History Timeline

1901, Europeanised vision of Lake George

(Robert) Charles Coulter's Europeanised vision of the Australian national capital at Lake George, near Canberra, 1901. This image was used on the front cover of the proceedings of the 'Congress of Engineers, Architects, Surveyors and Others Interested in the Building of the Federal Capital of Australia, 1901'—a highly significant gathering which took place at the same time as the opening of the Commonwealth Parliament, in May 1901. Australia's professional community clearly signalled that it was not prepared to leave such an important project as the nation's capital up to the politicians alone. Since the 1820s, Lake George has regularly been, and is today, bone dry.

Cool!

1902, Parliamentarians visit national capital sites

As the 'Battle of the Sites' raged, the federal parliamentarians visited many potential national capital locations. Minister for Home Affairs, William Lyne, hosted a number of these early excursions—dubbed by (former) Prime Minister George Reid as 'Lyne's picnics'. Here, Lyne sits on an Albury fence (perhaps symbolically, for Lyne was a strong opponent of Federation and then abruptly switched), watched by three future prime ministers: Alfred Deakin (far left), Chris Watson and William Morris (Billy) Hughes (far right).

Parliamentarians visit national capital sites

1902, Senators brave chilly waters of the Snowy River

The 'Battle of the Sites' regularly brought the parliamentarians to southern NSW, for there was a widespread belief at the time that the Anglo-Saxon and Anglo-Celtic intelligence could only thrive in cooler climes. This Cold Climate myth is both curious and embarrassing to us in the 21st century but it was a prevailing belief amongst Australians one hundred years ago. Here, in the Snowy River at Dalgety, a few hardy senators take the idea to an extreme.

Senators brave chilly waters of the Snowy River

1908, (Former) Prime Minister Reid votes for the 'Yass-Canberra' option

This is George 'Yes-No' Reid's ballot paper to choose the capital, cast during the final historic vote in the House of Representatives, 8 October 1908, which selected 'Yass-Canberra'. A very canny politician, and Prime Minister of Australia in 1904-5, Reid played an important, behind-the-scenes role in the promotion of Canberra as the national capital.

(Former) Prime Minister Reid votes for the 'Yass-Canberra' option

1909, Surveyors' campsite in Canberra

Surveyor Charles Scrivener's postcard sketch of the surveyors' campsite in Canberra, 23 February 1909 (the huts are still standing today, less than 100 metres from the Parliament House). While Scrivener and his team are rightly given credit for the final, elegant survey of Canberra, completed on 25 February 1909, it is worth noting that they built on the earlier work of a small number of engineers and surveyors in the Dept of Public Works of the NSW Government. Scrivener's personal choice for the capital was Dalgety.

Surveyors' campsite in Canberra

1909, Charles Scrivener at the surveyors' campsite

A posed shot for the historic record, taken at the surveyors' camp, February 1909. Charles Scrivener is seated at right. In producing the final survey, Scrivener was acting on the memorable instructions of the new Minister for Home Affairs in the Fisher Labor Government, Hugh Mahon, provided on 21 December 1908: ' … the surveyor will bear in mind that the Federal Capital should be a beautiful city, occupying a commanding position, with extensive views, and embracing distinctive features which will lend themselves to the evolution of a design worthy of the object, not only for the present, but for all time...' It was a visionary brief!

Charles Scrivener at the surveyors' campsite

1910, Senators' fists resolve the 'burning question'

Senators J.J.Long and A.Rae play around for the camera, determined to resolve through fisticuffs the 'burning question' of where the capital would be sited. While the site visits had their lighter side, when the crunch time came in late 1908, debate was robust in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Regional interests were at least as important as the broader national project.

Senators' fists resolve the 'burning question'

1911, Canberra's International Design Competition begins

Robert Coulter's 'Cycloramic View of Canberra Capital Site', painted at Camp Hill (a location originally about half way up Capital Hill). This painting, and another done at Vernon Hill (now City Hill), were included in the comprehensive information kit that accompanied the Invitation for Competitors (for the International Design Competition), sent to all parts of the world in 1911. The comprehensive competition package attracted 137 national and international entries.

Canberra's International Design Competition begins

1912, International Design Competition winner announced

Minister for Home Affairs, the legendary King O'Malley (foreground, with beard), announces the result of the International Design Competition in Melbourne on 23 May 1912. This picture is a veritable 'who's who' of the relevant Australian bureaucrats of the era, some of whom would become implacable opponents of the Griffins and their plan for Canberra. They regarded Walter Burley Griffin as an American 'blow-in'.

International Design Competition winner announced

1912, International Design Competition entries go on display

The ballroom of Government House, Melbourne, as the first entries in the International Design Competition are mounted for display, March 1912. King O'Malley, the controversial Minister for Home Affairs, is in the light suit, second from the left. O'Malley's determination to be the competition's final decision-maker prompted the Royal Institute of British Architects to advise its membership to boycott the competition. The response was significant, for it no doubt contributed to the choice of a non-British, state-of-the-art design for Canberra originating in Chicago— the celebrated home of the Prairie School (which included Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright) and arguably the leading design city of the world at that time.

International Design Competition entries go on display

1912, The Griffin entry no.29 wins the International Design Competition

One of Marion Mahony Griffin's fourteen superb ('five feet by two feet six inches') renderings that comprised the Griffin entry no.29 that won the1911-12 International Design Competition. The renderings were done in the loft at famous Steinway Hall in Chicago, workplace of the Prairie School of architects. As Paul Reid puts it: 'Something extraordinary happened in that loft in the autumn of 1911. A small group of architects, brought up within the expanding confidence of Chicagoans in their ability to improve the world and nurtured in a brilliant architectural office, were led by the [newlywed Griffins] to create a new idea: the Organic City'. Canberra had its sustainable, visionary design. This is a 'Section of the Land Axis'.

The Griffin entry no.29 wins the International Design Competition

1912, Marion Mahony Griffin's celebrated 'City and Environs'

One of two iconic renderings included in the Griffin entry, the celebrated (and, for some, mystical) 'City and Environs'. Many Griffin buffs maintain that, in this drawing, you can see a number of hidden, identifiably Australian images. What do you think?

Marion Mahony Griffin's celebrated 'City and Environs'

1912, Marion Mahony Griffin's 'View from Summit of Mount Ainslie'

The other iconic rendering, 'View from Summit of Mount Ainslie', majestically displaying the enlargement of Marion Mahony Griffin's 'artistic vocabulary to include an urban vision', according to Griffin scholar, Christopher Vernon.

Marion Mahony Griffin's 'View from Summit of Mount Ainslie'

1913, Penleigh Boyd's painting, 'The federal capital site', 1913

(Theodore) Penleigh Boyd's painting, 'The federal capital site', 1913, which came second in the Commonwealth Government competition-though considered by many to be better than the William Lister Lister painting awarded first place by the judges in July 1913. Both paintings are now on public exhibition in Parliament House. Find them on the first floor overlooking the main entry foyer. The visitor guides at Parliament House are happy to point them out.

Penleigh Boyd's painting, 'The federal capital site', 1913

1913, King O'Malley drives the first survey peg in building of Canberra

Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley, hammers in the first peg to begin the city of Canberra survey on Capital Hill, 20 February 1913. O'Malley insisted on this small event, some three weeks before the official Foundation Stones ceremony, no doubt to ensure that he would have at least one gathering where he did not have to share the national limelight. Also in the picture are: Colonel W.T.Bridges, commandant of Duntroon (in military uniform, beneath umbrella, left); Speaker of the House, Charles McDonald (standing near O'Malley, on right); Canberra's principal surveyor, Charles Scrivener (far left); and Colonel David Miller, the Administrator of the Federal Capital Territory (in pith helmet, second from left).

King O'Malley drives the first survey peg in building of Canberra

1913, An invitation to the Laying of the Foundation Stones ceremony

The official invitation to the 'Laying of the Foundation Stones' naming ceremony on Capital Hill, 12 March 1913. This day is now celebrated as Canberra Day.

An invitation to the Laying of the Foundation Stones ceremony

1913, The 'Laying of the Foundation Stones' with three golden trowels

On 12 March 1913, three golden trowels were used to lay the first three foundation stones of the nation's new capital: the first by the Governor-General, Lord Denman; the second by the Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher; and the third by the Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley. Here, O'Malley lays the third stone, watched by Prime Minister Fisher.

The 'Laying of the Foundation Stones' with three golden trowels

1913, The 'Laying of the Foundation Stones' naming ceremony

On the podium for the 'Foundation Stones' ceremony, 12 March 1913: Governor-General, Lord Denman; Prime Minister Andrew Fisher; Lady Denman; and Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley.

The 'Laying of the Foundation Stones' naming ceremony