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Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Page: 3965

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Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital Territory) (18:58): About three months ago, on 12 March, our nation's capital turned 101 years old. While members of the parliament can be forgiven for overlooking this lesser milestone, as a proud senator for the ACT I am motivated to report on the significance of what happened the day before—a birthday ceremony at City Hill, just down the road from Parliament House, to unveil an imposing eight-metre-high Canberra» «Centenary» Column, and to bury a time capsule until the date of 2114.

Speeches given on the day by ACT Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, cultural historian Dr David Headon and «Canberra» CBD Ltd's Manny Notaras kept returning to a comment made by the «centenary» of Canberra's creative director, Robyn Archer, a comment that was her operating mantra throughout her years in the job—namely, that Canberra's «centenary» would only be fully franked, would only be historically and culturally endorsed, by the range and depth of the legacy projects that followed over the ensuing months, years and decades. This is now our challenge. This city of «Canberra» has a wonderful story, a unique story and, as our national capital, a grand foundation narrative. It is a story we are proud of and one that deserves to be shared. In the «centenary» aftermath, and whenever the opportunity presents itself, I intend to keep doing that—starting tonight.

The City Hill event taught us more about the foundation stones and naming ceremonies that took place on Capital Hill a hundred years ago. People will be familiar with the large circle of stones just down at the forecourt here. Back then, the then Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley, while organising the foundation stones to be laid with golden trowels, did not get his piece de resistance—a column to sit atop those stones.

The generosity of the «Canberra» CBD Ltd group has ensured that, a century on, in a symbolically linked location—one point of that equilateral triangle joined by Commonwealth Avenue across Lake Burley Griffin—King O'Malley has finally got his wish. Dr Headon referred to this as 'unfinished business' and it is this theme I would like to explore tonight. Surely we want to be a country that knows much more about its Federation past, its roots as a nation, than just the name of its first Prime Minister. Surely we want to be a country not only familiar with the big story of our national capital but also committed to plugging the gaps in our knowledge, discovering exciting new chapters, telling it how it really is and was, and attending to that unfinished business.

In recent decades, we have all relished the increase in the critical mass of national institutions, along with the steep rise in the number of quality exhibitions. I am talking about the addition of institutions like the National Museum, built on the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin, and the National Portrait Gallery—as well as the extraordinary steps taken to improve the National Gallery of Australia. There have been quality exhibitions in places like the National Archives, as well as some marvellous blockbuster exhibitions held through the course of our «centenary» year. These included the wonderful Mapping our World exhibition at the National Library of Australia; the Griffins exhibition at the National Archives, which showcased the beautiful Marion Mahony Griffin watercolours that were the entry into the competition for the design of the city of «Canberra» ; the Glorious Days: Australia 1913 exhibition at the National Museum; and the Renaissance exhibition of works by the great European masters, which followed the great tradition of blockbusters at the National Gallery of Australia. Many Australians, from right across the continent, have now adopted the immensely satisfying habit of regularly visiting their national capital city, engaging up close and personal with some of the world's—and of course Australia's—most extraordinary works of art and items of cultural heritage.

Permit me to depart from my intended focus, but I cannot help but mention my concern about some of the budget cuts to our national cultural institutions in the context of reflecting back on the wonderful contribution they make to civil life in Australia. I am concerned about that. We explored it quite thoroughly at Senate estimates. I would like to acknowledge the extraordinary work of everybody employed and playing a volunteer role in each and every one of our national cultural institutions, both here in «Canberra» and around the nation.

While the National Botanic Gardens might not enjoy quite the same high-profile status as some of the institutions I have mentioned, it is firmly entrenched as one of my favourite «Canberra» places. When visiting the gardens, you are embraced by one of the city's most tranquil environments, featuring a unique and encyclopedic selection of native flora. It is in fact the largest living collection of Australian native flora in the world. It is here in our own backyard in the national capital and accessible to all who want to see it. It has its own fan club, the Friends of the Australian National Botanic Gardens. I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge them. They are a group of volunteers, as you would expect, who spend their time making sure that visitors to the gardens have a fulfilling tour and that the interests of the gardens are brought to the attention of those who need to know. They work very closely and constructively with the management of the Australian National Botanic Gardens.

The gardens, however, have something more—a robust connection to a Federation past that other institutions cannot boast. This connection to some of Canberra's earliest and most revered individuals and anecdotes makes the gardens perhaps the most important exemplar of Canberra's primary, city-defining narrative—its globally significant, 'garden city, bush capital' story. To uncover these roots, however, you have to dig back into our past a little bit.

In May 1901, as we know, the first Commonwealth parliamentarians met in Melbourne. Australia's switched-on design professionals of the day, however—well aware that section 125 of the new Constitution confirmed that the capital city must actually be built—were not willing to simply let the politicians make all the running on the shape and, above all, the character of the national capital to come. So, in the same month of May 1901 that the elected representatives met for the first time, a remarkable gathering took place. It was called 'The Congress of Engineers, Architects, Surveyors, and Others Interested in the Building of the Federal Capital of Australia'. There were some great speeches delivered, genuinely visionary. Arguably, though, none were better than one by Charles Bogue Luffman, Director of the Royal Horticultural Gardens in Burnley, Melbourne. For the future federal city, Luffman advocated:

… a true botanic garden … representing Australian flora … with a library, and a museum for preserved specimens.

Many decades ahead of his time, Luffman also issued a warning—that in the national capital we should 'beware of introducing an exotic plan or arrangement of scenes'. He did not want the new citizens of the new capital to look out, again in his memorable phrasing, 'on bits of Italy, or Norway, or Japan'. Luffman imagined a diverse and detailed representation of Australian flora:

…our Gippsland stream and valley, our Blue Mountain escarpment, timbered crag, wind-swept cataract and highland plateau, for waratah, rock lily, kurrajong, banksia, wattle, and flannel flower.

What an enlightened and noble vision. Bogue Luffman was the liberated forerunner of a small but utterly crucial stream of individuals whose appetite for hard work, singular determination, dense knowledge of local flora, and professional commitment established Canberra's impeccable landscape credentials.

There was link from Luffman that could have been lost if it were not for Charles Weston, an English-born horticulturalist and arboriculturalist turned «Canberra» zealot. Weston, as we learnt recently on an ABC 7.30 Report segment, honed his craft at Drumlanrig Castle in Scotland and then, in 1896, migrated to Australia and became head gardener at Admiralty House in Sydney. On 5 May 1913, he took up residence here in «Canberra» , at Acton, near what is now the site of the National Museum.

When, in February this year, the National Capital Authority launched its National Capital Open Space System (NCOSS) Review Report, it flagged a continuing, rock-solid commitment to «Canberra» as a global garden city showcase into the long-term future. With its acknowledgement of the fine work of federation-era characters such as Charles Weston, the Griffins, John Sulman and others, this report is a welcome if not perhaps overdue document. It comes at a key time in the evolution of the national capital.

The report is the culmination of an extensive research project undertaken in conjunction with the University of «Canberra , and it represents 'the first comprehensive examination of the National Capital Open Space System since the early 1990s'. It contains ten carefully considered recommendations, and these recommendations, compiled by an expert reference group, provide us with a mature, authoritative way forward. I commend the report to the Senate. It makes very interesting reading. (Time expired)