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Research Guides

Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

Urban growth and the Y-plan

By the early 1960s, Canberra's residential areas essentially consisted of suburbs to the north and south of the lake. To the north there was Dickson, Lyneham, Campbell, Ainslie, Downer, Watson, Turner, O'Connor and Hackett. To the south were Yarralumla, Deakin, Forrest, Narrabundah and Red Hill.

One of the commission's first priorities had been to develop land and establish houses, schools and offices to meet short-term development needs. After that, it needed to establish a strategy to guide and direct the city's longer-term growth. The major issue was the future form and shape of the city.

Canberra's burgeoning population required the development of new suburbs. This forced the commission to make a choice between building compact and densely populated areas or establishing districts further removed from the city, in order to preserve the open character of a city separated by bushland. The commission chose the latter option. The emphasis would be on separation with a series of 'new towns', each with its own business offices, shopping centres and schools.

Woden–Weston Creek

Woden was the first of the new towns, located 10 kilometres south of the city. The name was taken from a 19th-century homestead occupied by James Murray, who named his property after the Nordic god of wisdom. Woden was planned as a series of 10 suburbs, with Hughes, Curtin, Chifley and Lyons being the first. It was estimated that 90,000 people would ultimately live in the area. Construction began in 1962 and the first residents arrived in 1963.

The adjoining Weston Creek was named after another 19th-century settler, George Weston. It was designed to have eight suburbs, with development beginning in 1968.


Belconnen, located 10 kilometres west of Canberra, was the second of the new towns. Initial consideration of where Canberra's second centre would be sited involved a choice between Belconnen and the Majura Valley. At the time, there was a suggestion that Canberra's airport might relocate from Majura, but until a firm decision was made, the area was not considered any further.

Belconnen, also named after a 19th-century property, was designed for 26 suburbs housing 120,000 people.109 Minister for the Interior Doug Anthony commissioned the new district at a formal ceremony held on 23 June 1966 and work began in July. Aranda was the first suburb to be developed; the first residents moved there in late 1967.

The Y-plan

There still remained the issue of where to locate additional new towns and how to integrate them into the Territory. In two of its publications, The Future Canberra (1965) and Tomorrow's Canberra (1970), the commission initially planned on Canberra having a population of 250,000; it later increased this to 500,000. The intention was to create a structure of separate urban districts, while avoiding the adverse effects of urban sprawl.

Further studies led to the emergence of the Y-plan in 1969, in which towns were grouped in a linear pattern extending out from the city centre in the shape of a 'Y'. The concept provided for a series of self-contained towns in each of the main Territory valleys, with peripheral parkways flanking urban areas.

It was initially intended that the next new town after Belconnen would be an area in the north known as Gungahlin. Although some planning towards developing the area (sometimes referred to as Mulligans Flat) was undertaken from 1972 onwards, with a view to having the first residents moving there by 1978, there were suggestions that Canberra's new airport might also be established there. The commission opted instead to develop Tuggeranong.


Tuggeranong was planned to house a population of 170,000, with the first suburbs being Kambah and Wanniassa. Construction began in February 1973 and the first residents moved to the area in June 1974. Ministers Tom Uren and Kep Enderby unveiled a plaque commemorating the establishment of Tuggeranong on 21 February 1973.

Each of these new towns was designed with its own schools, business centres and shopping centres. In Woden, the Woden Town Centre was completed in 1967 and Woden Plaza was built in three stages, the last completed in August 1977. In Belconnen, the Cameron and Benjamin Offices were completed in 1976 and 1980, respectively, and Belconnen Mall was completed in February 1978. In Weston Creek, Cooleman Court opened in March 1978, while in Tuggeranong, the Hyperdome opened in November 1987.

Gungahlin new town – environmental aspects (EIS Statement) 85/772#01–04
Gungahlin new town – provision of parkland and public open space, 1974 74/612
Tuggeranong new town PG1973/206
Metropolitan Policy Plan Review – new settlement areas NC–88/01472
Metropolitan Policy Plan – consultation document, 1980 NC–80/00987#1
Woden Weston Creek new town – central area outline planning brief NC–75/00705
Belconnen new town – central area planning brief NC–74/01343#1
Tuggeranong transport planning, 1981 NC–81/00518#1
Uncommitted land in inner Canberra infill program NC–76/00785#1
Withdrawal of land, 1978 NC–78/00174#1
Planning procedures for the ACT NC–78/00261#1
Construction program, 1976–77 NC–76/00009#1
Outline planning of inner Canberra NC–74/01604#1
Nomenclature liaison with Department of Territories prior to 1979 NC–75/00412#1
Murrumbidgee West – planning coordination brief NC–73/01832#1
City centre studies NC–72/01308#1
Five-year construction program, 1973–78 NC–73/00020#1
85th sale of residential leases NC–73/00400
Kambah local activity centre – general NC–71/01496
Intertown centres – policy, functions and viability NC–70/00841
Kambah intermediate centre – general NC–70/01153#1
Molonglo North Fyshwick industrial area NC–71/00438#1
National Archives
Woden subdivisional development, water supply, storm water drainage, 1960–62 A976, 1960/6
Future Canberra, 1964–68 A1209, 1964/6242
Preliminary landscape development, Woden Town Centre parklet, 1971 A6664, L510


Chapter notes | All notes

109 The Canberra Times printed a map illustrating Belconnen's proposed suburbs numbered from 1 to 26 (11 February 1966, p. 1).


Chapter 5
Suburbs still searching for a city, 1957–72