Photo Credit: Michael Dawes

The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is the smallest and youngest state in Australia, but still boasts an interesting history. The birth was conspired under political purposes and prior to 1911, the land now claimed as ACT was nothing more than bushland encompassed by New South Wales. Over the course of a century, this fascinating little piece of Commonwealth territory has developed a unique identity and has spawned and shaped Australia’s political growth.


Before Australia’s federation in 1901, the Australian Capital Territory was predominantly farm land, with several European-colonial settlements dotting the region, including Molonglo and Ginninderra. During this time, the area fell under the administration of colonial New South Wales. The transformation from bushland to Australian Capital Territory began following Australia’s federation. Both Victoria and New South Wales were at loggerheads as to which would host the national capital. Of course, Melbourne and Sydney were at the center of these debates too. Eventually, through parliamentary vote, a bill was passed designating New South Wales (NSW) as the state where the capital would be located. The next decision was where the capital city would be. Sydney was overlooked, as towns like Dalgety and Albury were thrown into the mix. However, NSW refused to cede land for these sites.

In 1906, the Yass-Canberra region was elected as the new national capital site, and by 1909 NSW ceded the required land to the Commonwealth government. The Federal Capital Territory was legally established in 1910. Unfortunately, the capital city, Canberra, took much longer to build. The Royal Military College of Duntroon (Staff Cadet Avenue, Campbell, Australian Capital Territory) was among the first federal facilities constructed in the new capital territory. In 1912, an American architect by the name of Walter Burley Griffin had already designed the city of Canberra, and building began the following year. Unfortunately, due to poor oversight, World War influences, and the Great Depression, the construction of Canberra was a slow process.

The original House of Parliament (Capital Hill, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory) was built in 1927, and later replaced by the New Parliament House (Parliament Drive, Capital Hill, Canberra ACT) in 1988. Between 1955 and 1975, ACT’s population almost doubled yearly, primarily due to the growth of Canberra. Outside the capital, other significant civic landmarks were constructed to cope with the population explosion, such as Bendora Dam in 1961 and Googong Dam in 1979. Today, the history of the ACT is on show at the National Capital Exhibition (Barrine Drive, Commonwealth Park, Canberra, ACT).


The Australian Capital Territory has a unique culture in comparison to other Australian states and a sense of local pride resonates strongly. The population is far less multicultural than other parts of Australia, and of the 333,000 residents in the state, more than 99 percent reside within Canberra. The ACT, unfortunately, has a high turnover rate of locals, with most living in the city for several years due to their employment in the government sector, and then moving on. Nevertheless, Canberrians are fiercely loyal to their state.

Originally built to house the national parliament of Australia, this has significantly shaped the landscape over the last 100 years. The ACT’s main tourist draw is usually government-related, including both Parliament Houses, the Australian War Memorial, and Royal Australian Mint. Of course, local council has attempted to add to the tourism industry over the year, with sites like the Reptile Sanctuary and Dinosaur Museum to offer a more well rounded experience.

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