Canberra - the Capital of Australia

Canberra - the Capital of Australia overview

Canberra geographic coordinates: 35*31'S/149*13'E
Canberra population 320,700 (2004)

Canberra (Aboriginal word for 'meeting place') is the Capital of Australia in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). Canberra had a difficult birth, punctuated by political infighting, wars and the Great Depression. Canberra is now a thriving modern city which, together with its surrounds, makes up Australia's Capital Territory. Canberra lies 95 miles (150km) in from the East Coast, by road 175 miles (280km) from Sydney and 415 miles (660km) from Melbourne.

In many ways, Canberra is like Washington, D.C., or any other town that was a planned community from the start. The roads are wide and in good order, the buildings are modern, and the suburbs are pleasant and leafy. Canberra is also the seat of government and the home of thousands of civil servants. The streets aren't clogged with traffic, and there are plenty of opportunities for safe biking.

Canberra - the Capital of Australia history

Canberra was born after the Commonwealth of Australia was created in 1901. Melbourne and Sydney, even then jockeying for preeminence, each bid to become the federal capital. In the end, Australian leaders decided to follow the example of their U.S. counterparts by creating a federal district; in 1908 they chose an undeveloped area between the two cities.

Designing the new capital fell to Chicago landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin, a contemporary of Frank Lloyd Wright. The city he mapped out was christened Canberra (a local Aboriginal word meaning "meeting place"), and by 1927, the first meeting of parliament took place. The business of government was under way.

Originally the land that became Canberra was predominantly grass plains. Over the years millions of trees have been planted in and around the city, earning it the nickname "the bush capital." Unfortunately, massive bushfires in January 2003 destroyed much of the surrounding forest and more than 500 homes in the suburbs.

Canberra - the Capital of Australia main attractions

Canberra has plenty of open spaces, parklands, and monuments, and an awful lot to see and do - from museum and gallery hopping to ballooning with a champagne glass in your hand or boating on Lake Burley Griffin.

Canberra is also known for its spring festival, Floriade, when the parks and gardens surrounding Lake Burley Griffin explode with colourful displays of massed tulips and other blooms. The city, with its many parklands, is especially beautiful in spring and autumn.

As well as the major federal government departments, Canberra is also home to significant cultural centres such as the National Art Gallery, which has one of the largest collections of modern art. There is also the National Library and the Australian Film and Television Archives, which shows the history of Australia's film, television and radio industries, dating from 1890.