Canberra – it’s Australia’s national capital. The nation is governed from this city and it’s full of busy public servants and beautiful public buildings. Dalgety – it’s a tiny town in southern New South Wales with a population of just over 200. What could these two places possibly have in common? Surprisingly they share a historic link dating back to federation.
When the Constitution of Australia came into being on 1 January 1901, the six independent colonies of Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania formed the nation of Australia. There was considerable discussion about where to place the national capital, and both Sydney and Melbourne lobbied heatedly for the position until a compromise was reached. The Australian Capital Territory would be created with a new purpose-built city planned and constructed inside its boundaries. The search for a suitable site ended in southern New South Wales, where Canberra is now located.
It’s a little known fact however that the site where Canberra was established was not the first choice for our capital city. In 1903 the small town of Dalgety was chosen as the location for the new national capital. Its position on the Snowy River and its mild climate made Dalgety the perfect place for a city of such importance, but the Parliament of New South Wales, in typical Sydney-Melbourne rivalry, complained that Dalgety was too close to Melbourne and too far from Sydney. In actual fact, it was situated almost exactly half way between, but Parliament got its way and a site only 288 km from Sydney and 647 km from Melbourne was selected.
Walter Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahony Griffin, architects from Chicago, won the contest to design the city and construction began in 1913. Today Canberra is a picturesque city of parks and gardens, monuments and government buildings with the beautiful lake named after Burley Griffin at its centre.
Canberra’s forgotten rival, Dalgety, is a tiny town with a few permanent residents, a single hotel and its original police station.
An imposing timber and iron bridge spans the gentle waters of the Snowy River but, apart from our vehicle, the wide main street is deserted.
Canberra and Dalgety – they’re worlds apart but linked forever by a common thread going back a hundred years. Where would you choose to live?