History of Canberra 2018-05-17T15:47:44+10:00

The nation’s capital Canberra has a unique modern history in that it did not start out as an intentional colonial settlement like Sydney. Only a few old-world inhabitants occupied the area along with the the original Aborigine inhabitants.

Archaeologists have discovered that the site of what is now Canberra has been inhabited since more than 20,000 years ago. Archaeological digs have uncovered ancient sacred burial grounds, early Aboriginal art, shelters, and stone implements.

Explorers found the site of Canberra in the early 1800s. It is estimated that before the 1820s there were about 400 Aboriginal peoples living in the area. European settlers started to trickle into the region and slowly Aboriginals moved out. However, as Europeans immigrated into the region, it is believed that pestilence introduced by them wiped out a lot of the Aboriginal population. The ones who survived forged relationships with the Europeans in the area. In the 1880s, the population in the region was only less than a hundred mixed race people.

In 1824, Joshua John Moore, an Englishman who was a veteran of the Waterloo battle, was the first ever pastoral farmer who owned land in the Canberra area. The sheep he owned and the land was managed by John McLauglin. He built a home on Acton Peninsula which was later dubbed Camberry then Canberry Cottage. There was a creek that ran through the area called Canberry Creek. The evolution of the name from Camberry to Canberry and later to Canberra was started.

Joshua Moore never actually inhabited the property though he owned it. The property continued to be called Camberry or Canberry for 19 years. Then a man named Arthur Jeffreys bought the place and renamed it Acton House.

More European settlers moved into the area and in the 1850s, there were about less than 3000 people living there. Next to the Canberry property, the church of St. John the Baptist began to be built and the clergy rented Canberry Cottage to be used as the rectory. A school was constructed beside the church. At that time, the weather was said to be sometimes terrible with bitterly cold winters and hail. Aboriginal hunting grounds became homesteads and so most of the Aboriginal peoples either moved out of the area or intermarried with the Europeans.

Close to the end of the 19th century, a competition between Sydney and Melbourne heated up over which city would become the capital city of Australia. A surprising compromise was reached, and it was voted to build up Canberra as the capital.

During the latter half of the 20th century, the federal government established itself there. Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahoney Griffin were winners of a competition to design the layout of the city. On March 12, 1913, after much debate, the name Canberra was chosen as the official name of the city. On the second Monday in March of every year, the naming of the capital is commemorated by a holiday in the city known as Canberra Day.

Railway tracks between Canberra and the city of Queanbeyan were laid initially for cargo but later for human transport.

The outbreak of World War I slowed down the building work on the city. Close to the outside of the city, a POW camp was built which was later converted to a workers’ camp.

In 1927, the Parliament House was established. The Great Depression took its toll on Canberra and almost all construction on the city stopped. This slow progress continued on until after World War II. After World War II, a university and college were opened. The Canberra Airport and Theatre were opened in the 1960s. Due to growth in population throughout the 1960s and 1970s, more construction and development took place, and Lake Burley Griffin was also created. A flood devastated Canberra in 1971 which killed and injured several people. The city soon recovered and continued to rebuild.

Institutions such as the National Library of Australia, High Court of Australia, and National Gallery of Australia were built.

By the end of 1988, Canberra was fully self-governing. The National Museum of Australia opened in 2001. Bushfires hit the city in 2003 which damaged parts of the city and cost lives and limbs. In 2008, the National Portrait Gallery opened as well.

The future looks optimistic for the capital city. Currently, Canberra is growing with plans for more expansion and construction. Looking back to 1911, there were close to 2000 inhabitants in Canberra. A hundred years later in 2011, the population numbered at over 350 000. The city of Canberra had small and humble beginnings but it now stands as the nation’s magnificent capital.

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