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Australia's Capital City

The Story of Canberra

Canberra Tourism


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 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.

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 was ready to begin.

1914 - 1918

World War I, changes of government and lack of money slowed progress of the city but several major works were undertaken. In 1914 the railway was extended from Queanbeyan to the south-east comer of Canberra, a power station was built at Kingston, brick-works were opened at Yarralumla and in 1915 Cotter Dam was completed.

First Building in London Circuit


Walter Burley Griffin left Canberra with the framework of the plan established on the ground, but disappointed at the lack of progress and frustrated by repeated efforts to change his city plan.

1921 - 1930

Under the guidance of the Federal Capital Advisory Committee construction progressed slowly. Road and sewerage layouts continued, tree planting was carried out, Parliament House constructed. Shops were built at Civic, Manuka and Kingston; offices, hostels and houses completed for 1100 public servants.

1930 - 1956

The years of the Depression, World War II and post-war shortages caused a lengthy period of stagnation in development, and only a small number of national projects were brought to fruition, including the Australian War Memorial (1941) and the Australian-American Memorial (1954).

Next: Today's Canberra

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This Web Site Was Moved Here, February 1999

Web page by Tom Worthington.

Note: This information is no longer being updated but has been retained for reference.