Australia's capital city

The city is built on a plain at the foot of the Australian Alps at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory. (ACT)  The city covers an area of 805 square kilometres. 

The city was officially named in 1913. Canberra is thought to be a word in a now disappeared Aboriginal language (there are many)  meaning 'meeting place'.

Ngunnawal people: the first Aboriginal peoples of the Canberra area

The first people to live in the area were Aboriginal peoples. They had occupied the land for thousands of years before European settlers arrived. The Ngunnawal people lived on the land in the Canberra area. They hunted animals on the plains and in the mountain gullies. They also caught eels, fish and yabbies and ate plants as well as the Bogong moths which were plentiful in summer. 

European settlement began in 1820s and there was conflict between settlers and the Ngunnawal people whose land was taken and whose lifestyle was disrupted. By the 1900s when planning began for the development of Canberra most of the Ngunnawal people were living on government reserves.

View across Lake Burley Griffin, named for the designer of the city. Getty Images

View across Lake Burley Griffin, named for the designer of the city. Getty Images

Walter Burley Griffin designed the modern city

A competition was held in 1911 for a design for the city. Architect, Walter Burley Griffin, won the competition and came to oversee construction from 1913 - 1920.

The city is run by the ACT Legislative Assembly which is elected by the people of the city and all other people who live in the ACT.  

Floriade is a popular floral festival in Canberra © Getty Images

Floriade is a popular floral festival in Canberra © Getty Images

Canberra is a modern city with many open garden spaces and parklands. Few people live in the city centre. Most live in houses or units in suburbs that surround the city.

There are large shopping centres with cinemas located in the suburbs. 

The climate in Canberra

The weather in Canberra is temperate, which means that the summers are warm and the winters are cold. During the summer the average high temperature is about 26C. In winter the average temperature is about 10C.  

About one out of every three people who work in Canberra work for the government. 

The city is a popular tourist destination and a large number of people are employed in industries such as hotels, restaurants and tour bus companies which cater for the thousands of tourists. The city has many museums and galleries. Floriade is a popular Canberra garden and arts festival and thousands of people visit it.

Canberra: A short timeline of European settlement and development 1820 - 2003


Explorers Joseph Wild, James Vaughan and Charles Throsby discovered Limestone Plains, later the site chosen for the national capital


First permanent settlement on the site of the present day Canberra hospital 


First school opened in Canberra


Yarralumla homestead built. (Now Government House, the home of the Governor General) 


Canberra chosen as the site for the national capital and place for federal government house


Walter Burley Griffin, an architect from Chicago, USA, wins competition to design the capital


The name Canberra chosen for the new city


Work begins to construct parliament house (now referred to as the 'old' parliament house)


Federal Parliament moved to Canberra. (Until now, Federal Parliament had met in Melbourne)


Australian War Memorial opened


The Australian War Memorial in Canberra

The Australian War Memorial in Canberra


Australian National University founded


Academy of Science opened


Lake Burley Griffin created.


Australia's National Gallery established. (It is now the the largest art museum in the country, holding more than 166,000 works of art.)


Building of the National Gallery began (major extensions were completed in 2010)


Building begins for the new High Court of Australia. (Completed  in 1980)


Australian Institute of Sport opened


Queen Elizabeth opened the new Parliament House


National Dinosaur Museum opened


Bushfires destroy 70% of the ACT and burn into Canberra. Mt Stromlo Observatory is destroyed. 

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If you use any of this in your own work, acknowledge the source in your

bibliography like this:

Thomas, Ron. & Sydenham, Shirley. 2016. Canberra. [online]