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10 Facts about Canberra, Australia



Canberra is the capital city of Australia. It is located in the Australian Capital Territory, a federal enclave in the southeastern portion of the state of New South Wales, on the Molonglo River, approximately 150 miles (240 km) by air southwest of Sydney. Canberra stands around 1,900 feet (580 meters) above sea level, and highlands in the area reach 5,000 feet (1,500 meters). The city has a population of 358,222 (2010).

1. The dominant feature, Parliament House, is a massive edifice sculptured into Capital Hill, where 2,500 people are accommodated in one of the most spacious legislative buildings yet erected. Capital Hill, in the southern part of the city, is the focal point from which all principal avenues radiate.

2. The central area of the city is reserved for official buildings. It is divided by Lake Burley Griffin, an artificial lake spanned by two bridges. The main commercial area is north of the lake at Civic Center; there also are the legislative assembly and administrative offices of the territory. Shopping centers and commercial complexes have been established among the far-flung residential suburbs that extend along the valley and over the rising ground on its margins, where much of the original tree cover has been preserved.

Aerial View of Canberra

Aerial View of Canberra

3. In addition to the garden plantings of householders, more than 2 million trees and shrubs have been planted along the streets and in public parks. A bicycle-path network crisscrosses the city and attracts devotees of green spaces both within the city precincts and in national parks to the west and south.

4. On the southern verge of Lake Burley Griffin are the National Gallery of Australia (including an outdoor sculpture garden), the National Library, the High Court, the National Science and Technology Centre (Questacon), and the former Parliament House (in use from 1927 to 1988), which is now the home of the National Portrait Gallery. On a knoll north of the lake stands the Australian War Memorial, with the Pool of Reflection at its center; the memorial's Hall of Memory lends further enrichment with its symbolic sculpture, an elaborate mosaic dome, and three great stained-glass windows. Originally honoring those who served in World War I, the War Memorial has been expanded to embrace World War II and the wars in Korea and Vietnam.

5. Other buildings of special interest include the stately Yarralumla, the governor-general's official residence; the Lodge, the prime minister's official residence; and the Royal Military College at Duntroon. Canberra is home to four universities, including the Australian National University, which attracts scholars from around the world, as do the modern facilities of Mount Stromlo Observatory and the space-tracking facility at Tidbinbilla. The 258-foot (79-meter) shaft of the Australian-American Memorial, expressing the gratitude of the Australian people for United States assistance during World War II, is a prominent landmark.

Parliament House

Parliament House

6. The city's calendar is punctuated with a wide variety of exhibitions and celebratory events, including the National Multicultural Festival (with street parades and a program of artistic and cultural activities) and the Vintage Festival (celebrating the wine industry), both in May; the National Folk Festival, in April; and the Australian Science Festival and the International Chamber Music Festival, both in May. The Australian spring brings the monthlong Floriade (September-October), centered around outdoor displays of a million flowering bulbs and other plants.

7. The federal government is the chief employer in Canberra. Most members of Parliament work in the city only intermittently, either during sessions or when special discussions are in progress. Various organizations representing political and other special groups have headquarters in the city.

8. Canberra is a major center of diplomatic activity; more than 40 nations have established permanent diplomatic missions (involving over 1,200 personnel). A corps of news correspondents is in residence to cover political and other national events. Conventions and conferences of technical, scientific, and educational groups are held from time to time. The city attracts about a million Australian and international visitors each year.

9. The district was first occupied as a sheep run in 1826. In 1909 the area was chosen as the site for the national capital, and construction work began two years later. Development was suspended during World War I, and it was 1927 before the national Parliament transferred from Melbourne. At that time one of Canberra's political founders expressed the view that "the best modern city of the future" was in the making -"in many respects a wonder city of the world"- but Canberra continued to be either ignored or dismissed by an irreverent public.

10. Canberra gained in political significance during World War II and in administrative importance from the late 1940s, but its physical development was not greatly advanced until 1958, when the National Capital Development Commission was created. Expansion of the federal administrative role resulted in rapid population growth, and in the 1960s lavish outlays resulted in a spacious city of elegant buildings, wide boulevards, and extensive parklands. Subsequently, tourist facilities were greatly expanded.

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