Senate debates

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Canberra Centenary

9:09 pm

Photo of Kate LundyKate Lundy (ACT, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On 12 March 1913, Canberra's naming and foundation stones day, the Governor-General of Australia, Lord Denman, delivered a speech in the luncheon tent on Capital Hill, one of the day's highlights. It was an impressively engaged public speech by a man who had developed a genuine affection for Australia and Australians. As we near the end of 2013, the momentous centenary year for Canberra, it is timely to recall the Governor-General's concluding words about young Australia's fledgling national capital:

Remember that the traditions of this City will be the traditions of Australia. Let us hope that they will be the traditions of freedom, of peace, of honour, and of prosperity; that here will be reflected all that is finest and noblest in the national life of the country; that here a city may arise where those responsible for the government of this country in the future may seek and find inspiration in its noble buildings, its broad avenues, its shaded parks, and sheltered gardens—a city perhaps bearing some resemblance to the city beautiful of our dreams.

It was a fine speech—eloquent, perceptive, optimistic and, above all, inspiring to all those who heard or read it. It was all the things you would expect for the time and place.

It has been an amazing centenary year for our national capital. Personally, I have attended as many centenary activities as I could—cultural events, lectures, concerts, art initiatives, publication launches and blockbuster exhibitions, all happening right here in my own backyard; such are the privileges of being one of the senators for the Australian Capital Territory. The batteries were regularly recharged by the centenary phenomenon that swept so many of us all along for a wonderful ride.

Significantly, the centenary has been a celebration for all Australians, many of whom explored their national capital for the very first time. They came away moved by the memorials to our war dead, uplifted by the music and visual arts, and warmed by the comfort of a nation's history well conserved and well told, be it in our National Archives, the museums or the National Library. They came away motivated by the sheer pleasure of experiencing our natural flora at the Australian National Botanic Gardens, the rare opportunity to see the planets from the Mount Stromlo Observatory and the history of great Australian scientists who have contributed so profoundly to our understanding of the universe in which we live and how it is changing. The program was beautifully captured in two volumes detailing the events and thematically presenting each month: science and discovery, the arts, history and culture, the environment, design and architecture, sport, music and a series of thought-provoking lectures on the big issues of our time and much more.

Who would have guessed, seven years ago in 2006, when a few booklets promoting some tentative centenary suggestions were first circulated, that the year of celebration and commemoration would be such an unqualified success? Anecdotal evidence of this has been constant, but it is worth noting that the research findings, hot off the press, of the Sydney-based Market Attitude Research Services group confirm this fact. A whopping 94 per cent of people living in Canberra and the surrounding region in New South Wales said they were 'extremely proud of the national capital', up sharply over the last two years, and the number of residents of the region stating they 'know quite a lot' or 'know a great deal' about Canberra has risen even more sharply to be now close to 80 per cent.

It is certain that Centenary of Canberra legacy projects are slowly but surely opening the hearts and minds of Australians across our continent to the important role the national capital plays in our collective sense of national pride. Further, Australians are getting an understanding of how important it is to know our deep history, which recognises the ongoing relationship of Indigenous Australians with the land through our ancient past to the present, and looking to an optimistic future of fulsome reconciliation. In this way, the Centenary of Canberra has been more than just a big year; it has laid a foundation for making our democratic development and social history more accessible, better understood and a reason to be proud of this remarkable city and all that it represents.

I would like to take this opportunity to acknowledge Sir William Deane, patron of the Centenary of Canberra year. For this remarkable program we have to thank both the former Chief Minister of the ACT Jon Stanhope and his successor, present Labor Chief Minister Katy Gallagher, for their vision and commitment to the centenary. And not least a huge thank you to them for making the brilliant decision to appoint the Creative Director of the Centenary, Robyn Archer, and her team of absolutely standout enthusiasts. To Robyn and her team, a most sincere thank you. I know 2013 is not yet over, but this is the best chance I will have to say these things for posterity.

Over the last three years, Robyn has been an unstoppable force for creativity and results. An Adelaide-born-and-bred agent provocateur, she understood the true significance of the national capital when taking up her position as creative director. She 'got' Canberra, unlike some federal politicians, not from any particular party, past and present. We have some way to go in truly appreciating universally as members of parliament the gift of Canberra and what it offers all Australians.

Robyn realised that what the centenary year needed was not a tidy, predictable couple of months of cosy little events leading up to a festive school fete of a day on 12 March 2013. Rather she imagined a great big ambitious, sprawling, inclusive, controversial, challenging, bulging 12-month program, aiming to give all Australians a much better understanding of, and ownership of, their national capital—our national capital—and the part we can all play in it, whether you live in Broome, Burketown, Bendigo or Ballarat. We have all been enlightened and educated as result of her single minded vision and the way in which she and her team have implemented it.

And what an astonishing program we have been privileged to participate in. How do you do justice to its many dimensions? A superb Indigenous event such as the Sydney Theatre Company's The Secret River by Kate Grenville is destined to be a classic of Australian theatre. The Seven Sisters Songline in the memorable One River series of events brought loads of country people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, together on the banks of the mighty Murray and Murrumbidgee rivers.

Then there was the breathtaking series of art commissions and collaborations, typified by the unforgettable 'Skywhale', with its ten teats and transcendent smile, who soon won us all over when we saw her in the flesh, so to speak—kids, adults and many a cynic alike. She is already part of Canberra folklore. I understand that, at last count, Skywhale had nuzzled her way into the hearts and imaginations of people in over 120 countries, prompting an impressive 120,000-plus video views on YouTube—not too shabby—thus making Skywhale a true triumph for the cause of public art.

Then there was the overwhelming array of centenary sporting events which inevitably captured my attention, as you would expect, because of my then portfolio responsibilities. It is impossible to cite them all, but the crowds were massive for the ISPS Handa Women's Australian Golf Open, which beamed a perfect picture of Canberra around the world for many hours, in fact many more hours than originally anticipated; for the rugby league test; for the British and Irish Lions and Brumbies game; for the PM's XI one-day cricket international pitting Australia against the West Indies; for the Matildas' Centenary Cup match; and for the international netball game featuring one of sport's great rivalries, the Diamonds versus the Silver Ferns. Coming up this weekend in their centenary match is Canberra United—our football-playing women—challenging Brisbane Roar, no less, in one of the great rivalries of the W-League. They will play this Sunday at 3 pm at McKellar Park, for all of those who would like to have their moment of centenary sport magic.

I also want to mention the remarkable contribution by the Australian Ballet, specially commissioned to produce a new work entitled Monumentin recognition of both the centenary and the 25th anniversary of this beautiful building. Monument was a tour de force. Our parliament's principal architect, 93 year-old Aldo Giurgola, long-term Canberran resident and new Australian citizen, described the performance he attended as one of the most unforgettable of his life. The packed house at the Canberra Theatre totally agreed.

English nature artist, photographer and curator Jyll Bradley kicked in with her imaginative City of Trees project, on show at the National Library over many months mid-year, delighting tens of thousands of visitors from interstate and overseas. Yet the trees show was just one of a brilliant series of exhibitions promoting the quality of Canberra's design and planning history. The Griffins had their rightful day in the sun, at exhibitions at the National Archives and the National Library. The Andrew Sayers curated exhibition at the National Museum, up for six months, fascinatingly recreated the mood and community feel of the year 1913.

I must confess, though, to a soft spot for the very first major exhibition of 2013, which opened right here in the Presiding Officers' Gallery of our parliament, entitled But Once in a History: Canberra's Foundation Stones and Naming Ceremonies. It was curated by the centenary's history and heritage adviser, Dr David Headon, who also happens to have been one of my advisers for the best part of five years. This exhibition contained the golden trowel used in the foundation stone ceremony and artefacts of the original surveying mission of the Australian Capital Territory. For the first time since 1913, the three trowels that were used by Lord Denman, Prime Minister Fisher and Minister O'Malley were later reunited in 2013 thanks to the wonderful work of Dr Headon, his researcher Barbara Coe and the Denman-Burrell family amongst others. David's Parliament House exhibition sought to underline just one compelling aspect of the special story. It put paid to old ignorant criticisms about Canberra. As this exhibition demonstrated in so many ways, all Australians who do have the opportunity to know our history become not only completely proud of that history but also a part of it. I take this opportunity to personally acknowledge Dr David Headon's contribution to the centenary celebration. His passion, his deep knowledge and his hunger for even more knowledge about the history and the intricacies of events and how they unfolded have added so much depth and substance to what has been a wonderful telling of this history.

It really was Australia's immense good fortune to be looking for a capital city at a point in human history when discussion globally was concentrated on the science of town planning, as it was then termed. We acted on the best the world had to offer and, through the competition for the design of the national capital, we were able to capture the most forward-thinking and progressive design of the time through the work of Marion and Walter Griffin. I feel compelled to mention that just recently the Chief Minister of the ACT, Katy Gallagher, launched the Marion Mahony Griffin View atop Mount Ainslie, which looks down the grand vista of the land axis of Anzac Parade, across the lake, up through Constitution Place, old Parliament House and, of course, ultimately the flagpole here on Parliament House. As she originally foresaw that grand vista, without having seen the topography of the land, she prepared the most beautiful watercolours that formed part of the submission to the competition back in 1908. Walter and Marion Griffin have made their mark through their design and the hierarchy of function embedded within that design. The forethought and the philosophies that were driving their vision for this city a century ago prevail today through the care and nurturing of many a government and indeed many a bureaucracy. The heart and soul of that design still lives on.

It was fitting that the former Labor government had the foresight to make the Commonwealth's centenary gift to the city of Canberra $20 million in effective funding for the National Arboretum. It is the kind of visionary initiative that Prime Minister Andrew Fisher had in mind a century ago when he spoke at the same luncheon as Lord Denman and he imagined a future capital where Australians' best thoughts would be expressed. Contained within Walter Burley Griffin's original plan was a space for a national arboretum in the very place where one is now being grown and built. For those who have not yet witnessed the wonders of that arboretum as it takes shape, please do. It is a remarkable sight that gives yet another unique perspective and viewpoint over the national capital.

The commitment to this ideal by all future federal governments, regardless of political persuasion, is now needed and, perhaps more so, expected in a mature, successful nation such as ours. A century ago Prime Minister Andrew Fisher had in mind a capital that offered much more to the population than had been previously imagined possible. I would like to quote King O'Malley, the Minister for Home Affairs at the time. He said:

Such an opportunity as this, the Commonwealth selecting a site for its national city in almost virgin country, comes to few nations, and comes but once in a history.

One hundred years later, in the shadow of a century extraordinary for the growth of knowledge and innovation that has occurred, we are well equipped to make good decisions based on science, evidence and a comprehensive understanding of the human condition. Our democracy is so precious and, while the dignity and gravitas of this place is often elusive, it resides here. As I know many of my colleagues do, I take that responsibility extremely seriously.