Unit 5
The Central National Area

Background Notes

Located within the heart of the National Capital, you will find a large triangular area bounded by Commonwealth Avenue, Kings Avenue and Lake Burley Griffin. This area contains symbols and structures of the nation's culture, history and aspirations - effectively, it is Australia's national domain.

The geometric centre of Walter Burley Griffin's original design for the central national area was to provide the focus for the Seat of Government, cultural institutions and the recreation areas of the capital. It was to be the location for events, memorials, protests, parades and the workings of democracy, all of which would add meaning to the National Capital and be a source of pride for all Australians.

Prior to Canberra becoming the National Capital, the landscape was one of cleared land where wheat was harvested and sheep grazed. The Molonglo River ran through the area, which would eventually be transformed into Lake Burley Griffin. Today, the central national area is an excellent example of landscape and urban planning integrated within the Australian landform.

Several major development periods have occurred in this area. The first occurred in the 1920s with the creation of Old Parliament House and nearby gardens. The second, from 1950 to 1970, included the construction of Lake Burley Griffin and the National Library of Australia. A mix of deciduous and Australian trees and shrubs were planted to assist in the creation of formal parks, gardens and open spaces, and to accentuate the lake shoreline. In the 1980s the construction of the High Court of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia occurred, along with the subtle planting of Australian flora in the Gallery's Sculpture Garden.

The last major development, within the central national area, was Parliament House (opened in 1988). This project was the result of an international design competition and it demonstrated how architecture and landscape could be successfully integrated - a passion that both Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin demonstrated when designing Canberra.

The central national area is in some ways a record of the political events and social changes in Australia over the last seventy years. This role will be maintained and expanded into the future.

Places of interest include:

Background Notes

All cultures create objects and emblems whose purpose is to commemorate the celebration of historical moments, events, people or ideas that have meaning and value for the community at large. Commemoration in Australian society can take the form of special issue stamps and coins, the naming of holidays and festivals, the dedication of streets, gardens, parks and buildings and the construction of memorials.

Commemorative works such as memorials are a physical expression of unity and beliefs within the community. As permanent objects, their strength resides in the fact that they will remain a lasting physical feature to be acknowledged by future generations. Such works, when located within a country's capital city, have a special ‘national significance'. Canberra's memorials inform current and future generations of the values held by the Australian community at particular points in time.

…a national capital is more than a city. As the Seat of Government it requires a symbolic presence to promote a sense of national identity. It is not too outlandish to regard the capital as a symbol of the ideals, dreams, aspirations, achievements, culture and history of the nation.
Looking to the Future: Australia's National Capital, Central National Area Design Study (1994)

The National Memorials Ordinance 1928 provides for the location and character of national memorials in the Australian Capital Territory. The Ordinance applies only to land that is currently being used by the Commonwealth. As part of the Ordinance, a Canberra National Memorials Committee has been created and consists of: the Prime Minister as Chair of the Committee, the Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads, the Leader of the Government in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Representatives, the Chief Executive of the National Capital Authority and two other members appointed by the Governor-General from amongst residents in the Australian Capital Territory. The Minister for Local Government, Territories and Roads considers all matters referred to him or her regarding the location or character of national memorials in the National Capital and seeks the support of the Committee. The Committee may approve the proposal, recommend alterations, reject the proposal or return it for further consideration.

The National Capital Authority has produced a set of guidelines for commemorative works in the National Capital. These guidelines provide clear instruction on the assessment criteria (and possible locations) for commemorative works on Commonwealth land. An individual, group or organisation may use these guidelines and put forward a proposal for a memorial or commemorative work.

Core values expressed within the guidelines include:

King George V Memorial
Location - King George Terrace, opposite Old Parliament House

The King George V Memorial commemorates the English monarch reigning at the time of the opening of Old Parliament House in 1927. He died in 1936, and the Federal Cabinet immediately began to consider an appropriate memorial dedicated to him to be prominently located in the National Capital. It was decided that the memorial should take the form of a symbolic bronze statue to be located on the vacant square immediately in front of (Old) Parliament House. The statue was to symbolise:

King George V MemorialThe memorial was designed by G. Rayner Hoff in 1937. After Hoff's death in the same year, his assistant, John E. Moorfield, completed the memorial in accordance with Hoff's design.

Originally, the King George V memorial was sited directly in front of Old Parliament House but it was relocated to one side in 1968 because it disrupted the view from the steps of Old Parliament House - part of Griffin's premier Land Axis - towards the Australian War Memorial.

The memorial displays ten medallions around its base, to King George V Memorialcommemorate Australia's national life. These include medallions recognising the 1891 National Australasian Convention, Australian Federation and Australia's first Prime Minister, Edmund Barton. There are also medallions commemorating the role of each service of the armed forces that served in World War I.

It is worth noting the devoted work of the Australian Service Nurses, who had an active part in the 1914-18 campaigns, is recognised.

In the Hoff memorial, the overwhelming size of the statues of St George and King George V dominate visually. The Australian elements of the memorial almost appear as an afterthought. Why do you think this is the case? Is this because of the time period in which the memorial was conceived and, ultimately, built? What does this memorial tell you about the Australia of that time? Do you think Australia is a different place today? Why?

Australia in the 1930s was an active supporter of the British Empire, despite the decline of the English colonial endeavour in the first decades of the twentieth century. Australia suffered enormous loss of life as the result of its involvement in World War I, yet these losses did not exert any noticeable impact on Australian ties with Great Britain. Are these ties as important to Australia in the first years of the twenty-first century? If not, why not?

New Zealand Memorial
Location - Anzac Parade

The New Zealand Memorial commemorates the long and close relationship between New Zealand and Australia.

New Zealand MemorialA competition was held in 1996 for the design of the memorial, open to both Australian and New Zealand designers. The competition specified that the theme for the intended memorial should have a clear New Zealand identity and should express the Anzac relationship in all its diversity and richness. Sited at the gateway to Anzac Parade, the memorial was intended to link with other memorials on the parade and commemorate the bonds forged in war. As it looks out to the Federal Parliament, it was also intended to express the wider political and social relationships.

The winning design is the work of Kingsley Baird and Studio of Pacific Architecture, both from New Zealand. The major element of the design is two eleven-metre high bronze handles derived from a Maori basket (kete). One handle represents New Zealand, the other represents Australia. The central metaphor is expressed in the Maori proverb inscribed on the pavement of the memorial - ‘Mau tena kiwai o te kete, maku tenei / Each of us at a handle of the basket'. It is a metaphor for sharing the load and mutual experiences, both in peace and in war.

At the memorial, soil from Gallipoli has been buried under stones from each country. On the Australian side, it comes from Lone Pine and is contained within a jarrah box. On the New Zealand side, the soil comes from Chunuk Bair and sits in a rimu box.

Speakers Square - Canada's Gift to Australia
Location - Commonwealth Place

Canada and Australia have a tradition of exchanging gifts to mark significant events in each country's history. In 1967, to mark Canada's Centennial, the Australian Government presented the Government of Canada with two magnificent oil paintings by the eminent Australian artist Sir William Dobell. In 2001, in honour of the Australian Centenary of Federation, the Canadian Government reciprocated by presenting the Australian Government with a ten-metre square stone pavement, designed by Canadian artist John McEwen. Speakers Square is a part of Commonwealth Place, located in close proximity to a number of cultural and political institutions. It provides a stage, or focal space for events, celebrations and ceremonies.

Speakers Square - Canada's Gift to AustraliaJohn McEwen's design for the Centenary of Australian Federation gift from Canada represents the shared experiences of peoples of all nations, living together as one under the heavens. The Canadian and Australian elements are represented by the northern and southern hemispheres, joined together by curved bands representing the bonds of friendship amongst peoples, and the common values that unite them. The bands are also symbolic of the warm relations that have developed between Australia and Canada over the last one hundred years.

National Emergency Services Memorial
Location - Kings Park

Following the tragic loss of lives in the Victorian bushfires in late 1998, the Commonwealth Government committed one million dollars to the design and construction of the National Emergency Services Memorial. Melbourne landscape architects, Aspect Melbourne Pty Ltd,
won the national design competition for the memorial in March 2003.

On 12 July 2004, Prime Minister John Howard dedicated the National Emergency Services Memorial in honour of the thousands of men and women who serve and have served in Australia's emergency management and services organisations.

National Emergency Services Memorial

The National Emergency Services Memorial is the first of many proposed civilian memorials to be located in Kings Park on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. The memorial appears like a blanket or stretched tarpaulin, giving the viewer a sense of safety and security. A feature of the memorial wall is a three-dimensional concrete frieze which gathers a collection of images reflecting the diversity of emergency services personnel at work and records some of their experiences.

The eastern face of the memorial wall is highly polished, revealing words that represent the values and professionalism of the emergency services personnel. The National Emergency Services Memorial is a place of celebration, as well as reflection and contemplation. It provides a national focus for organised special events and services for all people involved, and the emergencies to which they have responded. The memorial is designed to encourage moments of reflection, engaging the visitor by providing an endless range of interpretation.

Located in Kings Park by the shore of Lake Burley Griffin, the National Emergency Services Memorial is well worth a visit and can be accessed by path from the Rond Terraces car park and the cycle path along Lake Burley Griffin. It can be seen from across Lake Burley Griffin by day and night, and can be best viewed when the sun casts shadows across the memorial, or at night when it is highlighted by a sympathetic lighting scheme.

Other sites which have cultural heritage significance include:

Magna Carta Place
Magna Carta Place
Old Parliament House Gardens
Old Parliament House Gardens
Commencement Column
Commencement Column
Centenary of Women's Sufferage Fountain
Centenary of Women's Suffrage Commemorative Fountain
Peace Park
Peace Park
Land Axis Vista from Parliament House
Land Axis Vista from Parliament House