Monday, 9 March 2009


The flag of Canberra

Wishing all my fellow Canberrans a very Happy Canberra Day. Hope you have got the barbie fired to enjoy this day with your family and friends. Enjoy the warm weather (I know, it doesn’t look too warm out there at the moment – hopefully the sun will come out soon) while you can. Winter’s just a few months way….sigh.

The Canberra Coat of Arms

For those of you who are wondering, Canberra Day is an annual public holiday held on the second Monday in March in the Australian Capital Territory (or the ACT) to celebrate the official naming of Canberra. Canberra was named at a ceremony on March 12, 1913 by Lady Denman, the wife of the then Governor-General of Australia, Lord Denman.

King O'Malley laying the first foundation 1913

Before European settlement, the area which eventually becomes the Australian Capital Territory was inhabited by the Indigenous Ngambri People. Archaeological evidence suggests human habitation of the area for at least 28,000 years.

The creation of the Australian Capital Territory is rooted in Australia’s constitution. Section 125 of the Constitution specified that the capital must be placed in a Commonwealth territory within New South Wales but at least 100 miles from Sydney. However, in the early 1900s, Melbourne was easily Australia's largest city and the obvious place for the capital. The western colonies—Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria—supported Melbourne.

However, NSW (the largest colony) and (to a lesser extent) Queensland, favoured Sydney—which was older than Melbourne and the only other large city in Australia. Perhaps one or another of the two colonial capitals might have eventually been acceptable to the smaller states, but the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry was such that neither city would ever agree to the other one becoming capital.

Eventually, a compromise was reached: Melbourne would be the capital on a temporary basis while a new capital was built somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne.

After an extensive search, the present site, about 300 kilometres south-west of Sydney in the foothills of the Australian Alps, was chosen in 1908 as a result of survey work done by Government Surveyor Charles Scrivener in that year. Two persons who campaigned strongly for the Federal capital to be in the Canberra area were John Gale, the publisher of The Queanbeyan Age and Federal politician King O'Malley. The choice of site was a disputed one, and narrowly beating Dalgety, a small town near the NSW/Victoria border.

The NSW government ceded the new Australian Capital Territory to the Commonwealth Government on January 1, 1910. In that same year, the ACT became an alcohol-free area as a result of legislation that the Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley ran through Federal Parliament in Melbourne (Ironically, a pub named after King O'Malley was established in the city centre of Canberra during the 1990s – We Australians do have a warped sense of humour!!!).

Old Parliament House - then and now

An international competition was held in 1911 by O'Malley to select a design for the layout of the city. An American architect, Walter Burley Griffin, won the competition in 1913. His idea was to divide the city into two parts using a lake as a dividing point. The sections divided into were: the civilisation part and the governmental part.

A variety of names were suggested for the capital, including Olympus, Paradise, Captain Cook, Shakespeare, Kangaremu, Eucalypta and Myola. The name of Canberra was eventually settled upon. At midday on March 12, 1913 the city was officially given this name by Lady Denman, at a ceremony on Kurrajong Hill (now known as Capital Hill) and building officially commenced. The city now commemorates this anniversary as "Canberra Day" each year on the second Monday of March.

The word Canberra is said to be derived from the various renditions into written English of the name of the indigenous people of the area, the Ngambri. Ngambri was anglicised to Kamberri and first officially recorded in 1832. The first non-Aboriginal landowner, Joshua John Moore, named his property "Canberry Station" and it was thus shown on the 1837 survey of the area.

Explanations have been put forward that the name means 'meeting place' in the Walgalu language, with reference to the various transcriptions of Kambera (alternatively spelt Kamberra, Nganbra or Nganbirra). Alternatively the name was apparently used as a reference to corroborees held during the seasonal migration of the Ngambri people to feast on the Bogong moths that pass through the region each summer. Another explanation sometimes given, but less commonly accepted, is that the word comes from an Aboriginal word "Nganbra" meaning "hollow between a woman's breasts", and refers to the plain between Mount Ainslie and Black Mountain in the area.

The Commonwealth of Australia Parliament House



January 1 - 'Federation'- the Commonwealth of Australia was established, assented to by Queen Victoria signing the Constitution Act. A home for the national government must be established and the following conditions governed choice of site:
'The Seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be determined by the Parliament and shall be within territory granted to, or acquired by the Commonwealth. It shall be within the State of New South Wales and be distant not less than one hundred miles from Sydney.

Such territory shall contain an area of not less than one hundred square miles granted to the Commonwealth without any payment.'

1902 to 1908

The search for a site for the national capital took place. Forty districts were proposed, 23 of these inspected and the choice narrowed to seven. Albury, Bombala, Lake George, Lyndhurst, Tumut, Dalgety and Yass-Canberra were all examined with regard to adequate water supply, climate and landform suitable for the building of a 'garden city'. Finally in 1908 the Yass - Canberra area was selected as it best filled these requirements, and 2368 km2 were set aside as the Australian Capital Territory, with access to the sea at Jervis Bay.

Charles Scrivener, Surveyor-General selected the most suitable area of the territory for construction of the city. He chose the broad flood-plain of the Molonglo River, 550 metres above sea-level with additional land to the north and south including two lines of hills on the north side rising 300 metres above the plain and low undulations adding attractive variety to the southern area.


An international competition for a city plan was launched, attracting 137 entries. First prize was awarded to American landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin from Chicago whose plan established a city for a population of 25 000 which he expected in time would grow to 75 000. The population is now over 350 000.

Griffin's aim was to obtain unity by applying the natural advantages of the landform to the civic necessities. How well he combined the distant mountains, local hills, valleys and waterways can best be viewed from Mount Ainslie Lookout or Telecom Tower on Black Mountain.

Griffin's words make interesting reading:
...The site may be considered an irregular amphitheatre with Mount Anslie at the north-east, flanked by Black Mountain and Mount Pleasant all forming the top galleries; with the slopes to the water, the auditorium - the waterway and flood-basin, the arena; with the southern slopes reflected in the basin, the terraced stage and setting of monumental Government structures sharply defined rising tier on tier to the culminating highest internal hill, Capital Hill; and with Mugga Mugga, Red Hill and the blue distant mountain ranges forming the back scene of the theatrical whole..."

Dominating Griffin's plan was a central artificial lake and a 'parliamentary triangle' in which the most important national buildings were to be placed. The surrounding residential areas had a geometric street pattern, circular and radial in shape, all fitting well into the general topography.


On 12 March, Canberra was formally named at the laying of a foundation stone on Capital Hill. Griffin arrived in October as Federal Director of Design and Construction - development of the city began.

Source: Wikipedia and Tourism Canberra

No comments: