Canberra Camps, Settlements & Early Housing

The Beginning of the construction of the city

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Canberra Camps, Settlements & Early Housing-Beginning by Ann Gugler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Following are a number of newspaper and other articles that refer to the beginnings of the construction of the city.  The political will to build the city is well document and is not the focus of this web. My web Early Canberra contains more information on this side of the beginnings. Early Canberra. [click to go to site]

The First Surveyor's Camp - this is the final draft for an article published in 2010 in Canberra & District Historical Society Journal.  It has additional photographs not used in the final article.

King O'Malley article

1913 Commencement Column - this column was erected on the central site of theDepartmental Plan not that of Walter Burley Griffin's plan.

1923 map Canberra FW Robinson

Cotter River Dam - This was Canberra's first clean water supply.

1923 General article on the federal city

1923 Lecture by Bluett

1927 lecture by Dawson

1927 Lecture by HM Rolland FCC Architect

The first Surveyor's Camp

Scrivener's Plan Room

This essay is the final draft for CDHS Journal.  It is part of the story of the 1909 Surveyor's Camp on Camp Hill - now part of Capital Hill.  This first camp was shortlived but was followed in 1910-12 by a more semi-permanent camp.  During this time the small concrete building now labelled Surveyors Plan Room, but always known to me as Scrivener's Plan Room was constructed to hold the surveyors' plans.  Following the move of the surveyors into better quarters at Acton the old building was left to 'decay'.  It was used at one time to store explosives and around the 1940s and 50s was used by Parks & Gardens.  Today it has been given a new coat of paint and the outlines of the timber buildings where the surveyors worked are marked on the ground nearby.


The Sydney Morning Herald Wednesday 21 December 1910



The Minister for Home Affairs (Mr O’Malley) has for some time past been engaged in the preparing of a scheme for the establishment of the Federal capital at Yass-Canberra, and to-day he laid his proposal before he Cabinet. After reviewing the suggestions put forward, the Ministry decided to let Mr O’Malley go on with the programme he had prepared.

Seen after the Cabinet meeting the Minister stated that the work be undertaken at once would be as follows:-

1.     To acquire a property known as Acton 1,700 acres, lying outside the city area, and there to erect offices and quarters for the staff of the Home Affairs Department. The land not required for immediate use will be leased at a price which will more than cover that amount of compensation.

2.     The maintenance of all existing public roads and bridges, and to form such new roads and deviations as may be necessary.

3.     To provide a power plant in units that will be available for all purposes – water supply, brickworks etc.

4.     To erect brickworks for the production of bricks to be used in the construction of the city and elsewhere.

5.     To establish a nursery for the propagation of trees and shrubs.

6.     To erect gauges on the Molonglo, Queanbeyan and Gudgenby rivers.

7.     To reserve a suitable location of the acquired lands for working men and their families, the reserve to be provided with unlimited water supply and perfect sanitary arrangements.

8.     To erect cottages possessing the most modern conveniences on this location for married men.

9.     To erect suitable accommodation which will be according to civilized conditions for single men.

10.   To erect and equip a general store, including a butchery, bakery and a financial attachment which will encourage thrift among the employees, be useful for general purposes, and act as a credit instrument of exchange.

11.   To provide and equip a hospital.

12.   To erect and construct a hotel.

13.   To make suitable provision for the education of the children, to provide for recreation grounds and set aside lands for the purpose of religion.


‘We have got £45,000 to spend this year,’ said Mr O’Malley in conclusion. ‘We, propose to make a start as soon as possible after the New Year, but we shall not be able to spend that amount before June.’


1913 Commencement Column

The following article published in 1932 refers to the site of the Commencement Column on Camp Hill - later part to Capital Hill.  The stones for the column were laid in readiness for the column which never eventuated.  At the same ceremony, Lady Denman named the federal city - CANBERRA.  The site of the column marked the centre of the Departmental plan - not that of Walter Burley Griffin's.  On 21 June 1920 Prince Edward, Prince of Wales laid another stone on Capitol Hill to mark the centre of Griffin's plan.

1913 saw the number of  early camps at Acton, Cotter and Power House increased near new worksites as work on the city began in earnest.

The Canberra Times 8 November 1932 - HIDDEN COLUMN -Better Site Wanted

One of the earliest of Canberra’ foundation stones – the Commencement column unveiled by Lady Denman when the city was named in 1913 – was the subject of discussion by the Advisory Council yesterday.  A motion was moved by Lt-Col Goodwin that the Minister be asked to place the Commencement Column on Capitol Hill in a condition more worthy of the event which it commemorated. [originally laid on Camp Hill.]

The resolution added that this could be done with little expense by removal of the protecting timber and the erection of a suitable form of enclosure such as granite stone pillars connected by chains.

Lt-Col Goodwin said that the column was not in a direct line between the initial point of Mr Griffin’s plan and Mount Ainslie, which passed through  the centre of Parliament House [Provisional] as it was placed on the radial line of the departmental design which at the commencement of the building of the capital was the accepted plan.

This difficulty however, could be overcome by the erection at a future date of another column to commemorate the granting of the franchise to the people of the Territory and their emancipation form the condition of serfdom under which they are now suffering. (Prolonged laughter and applause).

Mr Gourguard: ‘Who wrote you your speech, Colonel?’

Members of the council appeared to be uncertain of the exact location of the column, as Lt –Col Goodwin explained that it was not yet a column.  It was really the base for a column and was composed of polished granite with many engravings.  It had been intended that the column should be constructed of stones sent from every part of the Empire.  The column would thus prove a valuable symbol of the unity of the Empire and would be, the Colonel felt sure, an object of interest for Australians.

‘At present,’ he continued, ‘ the stone is obscured by wooden wallings erected to protect it from small boys.’

Mr Daley: Why not erect a wailing wall?

Dr Cumptson asked if Lt-Col Goodwin was referring to a structure erected to commemorate the first auction sale of leases.

Lt-Col Goodwin (empahtically) No.  It was erected in 1913 to commemorate the naming of the city by Lady Denman.

Mr Gourgaud offered to bring along a complete set of photographs of the occasion.

By this time the council was so undermined by laughter that Mr Daley thought it necessary to move that discussion of the matter be deferred until next meeting.

Mr Daley’s amendment was carried.


Map Canberra 1924 - Robinson



 Abov: Detail of 1924 map by FW Robinson and below the full map with 'Old and New'.  Darwin Avenue was not constructed in the area shown. Today the area is Bl 2, Section 128 Stirling Park Yarralumla.  Darwin Avenue was constructed but is an 'off-shoot' from Perth Avenue.  The reason why the change was that in the area of the original site is a big creek and a quagmire. Fill presumably from the cutting on State Circle has been used to make a fairly flat area of land without trees.  Lotus Bay is the area where the orginal road ended.  Vernon Place (top middle section) is City Hill and part of Civic Centre.  Federal Avenue today is Kings Avenue. Adelaide Avenue is off to the left and was the main Cotter Road from the Brickworks to construction sites.  The full circle of State Circle was not completed until the post WW2 years - from memory - in the 1950s.

Cotter River Dam

The following article gives an overview of the beginning of the Cotter River Dam in 1913.  The main work on the spillway was completed in 1917 and in 1921-22 the bridge across the Murrumbidgee was rebuilt. The camp for the men who carried out this work was on the bank opposite to the Pumping Station. Mrs Stanley was the Mess Caterer and the site was shown to me by her daughter, Mrs Cecily Hinchliffe.  Mrs Stanley also worked at the Engineers Mess,  No 2 Sewer Camp near the corner of Brown St & Schlich St Yarralumla, Ainslie Camp and Capitol Hill Camp.

The single men's camp 1913-1917 was along the left hand side of the bank below the dam and the married quarters near the meeting of the Cotter and Murrumbidgee Rivers.

The Canberra Times 12 December 1953


When Mr CR Scrivener selected the Canberra site for the Australian capital he proposed that the territory should include the whole of the catchment area of the Cotter River ‘in order that a pure water supply may be placed beyond doubt.’

Canberra has, in fact, the purest water supply of any large Australian city.

The accompanying picture [not shown] shows the Cotter Valley in its natural state at the site of the Cotter Dam, prior to the commencement of construction in 1913.

The dam as originally designed by Col PT Owen was to have been taken to a height of 110 feet, but the first structure had been completed to a height of 60 feet when the first water was conveyed to the Canberra area in 1921.

Meanwhile the early needs of Canberra in the construction period were met from soakage wells close to the Molonglo River.  Towards the end of 1913 6,000 tons of cast iron pipes were delivered to the Cotter site and the river bed was stripped to the foundations while boring of rock proceeded to receive the main superstructure.

An approach bridge had to be built across the Murrumbidgee to the delivery of materials, and work started on the first service reservoir at Red Hill.

The first camp for workmen engaged in permanent works in connection with Canberra was established at Cotter River when a [tent] school was also provided for about 30 children of workmen.[1913-1917]

The original beauty of the lower Cotter was largely restored by the laying out of picnic grounds and tree planting which followed the completion of the dam in 1922.

The further development of the lower Cotter above its junction with the Murrumbidgee is now under consideration by the Department of the Interior.

1923 General Article on the City in the Making

Sydney Morning Herald 1 June 1923: CANBERRA (by Laura Bogue Luffman)


‘Now you are out of New South Wales,’ said my escort, as the gate closed behind me and the car sped along the track leading to Yarralumla House – and with his words came the swift realization that I had entered the Federal Territory, where everything ‘petty and parochial’ was done away to make room for the broad national spirit which should inspire ‘one people and one destiny’.


A short drive through country which ought to have been green, but was not, brought us to Yarralumla Station, a delightful old homestead with green lawns, brilliant flower beds, clumps of yellow pyracantha and thick green hedges; while the spreading branches of the famed cedar (Deodara) cast its grateful shadow across the scene. The recent house was built by Mr F Campbell, grandson of Merchant Campbell from Calcutta, who discovered Duntroon. The story runs that needing fresh pastures for his flocks, he sent his servant, Ainslie, in quest of grass. A black gin led him to Duntroon – then a blackfellows’ camp – and satisfied by Ainslie’s report of the site, Merchant Campbell decided to make it his home. Here Mr F Campbell was born and Duntroon remained the property of the family till it was acquired by the Government for the purpose of a military college. Yarralumla House has also become the property of the Government and is destined to be the residence of the Governor-General when the Federal Parliament sits at Canberra. Tradition affirms to a blackfellow who became possessed of a diamond hit it somewhere on this site and that in spite of the severe floggings administered, in accordance with the inhuman custom of the time, he refused to indicate the exact spot. The hope of the discovery of this valuable gem when the homestead is enlarged to meet the requirements of the Governor-General and his staff, still springs eternal in some sanguine breasts. [This story still has to be proved.]


From the roof, a splendid view is obtained of rolling country, bordered by mountain ranges and watered by the Molonglo, the Cotter and Murrumbidgee Rivers. In the foreground the spire of the quaint little church of Sutton [sic St John the Baptist church in the suburb of Reid] peeps out of a grove of trees.  Beyond rise the mass of buildings surrounded by foliage, which comprise the Royal Military College of Duntroon.  Here come the visitors from every part of the Commonwealth to visit the grave of General Bridges, whose dust lies on the highest point overlooking the college grounds. The scene on a fine morning, when the river winds as a blue riband across the plain, and splashes of shadow cast by clouds fall in fantastic shares on the expanse forms a pleasant picture.  Here old memories blend with the new aspirations, for Canberra – with its native name and memories of old pioneering days, has its roots firmly set in old Australian history, while in the present, it is the ‘cynosure of all eyes,’ on account of being the chosen site for the newest capital city in the world.  Some critics complain that there is ‘not much to see’ – no monumental buildings, no lofty towers, no shops, no sign of life. But before the bricklayer and the stonemasons set to work must come the making of roads, the provision of sewerage, and the supply of water and light. All this has been accomplished at the cost of much money and labour. It must be borne in mind that although the foundation stone as laid 20 years ago, the outbreak of war in 1914 put an end to all activities. It was not till after the armistice that some citizens of New South Wales untied to bring pressure on the Government to go on with the work and aided by the leading Federal members of New South Wales, the result of their spirited action is seen to-day.  The Federal city is no longer viewed as a vain dream.  It has entered into the scheme of practical politics and there is every hope that the seat of government will be transferred to Canberra in the course of two or three years.


Opinions are divided on the question of building the city on both sides of the Molonglo. The present plan – designed by Mr WB Griffin – provides two centres – one of government and the other of city life. The former included the capitol destined to be the storehouse of Australian treasures – the House of Parliament, the administrative offices and the hostel for staff. The idea of a monumental parliament house has been deferred indefinitely, and structures of a provisional character are to be erected. But let no one imagine these will be of the familiar weatherboard or wattle-and-dab character. Although the Federal members lot will not be cast ‘in marble halls,’ they will certainly be housed in dignified buildings of fine design.  The bulk of expenditure by the Commonwealth will be on this centre for the provision of Government buildings and the accommodation of civil servants. The outline of the fine hostel [Hotel Canberra] already rising from the ground is sufficiently clear to enable the looker to construct mentally the whole of the fine building, which, while embodying the best features of a continental hotel, ensures to each resident by means of its covered ways, courtyards, shrubberies and gardens, the privacy and freedom of a home. Stretching out on either side will be parks and gardens and open spaces where the legislator of the future may erect his private dwelling.  The broad road known as Commonwealth Avenue forms the connecting link between the Governmental and civic centre, where will stand the University, Courts of Justice, post-office, military depot, police buildings, gaol, hospital, town hall, railway station, houses of business and shops. Means will be provided to meet ordinary necessities within the radius of the southern centre so that should Mrs Politician run out of sugar to sweeten her tea, or face powder to improve her nose, she will not be obliged to journey to the civic centre to gratify her wishes. As the latter is the business centre much of the development, will be left to private enterprise.  But no building will be allowed to grow up in haphazard fashion. The local store must harmonise with the architecture of the general plan, so that the unlovely conditions that prevail in many country towns will not be suffered to exist.


Already Canberra appears as a vision of beauty in the future, while the present holds plenty of charm. A drive in the morning up the winding road leading to the observatory on Mount Stromlo, the air filling with the fragrance of the young pines clothing the slopes brings joy to the soul as well as health to the body. The essential conditions of good seeing prevail in the dry clear atmosphere, and on calm nights the heavens present a brilliant spectacle.  The panorama of encompassing hills, the great sweep of undulating country, and the protuberant slopes ‘with verdure clad’ create a scene which it would be difficult to rival in the Southern Hemisphere.


The nursery whence come the young trees that border the roads and form plantations affords and object lesson on the infinite possibilities of arboreal development of the hospitable soil of Australia.  Here are assembled the horticultural products of many climes. The grand old cedar on the lawn of Yarralumla House is the ancestor of thousands of tiny Deodaras which in due time will produce masses of foliage for the new city.


No one can leave Canberra without visiting the Cotter Dam. Standing on the wall overlooking on one side the fine flow of water, on the other, the placid stretch of curving river in which is reflected headlands tufted with trees and groups of foliage, the mind is transported to some of the beauty spots in the old world.  It is good to learn that a hostel is contemplated where jaded bodies and wearied minds will find new life and vigour as they watch the silvery fall of pure delicious water, look down on the landscape, mirrored in the river and listen to the soothing murmur of the running stream. The Cotter, which finds its source in the Murrumbidgee Ranges has an average daily flow of 70,000,000 gallons. There is no fear of Canberra dying of thirst.


Driving back through the gates of the Federal Territory into New South Wales, one realises that the new city had been nobly planned. But it was not only the vision of beauty that appealed to the mind. It was the proud consciousness that here was a deliberate effort to create a centre which would stand as the symbol of a united people accomplishing its destiny in a new nation in the eyes of the world.


1923 lecture by WPBluett

Sydney Morning Herald  29 March 1923


The visitor to Canberra for the first time never fails to express surprise at finding this embryonic city a settlement of far-flung fragments.  He sees no distinctive nucleus around which gather the customary concomitments[?] of a new town; no hotel, post-office, store, blacksmith’s shop perched on a river bank for the convenience of water, and acting as a magnet for further settlement.  Canberra cannot grow in the manner of other towns nurtured by the allurements of trade and invigorated by the business enterprise of the individual.  It is a close preserve of the Government, planned with compass and rule, and fashioned by the official mind with seemingly scant regard for the social and commercial requirements of the early citizens.  If these considerations are ignored, if the convenience and comfort of the residents are disregarded, if the possibilities of the social intercourse are hindered, then the progress of the city will be checked, and the value of its lands correspondingly restricted.

The Government of the day stipulate that the construction should be on the basis of the acceptance of the plan of the lay-out of the Federal Capital city by Mr WB Griffin. By this plan of the city provision is made for a population of up to 150,000 people. And that 150,000 population must not be cribbed, cabined or confined. It is to dwell in open spaces crossed by broad avenues, with tree-girt strips of garden, separated by parks and along the Molonglo River, by winding areas which, in the years to come, are to be turned into a chain of ornamental lakes.

The public buildings are to nestle in sylvan solitude dotted over the area between the Civic Centre and Blandfordia [Forrest], a distance similar to that between the Sydney Domain and Centennial Park. It is a bold scheme and a beautiful scheme in the ideal, but when it is reduced to the daily necessity of 5000 people in the making of their living, and in the administration of public business, how are these distances going to affect profit and shoe leather? If it be the intention of the Government [hole in paper with words missing] ..develop the …points… there must… effort to… business …is necessary …the early stages slavishly to follow Mr Griffin’s plan anymore closely in distances than should be done in the provision for public buildings. It would be wicked extravagance to build…this date structures suitable for a 50…population when it may be 50 years before …a holds that number.  Be it…in this connection that Washington… [pop]ulation was only 61,000 when  it has…one capital for 60 years.  On this …20 to 25 years should be the horizon of the present requirements, and in most essentials our national energies should be limited to an equivalent in expenditure and distribution. The spread necessary for 150,000 people is wasteful if used for 10,000 or 20,000.


Canberra to-day as far as it is a concrete settlement is represented by some half-dozen wide-spaced sections. Taking as a starting point the civic centre, the area set apart north of the river for the main business division of the city here we have close by some 20 brick cottages served with water and light and sewered.  South-west about 1½ mile is the administrative quarter, including the post-office and Commonwealth Bank where the offices and staff residences are of a temporary character.  The capitol hill upon which the Parliament House will someday will be located is over 2½ miles from the civic population area. At the foot of this hill is the foundations of the much talked hostel[Hotel Canberra] are beginning to show.

South about three miles from the civic population area is being erected the public school [Telopea Park School], which is expected to serve the city’s children for some years to come. Half a mile east stands the power house, with its surrounding 18 brick cottages, watered and sewered and distant from the administrative section three miles.

South again three miles is Blandfordia [Forrest] the official residential quarter, where f… streets have been constructed and a start is being made for the early erection of 15 cottages. East from the administrative offices three miles is the biggest settlement in the capital territory, Duntroon College.  These distances will give some idea of the expanded baby capital.

It may be assumed with reason that any Government caring for the happiness of the citizens, and with an eye to its own financial gain, would built the city to suit the needs of the people rather than to compel them to conduct their business and home life under irksome and wasteful conditions.  Leading town planners strongly advocate the separation of business, residential and manufacturing areas, but with Canberra which will be largely and official town these distinctions will not come into play so markedly. Would it not be possible, therefore, to concentrate the early settlement round one quarter like the civic centre?

A concentrated population is more easily and economically administered that one spread over a wide area.  A concentrated population also gives much greater and more dependable values to the lands it occupies. It provides a surer gauge of business possibilities to the investor than where the residents straggle of miles of country. And the people country. And the people can be served by the Commonwealth with much less capital outlay for light and water, for roads and sewerage. So with the trade of the city, the buying and selling, the distribution of goods, the hundred and one essential interchanges between man and man; these things which much be borne in mind if the city is to be prosperous and if the nation’s capital is become a profitable undertaking. It is not sufficient for Australia to have a city beautiful regardless of cost.

The capital should be a jewel of the Commonwealth, but with the staggering load of debt we bear the greatest care should be taken and the closest insight be directed into the way the whole finances of the new city are handled.  Its lands are the key to its prosperity. With judicious appreciation of the business side, the capital can be made a thing of beauty, without becoming in any sense a millstone round the neck of the taxpayer. Canberra’s cash position to-day should not be forgotten.

If a balance sheet were struck it would be found that the total outlay has been £2,200,000 (£800,000 for resumption of lands and £1,400,000 for public utilities).  Nearly the whole of this sum, because of cessation of work in 1914 consequent to the war, has been outstanding since 1913. In that period the interest charge has amounted to close upon £500,000.  Against that the farm rents have produced about £200,000 and that in interest paid the country has lost roughly £700,000.  And it will continue to lose at the rate of £100,000 or more a year until such time as the city, by being transformed into the seat of government secures the opportunity of putting its financial house in order.


Another phase of the initial constructional work which must be recognized is the social relations of the people. If the city is to be developed at points so distant it will be deterrent to that community spirit which is such an important factor in good an happy government.

1927 Lecture on the Federal Capital, Canberra by HL Dawson

The Canberra Times 27 May 1927


A lecture on ‘Canberra, the City Beautiful,’ was delivered by Mr HL Dawson, the well known builder of Canberra and Queanbeyan in the Lyceum Theatre, the headquarters of the Central Methodist Mission on Sunday afternoon to a large audience of more than 2,000 people. The value of the lecture was enhanced by lantern slides depicting Canberra in its various stages of development.

Mr Dawson said that he had witnesses for some years what had been one of the most thrilling dramas of his life’s experience – the evolving of a Capital City.  The small beginnings, the rapid growth of great buildings, the development of plans of men of genius and the din and bustle of thousands of artisans, culminating in the most remarkable and inspiring ceremonies connected with the opening of Parliament by Royalty.

The early history of Canberra,’ said Mr Dawson, ‘is the unfolding of the life story of some of its pioneers.

            ‘A handful of workers seeking the star of strong intent

            A handful of heroes scattered to conquer a continent.’

Previous to the 18th century. Can Canberra when peopled by a large tribe of Australian blacks because of its abundance of natural food, its stream teemed with edible fish; the surface of its pools with fowl; its forest were the habitat of pigeon, while over its plains roamed the emu. High up in the Kosciusko and Murrumbidgee Ranges the kangaroo and the wallaby bred in abundance. Here the black people hundred and throve.  The first white man to discover Canberra was Dr Throsby of Moss Vale, who in 1820 set out on an expedition south and at the same time discovered Lake Bathurst, Lake George, and the Molonglo and Murrumbidgee Rivers. In 1823 [?] Joshua Moore built the first homestead upon a site near the present Military College. In 1825 James Ainslie brought the first flock of sheep to Canberra all the way from Bathurst. In 1826 Robert Campbell established a church which he named Canberra Church. Round the church very soon sprang up a village so that Canberra Church was really Canberra.  In 1829 Robert Dixon made the first survey of Canberra.  In 1834 John McPherson was born in Canberra. Later he became Premier of Victoria.  In 1838 Rev Edward Smith became Canberra’s first resident minister. In 1834 TA Murray, who owned Yarralumla homestead, the present residence of the Governor-General, 1848 Andrew Wotherspoon established the first school. In 1886 William James Farrer commenced the  ... [?] ma… experiment with wheat in Canberra and what he developed in his laboratory in Canberra has entirely changed the world’s thought in respect to wheat and his method have been adopted in the laboratories of America and England.

The federation of Australian States was the first conceived in the brain of Sir Henry Parkes and was the first considered at a Convention of Australian and New Zealand statesmen in 1889, but it was not until 1910 after spending 10 years investigating almost 100 sites, all more or less full of promise that Canberra was chosen as Australia’s National City.

To To describe the development of many of our inland towns is to simply say that like Topsy, the ‘growed’.  Most of our Australian cities have grown around the ashes of a camp fire.  Not so with Canberra, however, it has been a capital city from the very beginning.

Writing from Duntroon in the year 1831 Lhotsky, the Polish naturalist and explorer said: ‘A fine town will exist here at no distant dat.’

After the dedication service at St John’s Church on Sunday morning May 8 last, I walked around the grave yard and found a tombstone with a somewhat prophetic epitaph inscribed:

            ‘Here we have no abiding city, but seek one to come.’

I met in that graveyard on the same mission as myself, the Hon W Morrow, a member of the South Australian Ministry, and I drove him in my car. He said to me: ‘Mr Dawson, I have travelled the globe several times, and I’ve seen the star cities of the world, but I have never seen a city to equal Canberra for its great natural advantages. It would seem as though nature had especially endowed her to be a capital city.’

I have chatted for hours with the veteran John Gale who is 97 years of age, and still Coroner of the district. He is generally credited with the influencing vote in favour of Canberra. he told me how 75 years ago he crossed the Molonglo River, and made his way up what is now known as Capitol Hill and surveying the wonderful plains below, thought what a wonderful place for a great city.

In the year 1910 the NSW Government transferred to the Federal Government 900 square miles of territory at Canberra as well as 3,300 acres at Jervis Bay for the establishment of a Federal Port.

In the same year a world’s competition was held to secure the best possible design for the city, and the winning design is the basis of the city to-day, a cymmetrical [sic symmetrical] city of circles and squares set within a wonderful amphitheatre of hills, winning for itself the designation, ‘Canberra, the City Beautiful.’

In 1913 the Prime Minister, Mr Andrew Fisher, invited Lady Denman at a special Canberra function to name the Federal Capital city. The selection of the name had caused some heartburning, for it was feared the name was to be changed, but better counsels prevailed. After the singing of that impressive hymn, ‘All People that on Earth do Dwell,’ Lady Denman stepping on the dais said: ‘ I name the Capital of Australia, Canberra.’ Immediately a salute of 21 guns was fired by the Field Artillery, and the band played, ‘Advance Australia Fair,’ and ‘God Save the King.’

After the territory had been made over to the Federal Government, surveys were taken and services commenced, but 1916 practically brought about a cessation of activity owing to the Great War, and for five years development was at a standstill.  In 1920 the Prince of Wales, laid a commemoration stone on the site of Capitol Hill. To use his own words, his Royal Highness added, ‘another foundation stone to a city which I understand consists largely of foundation stones.’  The Duke of York will have somewhat to say to him on his return.

Another move forward was made with the construction in 1921 when Colonel Owen was appointed Chairman of an Advisory Board and empowered to push ahead with all possible haste.

The first definite move to have the Seat of Government transferred was made in 1923, when a resolution was carried in the House of Representatives Melbourne, which read: ‘That his Excellency, the Governor-General be respectfully requested to summon the tenth meeting of Parliament in Canberra.’

In 1925 the Federal Capital Commission succeeded the Advisory Board when Sir John Butters, Sir John Harrison and the late Mr Clarence Gorman were appointed Commissioners. Under the regime of these very able men, Canberra has made phenomenal progress.

A few years ago the dream of over a quarter of a century materialized when Canberra was officially declared by the King’s son, his Royal Highness, the Duke of York, to be the Capital City of Australia.


‘A good deal of criticism,’ said Mr Dawson, ‘has been directed against the Federal Capital Commission concerning civil servants’ cottages and …[illegible] I sympathize with those who have lived in Melbourne or Sydney for many years. Naturally there are ties of relationship and friendship that end and it is perfectly natural that the separation to start life in a new city is truly a wrench.  However, I assure them that they will not be at all disappointed, either with the comfortable cottages prepared for them by the Commission, nor the happiness that awaits them by contact with existing Canberra residents, who are among the most refined and kindly folk I have even been privileged to meet. The cottages are convenient, comfortable and ….[?] magnificent view and …[?]  the price asked for them.

The Commission recently appointed a Social Service Department whose function is to welcome incoming residents and render them any advice or service within their power.  They also render signal service and disperse much sunshine by arranging entertainments and trips to one of the many beautiful tourist resorts that surround Canberra.

It has been said that there are social cliques in Canberra. One man writing to a Sydney paper last week said he visited Canberra during the recent celebrations, and that it is a city of snobbery. I wish to give these statements the lied direct. I am acquainted with most of the permanent residents and have never seen a more democratic people.

Probably many misunderstanding of the Commission’s ordinances concerning building construction, and I suspect many of the erroneous vies expressed can be traced to this source.

Canberra is a model city, and is profiting at the expense of other cities’ mistakes.  There are official building areas, shopping areas, manufacturing areas, brick cottage areas and weatherboard cottage areas. The objective is uniformity. For instance, if you invest in a £2,000 bungalow, your neighbour will not be permitted to erect an unsightly weatherboard building next door and thus depreciate your property. Neither will a residence of any description be permitted in a shopping or factory area or vice versa.  This policy is as much in the interest of the working men who can only afford a weatherboard cottage as it is for a gentleman whose mansion is to cost several thousands. Indeed positively the prettiest area of the whole city is that of the weatherboard cottages.

Of course, a good deal of any Canberra propaganda has emanated from the Melbourne Press. I was recently in Melbourne lecturing on Canberra and I was agreeably surprised to find Melbourne people keenly enthusiastic about Canberra, in spite of the unfair, unjust and untruthful statements of some of their newspapers. As a typical instance a reporter of a prominent paper asked me: ‘Is is true there are blizzards in Canberra,’ to which I replied, ‘There is a keen atmosphere in winter, but as for blizzards, there is not even snow except on the surrounding ranges. On very rare occasions there might be a few light flakes which would be regarded as much a curio as in Melbourne.  He also asked me to give some advice as to roads, camping and parking for the Duke’s visit, which I did. My denial of blizzards was not published.  My advice concerning housing and cliques, but imagine to my surprise to read in the same paper another portion of scurrilous attack upon the Chief Commissioner, Sir John Butters accusing him of fostering cliques and building houses detrimental to the interests of the Melbourne civil servant.’


1927 HM Rolland architect - lecture


In an interesting lecture at the Forestry School on Friday night, Mr HM Rolland, Chief Architect to the Federal Capital Commission, explained the basis of the Griffin plan of Canberra and summarized the progress of the city to date.


Mr Rolland commenced by describing the appearance of the Canberra valley at the time of its selection as the site of the Federal Capital city, pointing out the location of the buildings then standing. With this as a background he explained the principal features of the city plan as prepared by Walter Burley Griffin. The amphitheatre-like formation of the site was noticed by Mr Griffin, and, taking Mt Ainslie as the central point of the back of the gallery, he extended one wing of the gallery in an arc to Black Mountain and the other wing similarly to Mt Russell. The land between this gallery and the river constituted the auditorium, whilst the governmental triangle on the opposite side formed the stage, with Red Hill and the other neighbouring hills as the back-stage scenery. Griffin then drew his main land axis from Mount Ainslie, across the river, through the centre of the governmental triangle to the summit of Capitol Hill and extended it to Red Hill.  The water axis intersected the land axis at right angles and covered the proposed lakes whilst the civic axis ran parallel to the water axis on the northern side of the river, taking in Civic Centre. Triangles and concentric circles entered largely into the design, whilst another prominent feature was the concentration of all principal avenues upon hills, with the result that hills invariably lay at the termination of main avenues.  The principal avenues also radiated from Capitol Hill on which will be erected the Capitol.


The benefits resulting from the modern system of city zoning were already becoming apparent as the Griffin plan was proceeded with. Griffin zoned the city thoroughly when preparing his design, and the city is growing from a number of separate points instead of from the one centre.


At first the Southern side was inclined to grow faster than the remainder of the city because the railway terminus lay at Eastlake. To prevent the northern side from stagnating various constructional programmes were put in hand in that section, with the result that Ainslie and Civic Centre were progressing rapidly. The main industrial area and railway yards were designed for a location at the northern end of the city, and because of this the erection of a cheaper class of timber cottages at North Ainslie was approved. [Around Corroboree Park, Ainslie – then way out of town] The area had already outgrown what was thought would be the northern limit of the city for years to come. The plantation at Northbourne was planted to act as a windbreak for the city, but the timber cottages had already extended past that point.


Development was also proceeding rapidly in the Blandfordia [Forrest & Griffin] section, and it was probable that the next stage of progress in that area would be an extension towards Westridge. [Brickyards – area near Yarralumla Shops].


Referring to the architecture of cottages and homes in Canberra, Mr Rolland, said the first cottages at Eastlake [Kingston] and Blandfordia were based on simple lines, and before long there appeared to be a danger of monotonous design becoming too prominent.  The Commission therefore designed a new type of cottage, of a Spanish or Californian type. Canberra was really ahead of the times in this respect, but the people were beginning to appreciate its departure.  The new design was specially suited to Australian conditions and more particularly to Canberra, for it harmonized with a background of gardens, hedges and plantations, which would be the most striking feature of the city in a few years hence.


‘I doubt whether Canberra will ever have one particular style of architecture,’ remarked Mr Rolland, in conclusion. ‘I hope not, for the chief beauty of a city is in a variety of architectural styles.’