Canberra Camps, Settlements & Early Housing


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Canberra Camps, Settlements & Early Housing by Ann Gugler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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This Web - Canberra Camps - is one of three. The first is Hidden Canberra that focusses on the forgotten Canberra - the Canberra hidden out of sight of permanent Canberra and what remains today.  In particular in this web are documents relating to Stirling Park, Yarralumla which is the site of the area known as Westlake on the southern side of Lake Burley Griffin.  This area of parkland is not public parkland but land set aside for development. It is a small portion of native bushland that has survived development and the area where 700 construction workers lived in 1925 in three government tent camps, Contractor John Howie's settlement of 25 two and three bedroom timber cottages and 18 or more timber huts for single men known as the Hostel Camp - and 52 (later total 61) two bedroom timber cottages known first as 'The Gap Cottages' and later Westlake.  This area of land has significant Ngunawal stone arrangements, trees etc - known as Gura Bung Dhaura hills - stony ground.  This land is the major site of the endangered wild flower, button wrinklewort.  Its mature trees were grown before the arrival of white men.

The highest of the Gura Bung Dhaura Hills, Capital Hill, was chosen by Walter Burley Griffin to be the centre of the city he designed.  Those who were against his plan who designed the Departmental Plan also used Capital Hill (or rather nearly Camp Hill) as the centre of their plan. Today, the State Circle Road that encircles part of Camp and Capitol Hills now encircles the new Commonwealth Parliament House that opened 9 May 1988 by Queen Elizabeth II.  It replaced the Provisional Parliament House built on Camp Hill that was opened by the Duke of York on 9 May 1927.

The second is Early Canberra which focusses on newspaper articles that includes the federal aspects of the beginning of Canberra.  This web focusses on the camps and early permanent suburbs. Included is a copy of my last book, A Story of Capital Hill - and drafts for the revised edition of Builders of Canberra 1909-1929 as well as other published information. 

Another web the researcher will find of great value is Canberra History Web which also focusses on the pioneer era of Canberra's history as well as the federal period of construction of the city.

Another site that researchers may find of interest is The Australia Capital Territory genealogy group is dedicated to helping people with researching their ancestors in Australia Capital Territory, offering a genealogy chatroom, Australia Capital Territory genealogy links and an Australia Capital Territory genealogy message forum.


INTRODUCTION - Canberra Camps, Settlements & Early Housing


Canberra was the name of the area on either side of the Molonglo River that was part of the Limestone Plain.  it stretched from Black and Ainslie Mountains on the north side across to the areas of Narrabundah etc on the south side.  The name comes from the Ngunawal word for Black and Ainslie Mountains that looked from the entrance from the north like a woman's breasts.  One of the English spellings for the word is kamberry.  This became corrupted by the settlers to Camberry (and other similar spellings) till it settled in the late 1850s to Canberra.

The work in this web page refers to the Federal Canberra.  This web does not 'deal with' the Federal Parliament or the Federal Hostory of the City - it attempts to tell the stories of the men and women who came to build the city and where they lived! 

In March 1909 on Camp Hill [now part of Capital Hill] a camp for surveyors was erected for the men who were to commence the surveying of the 36 square miles of the city area of the federal capital of Australia.  This was perhaps the first camp erected in the Federal Capital of Australia for the men who were the first of the 'builders' to arrive and commence work.  This camp was used until 1912 when the men who used it moved to Acton.

The first Canberra settlement  was at Acton which became the Administrative Hub of Canberra.  It was followed by camps at the Brickyards [Yarralumla brickmaking], Power House [Kingston - electicity] and the Cotter River [water supply].  Canberra's main intercepting sewer was commenced in 1915 and a sewer camp was established near the Yarralumla woolshed and possibly near Western Creek, Canberra.

Single men lived in tent camps segregated from married quarters.  The married men constructed dwellings from hessian [bag] and tin.  Some were lucky enough to find a few of the old farm houses in Canberra for rent.  At Acton a few timber cottages were erected for married officials and for the single officials, the Bachelors' Quarters (timber) were ready for occupation from 1912.


World War One, put a halt to construction in Canberra by 1916 and construction of Canberra did not resume until 1920-1921.   The main Canberra Camps at Acton, Brickyards and Power House remained and were joined by additional camps in the Power House area and the a number of settlements - Eastlake Tenements, Causeway Settlement and a few permanent brick cottages - known as Power House Cottages - now the suburb of Barton, Canberra. 

At Yarralumla, the brickyard workers housed nearby were moved into ex-Molonglo cottages moved to the site, and a few small brick cottages near the site of the Yarralumla Shops. In 1926 a few permanent timber cottages were built for men working at the Brickyards and the permanent nursery established in 1914. 

Two new Canberra settlements were built after the war.  The first was out at Molonglo [modern Fyshwick] where the vacant interment camp was converted in 1920-1921 into accommodation for 120 families and 150 single tradesmen.  And at Westlake [Stirling Park, Yarralumla, western side of Capital Hill and Embassy areas of Yarralumla] a settlement of 62 small timber cottages designed by HM Rolland were built - known as The Gap Cottages and later as just WESTLAKE [Section 22 and Block 4, Section 128 Stirling Park Yarralumla & embassy area bounded by Perth & Darwin Avenues, Forster Crescent & Empire Circuit]along with Contractor John Howie's Settlement [Block 3, Section 128 Stirling Park Yarralumla]  and three government camps - No 1 Labourers [Capitol Hill, Westlake]; Old Tradesmen's Camp [Block 3, Section 128 Stirling Park Yarralumla] - & No 3 Sewer Camp [Section 22 Stirling Park, Yarralumla].  The Westlake Camps remained between 1922-1927 - Howies' Settlement 1922-1930 and the cottages in The Gap - 1924-1965.

There were three major single men's  Canberra Camps erected in 1925 - White City Camp near Civic Centre; Capitol Hill Camp - on Capitol Hill and Causeway Camp.  There were also numerous other camps around near work sites that include Red Hill, Mugga Quarry and so on.


In 1926 the push was made to provide accommodation for the government departments being transferred to Canberra. Some information about the early suburbs, with name changes - will be added in this web page, but the main concentration is on the Canberra Camps and the Canberra Settlements, which with the exception of Oaks Estate once a part of Queanbeyan, became a workmen's settlement have gone.  At Stirling Park, which is a huge archeological site, the remains of the Canberra settlements have gone.  The first brick cottages constructed in Canberra in Braddon, Westridge, Barton and Forrest have with the exception of a few at Braddon and a couple at Forrest and Westridge have gone.

THE MAJOR SETTLEMENTS WERE - 1912 - 1920: ACTON, POWER HOUSE, BRICKYARDS, COTTER RIVER.  Of these settlements, the first three remained to become suburbs in their own rights.  Cotter River Camps for construction workers building the dam were removed 1917.  Another camp was established opposite the pumping station in c1922 for the construction of the bridge across the Murrumbidgee.

POST WW 1 SETTLEMENTS: MOLONGLO (now Fyshwick), WESTLAKE, CAUSEWAY, RIVERBOURNE, RUSSELL HILL - OAKS ESTATE.  Oaks Estate was a suburb of Queanbeyan until the rail line that marked the 'edge' of the FCT separated it from NSW.  WESTLAKE was an area of land that stretched from the area of the Yarralumla Shops across to including part of Capital Hill and back from the Molonglo River (south side) to Red Hill.  This was the major area established for men working on the construction of Hotel Canberra, Provisional Parliament House and nearby buildings and infrastructure.  Between 1922 and mid 1925 men working on the construction of the tunnel of the main intercepting sewer also resided at Westlake.  The Power House area that included CAUSEWAY SETTLEMENTS & CAMPS developed as the third major settlement & camps area.  The land near the POWER HOUSE became the INDUSTRIAL AREA OF CANBERRA.

RIVERBOURNE and RUSSELL HILL SETTLEMENTS were areas set aside for married men to again build their own HUMPIES.  Riverbourne was in the area near where Black Creek entered the Molonglo River - roughly in the area opposite Harman Naval Station near Queanbeyan.  It was known as the 3 MILE because it was three miles from the Queanbeyan Post Office.  RUSSELL HILL was roughly in the area where the Campbell Shops stand.  The former settlement lasted between 1925 and 1927 and the latter 1926 into the 1950s.  LHB Lasseter lived at Russell Hill 1926-1927.

There were numerous single men's camps in Canberra erected near work sites and where possible out of sight of permanent Canberra.  The camps were organised according to class of occupation - LABOURERS, TRADESMEN, SURVEYORS, ENGINEERS etc.  In 1925 three 'permanent' camps were erected - WHITE CITY near Civic Centre; CAPITOL HILL on Capital Hill and CAUSEWAY - ie north side of city; centre and south side.

The nucleus of permanent Canberra was established at each of the following major centres: POWER HOUSE [BARTON]; BLANDFORDIA [FORREST]; CIVIC CENTRE [BRADDON] and WESTRIDGE [YARRALUMLA].

Mud Map Showing the 23.2.1909 Surveyors' Camp Canberra - Camp Hill

1909 map showing the central area of Canberra.  The CAMP SITE in the central part of the mud map is the area of the 1909 camp where later in 1911 Scrivener's Plan Room was erected.  This was the surveyors' camp.  The area marked CAPITOL HILL is not Capital Hill. The school was known as 'The Cross Roads School' and 'Nerrabundah School'.  The site is opposite the fire station in Forrest not far from Manuka Oval. 

Map 1914

Below: Detail of 1914 map.  The major roads are marked in Red. Camp Hill survey mark is now part of Capital Hill.  Kurrajong to the bottom left was renamed Capitol Hill and is part of present day Captial Hill.  The Gap survey mark is on Stirling Ridge near the Canberra Mosque in Empire Crescent Yarralumla. The Quarry survey mark is now Attunga Point.  Kaye's property is at the rear of the Hotel Canberra under the waters of Lake Burley Griffin.  Mt Vernon is now known as City Hill and the road running across the bottom section is the old Uriarra Road.  Duntroon, RMC is marked on the right section of the map.  The road that runs through Acton is mid left.  The word CANBERRA marks the site of Acton.


1913 Map Canberra Central Area

Peter Kimber's overlay of the main Avenue's from Capital Hill (Kurrajong & Camp Hills).  Note the old tracks.  The one below Kinlyside - tenants of Briar Farm - is still in situ in Block 3, Section 128 Stirling Park Yarralumla - opposite Lotus Bay.  This map is circa 1913 and note on lower right section is The Power Station.  The area of former Westlake included Camp Hill and the hills where Klensendolffe's name is marked. William Klensendorffe was granted the land in 1839 and although in the late 19th Century was part of Duntroon Estate was usually referred to as Klensendorlffe's.


Fault Lines Canberra Central Area

 Geological Map Canberra Area showing major fault lines including those that meet on Capital Hill 

Map Central Area of Canberra 1927

The map on the left is circa 1927.  The Gap marker is in the area marked Stirling Park. Below are the Westlake Cottages [1924-1965] that follow the lines of the old pathways through the Gap.  The small dots - 13 cottages - and huts - mark the site of Howie's cottages [married quarters] and Hostel Camp [Howie's single men].

Lotus Bay was not constructed at that time.  The Molonglo River is marked as well as the Golf Links established in 1926.  The suspension bridge was knocked out by one of the floods and replaced with a pontoon bridge - one of which can be seen in the photographs section on Westlake.  The Acton Workmen's Cottages shown marked in yellow on the north side of the Molonglo.


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