When the new nation was proclaimed at the turn of the 20th century, the perennial power struggle between Sydney and Melbourne reached an awkward deadlock. Each of the cities offset its rival’s claim to be the national capital. So they carved out a site in the rolling bush 320km (200 miles) southwest of Sydney, and it soon began to sprout clean, white, official buildings, followed by millions of trees and shrubs. Out of conflict emerged a green and pleasant com-promise. far from the pressures of the big cities. Where sheep had grazed, the young Commonwealth raised its flag. As corn promises o. it was a winner.
Designing the Capital To design a model capital from scratch. Australia held an international competition. The prize was awarded in 1912 to the American architect Walter Burley Griffin. He had grand designs. but it took longer than anyone imagined to transfer his plan from the drawing board to reality, owing not only to the distractions of two world wars and the Depression, but also to a great deal of wrangling.
Burley Griffin. a Chicagoan of the Frank Lloyd Wright school, put great emphasis on coherent connections between the settings and the buildings, and between landscape and cityscape. Canberra, at the heart of the Australian Capital Territory, has a population of about 313,000. Although the city is an educational and research centre, it is essentially a company town —and the local industry is government. The ministries arc here, and the parliament with its politicians, lobbyists and hangers-on, and so are the foreign embassies. The Royal Military College Duntroon, Australia’s first military college, founded in 1911, is based in Canberra, as is the Australian Institute of Sport. In spite of this considerable enterprise, Australia’s only size-able inland city is both uncrowded and relaxed.
North of the Lake
To get the big picture, have a look at the view from the Telstra Tower (open: daily 9am-10pm) atop Black Mountain. Millions of sightseers have paid to ascend the I 95-m (640-ft) tower for the 360-degree perspective. A viewing platform circles the structure towards the top, and the designers couldn’t resist adding a café and a revolving restaurant. If you want to eat there, you’ll have to book ahead.
On the eastern slopes of Black Mountain, the National Botanic Gardens (open: daily 9am-5pm, 8pm Jan and Feb) arc entirely devoted to Australian flora — they have the most comprehensive collection anywhere. In spite of Canberra’s mostly mild, dry climate, numerous rainforest specimens flourish under intensive care. Walter Burley Griffin was so fascinated by the native trees and plants of Australia that he included this place in his original plan.
The only part of the capital designed with pedestrians in mind is the area around the Civic Centre. The original business and shopping district opened in 1927 — by Canberra standards that’s ancient history — and comes complete with symmetrical white colonnaded buildings in a mock-Spanish style.
Nearby are modem shopping malls, the Canberra Theatre Centre on London Circuit, and an historic merry-go-round in Petrie Plaza. A more conventionally styled dome covers the vast Australian War Memorial, which is a sandstone shrine climax in a ceremonial avenue called Anne Parade. There are war memorials all over Australia, but this is the definitive one.