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Government Records about the Australian Capital Territory

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

By the early 1950s, Canberra consisted of a few disjointed suburbs on either side of the future Lake Burley Griffin site. The effects of the Great Depression and World War II were still being felt. Griffin's grand design had come to little, and the nation's capital appeared to be a series of 'suburbs still searching for a city'.94 Yet three events were soon to occur that would effectively mark the revitalisation of Canberra.

In November 1956, Cabinet approved a report recommending a major program of public service transfers from Melbourne and a complementary program of works. The report noted that some departments already had their head offices in Canberra: Attorney-General's, Customs and Excise, External Affairs, Health, Immigration, Interior, National Development, Prime Minister's, Primary Industry, Territories, and Trade and Industry. Nevertheless, all Defence departments were still in Melbourne, so too were Supply, Works, Civil Aviation, Social Services, Labour and National Service, Repatriation, Shipping and Transport, and Postmaster-General's. In all, there were 8340 head office staff still in Melbourne. Apart from relocating most of them to Canberra, the report recommended a six-year building program, which would include housing, roads, schools and other ancillary services. The six-year funding program would ensure certainty. It would not do, the report claimed, to have programs 'fluctuating violently from year to year'.95

Second, William Holford (a London-based town planning expert) visited Canberra to report on the future development of the city; Prime Minister Menzies had met Holford during a visit to London and invited him to visit Canberra. Third, legislation to enact the National Capital Development Commission passed in September 1957.


Chapter notes | All notes

94 Keith Hancock, The Battle of Black Mountain: an episode of Canberra's environmental history, Department of Economic History, Australian National University, Canberra, 1974, p. 5.

95 NAA: A4926, 451, 2 November 1956.


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