Home » Australia » Canberra 


Surrounded on all sides by rural townships and bush landscape, Canberra – “The Bush Capital” – is essentially a small city, but her districts can be worlds apart. The vision for a garden city continues to influence Canberra’s development with over half her area still reserved for parkland. From historical to cosmopolitan, each of her districts are distinctly different, but all are neighboured by areas of great natural beauty.

City Centre
With some of the best known Australian landmarks and buildings – Parliament House, the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia and Telstra Tower – you cannot forget that you are in the nation’s capital. In the bush-landscaped centre of the city, the Canberra Centre forms the busy shopping hub, surrounded by evidence of the Sydney and Melbourne influence in the beautiful historic buildings that date back to the establishment of the city. More recently, looming inner city apartment and business buildings have popped up in abundance, giving the city a ‘past to present’ feel that makes it difficult to slot Canberra into any one category.

A picturesque landmark of the city is the historic Merry Go Round, which offers entertainment to the children as well as an interesting perspective of Canberra’s history and beauty for adults. Most of the city centre is connected by pavements, and a day can easily go by as you wander around enjoying the specialty shops and sidewalk cafes that give the city her cosmopolitan feel.

South Canberra
Only a ten minute drive from the city centre, Manuka has long been regarded as the Mediterranean flavour of Canberra with a vast population of sidewalk cafes. Paved and beautifully landscaped, the shopping district has a relaxed feel and the interlinked arcades and shopping boulevards host a multitude of boutique stores.

In the next suburb, Kingston is making its mark as another stylish centre. Cafes and restaurants in every cuisine imaginable vie for space on the sidewalks and in the courtyard, Green Square. Boutique stores and antique centres are set in a landscape of picturesque apartment buildings.

Gold Creek Village
With the growth of the Gungahlin residential areas nearby, Gold Creek Village has expanded over the years to become a mecca of specialty stores and souvenir shops. But draw cards to the area are the major attractions such as the National Dinosaur Museum, Cockington Green and wildlife centres The Bird Walk and The Australian Reptile Centre.

Belconnen, Tuggeranong and Woden Town Centres
Originally large shopping malls for the residential regions, these districts have in recent years slowly built a reputation for their nightlife. Cafes, bars and restaurants are settling in beside popular live music venues and it is now no longer necessary for residents of these areas to venture into the city to get some entertainment. Each district’s centre offers a different type of live entertainment and eateries. Belconnen is host to Turkish and Indian restaurants, as well as taverns with Australian bands. Woden is now becoming the jazz and blues hub, and Tuggeranong is welcoming the Irish pub scene.

These areas are also very close to many of the city’s outdoor attractions: Ginninderra Falls is a short drive from Belconnen, Mt Stromlo Observatory and the Cotter Reserve are only a fifteen minute drive from Woden, and Tuggeranong is the gateway to the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.

This beautiful historic rural village is on the way to the Namadgi National Park, and is home to Australia’s oldest bridge. Enjoy a picnic at the Tharwa Bridge Reserve, or take time to peruse the Cuppacumbalong Craft Centre during your rural outing.

Settled before Canberra, Queanbeyan, is a typical inland Australian ‘city’ with a township built around the main street, a welcome lack of high-rises and one shopping mall. While only 15 minutes drive from Canberra’s city centre, it can feel like a world apart. Queanbeyan is home to the Molonglo Gorge and the magnificent Googong Dam, which is both an amazing engineering feat and a pleasant spot for a picnic, fishing or bushwalking.

Bungendore is Canberra’s historical region. This small rural colonial-style village established in 1880 is now a thriving tourist attraction. Art, craft, and antique stores are great for shopping or just browsing. The Bungendore Wood Works is a must. The beautiful Carrington Hotel in the centre of the village also serves as restaurant and function centre, and even has its own resident ghost.

Captains Flat
Originally a booming mining town, Captains Flat is now a great place for an afternoon drive, being only 45 minutes from the city centre. Tipped to become one of the city’s next big tourist venues – as Bungendore is today – it is still a sleepy township that seems miles from anywhere. Enjoy a peacful picnic in the park, a bushwalk or a lazy lunch at the pub while you can.

Another rural village centre, Murrumbateman is an ideal stopping point between Canberra and Yass, and is home to many of the region’s noted wineries, such as Clonkilla Wines and Doonkuna Estate, and makes a great outing for wine lovers. Antique stores are also plentiful here.

Plentiful everywhere in Canberra’s districts are surprises. Take time to get out and explore, and you will be take away fond memories of the bush capital.

History of Canberra 

Canberra’s name comes from the Aboriginal word “Kamberra”, meaning ‘meeting place’, apt for the city that became the nation’s capital as a solution to the dispute between rivals Melbourne and Sydney.

Following the federation of Australia in 1901, years went by in the search for the future site of Australia’s capital. Finally, in 1908, Federal Parliament declared that the capital would be in the Yass/Canberra district.

For over 21,000 years, this region had been home to the Ngunnawal aboriginal people. As part of their nomadic migrations, they regularly visited the area for corroborees and feasts. Archaeological evidence of their occupation can be found at Birrigai Rock shelter at Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, at the Axe Grinding Grooves, at Tuggeranong Creek as rock paintings in Namadgi National Park and at other sites throughout the Australian Capital Territory.

European settlement, beginning in the 1820s, disrupted the thriving Aboriginal life-style. While much of their culture was lost, many continued to live in the area taking work on sheep stations.

Canberra derives its name from the first European settler’s property, “Canberry”, based on the aboriginal name for the area. The city centre of modern Canberra lies over the middle of this property.

The New South Wales Government Surveyor at the time, Charles Scrivener, selected this site for the future capital due to its commanding position within an amphitheatre of hills. His vision was that the flood plain of the Molonglo River could form an ornamental lake in the centre of the city site. This was ratified in 1909, and on 1 January 1911 the Australian Capital Territory came into existence. At this stage there were only 1714 persons living in the Territory, outnumbered slightly by horses, greatly by the 224,764 sheep, not to mention the kangaroos!

The international competition to design Canberra was launched on 24 May later that year and, from some 137 entries, Walter Burley Griffin’s design was awarded first prize.

On 12 March 1913, the wife of the Governor General, Lady Denman, officially named Canberra as the capital of Australia and three foundation stones were laid into place at the base of the commencement column: they can still be seen in the lawn of Parliament House.

Later that year Griffin came out to Australia to implement his design. His plan placed Capital Hill at the centre of Canberra with wide tree-lined avenues radiating from it, each named after an Australian State capital and pointing in the direction of that city. His plan related the structure and geometry of the city to the natural terrain of the site and was based on three axes that form a Great Triangle. The land axis linked Mount Ainslie to Capital Hill. The water axis ran from Black Mountain through to Lake Burley Griffin, the lake formed by damming the Molonglo River. The third axis – the Municipal axis (now Constitution Avenue) – ran parallel to the water axis from City Hill to Russell Hill.

But delays in constructing the capital ensued due to lack of funds and the outbreak of the First World War. It was not until 1926 that Federal Parliament was to meet in Canberra and then in a “provisional” Parliament House (Old Parliament House), which was built on a flatter area than that according to Griffin’s plan. This building was officially opened on 9 May 1927. At this stage the infant capital consisted of two government office buildings, a Prime Minister’s residence, the Lodge, several hotels and guest houses, a railway connection to Queanbeyan and hence Sydney, the Royal Military College, Duntroon, a hospital, a dam, a powerhouse, brickworks, a construction camp for workers and a nucleus of inner suburbs – Kingston, Yarralumla, Ainslie, Reid and Forrest. Some public servants had by this time begun to move to Canberra from Melbourne.

Then, the Great Depression hit and construction of the nation’s capital halted again. With a population of 7000, Canberra went into hibernation. Work had scarcely begun on the Australian War Memorial and the National Library when the Second World War halted progress. It was not till after the war that development of the city really began.

In 1954, as Canberra (now with a population of 39,000) was hit with a housing shortage, a Senate Select Committee was established to inquire into the development of the city. It recommended a single well-funded organisation to implement construction and development. The Griffin plan was reviewed and the Lake formed and inaugurated in 1964. The concept of the Parliamentary Triangle was realised by construction of bridges and avenues radiating from Capital Hill. New town centres to the north and southwest of Griffin’s Canberra were commenced with residents moving into the first new town, Woden, in 1964, followed by the establishment of Belconnen to the north in 1967, and Tuggeranong in the south in 1973.

More public servants were moved from Sydney and Melbourne, and a large defence office complex was constructed at Russell Hill on one of the corners of the National Triangle. The Royal Australian Mint was completed and other government buildings were built in town centres to generate retail and services development. New embassies were established reflecting Australia’s growth and international links. The National Library, the High Court of Australia, the Australian National Gallery and the National Science and Technology Centre were built within the Parliamentary Triangle. And finally after ten years in the building, to mark the Bicentenary of European settlement, and following another international competition, the new permanent Parliament House was opened on 9 May 1988.

As the seat of federal government and home to diplomatic embassies of over 60 countries, Canberra is a diverse and cultured city with all the amenities of a modern city but none of the disadvantages. It has taken a long time but the vision of Walter Burley Griffin has now been realized.