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Research Guides

Parliament House Canberra, 1927

Appendix 2 - Key government agencies

During the period that this guide covers, the Federal Capital Territory was administered by several different agencies. This list provides brief information about the agencies and the dates they were responsible for the Territory. Further information about the agencies can be found by searching the National Archives RecordSearch database using their Commonwealth agency (CA) numbers.

Department of Home Affairs (I) (CA 8)

1 January 1901–14 November 1916

The Department of Home Affairs was established on 1 January 1901. It was one of the first seven Departments of State to be established when Australia became a Commonwealth. Amongst other functions it was responsible for Public Works and the Federal Capital. It administered the Seat of Government Act 1908, the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909 and the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1910.

Several branches within this department were responsible for administering the federal territory: Public Works Branch; Lands and Surveys Branch, Canberra; Lands and Survey Branch; Works Branch; FCT Administrative Offices.

When it was abolished in 1916 the function of administering the Federal Capital went to the Department of Home and Territories. Functions dealing with public works went to the Department of Works and Railways.

Department of Home and Territories (CA 15)

14 November 1916–10 December 1928

This department was responsible for the administration of the territories. Its main function with regard to the Federal Capital Territory was to establish the Seat of Government at Canberra. It oversaw the activities of the Federal Capital Commission.

Department of Works and Railways (CA 14)

14 Nov 1916–12 Apr 1932

This department, amongst other functions, was responsible for the design, construction, addition and maintenance of public buildings; and design and execution of engineering works. In this capacity it was responsible for the design and construction of all buildings in the Territory including the provisional Parliament House through the Director-General, Colonel P T Owen and Chief Architect, John Murdoch.

Federal Capital Office (CA 601)

1 Oct 1913–28 Feb 1921

The Federal Capital Office came under the Minister for Works and Railways and its main function was to advise the Minister on the design of Canberra. Walter Burley Griffin was the head of the office as Director of Design and Construction. The Office was abolished in 1921 and Griffin's services were terminated. The advisory function was passed to the Federal Capital Advisory Committee and responsibility for design and construction went to the Department of Works and Railways.

Federal Capital Advisory Committee (CA 292)

26 Jan 1921–30 Jun 1925

The Federal Capital Advisory Committee was appointed to advise the Government on matters concerning the construction of the Federal Capital. The functions of the Committee were to inquire into and advise upon the following matters in relation to the construction of the Federal Capital at Canberra:

  • The existing data, plans and works.
  • The works, buildings and city services that can be further proceeded with or commenced forthwith.
  • A general scheme upon which to develop the buildings of the capital city progressively, having regard to both official and civil occupation.
  • Proposals for the design and construction of the necessary works, buildings, and services.
  • The order in which essential surveys and the construction of such works, buildings, and services shall be undertaken.
  • Such matters as in the opinion of the Committee are expedient, in regard to provision and manufacture of materials necessary for the purposes of construction.
  • To inquire into and report upon any special matter in relation to the lay-out and construction of the Federal Capital city, as and when directed by the Minister for Works and Railways.

Its recommendations were executed by the local Works branch of the Department of Works and Railways. The Committee produced three reports, viz:

  • Construction of Canberra. First general report, 18 July 1921 (Parliamentary Papers.
    Session 1920–21. Volume III, Paper No. 134, pp. 2027–2069)
  • Construction of Canberra. Second general report, 31 July 1922. (Parliamentary Papers,
    Session 1922. Volume II, Paper No. 41, pp. 2791–2804)
  • Construction of Canberra. Final report, 25 May 1926. (Parliamentary Papers. Session
    1926–27–28. Volume II, Paper No. 56, pp. 1037–1080.

The final report was produced as a review of the Committee's operations overall, with the intention of explaining its principles to the body taking over its functions, the Federal Capital Commission.

Federal Capital Commission (CA 226)

1 Jan 1925–1 May 1930

The Federal Capital Commission was established on 1 January 1925 by the Seat of Government (Administration) Act No. 8 of 1924. The functions of the Commission as specified by the Act were:

  • the control and management of Crown lands;
  • the levying and collection of rates upon land in the Territory;
  • the construction, maintenance and operation of tramways;
  • the construction, maintenance and control of roads, bridges, culverts, levees, sewers, drains and water-courses;
  • the provision of gas, electricity, water and sewerage;
  • the provision and maintenance of markets, weighbridges, pounds and abattoirs;
  • forestry and afforestation, and preservation of flora and fauna;
  • the destruction of vermin and noxious weeds;
  • the protection of public health and the maintenance of sanitation;
  • subject to the approval of the Minister, the construction of all works and buildings required by the Commonwealth;
  • the construction and maintenance of all works and buildings required for the purposes of the Commission;
  • such other matters as are specified in any Regulation made under this Act; and
  • generally the municipal government of the Territory.

By 1929 there were two main Divisions: the first, consisting of the Architect's Department and the Engineer's Department, under the Chief Commissioner; the second, consisting of Accounts, Commissariat, Clerical, Health, Hospital, Internal Audit and Lands and PropertyDepartments, under the Second Commissioner.