What is the Capital of Australia?
An unusual aspect of the Australian constitution is that it specified a brand new capital was to be created. The result was Australia’s largest inland city: Canberra. That’s right folks: the capital of Australia is not Sydney!
After searching for a site for a city, the surveyors and politicians determined that one of the coldest places in Australia was perfect for the new capital because “<;The history of the world shows that cold climates have produced the greatest geniuses..Not sure how the people of Delhi, Brisbane, Dallas or Lagos would react to that assertion!
A group of sheep stations were purchased to become Australia’s new planned capital. A Chicagoan Walter Burley Griffin submitted the winning design in an international design competition conducted by the Australian government. Unfortunately for him, almost every aspect of the design was modified by politicians, the public and civil servants who either did not understand Griffin’s intent or felt the costs of the plan were too much.
Canberra this year turned 100. What sort of a city has it become? I rate the city at 79% ranking it as the 74th city with a population of 100 000+ that I have visited.
The most successful aspect of the original plan is that Canberra sits in a stunningly beautiful landscape. The city nestles so successfully into the landscape that is almost impossible to ascertain the scale of human impact. Lakes including the city’s main Lake Burley Griffin, stunning mountain ranges, and a canopy of native and imported trees are immensely attractive. Motorways pass through landscaped green spaces connecting the original core with six newer districts
- Woden Valley, (1964)
- Weston Creek (1969)
- Tuggeranong (1974)
- Belconnen (1966))
- Gungahlin (1990s)
- Molonglo Valley (now under development)
The buildings that inhabit the city are an eclectic mix. There are some art deco gems such as Manuka pool and the Sound and Film Archive. There are attractive examples of federation style homes in the older suburbs surrounded by grim looking socialist style flats and cookie cutter suburban designs from the 70s, 80s and 90s.
While some of the public buildings are interesting, many are brutalist such as the domineering Telstra tower, High Court building.
The 80 foreign Embassy buildings are fascinating in that many are built in the style of the home country. The US embassy looks like Georgian style stately Virginian home. The Indonesian embassy is built as a traditional Javanese home. The embassies are well worth a drive or ride by.
Tourists are told by Australians to avoid Canberra, no one admits to going on holiday there and the first comment made about the city is either: “its boring” or the more polite: “its quiet”. I think Canberra is seen as boring for four reasons:
- its associated with politics and that is perceived by many to be boring, too complex or convuluted
- most Australians only visit Canberra on a school field trip. Strolling through acres of museums listening to your teacher drone on about history can inoculate people for life
- the streets are generally devoid of people activity. It is very hard to see people in many parts of the city. This results in public places looking sterile and boring
- the city so successfully nestles into the landscape that it is hard to find things. Where is the best Thai restaurant in Canberra? Unlike many cities, you wont stumble upon it because it is hidden. You have to know where it is
There are five ways Canberra culture excels:
- Food. Canberra was once reputed to have more restaurants and cafés per head than Paris! With a strong international community, journalists, politicians and a discerning public food in Canberra is of a very high standard. There are also the most amazing array of food markets.
- Cultural Institutions. Canberrans have the country’s premier Art Gallery, the National library, the War memorial, Questacon an amazing science museum, and the National Museum Of Australia. I counted 26 cultural insitutions. visiting one ever two weeks means it would take a year to see them all.
- Natural attractions from the lakes to an amazing array of parks and gardens plus the stunning national Botanic Gardens, and peaceful river walks. You can explore a different outdoor attraction every week and not see them all in a year
- Festivals. Canberra has the best multicultural festival I have ever seen, the stunning Floriade outdoor flower festival in the Spring, the Balloon Festival, the National Folk festival, a wine festival and many more . It is hard to keep up with all of the festivals!
- Sport. In addition to organised sport, Canberra has the highest per capita involvement in fitness activities. Very fit people running, rowing, sailing and riding through the city is a very common sight.
Canberra has Australia’s highest attendance at art galleries, concerts, theatre, dance, cinemas, and musicals.
Reading through some of the blogs about Canberra, one would think you were in a very dangerous city! It is actually one of the safest cities in the world. The most common crimes in Canberra are property related crimes. Homicide rates are one third of that of other cities in Australia. Rates of assault are also low. Illicit drug use is anecdotally higher in Canberra than other cities.
Public Transit: 5.4/10
Public transport in Australia’s capital is a disgrace. Out of all the cities, I have visited, Canberra falls in the bottom third for its transit. You will see a lot of shiny buses running around the city streets. What you won’t see is anyone on them. At a time when public transport is increasing in every major Australian city, Canberra is spearheading a decline. The main bus operator ACTION seems to have been taken over by people determined to stop people using their routes. The main issues are:
- slow services
- poor frequencies
- bizarre timetable that is confusingly different on weekdays and weekends
- A smartcard ticketing system which is almost impossible to buy a card or top it up
Burley Griffin’s plans called for a rail network and a tram (streetcar) system back in 1913. The first line might be opened by 2019! I think it is time Canberra opened a two line metro with one line running from Tuggernong to the airport via the downtown Civic area intersecting with another line which would run from the nearby town of Queenbeyan to Belconnen and Gungahlin in the North of the city. If Bilbao in Spain, with a similar population size can have a two line metro, its time the capital of Australia did.
Canberra has been named Australia’s second most livable city for three years now. Residents in each major Australian city, were asked to rate their city for its livability and Canberra’s residents praised their city. In a global survey on liveabity, Canberra reached 26th place. For visitors and a transient population, Canberra can appear dull (see above). For most Canberrans there is an anxious smugness about living in the second best city in the best country on earth! anxious because no one from outside Canberra agrees with them!
Canberra Top Ten:
- The Australian War memorial a powerful reminder of how war impacted Australia
- National Gallery of Australia
- Parliament House – a stunning building. Do the free tour to get an insight into how successful and precious Australian democracy is
- Questacon-most kids (and some adults will never want to leave)
- Lake Burley Griffin built in 1964, the lake is not only beautiful but a favourite centre for Canberrans;outdoors. New plans will make the lake more interesting. Run, walk, ride, picnic or sail here.
- National Botanic Gardens
- National Museum Australia
- National Portait Gallery
- Mount Ainslie Lookout -stunning views of Canberra
NB I work and live in Canberra! I have never been bored ( except in some meetings – that’s a different story!)
Auckland is not the capital of New Zealand, Melbourne was the capital of Australia from 1901 to 1927 and Sydney was never the capital