Standing up for Canberra

Griffin Design for the National Capital 2011

It gives me great pleasure as the member for Canberra to speak on this motion, and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the member for Menzies for putting it forward, particularly given the influence that former Prime Minister Menzies had on this city. One of the frustrations of being a Canberran is the derision which our city draws from many Australians. I know that the winters can be bitter, and today is probably not the finest example of our climate, but we do have great summers, great springs and great autumns and our famous blue sky through most of the seasons. I am most grateful to the member for Menzies for celebrating the city of Canberra, its place as our national capital and the role played by the Griffin-Mahony legacy.

As the member for Canberra, I have always been a bit baffled about why this city does not generate the same awe as that other national capital, Washington. After all, in the US, a career in the government in Washington is highly coveted, and a life in Washington is also highly coveted. It is a constant disappointment to all Canberrans that Australians do not connect with their national capital as Americans do with theirs, which is why this motion from a non-Canberran is so welcome.

Canberra is my home and my community and, more than that, it is the heart of this nation's democracy and the city that was built by a federated nation. Without Canberra there would be no Australia. To borrow the words of Sir Henry Parkes, the crimson thread of kinship runs through us all. Those threads are drawn together in this city. They run from every corner of this nation, and the knot that binds them is this House. For this reason, Canberra's centenary in 2013 is not just a celebration for Canberrans but a celebration for the entire nation. It is a celebration of the history and the unity of Australia, a history and unity forged by common good, not war—and it is a history that we are still discovering. Just today the Minister for Justice unveiled a recently discovered design drawing from the capital competition, which was a wonderful and timely find. However, the centenary of Canberra is also an opportunity to reflect on how the city has grown beyond the drawings of the Griffin-Mahony design. But before I do that I want to dwell on the GriffinMahony vision for the city and the nation's capital.

It speaks of ideals as much about the social fabric of Australia as the built environment. In doing so I draw heavily on the work of Dr David Headon, who has studied and written extensively on Canberra and the national capital.

Walter Burley Griffin enthusiastically responded to Australia's new and unique democracy, a democracy heavily imprinted by the Enlightenment and regarded as a progressive social experiment. Griffin was also deeply influenced by the democratic and naturalistic architecture that was flourishing in Chicago, particularly through the work of Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan. You can see many of these influences in the designs of the early Canberra houses. Griffin felt that Australia was well placed to learn from the errors of the Old World. He wrote that he planned 'an ideal city, a city that meets my ideal of a city of the future and a nature and liberty-loving people'. He wanted simplicity, comfort and egalitarianism in architecture and a national capital that would reflect that.

I do not think anything better exemplifies this Canberra approach to life, this nature and liberty-loving people than the rose gardens at Old Parliament House. I did a tour of these gardens many years ago and was delighted to learn that Robert Broinowski, who was secretary of the Joint House Department there, relied on rose donors to establish the gardens. Donors included the British City Council, Goodyear Tyre and Rubber Company, the North Sydney Council, the NRMA and in 1933 the touring English cricket team. But the donations were not confined to organisations and companies. Individuals also donated clippings and Old Parliament House workers donated one shilling and fourpence to buy a rose and join an illustrious group. The donors are acknowledged to this day on storyboards down there.

Canberra is no longer merely a town planner's concept, it has become a living, breathing and evolving community of more than 300,000 people. It is a city that owes its evolution to the Griffin-Mahony legacy but it has evolved from the influence of many people, from King O'Malley, from members of this parliament, from people in the legislative assembly. Most Canberrans are looking forward to celebrating our centenary and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the Gillard government for providing $6 million for the program. In closing, I reflect on Griffin's words:

Australia of most democratic tendencies and bold radical government may well be expected to look upon her great future and with it her Federal Capital with characteristic big vision, for which her capital offers the best opportunity so far. That is very much an ideal and vision to celebrate in 2013.

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