Canberra is nationally significant as a major outcome and symbol of the Federation of Australia and home of Australia’s democracy. The city was conceived as an ideal city, a National Capital worthy of the aspirations, passions, values and patriotism of the Federation movement for the fledgling Australian nation. Canberra is home to the Parliament and Executive, is the centre of national administration and home to many of Australia’s national institutions. It is a city which embodies the Australian spirit, and symbolises Australian life and achievement.
Canberra is one of the few cities in the world designed on a greenfield site through an international town planning competition. The result of this is a city in which the character and setting are unique – a beautiful city of identifiably Australian character, based on ‘city beautiful’ and ‘garden city’ town planning concepts prevalent at the time of the city’s inception.
An international competition for the design of Australia's National Capital was announced in 1911. Walter Burley and Marion Mahony Griffin's (the Griffins’) winning plan, on which the development of Canberra was first based, was more than sympathetic to the aspirations of those in Federal Parliament at the time. The Griffins’ used the topography to provide fitting sites, approaches, outlooks and backdrops for great buildings to house the nation's major institutions of democracy, for ceremonial occasions, and for other purposes related to the national functions of the city. The open space system, the hills, and grand avenues accentuate natural axes and become both the symbolic and functional base for the Capital.
Adherence to the vision of the National Capital as a ‘great and beautiful city’, has ensured that the immediate landscape setting of the City as well as the distant mountains in the Australian Capital Territory have been consciously protected from development; has protected the environment of the ACT from excessive pollution; has created the open space system which separates individual towns yet binds the whole together into the city of Canberra; and has preserved the integrity of land and buildings for national purposes.
As the seat of Australia’s robust democracy, Canberra provides the Australian community with public spaces for vibrant exchange between the citizenry and their parliamentary representatives. Canberra has been the site for momentous decisions and movements for change that have impacted on the lives of all Australians and continue to resonate today.
The city is significant for its role in commemoration – the celebration of people, events or ideas that have meaning and value for the community, and sites or objects which are a physical expression of prevailing ideas and beliefs of the Australian people. The central areas of Canberra are home to the many commemorative works representing people, ideas and events that have cultural significance for the nation, which reflect the evolving values, ideas and aspirations of the Australian community, and which contribute to the education of all Australians by enhancing our sense of place and increasing our understanding of cultural diversity.
The major criteria defined in the aspirations of our first Members of Parliament and translated so eloquently in the Griffins’ plans, are the keys to the character of the Canberra of today. These principles and the city they produced were judged to be of national significance when first espoused in 1907, and remain so today.
Matters of national significance in the planning and development of Canberra and the Territory include:
- The pre-eminence of the role of Canberra and the Territory as the centre of National Capital functions, and as the symbol of Australian national life and values.
- Conservation and enhancement of the landscape features which give the National Capital its character and setting, and which contribute to the integration of natural and urban environments.
- Respect for the key elements of the Griffins’ formally adopted plan for Canberra.
- Creation, conservation and enhancement of fitting sites, approaches and backdrops for national institutions and ceremonies as well as National Capital uses.
- The development of a city which both respects environmental values and reflects national concerns with the sustainability of Australia’s urban areas.