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Canberra (CAN-ber-ra, CAN-bruh, or Can-buh-ruh) is Australia's capital city and largest inland city, though only the 7th largest overall in the country. It is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory, (ACT).

The word Canberra is believed to mean "meeting place", though some accounts say that it means "women's breasts", a reference to Mt Ainslie and Black Mountain, two elevations in the central Canberra area. It was apparently used in relation to the Molonglo River, which flows through Canberra.

Canberra has many national monuments and institutions such as Government House, Parliament House, the High Court of Australia, the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia, Telstra Tower, the Royal Australian Mint and the National Museum of Australia.

New Parliament House
New Parliament House

Old Parliament House
Old Parliament House


Canberra is located in a portion of the Brindabella Ranges, approximately 150 km inland from Australia's east coast. Its latitude and longitude are 35º15' S and 149º 28' E. It is located at altitudes that range from 550m to 700 m above sea level. This results in temperature ranges from -5º C to 35º C. The hottest days are generally in December and January. In wintertime, the days can get very chilly, and once in a long while snow can fall.

The soil in the Canberra is reasonably fertile, but is of a nature that makes it unsuitable for the construction of heavy-duty underground tunnels. There are also many limestone plains and some limestone caves in the region.

The Molonglo River flows through Canberra. At one point, it has been artificially widened to form what is called Lake Burley Griffin. Numerous hills, such as Mt Ainslie, Mt Mugga Mugga, Mt Taylor and Black Mountain dot the Canberra area, but have been left unsettled. This does mean a colder existence for Canberra's residents as in winter cold air pours down from these peaks to form cold pockets of air in the inhabited valleys. At wintertime, snow has been known to form on the top of some of these hills, and on the more distant ones south of Canberra.

Even at summertime, humidity is low, but fog can develop during wintertime. The area had a history of floods until recent times.

See also Canberra Region, notably for the rural uses and viticulture (wine making).


Canberra's 308,000 residents live in a city originally planned by Walter Burley Griffin. The city is laid out on two major axes, an infrastructural axis stretching northward from the federal Parliament House on Capital Hill to the seat of territorial government on City Hill, and a ceremonial axis stretching from Parliament House north-eastward to the Australian War Memorial at the foot of Mt. Ainslie.

Canberra is divided into seven basic districts. In order of development, they are: North Canberra, South Canberra, Woden, Belconnen, Weston Creek, Tuggeranong, and Gungahlin. They are generally separated from each other by strips of national park. Most of these districts also possess a central shopping area known as a Town Centre.

The suburbs contained in these districts are generally named after famous Australians, particularly politicians. Some are named after early settlers or Aboriginal terms. Street names within each suburb generally follow a particular theme. For instance, the streets of Duffy are named after Australian dams and weirs, whilst the streets of Gowrie are named after Australian Victoria Cross winners.

There are also three suburbs that are considered to be industrial districts: Fyshwick, Mitchell and Hume.

In addition, there is the Oaks Estate area, a small suburb located on the ACT/NSW border which is not part of any of the above districts and which has close ties with the neighbouring NSW town of Queanbeyan.


Canberra is approximately 3.5 hours by road from Sydney on the Hume and Federal Highways, and seven hours by road from Melbourne on the Hume and Barton Highways.

Canberra International Airport has a full schedule of domestic services to several state capitals. There are long-term plans to introduce regular scheduled international flights, but the only international flights to date have been those carrying heads of state such as the US President.

There is a rail service between Canberra and Sydney that takes about four hours (its future is currently in some doubt). This service is operated by the NSW government. Plans to have a very fast train, with a travel time of about 81 minutes, operate between Canberra and Sydney have been contemplated, but not implemented.

A large number of interstate bus companies provide services that run to and from Canberra.

Aspects of Canberra


Canberra is unique in Australia in that it is governed not by a City Council, but a 17-member Legislative Assembly that performs all duties done by both state governments and local governments. This assembly governs the entire ACT. However, since virtually the entire ACT's population is based in Canberra, the terms ACT Government and Canberra Government are largely interchangeable.

Assembly members are elected once every three years by the ACT's population using a proportional voting system. The members are voted in from three different electorates. Voters only vote for the candidates running for their electorate. Seven are voted in from the seat of Molonglo, and five each from Gininderra and Brindabella. The political party that wins the most seats wins government, and governs the ACT through the use of ministries.

To date, ACT government have always been minority ones - ie. they have never won more than half of the assembly's 17 seats. This has led to some unusual alliances to bring about political stability. In one instance, two parties with conflicting political views formed an alliance and governed the ACT through the combined number of seats that this produced. More recently, an ACT Liberal Party government ruled the ACT with the help of an independent member who was given an ACT ministry in return for his support.

The Federal government retains some influence in the ACT's and Canberra's government. It is free to veto any law passed in the Assembly of which it disapproves. Also, no ACT election can be called except with the Federal government's approval.

A Commonwealth organisation, the National Capital Authority, can also veto and influence decisions involving Canberra's urban development and growth.

Law and Order

The Australian Federal Police carry out all police services normally provided by a state police force. Persons arrested on an offence are tried in normal magistrate's and/or district courts based in the ACT. However, persons sentenced to imprisonment are sent to a NSW jail as there are no prisons in Canberra.

Courts such as a ACT small claims tribunal and a family court exist for civil law actions and other non-criminal legal matters.


Although a minority of the Canberra workforce is now directly employed by government, the city's main industry is still government and public service. It contains the Federal Parliament and the headquarters of most government departments (for instance, Defence, Foreign Affair and Trade, and the Treasury).

A number of military establishments of the Australian Defence Force exist in or near Canberra, most notably RAAF Fairbairn (now effectively closed as a base for the Royal Australian Air Force, except for housing the VIP Flight that uses Boeing Business Jet) and HMAS Harman (becoming a tri-service multiuser depot). Military colleges also exist - see Universities.

Canberra's second largest (and most noticeable) industry is tourism, with a large number of Australian and international visitors visiting the city each year. The most popular times are spring and autumn (fall), with the annual Floriade spring flower display (held each year in September/October) being the biggest. Other popular and noteworthy tourist spots in Canberra include the Parliamentary triangle (and in particular both the New Parliament House and the Old Parliament House), monuments such as the War Memorial, and working national institutions like the Royal Australian Mint.

Canberra also has the High Court of Australia, which is the final court of appeal for lawsuits within Australia and which can make rulings on the Australian Constitution.

A legal anomaly allowing the legal production and mail-order sale of explicit pornographic videos from its industrial districts has led to a thriving industry exporting them to the rest of Australia.


Canberra is also home to foreign embassies and high commissions, the majority of which are located in the suburbs of Yarralumla, Deakin and O'Malley. The Yarralumla embassy area is another tourist attraction, as the embassies in that suburb are generally built in the style of their home country.

Embassies are sometimes open to public inspection or for public functions. They have also been the focal points of public demonstrations and protests. For instance, the French embassy received attention from demonstrators during the French nuclear tests in the Pacific, whilst the Indonesian Embassy was the subject of demonstrations in relation to East Timor. Some protests have been violent - for instance, the then Soviet Union embassy came under attack in 1969 and 1971.

There is also the Aboriginal Embassy, located outside old Parliament House. This consists of a portable building and a series of spears and ceremonial fires. In spite of its name, it is not a diplomatic mission, but rather exists to draw attention to indigenous rights and land issues. Its existence and some of the actions of its occupants have been the subject of some controversy, but its presence is tolerated by the Canberra authorities.


As Australia's political centre, Canberra is naturally the home of much of Australia's political reportage and thus all the major media organizations, including the commercial television networks, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and the metropolitan newspapers maintain bureaux there. Many are represented in the "press gallery", the group of media people that follows the national parliament.

The National Press Club is on National Circuit, in the South Canberra suburb of Barton, and its regularly broadcasts its weekly lunches, in which a guest gives a half-hour speech and then goes through a half-hour question session afterwards. This has been a popular means by politicians to give speeches, but other guests have included movie and TV celebrities.

Canberra has own its own daily newspaper, the Canberra Times. This newspaper was first established in 1926.

Canberra has five television stations, two government (ABC and SBS) and three commercial.


Canberra is the home of the Australian National University, based in Acton, and the University of Canberra, based near Belconnen.

The Australian Defence Force Academy (or ADFA) and the Royal Military College operate in the Duntroon area, in Canberra's east. Both campuses produce military graduates. ADFA is a part of the University of New South Wales.

Two religious campuses are sited in Canberra: Signadou in the North Canberra suburb of Watson is a campus of the Australian Catholic University; St Mark's Theological College adjacent to the Parliament House is a campus of Charles Sturt University.

The multi-campus Canberra Institute of Technology also operates in Canberra.

Sporting and recreation

Canberra has a full range of sporting facilities. Perhaps the two most significant are Canberra Stadium (formerly known as Bruce Stadium) and the Australian Institute of Sport, a quasi-educational body that trains many of Australia's Olympic athletes.

Canberra also possesses numerous sporting ovals, golf courses, tennis courts and swimming pools that are available for use by the public. A Canberra-wide series of bicycle paths are available to cyclists for recreational and sporting purposes.

It has several national sporting teams, the Canberra Raiders (Rugby League) and the ACT Brumbies (Rugby Union), the most prominent.

An annual sporting event of historical interest is the "Prime Ministers XI" cricket match, normally played at Manuka Oval in South Canberra.

Public Transport

Canberra is serviced in its entirety by a bus-based public transport system, called Action Buses, as the city has no railway system other than an interstate railway that terminates in the Canberra suburb of Kingston.

There have been government proposals that tramways be added to Canberra, either a tourist-based one that would link many of Canberra's tourist attractions, or one that links the new and developing district of Gungahlin with the City Centre. Nothing has come of these plans.


Aboriginal presence

Prior to white settlement, the Canberra area was inhabited by the Ngunnawal and Walgalu tribes. A third tribe, the Ngarigo, lived south-east of the Canberra area. The Aboriginal numbers appeared to have been relatively small - as few as 500. This was in part to a strong pro-marital culture that existed in the tribes in this area. These tribes appear to have been present in the Canberra area since the 11th century.

They seem to have lived well on local wildlife and fish, with bogong moths and grubs being a particular speciality. Corroborrees and dancing were also a part of their culture.

They had at least two burial grounds, a limestone cave and what is now known as Mt Tennant. At least in some cases, dead aboriginals were buried in a sitting position.

European exploration and settlement

European exploration began in the Canberra area as early as the 1820s. Four successive expeditions whose routes took in the Canberra area were those of Charles Throsby Smith (1820), Charles Throsby (1821), Major John Ovens and Captain Mark Currie (1823) and Allan Cunningham (1824). All four expeditions explored the area of the Molonglo River that is now Lake Burley Griffin. Smith and Cunningham also went further south to what is now called the Tuggeranong Valley.

White settlement in the area can be said to have begun in 1824, when a homestead or station was built in what is now the Acton peninsula by stockmen employed by Joshua John Moore. He formally purchased the site in 1826, and named the property Canberry, or Canberra. But he never visited the site.

Other stations were built in turn by other settlers. Initially, these were owned by absentee landlords, but later families moved in. The first white child born in the area was a daughter born to the Macpherson family in 1830.

There were a number of these families that achieved status in the area. These included the Campbell family, the Ainslie family and the Palmer family. In the late 1820s and early 1830s, there was a conflict between two of these families - the Johnstons (descended from Major George Johnston who was involved in the Rum Rebellion) and the Martins - for the ownership and financial control of land which is now known as Weston Creek and Tuggeranong.

The Campbells, and their patriarch, Robert Campbell, were particularly influential. The Campbells were Scottish and brought many other Scots to the district as workers. The land that they owned included Duntroon House that is now the Officers Mess at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, Yarralumla and the Oaks Estate. The lattermost got its name from a mansion built there by Campbell called the Oaks. When the Campbell family later sold the land it was on for subdivision and development, it was on condition that the Oaks and the land that it was on remain intact and unrenamed respectively. There are still members of the Campbell family living in Canberra.

The European population in the Canberra area continued to slowly grow throughout the rest of the 19th century. One prominent building, the Anglican St John's Church, was consecrated and opened for use in 1845. This building still stands today. A schoolhouse was also attached to this building. By 1851, there were about 2500 people living in the area - a vast majority of which were stockmen. Some convict labour was also used in this area in the 1830s and 1840s.

The settlers dealt totally on agriculture, both crops and livestock, for survival. The weather there was said to be harsh, and drowning in rivers was a fairly common occurrence. Victims of drowning included the first rector of the St John's Church.

The private township of Hall and the town of Queanbeyan were established in the mid to late 19th century.

The Aboriginal population dwindled as the European presence increased, mainly from diseases such as smallpox and measles. Another reason was that their ability to hunt and therefore survive was impeded by homesteads being placed on their hunting grounds. By 1862, they had been largely reduced to half-castes. They held their last full corroboree by the Molonglo River in that year. By 1878, the Aboriginal culture and population had largely ceased to exist, with its members largely absorbed into European culture through half-caste marriages. The last full-blood Aboriginal, Nellie "Queen Nellie" Hamilton, died in Queanbeyan Hospital on January 1, 1897.

The name of Canberra, as well as several derivatives, continued to see some use throughout the 19th century to refer to what is now North Canberra. The local Aboriginals of this time also tended to refer to themselves as the "Kamberra" or "Kamberri" people.

Choice for capital city location

The district's change from a New South Wales rural area to the national capital began during debates over Federation in the early 20th century. At the time, Melbourne was easily Australia's largest city and the obvious place for the capital. The western colonies—Western Australia, South Australia and Victoria—supported Melbourne. However, NSW (the largest colony) and (to a lesser extent) Queensland, favoured Sydney—which was older than Melbourne and the only other large city in Australia. Perhaps one or another of the two colonial capitals might have eventually been acceptable to the smaller states, but the Sydney-Melbourne rivalry was such that neither city would ever agree to the other one becoming capital.

Eventually, a compromise was reached: Melbourne would be the capital on a temporary basis while a new capital was built somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne. Section 125 of the Constitution specified that it must be north of the Murray River (placing it in NSW rather than Victoria) but at least 100 miles from Sydney.

After an extensive search, the present site, about 300 kilometres south-west of Sydney in the foothills of the Australian Alps, was chosen in 1908 as a result of survey work done by Government Surveyor Charles Scrivener in that year. Two persons who campaigned strongly for the Federal capital to be in the Canberra area were John Gale, the publisher of the Queanbeyan Age and Federal politician 'King' O'Malley. The choice of site was a disputed one, and narrowly beat Dalgety, a small town near the NSW/Victoria border.

The NSW government ceded the new Australian Capital Territory to the Commonwealth Government on January 1, 1910. In that same year, the ACT became an alcohol-free area as a result of legislation that the Minister for Home Affairs King O'Malley ran through Federal Parliament in Melbourne.

An international competition was held in 1911 by O'Malley to select a plan for the new city. A variety of names were suggested for the capital, including Olympus, Paradise, Captain Cook, Shakespeare, Kangaremu, Eucalypta and Myola. The name of Canberra was eventually settled upon. At midday on March 12, 1913 the city was officially given this name by Lady Gertrude Denman the wife of the then Governor-General, and building officially commenced. The city commemorates this anniversary as "Canberra Day" each year.

Development and growth

Canberra's growth over the first few decades was slow, and Canberra was indeed far more a small country town than a capital before World War II. It was noted for being more trees and fields than houses. Cattle grazing near Parliament House was a common occurrence, something which amazed General Macarthur when he visited Canberra during World War II. However, the pace of development began to speed up after World War II.

Canberra's population also grew slowly throughout the 20th century, from 9,000 in 1930 to 13,000 in 1945, 39,000 in 1957, 146,000 in 1971, 270,000 in 1988 and 310,929 in 2000.

Early Years

King O'Malley drove in the first survey peg on February 20, 1913 in the Canberra area to mark commencement of work on the city.

Building of the capital then began in what is now North and South Canberra. The pace was slower than expected because of the outbreak of World War I in 1914 and a dispute between Griffin and Federal government bureaucrats. In 1917, a Royal Commission determined that they had undermined Griffin's authority by supplying false data to him by which he had used to carry out his work. Ultimately, Griffin resigned from the Canberra design project in 1920.

Suburbs that slowly were built over the next several years included Parkes, Barton, Kingston, Manuka, Braddon and Reid. These suburbs often had other names - for instance, Kingston was originally known as Eastlakes - before a formal renaming procedure took place in 1928. These suburbs were built largely in accordance to Walter Burley Griffin's designs for Canberra. The men who built these suburbs lived in a series of worker's camps, and built buildings from quarries on the North Canberra area.

The rail line between Canberra and Queanbeyan was built and opened for industrial use on May 25, 1914. It was later made available for public use in 1924. A formal foundation stone for the city was laid by the future Edward VIII on June 21, 1920. Government House in Yarralumla, the Prime Minister's Lodge and what is now the old Parliament House were also built during this time.

An internment camp for German World War I prisoners-of-war was established in 1918 in Canberra's eastern outskirts, in what is now Fyshwick. This became a worker's camp in 1920. Later, this was closed down, and the roads that were used to service the camp became the first streets in Fyshwick.

The first blocks of land for residential and business use were sold by auction in December 12, 1924. The residents of these buildings went through a gruelling start to their occupancy when a flood struck the Canberra area in February, 1925. The flood came as the result of the Molonglo River bursting its banks. The flooding threatened or damaged many buildings, and some drowning resulted.

Canberra's first school, Telopea Park School, had already been opened in 1923. Public transport became available in July, 1925 and two shopping areas were established at Manuka and Kingston in 1925.

1927 saw a movie theatre being opened at Manuka and a Territory police force established. Also in 1927, the city centre was officially established. It was meant to be called Civic Centre, but then Prime Minister Stanley Bruce vetoed the idea and it became officially known as City Centre. However, City Centre is still commonly referred to as "Civic".

But 1927's most significant event was the opening of the provisional Parliament House (now known as the old Parliament House) on May 9, 1927. On this date also, Melbourne ceased being the national capital and seat of government and Canberra assumed this role. Amongst the first acts made in the new parliament house was to repeal O'Malley's prohibition laws. This took effect in 1928.

Canberra's workforce did not escape the Depression. In 1930, 1800 labour force workers and about one seventh of Public Service staff who were by then in Canberra were retrenched.

Despite this, the community developed further, with such things being established as a radio station (2CA) in 1931, which was initially run from a shop in the Kingston area.

For all this, Canberra remained a small country town prior to World War II, far more rural than urban in its nature and size, with little to mark it as Australia's capital other than its Parliament House. Its social centre remained the Kingston/Manuka area.

Post World War II Growth

During and after World War II, Canberra began to grow more rapidly. The Australian War Memorial was opened in 1941, and the Australian National University in 1946.

Embassies and High Commissions began to establish themselves in Canberra during the 1940s, the first of which was the US Embassy in 1943. The only such establishment that had existed prior to that time was the UK High Commission, established in 1936. Other countries, such as Sweden, followed soon afterwards.

Wartime conditions demanded the need for an airport. On April 1, 1940, a military air base, RAAF Station Canberra, was established in a flat plain between Canberra and Queanbeyan. Later, this was renamed RAAF Fairbairn in memory of the Minister for Air, James V. Fairbairn, who was killed with a number of other ministers and officials when an aircraft crashed into a nearby hill in dense fog on 13 August 1940. Canberra Airport was added next to RAAF Fairbairn in the 1960s. The military base and Canberra Airport shared the same runway.

New districts, such as Woden and Tuggeranong, were established and slowly built throughout the 1960s and 1970s to accommodate a growing population. Griffin's plans did not include these, and thus they were designed on a land contour basis. Woden was established in 1964, Belconnen in 1967 and Tuggeranong in 1973.

Lake Burley Griffin was filled up in April, 1964, in accordance with Griffin's original designs. A move to name it Lake Menzies, after the then Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies, was vetoed by Menzies himself.

Scrivener Dam, named after Charles Scrivener and located along what is now the western end of Lake Burley Griffin, had been completed in 1963, and its valves were closed on September 20, 1963, to allow the lake to form. However, the area was in drought at the time and the lake did not actually form until April 1964 when the drought broke. This allowed the first event scheduled for the lake, a rowing championship, to take place. In 1970, the Captain Cook Fountain/Memorial Jet was added, as part of the celebrations held that year to mark the bi-centenary of the discovery of Australia's east coast by Captain James Cook.

In 1978, Bruce Stadium was opened. The High Court was formally opened in 1980 and the National Gallery of Australia in 1982.

Parts of Canberra were the backdrop for Cold War espionage activity. One South Canberra park, Telopea Park, was a known drop-off point for KGB spies based at the nearby USSR Embassy. This embassy was constantly monitored by ASIO agents based in a hotel located across the street from the embassy. In 1991, with the end of the Cold War and the Soviet Union, the embassy became the Russian Embassy. By then the Cold War intrigue had ceased.

In 9 May 1988, a new larger Parliament House was opened on Capital Hill in State Circle, Parkes as part of Australia's bicentenary celebrations and the Federal Parliament moved there from the provisional parliament house.

In December, 1988, the ACT was granted full self-government when an Act passed by Federal Parliament that made the ACT a body politic under the crown was signed by Elizabeth II. On 11 May 1989, following the first elections in 1989, a 17-member Legislative Assembly sat for the first time at its offices in London Circuit, Civic. Its first government was led by the Chief Minister Rosemary Follett.

Recent years

In 2000, several Sydney 2000 soccer games were played at Bruce Stadium.

In 2001, the National Museum of Australia was opened. This followed a bungled demolition display in 1997 in which a local Canberra girl, Katie Bender, was killed by flying debris when the disused former Royal Canberra Hospital was destroyed to make way for the new museum. A small memorial was erected to her memory at the spot at Lake Burley Griffin where she died.

On January 18, 2003, parts of Canberra were engulfed by a bushfire that destroyed over 500 homes. The suburb of Duffy was especially affected, with some 200 homes burnt down there. Four people died in the flames.

On March 5, 2004, the Canberra Spatial plan was submitted to the press. It sets out the blueprint for the future development of the city over the next thirty years covering points such as greater urban density by infilling the gaps between current development and future building on former forestry sites to the west of the city (since burnt down), plus the building of more multi-level dwellings such as apartments etc. within the city centre. This will ultimately increase the population to 500,000.

Information can be found at the following link: Canberra spatial plan


"It is always easy to sneer and criticise, but now that a start has been made [it is] the duty of patriotic Australians to do all that lies in their power to make this capital worthy of a Commonwealth... That here a city may arise where those responsible for the government of this country in the future may seek and find inspiration in its noble buildings, its broad avenues, its shaded parts and sheltered gardens - a city bearing perhaps some resemblance to the city beautiful of our dreams."

Lady Denman gives a vision of Canberra during its christening, March 12, 1913.

"The best view of Canberra is from the back of a departing train."

Percy Deane, Secretary of the Prime Minister's Department, 1928

"It is an expression of bureaucratic Existentialism. It exists without existing."

Journalist Malcolm Muggeridge was not impressed with the Canberra of 1958. "It's just like a little country town, isn't it? Charming, of course, but just a little country town."

The Duchess of Kent after visiting Canberra in 1970.

Koala, Australia Whitehaven Beach, Whitsunday Island, Queensland, QLD, Australia Gold Coast, Queensland, QLD, Australia