An Ideal City?

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The idea for a federal capital

Early visions

At the time of Federation, architects, surveyors and others interested in the project already had ideas about an ideal capital city. The New South Wales government sent surveyor Alexander Oliver to examine suitable sites in 1900. He also sketched a circular plan with an outer ‘Australia Circus’ divided by six radial boulevards named after each of the colonies. After careful consideration of the federal capital question, John Sulman also advocated a radial plan as featured in his pamphlet The Federal Capital (1908).

In 1901 Sydney architect Charles Coulter envisaged a waterfront federal city using the foreshore of Lake George, south of Goulbourn. His ideal cityscape recalled buildings and monuments derived from the cities of Europe. Later, the artist Lionel Lindsay sketched a similar vision of a grand lakeside city at the southern New South Wales town of Dalgety.

Congress of 1901

A congress on the planning of the new federal capital met in Melbourne in May 1901 at the time of the opening of the first parliament. The delegates decided that the capital ‘should be laid out in the most perfect manner possible’. Architect George Sydney Jones suggested that the capital plan should be decided by a design competition. And he summed up the ideas tabled at the congress:

We are probably all agreed on general principles as to what the plan should be – for instance – that the streets should be wide and tree-planted, that the circus, the square and the boulevard, straight and curved lines, park lands, gardens, and the like should find their proper places; that the public, semi-public and private building blocks should be disposed in due relation one to the other on sites best adapted for each, and with due regard to the future expansion of the City (cited in Freestone, 1889).