An intense rivalry

Following Australia’s Federation in 1901, so began years of passionate haggling between politicians – especially those from NSW and Victoria, who argued Sydney or Melbourne should be the rightful capital of Australia. However, a compromise was needed to establish a national capital location that met the requirements of the Australian Constitution (Section 125, to be exact).

According to those rules, the new seat of Government for the Commonwealth of Australia had to be not less than 160 km from Sydney – but not in Sydney, to appease those from other states of Australia.

While this resolved the issue of favouritism between rivals Sydney and Melbourne, it posed a raft of challenges for those in charge of finding just the right site.

Years were spent in search of a location – and consideration was given to sites including Dalgety, Bathurst, Orange, Albury and Bombala. And after plenty of debate, studies and inspections, Canberra was finally chosen as the ideal option in 1909, and legislated in 1911.

Known as Ngunnawal country to the Indigenous people of the region, Canberra was officially named as the capital of Australia on 12 March 1913, which is celebrated each year with Canberra Day.

Children dress up and learn at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House in Canberra
You can immerse yourself in Australia’s history at the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House

House rules

Once the decision was made to govern the country from Canberra, an international design competition was launched to find the right look and feel for the national capital. The judging panel sifted through 137 entries and decided on a Chicago couple’s ideas. Walter Burley Griffin and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin, set the vision for the city of today: with Lake Burley Griffin at the heart and a visible Parliamentary Triangle able to be seen from numerous vantage points including Mount Ainslie and a hot air balloon!

Canberra’s seaport?

You may be surprised to learn that Canberra, an inland city, has a seaport at Jervis Bay. That’s about 230 km away from Canberra!

The Jervis Bay land area – a stunning piece of coastline – was added to the Australian Capital Territory via legislation in 1915 to ensure the Commonwealth had a seaport.

Home to a nation’s story

As the national capital, Canberra is the custodian of significant cultural stories about Australia. With many monuments and iconic buildings established in the 1940s and 1960s, these national attractions bring the country’s narrative to life.

The Australian War Memorial’s foundation stone was laid on 25 April 1929, but the building wasn’t completed until 1941. Old Parliament House (now known as the Museum of Australian Democracy) began housing national Parliament in 1927, and the impressive purpose-built National Library of Australia opened its doors in 1968.

In 1963, the British Government gifted Canberra with the 50-metre tall National Carillon to commemorate the city’s 50th anniversary.

Today, you can explore artworks, historic artefacts, and learn all about the heritage of Australia – and Canberra – in museums, galleries, attractions and outdoor sites throughout the city. You can even browse every remarkable Australian of the Year award recipient as you stroll along Lake Burley Griffin.

A family explores the Australian of the Year Walk at Lake Burley Griffin, Canberra
The Australian of the Year Walk along Lake Burley Griffin

The perfect choice

While the site for Parliamentary decisions in any country can typically bear the brunt of national criticism, the people of Canberra have created a thriving, modern and diverse city of delightful beauty and welcoming hospitality.

Surrounded by all of the best things in life including natural vistas and trails, wineries, beaches and snowfields, Canberra is the jewel in Australia’s crown.

You can explore the history of Canberra at National Capital Exhibition.

Sources: National Archives of Australia; National Capital Authority