Not altogether surprisingly, the centenary this year of the foundation and naming of Canberra as the national capital of Australia has passed without any conspicuous celebration of the event beyond the confines of the city itself. Conceived to embody and represent the aspirations of the new Australian nation, unfettered by the rivalries and jealousies of the states, Canberra has always been held in grudging regard by the very nation it was established to serve – the grudge perhaps greater than the regard. In Australia, ‘Canberra-bashing’ has assumed the status of a national sport. It is our democracy’s crude way of complaining about the perceived evils and intrusions of big government made bigger and more powerful by its unassailable powers of taxation. While the Australian colonists of the 1890s had finally overcome their doubts about a national federation, as citizens and voters in the new polity they were markedly less enthusiastic about what they saw as the contrivance of a bush capital. Its history of stop-start development and the compromises imposed on Walter Burley Griffin’s vision from the outset were later bleakly summarised by the American planning historian John Reps who observed that Canberra had been ‘conceived in controversy, born in competition and nurtured in conflict’.
The way we were
Glorious Days: Australia 1913
edited by Michelle Hetherington
National Museum of Australia, $44.95 pb, 249 pp, 9781921953064
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John Thompson is a historian and writer now living in Sydney after a long career at the National Library of Australia in Canberra. He holds a doctorate in history from the Australian National University and has written for various journals. He is a frequent reviewer for Australian Book Review. The author of The Patrician and the Bloke: Geoffrey Serle and the Making of Australian History (2006), he co-edited (with Brenda Niall) The Oxford Book of Australian Letters (1998). His anthology Documents that Shaped Australia was published in 2010.
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