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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 893

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Senator LUNDY (Australian Capital TerritoryParliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister and Parliamentary Secretary for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs) (21:50): Over the last several years Australia's national capital city has recognised and celebrated a series of centenary» moments as we work our way towards the climax of activity on the big birthday, 12 March 2013. Notable highlights of this commemorative suite so far have included the battle of the sites, when in the first instance cities and towns right across the continent and later courtesy of section 125 of the Constitution across the state of New South Wales pushed their optimistic claims to host the capital city.

The option originally called Yass- «Canberra» would ultimately carry the day and in late 1908 it was a very close-run thing and hotly contested. With the elegant Monaro Plains region thus secured for the new national city, it was time for the surveyors to embark on their vital work. So it was Charles Scrivener and the many talented men he hired for the Commonwealth who did their bit, marking out the city as we know it today. Perhaps the far more exhausting and challenging work for them was mastering the many ups and downs of a full five-year border survey which took them to the heights of the southern alps. In 2009 and 2010 we rightly recalled those original surveyors for their skill, resilience and the sheer quality of their work, which would enable the Federal Capital Territory to be established on 1 January 1911. The first ordinance of the new Federal Capital Territory was announced by the Minister for Home Affairs of the day, the colourful Labor Party personality King O'Malley. That first ordinance was in fact the introduction of prohibition. It is hard to imagine a dry capital, but that is definitely a story for another day. In 2011, the major «centenary» was getting ever closer and we were all beginning to appreciate the extraordinary achievements and milestones of that first federal government since Federation to have a majority in both houses of parliament, from 1910 to 1913. It was 100 years ago that the majority Labor government of the impressive Andrew Fisher was, over its full three-year term, able to pursue an ambitious nation-building policy agenda.

The country was finally put on a stable political, social, economic and cultural footing as Prime Minister Fisher and his team of committed ministers firmly prioritised national infrastructure. I would like to cite two Fisher government initiatives that had their «centenary» last year. In June 1911, the Royal Military College at Duntroon was established. Duntroon cadets were actively involved in the earliest AIF conflicts, including Gallipoli, and they participated with distinction, as did the college's first commandant, Brigadier General William Throsby Bridges. Bridges was shot by a sniper near Anzac Cove on the morning of 15 May 1915, only weeks into the campaign. He died on 18 May, and his body was controversially returned to Australia for eventual burial on Mount Pleasant, in a Walter Burley Griffin designed grave site, overlooking the college that he helped to found. Duntroon's establishment just over a century ago was a defining moment in Australian military history.

Perhaps much less well known, but of seminal cultural importance for the new nation and the new national capital, was the establishment by the Fisher government of the Historic Memorials Committee, which was immediately tasked with establishing a historic memorials collection. As Kylie Scroope, the Director of Art Services in the Department of Parliamentary Services, noted in her Senate occasional lecture late last year:

This invaluable collection also set in place the foundations for other important collecting institutions, such as the National Gallery of Australia and the National Portrait Gallery.

It was entirely appropriate that these early symbolic foundation stones of our nation's broad and diverse cultural fabric should be erected under the careful watch of Labor's third government since Federation.

But the reformist government did much more for the fledgling nation. Prime Minister Fisher personally oversaw the redesign of the Australian coat of arms, confirming the genuinely Australian emblem we have such great affection for today. He shepherded through the parliament the purchase by the Commonwealth of the massive 16,500 item collection of Edward Augustus Petherick—what Fisher called a national heirloom, with its impressive array of books, newspapers, photographs and ephemera. He made sure that Australian stamps shrugged off the dated monarchist icons in favour of images distinctively Australian, particularly the kangaroo.

Fortunately, in the midst of all of this prodigious output, the Fisher government, under the watchful eye of home affairs minister Mr O'Malley, recognised that it was time that a national government took concrete steps to honour the Federation founders' commitment to create an inland purpose-built capital city. The result was an international design competition that quite simply captured the imagination of the world—and this from a nation not even a dozen years old. The competition—its winners and the stunning entries, from winner and place-getters and a number of the unplaced—all demand to be richly celebrated as we near the exact «centenary» of the announcement of the prize winners on 23 May 2012.

The internationally renowned Finish architect Eliel Saarinen came second, and the French architect planner Alfred Agache—who would in time produce the plan for the Rio de Janeiro we know today—came third. But, of the 137 announced entries, the deserving winner was the Chicago architect, Walter Burley Griffin, who, with his wife and professional partner, Marion Mahony, formed an irresistible creative team.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Griffin entry, with its 16 large and radiant panels now carefully preserved in the National Archives of Australia, comprises one of Australia's most treasured artistic collections. Equally, there is no doubt in my mind that Australians will, as the 21st century unfolds, come to properly appreciate and honour the visionary design, the futuristic design, the city truly in the landscape, selected in that original competition.

Minister O'Malley famously declared at the time:

I am satisfied the best design has been selected. It is a wonderful design and shall make the federal capital [of Australia] the finest in the world … what we wanted was the best the world can give us and we have got it.

Griffin was certain of what he and Marion had gifted to Australia. In perhaps the most often quoted utterance in Canberra's design history books he wrote:

I have planned a city not like any other city in the world. I have planned it not in a way that I expected any governmental authorities in the world would accept. I have planned an ideal city—a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future.

So, in this the «centenary» year of that landmark competition, I ask all of my parliamentary colleagues to spare a bit of time to familiarise themselves with one of their nation capital's most engaging moments, when the Griffin's entry, No. 29, was showcased around the world, one century ago.

One of life's most enjoyable experiences as an ACT senator is to take overseas visitors to the top of Mount Ainslie to see the outline of that indelible Griffin landscape design for themselves. Once they see it, they get it; they understand the significance of the capital, the 'city in the landscape', beautifully spread out before them, with its compelling geometry, at one with the natural landforms.

It is a precious legacy. The Griffin's then radical concept of the living city is the city of the future. Through Canberra's «centenary years, as parliamentarians we all share the responsibility to inform ourselves as proactive custodians of this unique history of our beautiful national capital.