CENTENARY OF CANBERRA
FEDERATION MALL, CANBERRA
12 MARCH 2013
Today we gather to celebrate this city ordained by our Constitution to be the heart of our nation’s democracy.
At a time when Britain was still Home, the ‘federal generation’ was astute enough to give this place an Aboriginal name, a wise and evocative choice.
Though “Canberra” has several meanings, the one we settle upon is “meeting place” – as if the meeting place of the new Australia could only recognise and rest upon the old.
So it was on this hill one hundred years ago that Lady Denman drew a card from her gold cigarette case and named this city “Canberra”, the world’s newest capital on the world’s oldest continent.
The naming of Canberra completed a remarkable quartet of events: the idea, the site, the plan, the name.
The idea owed its debt to Washington DC – and so this is a day to honour our abiding friendship with the United States.
Like its elder sister, Canberra was a neat solution to a federal dilemma, placing the capital outside any one state and thus belonging to every state.
The site was chosen in a process that was complex, yet the result was sublime.
Nestled within a bowl of hills.
The Brindabellas majestic in the west.
The Molonglo valley forming a natural amphitheatre for the great institutions to come.
And the plan – this was a work of rare and timely genius.
Walter Burley Griffin perhaps saw us better than we saw ourselves, seeing this landscape with fresh and open eyes from half a world away.
His vision was superbly realised by his partner in life and work, Marion Mahony Griffin, whose drawings form a national treasure in their own right.
It was a plan created by two Americans and yet so distinctively Australian.
A plan that honoured and embossed this landscape, embracing its contours, working along its ancient grain.
But friends, the process of selecting and naming this city was only a beginning.
From the start of Canberra’s construction to the opening of new Parliament House took three-quarters of a century.
At every stage, it was the work of human hands.
Hands that graded the roads and laid the bricks and planted the trees.
We honour also those who now govern this city and tend it.
We honour those who give their best to our national institutions and to the ideal of an impartial public service.
And we honour those who have come here through the years to make a life in Canberra’s suburbs and in the hamlets beyond.
So for the nation, Canberra is our enduring capital.
For the world, it is a model of urban design.
And for locals, it is simply our much-loved home.
Canberra is all these things.
A city whose promise was a long time in gestation and which, at its hundredth birthday, has finally attained a mature grace.
Yet it is a capital whose history has barely begun.
Because today we do more than mark the centenary of Canberra’s founding.
Today we mark the beginning of Canberra’s second century, and so dedicate ourselves to all the future achievements of city and nation.
Across these ten decades, we have made here a fine and decent city – a city invested with a certain grandeur.
A city that has become a place of learning and culture – the memory-house of a new nation slowly growing old.
A city that is “a focal point for national pride and sentiment”.
A capital which truly merits our affection and esteem.