east coast of Australia. The Memorial was officially inaugurated on 25 April 1970 by Queen Elizabeth II.
Captain James Cook was born on 27 October 1728 in Yorkshire (United Kingdom) and died on 14 February 1779 in Hawaii. He was an outstanding sea captain, navigator, cartographer and practical dietician.
In 1769, Cook circumnavigated and charted the North and South Islands of New Zealand, sighted the southeast coast of Australia on 19 April 1770, and successfully navigated the Great Barrier Reef. During this voyage, none of his crew died of scurvy. His use of fruit to avoid the disease made him famous in his home country and around the world.
After this successful first voyage, Cook embarked on another, more ambitious venture of exploration and discovery in 1772 - crossing the Antarctic Circle for the first time. Cook's last voyage was an unsuccessful effort to discover a passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This ill-fated voyage led to Cook's death after an argument with Hawaiians over the stealing of a cutter. Cook was slain on the beach at Kealakekua by the local inhabitants.
On his three global voyages, Cook mapped more of the Pacific, South Atlantic, the southern Indian, the Arctic and Antarctic oceans than had been seen or imagined by any European navigators during the preceding two and a half centuries. He also exhibited, as one biographer has written, an entirely new and refreshingly civilised attitude' to the Indigenous inhabitants of all the lands he visited.
Captain Cook Memorial Jet
Located in the Central Basin of Lake Burley Griffin, directly in front of the National Capital Exhibition at Regatta Point, the Captain Cook Memorial Jet sends water to a maximum height of 147 metres, pumping it from, and returning it to, the lake. The exit velocity of water leaving the nozzle is 260 kilometres an hour. About six tonnes of water is in the air at any one moment when the main nozzle is in use, discharging 500 litres per second.
Water is drawn from the lake through a 50 metre-long intake tunnel, to the base of the underground pump house. The Jet has two pumps, each capable of pumping 250 litres per second. It can be controlled either manually or automatically. Automatic control equipment permits the Jet to operate according to a program that governs the time and duty cycle of each pump. Physical limitations on the operation of the Jet consist of wind speed, wind direction and also the lake water level. The Jet is automatically turned off during high winds.
The design of the main nozzle is the same as the Jet D'Eau in Geneva, Switzerland. The city of Geneva allowed the same design to be used after high-level diplomatic negotiations.
A much photographed and popular landmark, the Captain Cook Memorial Jet operates daily from 2pm-4pm. It is often turned on or coloured for special occasions and the best location from which to take photographs is the National Capital Exhibition at Regatta Point.
Captain Cook Memorial Globe
The Terrestrial Globe is about three metres in diameter and shows the three routes of Cook's voyages, which are described on the surrounding handrail. Meridians of longitude and parallels of latitude form this open-cage globe, with landmasses depicted in beaten bas-relief copper.
The architectural firm of Bunning Madden, which designed the National Library, located on the other side of Lake Burley Griffin, also designed the Captain Cook Water Jet and Globe.
Peace Park is located in the Parliamentary Zone, between Lake Burley Griffin and the National Library of Australia. It is a lasting symbol of Australia’s commitment to peace, providing a place in the national capital for contemplation.
Peace Park was commissioned by the National Consultative Committee on Peace and Disarmament (NCCPD) during the United Nations International Year of Peace in 1986. The NCCPD was established in 1985 by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon. Bill Hayden, to advise the Government on the most effective ways for Australia to contribute to the observance of the International Year of Peace.
His Excellency, the Hon. Bill Hayden AC, Governor-General of Australia, officially dedicated Peace Park on United Nations Day, 24 October 1990. On that day he unveiled a monument ‘Dedicated to All Peace Makers’, which has the inscription: ‘All who visit here are invited to commit themselves to peace and the elimination of all weapons of mass destruction’.
Peace Park has a strong, simple plan and relies on the contrast of spaces and materials to create its distinct character. The park is triangular in shape, built on two axes intersecting at the central feature, a black granite square. The polished granite in the centre of the feature is sloped with the word ‘Peace’ etched into its panels in the six official languages of the United Nations Organisation and the Aboriginal language of the local Ngunnawal people. The UN languages are English, French, Spanish, Russian, Arabic and Chinese. The Ngunnawal word used, ‘Narragunnawali’, means ‘alive/well-being/coming together’. At the heart of the feature is the international symbol of peace – an image of a dove carrying an olive branch – etched into black, polished granite.
An International Tree of Peace was planted in the park as part of the Centenary of Federation celebrations on 12 March 2001. Many of the heads of diplomatic missions based in Canberra aided the planting of the tree by placing small samples of soil from their respective countries around the tree.
The tree chosen was a Bunya Pine (Araucaria bidwillii), a native plant of Australia. It is a very large evergreen with a distinctive form, similar to the Norfolk Island Pine but with a larger, more broadly spreading dome-shaped crown. A specimen of the Bunya was planted on Kings Avenue to commemorate the visit to Canberra of the Duke and Duchess of York (the late Queen Mother) to open the original Parliament House in 1927. This tree is over 75 years old and in excellent health.
The design and construction of Peace Park was undertaken by the national capital Planning Authority (now the National Capital Authority) in association with Australian Construction Services.
On a bright day during the summer of 1979 (it could not be any better considering its consequences), Sir John Overall – former head of the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) – walked into our office ‘Mitchell/Giurgola Architects’ in New York. He proposed I be an assessor of the design competition for the ‘new’ Parliament House of Australia. I said: ‘I am honoured by such an offer, but I would rather enter the competition.’ Thus, my team became one of the 329 competitors for the design of Parliament House.
Like Walter Burley Griffin, before me, I had never been in Australia before starting work on the competition entry. However, in 1946, as a student of architecture I saw Griffin’s plan of Canberra. The magic relationship between geometry and land configurations of that plan, after that, often became the object of my architectural dreams. The brief for the design of the parliament compiled by the NCDC was possibly the best I had ever encountered in my professional career. I plunged into Australian literature rather than into guides and travelogues. Patrick White, Miles Franklin, Henry Lawson and Les Murray became my real instructors, while the sonorous voice and accent of Richard Thorp, the Australian in our office, produced the right atmosphere.
It was our inclusion in the short list of five selected architects to enter the second phase, that finally gave me the chance to step on the dry slope of the Kurrajong (Capital Hill). It was an unbelievably hot summer, at a time of drought, yet a crystalline air made distances illusive on the landscape. The spatial conception of the Griffin plan in its true dimension soon confirmed in my mind the validity of our solution.
In June 1980, the firm of Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects won the commission for the design of Parliament House. After the cheers stopped, we realised that we faced a daunting task. The building, comprising 224,000 square metres on 32 acres to house about 4,000 people and 4,500 rooms, was to be opened in January 1988 to celebrate the bicentenary of European settlement. But above all, the building was to be the tangible expression of the nation’s major democratic institution.
It is difficult to sum up in a few sentences the story of eight years of labouring. The spirit of solidarity among the makers, the enthusiasm, the goodwill, the energy and talents of all the participants in such an endeavour – from architects to managers, from artists to labourers, from politicians to public servants – made it possible to have the building available to the occupants at the set time.
The methodology adopted for the project was based on the so-called ‘fast track construction process,’ a method popular at the time but hardly ever used for buildings of such significant public use. Four elements constituted the project team: the Parliament House Construction Authority, acting as a small executive managerial group; the architect and related consultants; the construction manager; and a project planner. All reported to a Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee, the Minister for the Territories and the Prime Minister. Thus, while construction continued throughout, from 1980 to 1985 the project was mostly ‘design led’ and, from 1985 to 1988, mostly ‘construction led’.
Of major importance for the project was the art committee which began functioning at the very start. This committee assured the continuing, strong connection between architecture, the acquisition of a superb collection of Australian art and craft, and therefore, the presence of major art works available to the public at the opening of the building.
The Joint Standing Committee, attended sometimes in the wee hours of the morning by parliamentarians, periodically reviewed the project. Some displayed a good grasp of art and architectural matters; others showed a preference for objects of questionable value and taste, with at times catastrophic results.
However, Parliament House remains a building which, within the time constraints for construction, retains an internal logic of design together with an organic integration of architectural conception, art expression and construction.
Above all, the building is a public space very much in the spirit of Canberra, within its pliable and unfolding landscape, a place with an identity that does not remain merely subject to the moment.
Hiag Beck, Parliament House Canberra: A Building for the Nation, Watermark Press, 1988
In September 1995, a group of Canberra residents met to consider the need for a commemorative project in the national capital which celebrated the Centenary of Federation in 2001, and the close historical and cultural links that exist between Australia and Britain.
In November 1996, the ACT Branch of the Australia-Britain Society was invited to assume leadership of the group, and Magna Carta was suggested as a theme for the proposed monument. This was endorsed and the name ‘Magna Carta Committee’ adopted.
Field inspections of possible sites followed and eventually a semi-circular grassed area, adjacent to the Old Parliament House Senate Garden, was selected. Langton Crescent, which borders the site, is named in honour of Stephen Langton who, as Archbishop of Canterbury, played a crucial role in persuading King John to seal the first issue of the Magna Carta at Runnymede in 1215. Magna Carta Place was formally authorised as the site for the monument on 1 October 1997.
The Hon. Sir Gerard Brennan AC KBE, Chief Justice of Australia, dedicated Magna Carta Place on 12 October 1997. This date was the 700th anniversary of the sealing by King Edward I of the 1297 issue of Magna Carta. An original of this issue of the Magna Carta is on permanent display in Parliament House.
A high point in the Magna Carta Committee’s fund-raising campaign was reached after an approach to the British Deputy High Commissioner in Canberra. The British Government made a donation of $528 000 towards the cost of the monument as its Centenary of Federation gift — from the people of Britain to the people of Australia.
In August 1999 a two-stage design competition for the Magna Carta Monument was advertised in Australia and Britain, and design professionals from both countries were invited to enter. The design brief emphasised the commemorative purposes of the monument and the special landscape character of the site.
Fifty-three entries were received. History, myth and geology inspired the winning design, by Australian architect Alastair Falconer in collaboration with exhibition designer Marcus Bree, with artists Silvia Velez and Chris Meadham collaborating on murals.
The visual reference to time takes on a second dimension, as the geometry of the walls invites visitors to stroll along and gradually discover the story of Magna Carta. Like traces left in a rock, two long, etched murals display a description of historic political events which led to the emergence of Magna Carta in England and later to the development of legislation and civil rights in Australia. The murals are given relevance by a display of texts, set in the curved section of the wall and in the pavilion. The pavilion has the look of an ancient shrine, with its bronze dome and crown-like ring with ancient lettering. The words are Chapter 29 of Magna Carta (1297 issue), in Latin. The English words are on a rubbing plaque in the pavilion.
Magna Carta comes from the Latin for ‘Great Charter’. The document was drafted at Runnymede, a meadow by the River Thames in England, and signed by King John in 1215 under pressure from his rebellious barons, who were encouraged by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. Resentful of the king’s high taxes, they demanded certain rights and liberties. Among the charter’s provisions were clauses providing for a free church, reforming law and justice, and controlling the behaviour of royal officials. It was reissued with alterations in 1216, 1217 and 1225. The Magna Carta is traditionally regarded as the foundation document of British constitutional law.
Magna Carta and Australia
While Magna Carta is now seen as a traditional mandate for trial by jury, justice for all, accountable government and no arbitrary imprisonment, these qualities apply in a particular way to Australia.
When Europeans arrived, their new colonial society was often in conflict with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The early colonial settlements, founded mostly on convict labour, also imposed a system of justice at odds with the rights and liberties expressed in Magna Carta. However, as penal settlements evolved over time into free colonies, Magna Carta’s principles could no longer be ignored. Ultimately, with the federation of Australia’s colonies in 1901 through various Acts or as part of the common law, the rights expressed in the Magna Carta were confirmed to suit the unique conditions of our Australian society.
Many countries have diplomatic representation in Canberra to facilitate relationships between their governments and the Australian Government. Some missions are called 'Embassies' and, if the countries represented belong to the Commonwealth, they are known as 'High Commissions'. The activities carried out by diplomats relate to trade, information, cultural affairs, defence and immigration. Issuing of visas is another important function.
Canberra's diplomatic corps began in 1936 with the appointment of the United Kingdom's first High Commissioner to Australia, followed later that year by the Canadian representative. The United States opened what was termed a 'delegation' in 1939. Residences and chanceries were originally located in the suburbs of Red Hill and Forrest, but today the majority are situated in the suburbs of Yarralumla, Deakin and O'Malley.
The International Flag Display, in Canberra's parliamentary area on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin, colourfully acknowledges the international presence in Australia's national capital. Maintained by the National Capital Authority, the approximately 80 flags, identified by a plaque at the base of the flagpole, fly continuously 24-hours a day and are lit at night. The display is located along the promenade between the High Court and the National Library on the southern shore of the lake, near an area now known as Commonwealth Place. The Governor-General, Sir William Deane, launched the display on Australia Day 1999.
On 20 September 1963, fifty years after the founding of the national capital, Minister for the Interior Gordon Freeth closed the valves on the newly completed Scrivener Dam thus allowing the waters of the Molonglo River to form Lake Burley Griffin—one of Canberra’s main recreational and tourist attractions.
The dam is named after Charles Robert Scrivener (1855-1923) who recommended the site for the national capital in 1909. Scrivener’s detailed survey of the site was used by entrants in the design competition for Canberra, which was won by the American architect Walter Burley Griffin. As Director of Commonwealth Lands and Surveys, Scrivener recommended that Griffin’s idea of three separate but connected lakes be modified to a single lake impounded by a dam. Scrivener’s siting for the dam and proposed water level of 556 metres above sea level were ultimately adopted.
Prime Minister Robert Menzies officially commemorated stage one, the filling of the lake, on 17 October 1964. Despite pressure within his own party for the name ‘Lake Menzies’, the Prime Minister insisted on ‘Lake Burley Griffin’ as there was no monument to the architect of the national capital, Walter Burley Griffin.
The concrete gravity dam is 33 metres high and 319 metres long with a five bay spillway controlled by 30.5 metre wide, hydraulically operated fish-belly flap gates with a total discharge capacity of 8 500 cubic metres a second. The German designed and built fish-belly gates are rare in Australia and allow for a precise control of water level. This is important in a recreational and ornamental lake because good water-level control eliminates a dead area between high and low water.
It took 55 000 cubic metres of concrete to build the dam. The maximum wall thickness is 19.7 metres. The dam holds back 33 million cubic metres of water with a surface area of 664 hectares (approximately seven square kms). The lake has a shoreline of 40.5 kms (with a recreational walking/cycle track around it) and is 11 kms long and up to 1.2 kms wide. As well as providing a recreation resource, the dam and lake have created important wetland habitats for native fish, birds and wildlife.
The dam provides flood control for the Molonglo-Queanbeyan section of the Murrumbidgee catchment and will be able to accommodate a one in 5 000-year flood. The only time in the dam’s history that all five gates were opened was in the flood of 1976.
The gates are tested every three months. This is done by lowering a floating barrier 30 metres long and six metres high (the same dimensions as a gate) between the concrete pylons on the lake side of a gate. It then holds back the water while the gate is tested by lowering it to its maximum capacity. The procedure is repeated for each gate.
The dam provides a third road crossing the lake, Lady Denman Drive. The other two, Commonwealth Avenue Bridge (310 metres) and Kings Avenue Bridge (270 metres) were constructed before the lake was filled. The height of the bridges was designed to allow passage of recreation sailing boats with the tallest masts. The lake bed was excavated to just over two metres to accommodate keels and to ensure mosquitoes do not breed.
The dam is a National Engineering Landmark and is on the Register of National Estate, ranked fifth of 25 dams in Australia with heritage listing.
The National Police Memorial
The National Police Memorial pays tribute to all Australian police officers killed on duty and those who have died as a result of their duties since the beginning of policing in Australia. The memorial is designed to encourage understanding and appreciation of policing, while allowing for individual officer's stories to be told and remembered.
The Memorial reminds us that the ultimate sacrifice is made by ordinary people demonstrating extraordinary qualities. The memorial acts as a symbol connecting police to the community and loved ones through interaction and reflection.
The Memorial is comprised of a bronze commemorative wall upon which the names of police officers who have made the ultimate sacrifice are placed and a large stone paved area with etched quotes. The undulating terrain reflects the uncertain path police tread in the performance of their duties.
The wall is punctured by 1 200 plaques, over 700 of which are engraved with information about deceased officers. The random placement of the plaques reflects the random nature of loss. Vacant plaques remind visitors future tragedy is inevitable.
Each plaque casts a shadow creating a random pattern on the wall and is individually back-lit, producing an effect similar to a candlelit vigil.
The National Police Memorial designed by Fairweather Proberts Architects with Urban Art.
The National Police Memorial is located in Kings Park, near the National Carillon. Access is from Wendouree Drive, from Constitution Ave or from Kings Ave (northbound).
The National Emergency Services Memorial
The National Emergency Services Memorial was dedicated in honour of the thousands of men and women who serve or have served in Australia's emergency services. The memorial provides a place to reflect on those who have been injured or died while carrying out their duties for the benefit of the Australian community.
The design of the memorial draws on the history of many tragic events, recalling images of grass fire at night, lightning flashes and the shadows of one's body cast by strong sunlight or fire.
The wall of the memorial also gives the visitor a sense of safety, like that provided by Emergency Services personnel. The raised wall curves up in an expression of comfort, to reflect the warmth of the sun and give shelter from the wind.
A three-dimensional frieze portrays emergency service personnel and their services to the community and environment. It is a visual expression of the motto of Emergency Management Australia: 'Prevent, Prepare, Respond, Recover'. The varied level and scale of detail on the surface allows the images to be read at different distances, allowing images to appear depending on the position of the viewer and the light and shadow on the textured surface.
Access to the National Emergency Services Memorial is by path from both the Rond Terraces car park and the cycle path along Lake Burley Griffin. The memorial was designed by Melbourne landscape architects, Aspect Melbourne Pty Ltd.
Merchant Navy Memorial
The Merchant Navy Memorial commemorates the contribution made by the Australian merchant navy during both World Wars.
The Australian Merchant Navy Seamen's Memorial at the Australian War Memorial lists the names of 182 merchant seamen who lost their lives in World War I. During World War II, 29 Australian merchant ships and 386 merchant seamen were lost in Australian waters.
The design of the memorial includes a globe spinning on a north-south axis. The central panel at the rear of the memorial contains the badge of the merchant navy and is flanked on both sides by six panels, representing ships' bows; the curved tops represent the waves of the sea. The pattern on the paving represents the various camouflage patterns used by merchant ships during World War I and the red crosses, the merchant navy-crewed hospital ships. The two concrete and glass drums at the extreme front flanks of the memorial represent navigational compass cards.
The Merchant Navy Memorial was designed by Daryl Jackson Alastair Swayn Pty Ltd architects and built from funds collected by the Merchant Navy War Memorial Fund Limited. It is located located at the edge of Lake Burley Griffin because of its association with water.
HMAS Canberra Memorial
The HMAS Canberra Memorial commemorates both the ship, HMAS Canberra, and those who served on her. Built in Scotland in 1927, the Canberra was a Kent Class heavy cruiser, commissioned into the Royal Australian Navy in 1928.
During World War II the Canberra served in both the South Atlantic and Indian Oceans. It escorted Australian troops to Singapore in 1942 and in May of that year took part in the Battle of the Coral Sea, providing support for United States Marines at Guadalcanal. On 9 August 1942, at the Battle of Savo Island, the Allied fleet was surprised by a Japanese fleet. The Canberra was hit 24 times within less than two minutes - 84 seamen were lost.
The order to abandon ship was given the next day and the crippled Canberra was sunk by a torpedo from a United States ship. As a mark of respect, the United States renamed one of its ships, then under construction, the USS Canberra.
The memorial is comprised of two components: the bow of the ship and five-tonne anchor and chain typical of those carried on the Canberra. It is located at the edge of Lake Burley Griffin because of the association with water.
The HMAS Canberra Memorial and the Merchant Navy Memorial are located on the northern shore of Lake Burley Griffin, near Aspen Island. Access is from Wendouree Drive, off Constitution Avenue or from Kings Ave (northbound).
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 09 November 2010 08:53|