Historical documents

Snapshot of Canberra central development

In partnership with Archives ACT, EPD is building an online archive catalogue which depicts the early planning stages of the Territory.

The first online release of these local planning archives coincide with Canberra’s centenary year.  The initial release has seen the launch of three major documents in an online archive catalogue giving a fascinating insight into the early planning of the Territory.

The items released include:

  • Canberra’s 1927 map;
  • Sydney Building auction poster of the first land auction in the ACT; and
  • design concept drawings for the 1990 Civic Square re-development.

These three items illustrate the history of the planning and construction of Canberra Central also known as Civic or City. They show that arguments over implementing the winning design, the dichotomy between a National Capital and a place for people to live was in contention from the very beginning.

The 1927 map is an amalgamation of Griffin’s design and a government committee. The auction poster is the embodiment of the philosophy behind the foundation of the National Capital of leasing land and owning the structures upon it. The eventual casino building is on the site of the planned Tivoli that was never built in Glebe Park. Also an ongoing theme in Canberra Central, is the use of land for temporary purpose prior to their final planned use.

See the three items below in more detail.

1927 map of Canberra which is an amalgamation of Griffin’s design and a government committee

Plan of Canberra

Plan of Canberra, the Federal Capital of the Commonwealth of Australia; compiled & published by the Federal Capital Commission from the prize-winning design by Walter Burley Griffin & from surveys conducted under the direction of C.R. Scrivener, later the Director of Commonwealth Lands & Surveys with approved detail modifications of design to May 1927 encapsulates the issues in implementing the design.

Of note is the proposed location for the zoological park in what is now Weston Park, and the railway running parallel to Northbourne Avenue and through the City.

Auction poster of the Sydney Building

This was the first auction of commercial land in Canberra City.

This was one of the first auctions of commercial land in the ACT, and the first land auction in the City. A number of public land auctions were held in Canberra on the same day in 1917, including commercial land in Red Hill, Eastlake, Ainslie, Manuka, and Blandfordia.

These auctions are outlined in the supplementary image of the Queanbeyan Age showing the blocks sold and the original purchaser of the land. The Environment and Planning Directorate holds a collection of 6 of the original auction notices of the land auctions.

The poster featured is of the historic Sydney building which remains one of the central points of Canberra’s city.

The Sydney building is highlighted in the foreground of the proposed 1990 civic square redevelopment and provides context for the proposed casino location.

Design concept drawings for the 1990 Civic Square re-development

The Government undertook a design competition to redevelop City Square, by now known as Civic Square to include a casino. The debates in Hansard were contentious and covered the tender process itself and the issue of the casino. Eventually Civic Square was left and the Casino built on Glebe Park.

1990 the Government undertook a design competition to redevelop City Square, by now known as Civic Square to include a casino. The debates in Hansard were contentious and covered the tender process itself and the issue of the casino. Eventually Civic Square was left and the Casino built on Glebe Park.

One of the Hansard’s associated with the debate is available online http://www.hansard.act.gov.au/hansard/1989/pdfs/19890926.pdf

History of Civic Square

The City Square is located on the slope of one of Walter Burley Griffin's node points of the Parliamentary Triangle, the axis between City Hill and Mount Ainslie.

Two sides of the Square are formed by the North and South Buildings. The ground floors of both buildings are set back to provide a colonnade concourse to all sides, continuing the form established by the 1920s Sydney and Melbourne Buildings. The complex was the first commitment to public building by the Federal Government in Civic. The City Square around which the Civic Offices have been built features a square pool from which numerous jets of water, set around the perimeter effect a coronet pattern. Overflowing water from the pool was collected through the perimeter drains and recycled through floor and ceiling pipes to cool the building in warm weather.

Currently the City Hill edge of the Square is formed by the Canberra Theatre, Playhouse Theatre, the link between them and the Civic Branch Public Library.

The contract was let in August 1959 for the construction of the Civic Offices and City Square. The offices were to accommodate the staff of the Department of Interior, responsible for the administration of Canberra. The offices continue to house the centre of the local government.

Three artworks were included in the concept:

  • Ethos, the spirit of the community by Tom Bass
  • Thespis in the foyer of the Canberra Theatre and the Coat of Arms over the main entrance to the North Building, now the Legislative Assembly, both designed by Robert Cook.

To contact Archives ACT click here.

For more information contact Records Management on (02) 6207 1923 or email to epdrecords@act.gov.au.