Birth of Canberra

March 10, 2019

On 12 March 1913, the inland site selected two year’s earlier to be Australia’s capital city was officially named “Canberra” by our then Governor-General’s wife, Lady Denman. This naming ceremony also marked the commencement of work for our new capital by the laying of its first foundation stone.

Situated inside the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – which had been declared on 1 January 1911 – American architect Walter Burley Griffin won an international competition to design Australia’s new capital city.

After early setbacks (see More Information below), after World War II Canberra grew more rapidly and is now home to close to  400,000 people, dominated by public servants – both Federal and ACT – who by some measures equate to almost half of the workforce (proportion generally way above other Aussie jurisdictions). This unique attribute shapes a Canberra culture and mindset – arguably a ‘bubble’ in the nation’s capital and bureaucracy that is quite different to that in the wider community it is meant to serve.

Celebrate this naming and foundation day of Canberra – Australia’s capital, born of compromise – by:

  • visiting (or making plans to visit) our nation's capital and seeing some of the historic and educational institutions there
  • watching these short documentaries on our capital
  • reading further about how Canberra came into being and its history to now
  • taking an active interest in your children or grandchildren’s school visits to Canberra and perhaps volunteering to go along
  • making a conscious choice to use a private, rather than public service, such as your own vehicle instead of public transport, or watch commercial television (or Sky News after Dark) rather than the ABC or SBS tonight, to get a greater perspective on life not influenced by the public sector
  • reflecting on how different Canberra and its residents have become relative to the rest of Australia, and how we may get it back working for the people and taxpayers of Australia rather than having it continue to operate in its own unique interests, lavished with our tax dollars to enjoy
  • apprising yourself of how the Conservative Party would “Burst the Canberra Bubble” by reforming the wayward and insular culture of the capital and its regular political and lobbyist visitors, and/or
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends and those wanting a capital that better reflects the conversations, values and aspirations of ordinary Australians.

More Information

From our Federation in 1901, Australia’s capital had been Melbourne (then our largest city). But this was only an interim, compromise solution until a suitable, permanent site – that was not Sydney or Melbourne – had been found and built. The new capital’s site had to be (climatically) not too hot, at least 100 miles away from Sydney, fresh water-abundant and inland (the latter for then defence reasons).

  • When named, Canberra had more sheep than people, giving rise to a long-standing joke that construction of the city had ruined a good sheep paddock.

Soon after the city’s construction began, world wars and the Great Depression intervened to heavily stifle Canberra’s development, although Canberra’s temporary Federal Parliament House was completed and opened in 1927 with the permanent replacement opened exactly 61 years later on 9 May 1988.

Lake Burley Griffin – Canberra’s central artificial lake on the Molonglo River – and its “Scrivener Dam” was constructed in the early 1960s. Once the then persistent drought broke (which had aided its timely construction), the lake reached its planned level in late April 1964, adding great amenity to our fledging capital.

Since 2007 Canberrans have celebrated 'Canberra Day' on the second Monday of March, the closest long-weekend timing to coincide with the fixed anniversary date of 12 March. As at 2018, those within the 'Canberra bubble' held the record for the most public holidays in Australia - 13. This weekend coincides with the Canberra Festival and its Balloon Spectacular.

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