Considering the city was still under construction less than a hundred years ago, you might not expect to find a lot of history in Australia’s capital. But what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality, with some of the country’s most important historical buildings located within the city boundaries. Take a read of our quick guide to Canberra’s history and historical highlights worth exploring during your visit to the ACT.
The Birth of Australia
01ST January 1901 saw the beginning of the nation, when the six British colonies that made up the country becoming one unified nation. The Federation saw the formation of the Commonwealth of Australia and an opportunity for new beginnings with less colonial involvement, including a self-decided capital. Melbourne at the time was the country’s largest city, booming thanks to a goldrush, Sydney however had age on its side, as the oldest city in the country. Rather than choosing either, a new capital was decided upon, and Canberra was born in 1913.
Shaping the City
A competition winning design by American architect and his wife, Walter and Marion Griffin allowed for a from-scratch design for this new capital. With a central focal point of a large lake, big open spaces and tree lined avenues and the impressive Mount Ainslie and Mount Bimberi, the city didn’t need grand buildings to give it presence and stature. Relying heavily on natural elements and existing landscapes, the city layout encouraged nature to weave throughout.
Naming the City
The name was chosen in 1913, and there’s been disagreements ever since as to its origin. Many agree that it has an Aboriginal language source, perhaps meaning the ‘head of the river’, or maybe ‘a meeting place’, perhaps even ‘neutral place’ or even ‘laughing jackass’. Everyone agrees though that some name meanings are a better fit than others.
Albert Hall (100 Commonwealth Avenue) – a Canberra icon with a history dating back almost to the birth of the city. Opened in 1928 by the then Prime Minister who chose its name as a nod to its English cousin, the Royal Albert Hall in London. A recent significant refurbishment has restored the hall to its former glory.
Lanyon Homestead (30-minute drive from Central Canberra in Tharwa south of the Capital) – regarded as a gem of Canberra’s history with building that dates back to more than 50 years before the city was even conceived, it’s little wonder why. Take a tour of the homestead and appreciate a snapshot of life as it was in the 1850s. The buildings each carry stories of the past, with tales of convicts and tragedy as well as insights into the Aboriginal way of life that existed long before the homestead. Picnic in the garden, enjoy coffee in the café or discover of the city’s history. The homestead is open every day of the week except Mondays.
Australian War Memorial (Located at the foot of Mount Ainslie – 5-minutes from the city centre) – part memorial to those who died in conflict and part military museum, the Australian War Memorial is regarded as one of the most important memorials of its kind in the world. The memorial was conceived at the end of the great war, ‘the war to end all wars’, and with tragic irony was opened in 1941 at the height of the Second World War. The impressive art-deco design adds to the memorial’s importance. Visitors can explore the inside galleries, records centre, shrine and the sculpture garden as well as take a contemplative walk along Anzac Parade.
Museum of Australian Democracy (City-centre, located opposite the new Parliament House) – dating back to 1927 this grand building was the seat of Government for 60 years, and an integral part of Canberra’s and Australia’s history. The museum unsurprisingly focuses on the history of Australian government, both on the individuals involved and the impact on the country. It might not be your first choice for a family outing, but the Open Air PlayUP (School Holidays only), the PlayUP area inside and the DressUP zone has more than enough to keep the kids entertained and educated.
Modern Comfort in Historical Canberra
A day exploring the history of Canberra is best appreciated in the contemporary surroundings of Knightsbridge Canberra. Located on a tree-lined street a 5-minute drive from Old Parliament House, the rooms celebrate the best of modern comfort, with your favourite amenities like air-conditioning, Nespresso machines, rainfall showers and an infinity pool.