An Ideal City?

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Marking out the site

Section 125 of the federal Constitution had prescribed an area of 100 square miles for the federal capital territory. Debate soon began on whether this was large enough. In July 1901 King O’Malley, Minister for Home Affairs, suggested a site of 1000 square miles. But Prime Minister Edmund Barton thought that the stipulated size would be ‘large enough to meet all probable requirements’. Nevertheless, debate on the size of the territory continued.

After the Yass–Canberra area was chosen for the federal territory in December 1908, surveyor Charles Scrivener was appointed in 1909 to identify a specific site for the ‘seat of government’ with ample water catchment.

Working 16 hours a day, Scrivener and his team delivered their recommendation in two months – a territory of 1015 square miles (2628 square kilometres) containing:

  • the catchments of the Cotter, Molonglo and Queanbeyan rivers
  • a city site in the Canberra valley
  • railway access to Jervis Bay as a federal port.

Scrivener described the advantages of this site:

A city could be located at Canberra that would be visible on approach for many miles; streets with easy gradients would be readily designed, while prominent hills of moderate altitude present suitable sites for the principal public buildings. The capital would probably lie in an amphitheatre of hills with an outlook towards the north and north-west, well-sheltered from both southerly and westerly winds, and in the immediate vicinity of the capital there are large areas of gently undulating country that would be suitable for the evolutions of large bodies of troops. (Scrivener, 1909)