National Library of Australia

Establishing the seat of Federal Government

Sketch Map Showing Proposed Federal Territory, and Capital Site at Queanbeyan

in Royal Commission on Sites for the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth

Sydney: Government Printer, 1903

engraving on paper; 80.0 x 105.0cm

ACT Heritage Library
Sketch Map Showing Proposed Federal Territory, and Capital Site at Queanbeyanin Royal Commission on Sites for the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth

Following the Proclamation of Federation on 1 January 1901, Australia needed a capital, preferably one in a cool climate, secure from seaborne attack, on elevated land surrounded by mountains, and in New South Wales.

The Yass–Canberra region was chosen and it was declared the Federal Capital Territory on 1 January 1911 (it became known as the Australian Capital Territory in the 1940s). Land at Jervis Bay was also purchased in 1914 for port access.

In 1911, American architect Walter Burley Griffin won an international competition to design the new capital, ‘Canberra’ (an Aboriginal word meaning ‘meeting place’).For more information, see An Ideal City? The 1912 competition to design Canberra

World War 1 delayed Parliament’s move from Melbourne, so a provisional Parliament House was built below the site selected for the final Parliament House.

On 9 May 1927, it was opened by the Duke of York. Dame Nellie Melba sang the national anthem. The audience included Wiradjuri elder Jimmy Clements, who had walked from Tumut for the ceremony.

The RAAF had its first fly-past, but one plane crashed in front of Parliament House, killing its pilot.

Old Parliament House is today a museum and gallery. It was vacated by Federal Parliament in 1988, after the new Parliament House opened.

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