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Tuesday, 12 March 2013
Page: 1497

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Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryMinister Assisting for Industry and Innovation, Minister for Multicultural Affairs and Minister for Sport) (19:04): Back in late 2008, I gave the first of a series of speeches over recent years devoted entirely to Canberra's wonderful centenary» history. The speech recognised the historic decision by federal politicians in December 1908 to endorse the Yass- «Canberra» region as the site where the new nation of Australia would construct its capital city. Like so many special moments in Canberra's foundation, a century ago that decision, and the intense lobbying and jockeying that surrounded it, are not as well-known as they should be.

But perhaps the roots of Canberra's foundation story did not reach a climax with the end of the exhausting battle of the sites back in 1908; it was but a step in the journey. In fact, it is today, 12 March 2013, that precisely 100 years ago Governor-General Thomas Denman, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher, and Minister for Home Affairs King O'Malley laid Canberra's foundation stones with golden trowels. Lady Gertrude Denman stepped forward on the podium to announce «Canberra» as the name of the new city, accompanied by a roar from the huge number of Monaro residents present, because it was the local name, their name, as reflected upon eloquently at today's commemorative ceremony by our Governor-General, Quentin Bryce, ably assisted by her husband, as tradition requires.

A city such as «Canberra» is known in the present tense famously as the home of federal parliament. It is often unfairly sledged, as we have unfortunately witnessed again lately, but its rich «centenary» history tells the story of both a nation and a community. Close inspection of this history reveals not one or two, but a cluster of key moments to ponder, appreciate, commemorate and celebrate.

The symbolic beginning of the main story was probably the congress of engineers, architects, surveyors and others interested in the building of the national capital of Australia. Normally, such a gathering of design professionals might struggle to get any outside community interest, but not this one. For this group had shrewdly decided to meet in Melbourne in May 1901, at the very same time that the Commonwealth's politicians were meeting for the first time further up the hill. The design professionals were only too aware that the politicians could no longer postpone what one colonial delegate had memorably referred to in the 1890s as 'the burning question': the question of where the capital would be sited. The planners insisted on making their presence felt, and they did.

At the congress, architect George Sydney Jones demanded a city where the common sense 20th century spirit of Australia would assert itself. He wanted the future capital city's architecture to be essentially Australian, not a slavish copy of the art of past, dead centuries. This was an impressively liberated attitude at a time when England was still regarded as home, and other participants had the same attitude. They all wanted a city beautiful, but with a distinctive Australian character.

The first Labor government of Andrew Fisher instructed renowned surveyor Charles Scrivener to produce a capital site for a city occupying a commanding position, a design worthy of the object not only for the present but for all time. It was fortunate for the nation that the progressive Fisher government was again in power for the crucial years of 1910-13, because the new Minister for Home Affairs, King O'Malley, pursued the capital's development with passion and flair. He took quite a controversial hands-on approach to the international design competition, won by the superb design No. 29 submitted by the genius couple of Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin, and, more relevantly tonight, he structured the foundation stone and naming ceremonies.

The speeches delivered by Andrew Fisher, Attorney-General Hughes and O'Malley himself a century ago are oriented to an expansive future for the new nation, but it is undoubtedly Lord Denman's speech that really resonates today. It was regarded as the finest speech he ever gave in Australia. He concluded his speech with these words:

Remember that the traditions of this city will be the traditions of Australia. Let us hope that they will be the traditions of freedom, of peace, of honour, and of prosperity. That here will be reflected all that is finest and noblest in the national life of the country …

Today there was a commemorative ceremony at the foundation stone on the mall in front of Parliament House where the Governor-General, Her Excellency Quentin Bryce, gave a speech of similar eloquence in reflecting upon a century of this city's history. I want to conclude by acknowledging and thanking the Chief Minister of the ACT government, Ms Katy Gallagher, and the Labor government for their absolutely incredibly marvellous celebrations in this our «centenary» year of the national capital, «Canberra .