Atop Canberra’s Regatta Point, overlooking Lake Burley-Griffin, sits the National Capital Exhibition Centre, which tells, through a series of brilliant interactive displays, the story of the people, events, history and the design which contributed to the development of Australia’s capital city. Most importantly, it highlights Canberra’s vital role as a symbol of Federation.
Archaeological evidence, including rock shelters, rock paintings and engravings, burial places, camp and quarry sites, as well as stone tools, suggests that the region was inhabited by humans for at least 21,000 years – which makes Tokyo, London, Paris, Rome and even Athens look like youngsters! The original people went by a number of names including Kgamberry and Kamberra.
White settlement in the area began in 1824, when Joshua Moore established a homestead and station which he named Canberra. The Campbell clan, led by patriarch Robert Campbell settled soon after and built a mansion which they named Duntroon. Today the Royal Military College is located on the old Campbell station and the original Duntroon mansion is home to the Officers’ Mess.
Canberra, as the world knows it, was born in 1908, when it was chosen as the site for the capital of the new Federation of Australia. In 1910, the Australian Capital Territory was established and in 1911 a competition was held to select a design for the new capital city. The winning plan was devised by John Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahoney Griffin, although poor Marion received no recognition, at the time, for her work which included all the absolutely exquisite drawings.
The Griffins proposed a city divided into two halves, separated by a lake. On one side of the lake would lie the civilisation section – the town, shops, schools and houses. On the other would lie the government section – the Parliament buildings, courts and administrative buildings.
With the construction of the new capital city underway, it remained only to find a suitable name. There were some strange suggestions, including Olympus, Paradise, Captain Cook, Shakespeare, Kangaremu, Sydmeladperho, Eucalypta and Myola. The name Canberra, which means, in the language of the original people, “meeting place” was eventually chosen.
At midday on 12 March 1913, the name was officially conferred by Lady Gertrude Denman, wife of the then Governor-General, Lord Denman, at a ceremony on Kurrajong Hill (now known as Capitol Hill. The event has been commemorated every year, ever since, as Canberra Day, on the second Monday of March.
The National Exhibition Centre gives a wonderful introduction to this place called Canberra. You can uncover the story of the original people of the land and learn the importance and significance of the local Bogong moth to their way of life. You can browse among photos of the first white settlers, and explore models of their homes and displays of their chattels. You follow the story of federation and the quest for the new national capital. You can study the Griffins’ prize-winning designs. You can enjoy the sound and light show at the scale model of central Canberra. But best of all, from the huge front window you can enjoy a dress-circle view across the lake, taking in the spectacular dance of the Captain Cook Memorial Jet, to the Government section of this unique modern, fully planned city.