The capital city of Australia is Canberra, and it was founded in 1913. This may come as a surprise to many who are more familiar with the country’s more famous cities: Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, or Perth.
Australia’s capital is located in the northern region of the Australian Capital Territory and is an entirely planned city. The nearest major city is Sydney, which is located approximately 300 kilometers (186 miles) to the north east — Melbourne lies roughly 650 kilometers (404 miles) to the south.
Why is Canberra the Capital of Australia?
Canberra was chosen as the capital of Australia after a long debate about whether Sydney or Melbourne should be made the capital of the country. As a compromise, it was eventually decided that a capital would be built in the territory of New South Wales, between the two cities, so long as it was at least 160 km (ca. 99 mi) from Sydney.
Why Is Sydney Not the Capital City of Australia?
Sydney is not the capital of Australia because of political rivalries that existed between colonies. Although there were many advocates for making Sydney the country’s capital, there were also many that wanted the capital to be Melbourne. This dispute made it necessary to find a compromise and to choose neither city. It was eventually agreed that the best option would be to construct a new city for the purpose of being the capital.
Related: Map of Australia with States
Where is Canberra?
Canberra is located in the southeastern corner of Australia in the Australian Capital Territory. It is roughly 150 kilometers (93 miles) inland from the country’s east coast and has an elevation of about 580 meters (1,900 feet). There are several other low lying mountains in the city, and it is located near the Brindabella Range.
It’s also important to recognize that this region was inhabited long before it had any significance to the Commonwealth of Australia. Indigenous peoples of the continent had inhabited the area for up to 21,000 years. The main group that inhabited the region were the Ngunnawal, an Aboriginal people whose traditional lands are in what is now New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.
When did Canberra Become the Capital?
Canberra became the capital of Australia in 1913. The founding of the city came 12 years after the former British colonies of Australia came together during the federation of colonies in 1901, deciding to form the Commonwealth of Australia.
The site of Canberra was chosen to be the capital city in 1908, and the designs for the city were chosen in 1912. Although Melbourne was temporarily made capital while Canberra was being constructed, Canberra has otherwise been the first and only Australian capital city.
A History of Australia’s Capital City
Following the federation of colonies in Australia, it was necessary to choose a capital city for the new commonwealth. Two obvious candidates for the new capital were the cities of Sydney and Melbourne, each the capital of their respective territory. Political rivalries existed between the two colonies, however, and this made choosing one over the other impossible. It was essential that the two important cities maintained equal status in the new federation.
It was eventually agreed that a compromise must be made, and the decision came to construct a new city for the express purpose of being the capital of the Commonwealth of Australia. The search for a suitable capital city location began in 1902, and there were initially 35 different sites considered as candidates. Canberra was finally agreed upon as the best location for the new capital city in 1908. Interestingly, one of the reasons Canberra was ultimately chosen as the best location was its cool, brisk climate.
In 1912, an international competition was held to design the new capital city. The winners of the contest were American architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. There were a total of 137 valid entries in the competition. After several adjustments were made to the design plan for the city, construction began in 1913.
Features of Canberra
The estimated population of Canberra in 2022 is 467,194. This makes it Australia’s largest inland city and eighth largest overall. Around 75% of the population in Canberra speaks only English at home, and the next most common language is Mandarin, spoken by roughly 3.1% of the population.
The three most claimed ancestries in Canberra are English (35%), Australian (34%), and Irish (14%). More than 30% of Canberra’s residents were born overseas. Approximately half of the population in Canberra describes themselves as Christian, with the most popular denominations being Catholic and Anglican.
Canberra has an oceanic climate, as described by the Köppen-Geiger classification. This means that it generally sees mild summers and cool winters usually without freezing. The warmest month in Canberra is January, and the coldest is July. While the surrounding areas commonly see annual rainfall, the Central Business District rarely sees any; frost is common each winter.
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Of all Australian cities, the residents of Canberra have the highest average disposable income. This is largely due to the city’s low unemployment level and high level of employment in the public sector and commerce. The industry that accounts for the most jobs and generates the highest Gross Territory Product is public administration and safety.
As the nation’s capital, Canberra is home to the headquarters for many Australian Public Service agencies as well as several belonging to the Australian Defense Force.
What is the Capital City of Australia Known for?
Canberra is mostly known for being the capital of Australia, though it has a few other qualities that make it stand out:
1. Australia’s Political Center
As the country’s capital city, its political importance to Australia is by far the most famous feature of the city. It’s where the parliament building can be found, and it’s been the seat of the country’s government since 1913. Because of this, Canberra is the home of many government workers as well as foreign embassies and consulates.
2. Coffee and Wine
These are two elements of Australian culture that are represented in just about every major city in the country, and Canberra definitely does its part. There are several specialty cafes in the city that roast their own beans and serve high-end coffee, and the city is surrounded by an amazing 140 vineyards, boasting some of the country’s best wines.
3. Natural Beauty
Canberra is also sometimes referred to as “The Bush Capital” because of its surrounding natural beauty. There are surrounding mountain ranges and nature reserves that give the city a close relationship to nature, and the fact that this city was planned has enabled it to blend with its surroundings in an intentional way.
4. Australia’s Most Educated City
There is a large university sector in Canberra, and this likely contributes to the fact that residents of Canberra are twice as likely to be in possession of a postgraduate degree than those that live elsewhere in the country. The city is also home to the highest proportion of people that have completed at least 12 years of study or the equivalent.
What to See and Do in Canberra
There is a wide variety of things to do and see in Canberra, and this just adds to the many reasons to visit Australia. Let’s take a look at some of the most popular sites and attractions in Canberra:
1. Australian War Memorial
This is Australia’s memorial to members of its armed forces and other organizations that have engaged in wars involving Australia. It was opened in 1941 and also includes a large national military museum. Behind the war memorial is Remembrance Nature Park, an arboreal park at the end of Remembrance Driveway, a system of parks commemorating recipients of the Victoria Cross that fought in World War II or the Vietnam War.
2. National Gallery of Australia
The National Gallery of Australia is the country’s national art museum. It’s also one of the largest museums in the country, with over 166,000 pieces of artwork. It was opened in 1967 and houses a wide variety of art, regularly featuring new exhibits.
3. National Library of Australia
This is the largest reference library in Australia, and the current building was finished in 1968. Marble, stained glass windows, tapestries, and a sculpture installed over the entrance to the building make it an impressive site. The library made it onto the Australian Commonwealth Heritage List in 2004.
4. Parliament Building
The current building that houses the Australian Parliament came into service in 1988. Prior to its completion, a temporary parliament building now referred to as “Old Parliament” was used for 61 years, its construction completed in 1921.
The current building is expansive, made of enough cement to construct an estimated 25 Opera Houses. The design of the building is based on the shape of boomerangs, and an 81-meter flagpole tops the building. It’s also sometimes referred to as “Capital Hill” or simply “Parliament.”
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