Centenary of Canberra motion – Chief Minister’s speech in the Legislative Assembly

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Centenary of Canberra motion – Chief Minister’s speech in the Legislative Assembly

Tuesday 19 March, 2013

Lord Denman on 12 March 1913 said:

‘Remember that the traditions of this city will be the traditions of Australia. Let us hope that they will be the traditions of freedom, of peace, of honour, and of prosperity; that here will be reflected all that is finest and noblest in the national life of the country.

Exactly one week ago today, together with the current Governor-General, Mr Michael Bryce, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Regional Australia, at the place it all began, we raised a toast to the Spirit of Canberra on the 100th anniversary of the city’s naming.

And at that same time, in our workplaces, our schools and in community groups and shopping centres right across our city, we celebrated the men and women who have played a part in making Canberra the city it is today.

We raised a toast to a sustainable and peaceful future for Canberra today – and for its future.

Canberra is a city with two distinct lives, firstly as the purpose-built capital of a nation and the other – our home. Canberra was built to be the place which all Australians could proudly recognise as their capital. A planned and deliberate city that was accessible to all people, the heart of Government and with the people and the infrastructure needed to service the needs of every single Australian.

Today, 100 years on, we are so much more than that. We are a place of learning that allows ideas and innovation to flourish where progressive thought is encouraged not feared.  We are a place where creative people gravitate to enhance their talents.

We are home to our national cultural institutions – custodians of a nation’s memories and historical roots as national treasures for all Australians.

We are a place where the quality of life is second to none for a city of this size.  We are a place where the city melds seamlessly with the bush. We are a place that people of all ages — young and old — are proud to call their home. 

Walter Burley Griffin’s partner Marion Mahony once described Canberra as;

“a city that could be a living and healthy and growing thing.”

And Canberra’s growth and development over the last 100 years has been remarkable. In 1945, at the end of the Second World War only 13,000 people lived here. By 1970, that number had swelled ten times to 130,000 and it took all that time, till the early 1970s, for all the major federal government departments to relocate to Canberra.

Our city’s growth really accelerated during what historians refer to as ‘the golden age’ for Canberra. With a recognition at last that Canberra was not just the home to the federal parliament but also the true home of the federal bureaucracy.

And as we celebrate the 100 year milestone it allows us to reflect on the story of Canberra.  A capital city chosen to unite a newly established federation. A design competition to capture the most innovative minds and their ideas, a city relatively far from the sea, relatively remote, in the unforgiving Australian bushland. A blank canvas for which to build a modern city from scratch

As the building and infrastructure came out of the ground – the physical city started to emerge, and at exactly the same time, quietly and to some extent without deliberate intent the social fabric of the city began. Strangers forced together from all over the country to build a capital started building what bricks and mortar can’t – the spirit of a city.

Today we acknowledge the people who have made it the city we see today. Today we recognise the people who have worked together to meet challenges, tackle problems and bring about change; who have worked with conviction and courage to realise the true potential of the national capital.

These individuals aren’t just our inspirational leaders, our captains of industry, our sporting stars, our eminent scientists, or our gifted artists. They are also our ‘average citizens, our ‘unsung heroes’, who don’t necessarily receive notoriety or public accolade but who have been essential in developing and nurturing the social and spiritual side of our city.

Madam Deputy Speaker, during the centenary week the celebrations have appropriately focused heavily on respecting and acknowledging the traditional owners of the land on which Canberra was built.

First we have the original inhabitants of this land. We are privileged to share this land with the Ngunnawal and other Indigenous peoples. Their connection to this place goes back tens of thousands of years, long before Lady Denman uttered that single word ‘CANBERRA’ on the 12th of March 1913.

As Aunty Ages reminded us through her welcome to country address – imagine what a difference it could have made if we are able to have had the understanding we now have of the traditional owners of Australia and their connection to their land. In her usual unassuming, respectful but forceful way Aunty Agnes made this point and 100 years on the Governor General, Prime Minister and other dignitaries listened and understood.

On our centenary birthday we salute our forefathers, early pioneers, who carved out an existence on the Limestone Plains in the 1800s and to those public leaders who understood the need for a neutral national capital and  who chose this place as the site for that capital to be built. Those whose thoughts for the design of the city were guided by idealism fused with practicality. A city built around Griffin’s centrepiece – the magnificent Lake Burley Griffin – a beautifully planned city protected by mountains and the bush.

There were the tradesmen who came here in the early 1920s – who lived in workers camps as they put up our first ‘guvvie’ houses. The shopkeepers who started our first businesses in Kingston, Manuka and Civic – the beginnings of the thriving business sector we see today which continues to drive the economy of our future.

Throughout the 50’s migrants from across the globe who arrived here to work on the Snowy Mountains Scheme and later moved here to construct our national institutions and homes, lay our roads, and plant our trees and gardens.

From our earliest days Canberra has been a multicultural city – where people from many different countries and cultures and religious beliefs are united and strengthened by the place we all call home.

Then there are the thousands of public servants and young families who came from Melbourne in the 60s and 70s to carve out a new life, in new suburbs, in a growing city. They are the people that lived in our new suburbs, worked in new local shops and sent their children to Canberra’s newest schools.

It was also a time that we saw Canberra gain recognition both nationally and internationally, as a university city and as a city which demonstrated leadership in our scientific endeavours. The CSIRO whose beginnings stretch back to our earliest years (founded 1926), (and joined in 1948 by the John Curtin School of Medical Research) expanded in the second half of our first century to become one of the world’s great scientific research organisations.

Our own ANU’s Mt Stromlo Observatory – saw us play a key role in one of the world’s most significant historical events – like in July 1969 when our own Honeysuckle Creek tracking station provided the world with those first grainy pictures of the Apollo Eleven Moonwalk. A proud moment for this city, and our scientific community, and one which represents how much we have achieved, and hints at what else is yet to be in our next 100 years.

Our 80s and 90s saw our economy turn, with many doing it tough as our reliance on the public sector became all too evident. But we recovered as a city, and new opportunities pursued. It is also of course important to acknowledge that some of the most difficult days we faced as a community came just a decade ago when a firestorm tore through forests and grasslands right into our south-western suburbs.

The forces of nature on that day caused unprecedented damage. Four people lost their lives, hundreds of properties were lost. This year, we remember those who suffered and lost so much and we pay tribute to the many charities, businesses, community service clubs and the many, many individuals who helped get this city back on its feet. What we saw in those dark moments was the essence of the true Canberra spirit, of what this city had become. 

Today there are tens of thousands of people who contribute to our ever evolving identity, who keep our city running, who give so freely of their time to help others, and who help build better neighbourhoods. These are the Canberrans, past and present, who have left, and will continue to leave, a lasting legacy for our city.

Our teachers and childcare workers who provide care and guidance for those who will be the future of Canberra. Our doctors and nurses who go about their important work quietly in our hospitals and in our suburbs. Our Police and emergency services personnel – ambulance officers, our fire fighters – urban and rural – and our wonderful State Emergency Services volunteers who are always there when the going gets tough

Our many charity workers who are there 24/7 to make sure our hungry are fed and our homeless get a roof over their heads. The mums and dads helping out at junior sport, pitching in to run school canteens, providing a helping hand to visitors at Floriade, and walking the streets doorknocking for charities like the Salvos Red Shield Appeal.

It is the writers, sculptors, artists and performers, and similarly our sporting men and women, who represent us in every sporting code – who define our cultural identity. These are the people that make our great city, our capital, also the place we call home.

A 100th birthday for a city is a very young birthday indeed and any celebration of our past requires us to do what the community leaders did 100 years ago when they laid the foundation stones. They looked forward and today 100 years on we must do the same. 

The foundations for our city are strong. We are a city which will continue to lead the world in research, and as a world class centre of learning, of research, of innovation and enterprise. A city which is the centre of its region, a growing city which is not yet fully built and it this city, once the home of a transient population, which has become a place we are proud to call our home. 

And as we close the book on our city’s first 100 years and acknowledge how far we have come I have no doubt that our second century will be as good as our first.

Madam Deputy Speaker we are proud of our nation’s capital, we are proud of our home, we are proud of what has been achieved in our first 100 years and we are excited about our next. Today we pay our respects to the ‘Federal Capital City’ of Canberra

We pledge to work for a sustainable and peaceful future, to the men and women, past and present, who have played their part in the city beautiful spread out before us—we thank you and to those who will, in the centuries ahead, to make their own contributions to Canberra’s ongoing story we wish you well.