"Canberra" Canberra by leffe3

Canberra Travel Guide: 1,017 reviews and 2,924 photos

Canberra - the capital of Australia. Canberra - the much maligned capital of Australia.

Many jokes abound about Canberra:-
Q: What's the best thing about Canberra?
A: The departure lounge at the airport (or road to Sydney etc).

And it is, to my mind, something of an acquired taste. It just has so much..... space. The huge Burley Griffin Lake and Commonwealth Park (10,000 acres or 30 times bigger than Hyde Park in London) in the centre of town effectively creates a division, splitting the 'political' and 'federal cultural' on the south side of the city from the central hotel, shopping and 'state cultural' on the other side. Highways slice through the centre (and beyond), creating an extended feeling of everything taking a very long time to get to. Add the fact that as the capital, a large number of its population is diplomatic and therefore transitory.

But for every detractor (and they usually come from Melbourne or Sydney), there's also those that posit Canberra. It's a place that has a high standard of living, perfect to bring up a family, all that space (it is also surrounded by untouched bush) creates the perfect place to live. And its also the home of the National Gallery of Australia, the National Museum, the National Library etc as well the Parliament and therefore an important place to visit.

Why Canberra as the federal capital of Australia? Simply go back a little over 100 years (1901 to be precise) when the six separate colonies finally became one and the Commonwealth of Australia was born. A capital was needed: both Melbourne and Sydney claimed to be the natural choice and so a neutral venue was required. (Melbourne served as the interim capital - although interim turned out to be 28 years). Many a year was spent searching, and then a few more determining its name (Canberra was the original name of the settlement). Many a name was proposed, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, including Shakespeare, Victoria Defendera Defender, Cromwell (all giving an indication of where loyalties lay) to such names as Thirstyville and Sydmeladperbrisho. But Canberra it was to be.

A competition was held in 1911 to design the new capital, to be won by Walter Burley Griffin from Illinois, USA. He turfed up in 1913 to oversee the building of the city, his designs based very much on space, the huge Australian skies, the land etc... Big difference between paper and reality - extraordinarily, by the time he was summarily sacked in 1920, little more than the main roads had been staked out.

And other the layout of the city, little we see today is actually Burley Griffin's. But the concept is there - as Bill Bryson describes in his very funny book 'Down Under' as Canberra being 'an extremely large park with a city hidden it.'

Burley Griffin had designed a city for 75,000 people. Canberra these days is a surprising 345,000, making it the 8th largest city in Australia (behind Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Adelaide, Gold Coast and Newcastle). Area-wise, it's huge (with a 10,000 acre lake/park in the middle, not surprising). Other than a small centre, most of the life is to be found in neighbourhoods, creating small 'villages' and 'hoods'.

But with its parks, excellent museums and galleries, open spaces and access to stunning countryside, it's a great place to spend a few days. Just don't expect much in the way of 'grunge' that you'll find in the other, bigger coastal cities (although interestingly Canberra is the porn capital of Australia!!).

  • Last visit to Canberra: Jan 2009
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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Reviews (11)

Comments (3)

  • balhannah's Profile Photo
    Oct 5, 2009 at 4:16 AM

    I enjoyed my visit to Cockington Green. Nice to know about the new section, might go back for another look, it was so well done.

  • hindu1936's Profile Photo
    Jun 7, 2009 at 4:59 PM

    good tips and photos. especially of the war memorials. thank you

  • oisha's Profile Photo
    May 11, 2005 at 5:06 AM

    Phew - for a moment I thought you'd gone EVERYWHERE ELSE and forgotten poor little Canberra. Did you like it? Sorry the beach is a little far off...


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