Canberra



Canberra is the capital city of Australia. It is located in the Australian Capital Territory, some 290 km from Sydney and 660 km from Melbourne, in southern New South Wales (NSW).

Canberra is the seat of the Federal Government and location of the headquarters of many government bodies, such as the Department of Defence and the Australian Taxation Office. It is here that the politicians make the laws that govern the country and is the location of much of the Public Service that actually runs it.

Parliament House, where the Federal Government sits, stands on top of Capital Hill, from where it dominates the city, in more ways than one. The building is very unusual, and the design was very controversial at the time it was built.

The flagpole on top of the building and the top of Capital Hill stands out clearly, its in-curving supports reflecting back the sunshine. The huge Australian flag undulates gently in the breeze. From ground level much of the building is invisible, as it is partly buried within the hill, with grass lawns planted over most of the roof. Perhaps it is also symbolic of something, that tourists can climb all over the top of the seat of government, and, if they wish, gambol and frolic in the sunshine. It is all part of what is sometimes called 'the universalisation of the tourist gaze' that places like Parliament House are (re-)constructed as places for fun rather than as symbols of power and nation. It was also part of Giurgola's original design for Parliament House, that people should be able to walk all over it. (Read that symbolism however you wish!)

A lot of this is going to change shortly. Due to “security issues” the lawns at Parliament House are to be fenced off and made off limits to the public. Again the politicians are to deny people access to public land, because it suits them. No-one asks what the people think about it. Giurgola wouldn’t approve.

The original decision of where to build the capital was made in 1908 as a compromise between the claims of Sydney and Melbourne over the location of the new nation’s capital. Canberra has a fairly cold climate. The politicians of the day decided that a cold climate was good for the (white) people who were to run the nation to work in.

Also, the location needed to be within the state of New South Wales. That was one of the conditions demanded when NSW was deciding whether or not to become part of the Federation. They insisted that the seat of government of the Federation should be in their state or they wouldn’t join the Federation. Since NSW was the oldest and most populous state, and through a lot of political wrangling, they got their wish.

The actual building of Canberra started in 1913. The design, by Walter Burley Griffin, was influenced by the garden city movement and thus has a significant amount of gardens and parks, mainly in the form of natural vegetation. Canberra is often called “the bush capital” for this reason.

Although it is controversial and disputed, Canberra is said to mean ‘meeting place’ in the old Ngunnawal language, one of several Indigenous languages spoken in the district by Aboriginal people before European settlers arrived.