Canberra's Engineering Heritage (Second edition)


The first edition of this book covered the roles of engineers in the development of Australia’s National Capital from 1820, when white people first sighted the Limestone Plains, to 1983.

But in 1983, the new Parliament House and associated roads and bridges had hardly been started. They are now complete and it is timely to add chapters on this work. While the ideal would have been to update each of the 12 chapters from the first edition to incorporate developments over the past seven years, that is not practical at this time from a publishing viewpoint. Therefore, we take time in this preface to record significant developments in the areas covered by the first edition.

Work has continued on further major components of the ACT’s peripheral parkway system. A detailed traffic study in 1984 confirmed the proposal in the original Y Plan to construct the Eastern Parkway. Design commenced in 1986 and construction began in 1988 with progressive completion intended over three years. The primary purpose of the Eastern Parkway is to link the rapidly developing southern and eastern suburbs of Tuggeranong to the city centre, and in the longer term to provide a north-south bypass to central Canberra on the eastern side.

Community demands now require planning to include parking space to support office and retail developments. Consequently, multi-storey and extra surface carparks have been constructed in Civic, and parking controls over on- street parking in adjacent residential areas have been extended.

It is still accepted that there needs to be a much larger population before anew mode of public transport (e.g. light rail) is justifiable. In the meantime, studies are continuing on appropriate alignments for such a system, and the bus fleet has increased 34 per cent in the past six years.

Since 1983 we have seen the introduction and subsequent withdrawal of an XPT train service from Goulburn to Canberra. It was operated on the substandard old alignment with substandard signalling systems. The proposed new alignment from Gunning to Canberra has been deferred, pending a decision on the proposed Very Fast Train, which would provide a one-hour travel time between Sydney and Canberra and two hours between Canberra and Melbourne. Large sums have been spent on feasibility studies for the VFT by leading Australian and Japanese interests.

While no further city water supply dams have been built since 1983, the lake alongside Tuggeranong town centre has been completed.

In the chapter on water the importance of regional control of the quality of water in the total river, lake, dam and stormwater system is stressed. Work in this area has continued with the adoption and implementation of an ACT water quality policy plan, backed by the community’s increasing support for environmental work.

The drought of 1983 highlighted the need to revise the safe yield of the region’s water supply dams. Based on a new safe yield of 115 gigalitres per annum, the capability of our water catchment, in drought conditions, has been reduced by 50,000 to a maximum population of 400,000.

In 1985 the Bureau of Meteorology revised the basis for estimating the probable maximum rainfall for short periods and small areas, and this significantly increases the estimated probable maximum flood for Canberra’s major dams. Substantial upgrading of dam spillway capacities is required and priority has been given to upgrading Googong Dam, because of its location above Queanbeyan and Canberra.

Restoration of the original “Pelton” wheel and pump from the Cotter Pump Station has been undertaken, with a view to it being placed on public display at the Pump Station.


The peak electrical power demand increased from 475 megawatts in 1983 to 550 in 1989. Over the same period, the electrical energy usage increased from 1600 gigawatt hours to 2000.

It was fitting that Mr H.A. Jones, first Chairman of ACTEA and author of Chapter Six of this book, should switch off the Kingston Zone Substation for the last time in April 1987. This substation has served Canberra since the 1920s, being the only source of supply until 1961.

The load from this substation has been taken over by the new Telopea Park Zone Substation. It is fed from the Causeway Switching Station by the first 132 kV underground cables laid in Canberra, leaving the lakeshore clear of major overhead lines.

The 1990 erection of a line between Gilmore and the Causeway will complete a 132 kV ring around old Canberra and Woden Valley, securing the electricity supply to the heart of Canberra into the next century.

Public lighting in the past seven years has seen the general use of high pressure sodium lamps for major traffic roads and low pressure sodium lamps for minor streets. The use of slip base columns, introduced in 1981, has proved a successful safety measure and has been supplemented with the use of impact absorbing columns.

Since 1981, the Australian Gas Light Company’s medium pressure residential mains gas reticulation system has been extended to a total of 2,000 kilometres, accessing 70,000 homes and connecting 23,000 customers. This means that 70 per cent of all houses in Canberra have access to natural gas. The secondary H.P. system has been extended to total 158 kilometres to date, connecting some 44 local districts and serving 460 commercial/industrial customers.

There has been a revolution in communications engineering since the first edition of this book. The technique of information transfer has moved from the time-honoured analogue method to a digitally-coded process. The introduction of optical fibre cable has augmented the revolution, with the enormous carrying capacity of this type of cable altering the shape of the communications network in a few short years. An optical fibre cable linking Canberra with Sydney and Melbourne was introduced in 1987. The use of digital techniques has permitted the installation of processor controlled exchanges, where the network is sufficiently flexible to switch any communications link from voice to data.

Since 1983 the Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) has been built and has taken over from the Royal Military College Duntroon by providing undergraduate engineering education, not only for Army personnel but also for all sections of the armed forces.

Other recent developments include the commencement of full undergraduate engineering courses at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE) and a broadlybased course at the Australian National University (ANU). Enquiries into engineering education in Australia support Canberra Division’s continuing campaign for a full engineering school in the ACT. Although proposals for amalgamation of the ANU and CCAE have been abandoned, the ANU and the University of Canberra (previously CCAE) together with ADFA and The ACT Institute of Technical & Further Education have formed an ACT School of Engineering, which will move towards the adequate and rational provision of undergraduate engineering education in the ACT.

While we still await a modern dual carriageway parkway for the short distance from the airport to the Parliamentary Triangle, our airport building has finally been upgraded to a standard more appropriate for our National Capital. On 22 April 1988 the then Minister for Aviation opened a two-storey Canberra Airport complex, which had cost some $10.8 million.

As this second edition goes to print, engineers are starting to install one of the first of the new microwave landing systems at Canberra Airport. Australia was instrumental in developing the concept which underlies this system and which has been accepted by the International Civil Aviation Organisation as the future standard all-weather guidance system for precision approach and landing of aircraft throughout the world.

The space-tracking stations at Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley were closed by the end of 1984, with NASA’s facilities consolidated at Tidbinbilla when the communications switching centre at Deakin was transferred there in 1985.

Upgrading of the Tidbinbilla complex included transferring the 26 metre antenna from Honeysuckle Creek and adding a second 34 metre antenna. Major modifications were made to the electronic systems in 1984/85 and in 1987 the 64 metre antenna was extended to 70 metres, to provide improved performance at outer planetary distances. In 1986/87 the external communications circuits were upgraded to provide a 2048kb/s fibre optics link between the complex and the OTC terminal in Sydney.

While the space shuttle Challenger disaster in January 1986 halted that side of Tidbinbilla’s work, the complex continued to provide support to the ongoing programs including Voyager 2 encounters with Uranus and Neptune. Additionally, the European spacecraft Gioto was tracked during its rendezvous with Halley’s Comet in early 1986. With the resumption of shuttle flights in 1988, Tidbinbilla has, from 1989, tracked Magellan and Galileo, enroute to Venus and Jupiter respectively. Magellan was NASA’s first planetary probe in 11 years.

In this preface we have touched briefly on some of the developments in the ACT since 1983. Of course there are the two additional chapters 13 and 14 but otherwise the book is reprinted with minor corrections. By the year 2000 we may see a VFT operating, dual carriageways completed between Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne and Cooma, and other major engineering progress made: this could be the time to consider the third edition.

In the meantime, we acknowledge with gratitude the contributions made to this preface by Robert Care, Walter Shellshear, Ian Cooper, David Philp, John Kain, Paul Clark, Paul Yonge, Cyril Streatfield, Tom Reid and Bill Minty.

Finally, we acknowledge the work of Alison Foulsham as an editorial consultant for the new material in this edition.

L.J. Wrigley BMechE, MIE Aust.
Chairman, Heritage Panel
Canberra Division
The Institution of Engineers, Australia
January 1990


The Institution of Engineers, Australia has a five point plan for the preparation of a record of our national engineering heritage as part of our bicentennial celebrations in 1988. These five points embrace:

• biographies of outstanding engineers
• descriptions of outstanding engineering achievements
• preparation of histories of major engineering companies and public authorities
• assembly of artefacts and associated archival material
• assembly of plans detailing the work of our predecessors

So it gives me great pleasure to congratulate the Canberra Division on the work they have done in publishing ‘Canberra’s Engineering Heritage’. It is an example to other Divisions of this Institution and, indeed, to other learned societies who may also recognise the value of preparing a methodical record of their heritage from their not-so-distant beginnings. The principle of carrying this record through to the date of publication is a sound one.

What the Canberra Division calls the ‘planned approach’ makes available in this book the engineers, their achievements and the archival material that represents the National Capital’s component of our Australian engineering heritage.

In writing this book for the general reader, the Canberra Division has also paved the way to meeting another of the Institution’s objectives: the establishment of a better understanding between the engineering profession, other professions and the community. Readers may appreciate something of the questions faced by engineers in attempting to provide facilities for the community within the constraints of what these authors call ‘the engineer’s eternal quest for the most economical design.’

I hope that included among the book’s readers will be the group of younger people soon to matriculate and who are contemplating tertiary education. The engineering profession is a stimulating one as its new recruits, both male and female, will soon discover. Students will find in these pages the wide range of branches, and the challenges and achievements in each, that give the 36,000 members of the Institution a feeling of devotion to what they believe is a noble and very satisfying calling.

I commend this book to the general reader and to all members of the engineering profession.

J. McG. McIntyre BE, FIE Aust.,,
The Institution of Engineers, Australia,


Many organisations deciding to record their nation’s engineering heritage would have to research back through many centuries to achieve a comprehensive history. In Australia, and in the ACT in particular, if we start after the development of the boomerang and the bark canoe, we can assemble a record of our engineering heritage that is reasonably complete within a few generations. In Canberra, we are fortunate that we still have people whose association with the city began in the first formative years of the National Capital. in fact, most of the authors of the chapters of this book have had a long and significant role in developing the ACT.

The book has been written for both the engineer and the general reader. The primary aim has been to record the progressive development of this region from the first visit of Europeans in 1820 to the present, with particular regard to the roles of engineers in that development — roles that cover numerous branches, from construction of the earliest roads and bridges to work in outer space. Basic technical data has been provided with ample references to further information available elsewhere. The human element has not been overlooked, with the inclusion of anecdotes and stories revealing the attitudes and foibles of some of those involved in the planning and development of what are now our heritage items.

In 1977, the Canberra Division of the Institution established a sub-committee to compile a record of the ACT’s engineering heritage, and subsequently it received a grant from National Estate funds administered by the ACT Heritage Committee to publish the manuscript. Unlike older cities where any record must be compiled from the random survivals of the ravages of time whether it be on drawings, photographs, artefacts or structures that might illustrate the heritage of a place, the relative youth of Canberra has allowed our engineers to adopt a planned approach to the project.

The first step was to assemble writers, people with a long association in the various branches of engineering. The second step was the preparation of a record of progressive development in those various branches and the identification of the key heritage items. The third step will be the provision of plans, photographs and models of these items and the preservation of actual components.

This book attempts to complete the first two steps. The third step should follow the publication of this book and lead to a fourth step, the creation of a museum of our engineering heritage. The authors of the Royal Charter of The Institution of Engineers, Australia, appreciated the importance of not only the latest technological developments, but also of the engineering heritage from which the newer developments have emerged. Enshrined among the Institution’s objectives is the intention to “. . . establish museums”. Should this objective be achieved, it will be in no small way due to the interest stimulated by the work of our authors whose research has provided the material for this book and, in particular, to Wal Shellshear, the secretary of the heritage sub-committee, and the author of the chapter on Railways. He is also a Life Member of the Canberra Division of the Australian Railway Historical Society, whose example in establishing a Canberra Railway Museum has set the pattern for the beginnings of a Museum of Science and Technology in the nation’s Capital.

Engineering heritage items, of course, are not necessarily old items, particularly given the rapid rate of technological change today. The world’s international airports are soon to have all aircraft movements controlled by the ‘Interscan’ system conceived in Australia. Future generations will clearly look back on ‘Interscan’ as one of the most significant items in Australia’s technological heritage. We are quite sure that other important achievements of today will become part of tomorrow’s heritage. In the ACT, research won’t be needed to find that heritage because the record is being established at the outset and, hopefully, will be kept up to date.

It hasn’t been possible to publish all the material prepared for this book. Tom Lawrence prepared a fascinating story on the proposed Tuggeranong Arsenal of World War I. Jule Knight prepared a chapter on surveying starting from the earliest work and picking up his own close association with surveying over so many years. Bill Andrews, past Commissioner of NCDC, prepared a record on Roads and Bridges that was outstanding in quality and volume but had to be considerably condensed. Peter Harrison, past Chief Town Planner of NCDC and an authority on Walter Burley Griffin, prepared work and acted as an invaluable consultant.

Several other authors had to have their work condensed, but the original unabridged work of all these people together with their associated papers, will be placed in the library of the Institution of Engineers as a uniform set of volumes that formed the basis of this book.

In concluding this Introduction, I would acknowledge the assistance of the Australian Archives, the National Library, the National Capital Development Commission, Telecom Australia, the ACT Electricity Authority and the Departments of Transport and Construction, Defence, Capital Territory, Science and Technology, Administrative Services and Aviation.

Lastly, may I say that the Canberra Division of the Institution of Engineers and all our authors are very grateful to our general editor and historian, Alan Fitzgerald, whose wise counsel, tactful words, enthusiasm and professional skills have done much to convert a hard-rock engineers’ record of our heritage into a more readable document.

A.E. Minty,
Heritage sub-committee,
Canberra Division,
The Institution of Engineers, Australia
January, 1983



W.C.Andrews OBE, FIE Aust.,


William Charles Andrews’ appointment as Commissioner of NCDC climaxed a very distinguished career in engineering spanning more than fifty years — a career that embraced senior positions in local government, distinguished wartime service, an overseas Travelling Fellowship and many subsequent overseas assignments to a wide range of countries including that of lecturer and professional adviser.

He joined NCDC in 1958 as an original Associate Commissioner and hence had a major influence on Canberra’s development for sixteen years. In addition to his active work in community affairs, Mr Andrews is a Past Chairman, Canberra Division, The Institution of Engineers, Australia; Past President, Canberra Division, The Institution of Surveyors, Australia; Past Chairman, Canberra Group, Australian Planning Institute; Past President, Canberra Branch, Australian Water and Wastewater Association; Past Federal President, Australian Water and Wastewater Association.


The background of prehistory in the Australian Capital Territory shows that in this most ancient continent of Australia, the Territory is situated within a geologically complex sector of New South Wales. Studies of the rocks of the Territory are now able to trace the successive eras of geological change in the past 450 million years. The noble landscape in which Canberra is set reflects the product of both profound and subtle earth processes in that vast timescale: subsidence beneath the sea, with a shoreline at Tharwa and coral-bearing limestone formations which provide the foundations of the Treasury building and an abutment of the Commonwealth Avenue bridge: uplift and fiery outpourings of vast quantities of lava and other volcanic material: episodes of strong crustal movements, folding and faulting, followed by a general stabilising and then, by erosion processes, the carving and creation of the present land forms. Those erosion processes have also provided natural materials for engineering purposes and a land surface for forest growth.

Related to geological studies into time, research into Australia’s prehistory has demonstrated that nomadic Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for at least 40,000 years and possibly for a much longer period of time. Explorers such as Mitchell and Sturt in the early 1800s recognised and spoke highly of the Aborigines’ well developed sense of orientation and their skills in establishing and maintaining their widespread pattern of trackways, clear of timber and out of reach of floods. Where rivers bisected trackways, ‘ferry services’ by canoe were established to maintain the continuity of the trackway system, which can well be regarded as the forerunner of present-day road communications.

The Explorers

The area now embraced within the ACT remained unknown and undiscovered by the new settlers in Sydney, from 26 January, 1788 to the year 1820. Within that short period of 32 years, explorers had found a way across the rugged Blue Mountains and had “seen the plains beyond” to the west, suitable for grazing.1

It was not surprising that the land in the southern high country held a great deal of interest for the colonial settlers of the time, not only as an extension and opening up of grazing lands, but also as an alternative environment to the hotter, less comfortable conditions of the newly discovered western plains. In Bong Bong, near Mittagong, a young doctor-turned-grazier, Charles Throsby, was exercising a restless and enquiring mind towards exploration of the country south of the Goulburn Plains. He had previously been with Hamilton Hume, and in 1818 at Governor Macquarie’s request, had made an overland journey of discovery to Jervis Bay.2

Aboriginal trackways







Fig. 1.1: Aboriginal trackways in the Australian continent.
Diagram F.D. McCarthy ‘Trade in Aboriginal Australia’.


Again at the Governor’s request, Throsby undertook the task of constructing a “road” from Moss Vale through to Goulburn. In a letter to Macquarie dated 1 September 1819, he set out requirements for 12 men, a cart, tools and rations, and an aboriginal guide.3 The request was granted and, most significantly, approval was also given to employ an overseer at an annual salary of £20 while employed. The appointed overseer was Joseph Wild, a former servant of Throsby’s who had come to understand the Aborigines’ ways and could converse with them. “He was to be the mainstay of several other expeditions.”4








Fig. 1.2: Probable pattern of some aboriginal tr2ckways
and resource areas in the A CT. Photo: Author.



During the construction of the Goulburn ‘road’, or cleared track, Wild repeated to Charles Throsby a story by the Aboriginal guide, of a large sheet of water to the south, and of a great river flowing to the west.5









Fig. 1.3: Early painting of Canberra gives an idea of the
almost treeless Limestone Plains traversed by the
early explorers. Photo — National Library of Australia.


With the approaching completion of the Goulburn ‘track’, Throsby sent Wild and two other men to investigate, and on 19 August 1820, Wild discovered Lake Wee- re-waa (now Lake George) and travelled southward on the eastern shore through excellent grazing land, camping on the third night at the end of the lake not far from the present site of Bungendore.6

On the following day, Wild set out on his own to spy out the land ahead, and climbed a sizeable hill (Turalla). Nearby hills obscured much of the view ahead, but above them in the distance, Wild saw some snow covered mountains. From the lie of the intervening land, it is clear he was looking at some eastern slopes of the Brindabella Range, and thus he became the first explorer to look on land within the ACT. The date was 22 August 1820.7

Charles Throsby, well pleased with the verification of part of the Aborigine’s story, reported to Governor Macquarie and induced him to travel to the newly discovered lake and grazing lands.8 The Governor in his carriage travelled with Charles Throsby and others to Lake Bathurst,9 probably along a route partly coincident with the present Tarago road. At this point on 24 October 1820, while the Governor rested before slowly continuing on to the southern end of the lake, Throsby with two companions rushed ahead in an endeavour to find the ‘great west river’.10 They reached the hills possibly near Mt. Cohen, Throsby thereby probably becoming the first to set foot on ACT soil; but the ‘west river’ eluded the party.11 Throsby discovered the upper Yass River on his return journey.

Four subsequent exploration journeys within the next four years clarified the questions of access into the Canberra area, the pattern of the river systems, and of the availability of grazing and farming land. The first of these, requested by the Governor following his visit to the lake he had renamed Lake George, was undertaken by Throsby’s nephew Charles Throsby Smith in December 1820, Joseph Wild being in the party.12 Starting from a camp near Bungendore, they journeyed westward to the Yass River near Gundaroo. They then moved southward along the river, probably on a trackway towards Sutton, and entering the Majura Valley, camped near the present ‘Duntroon’ on the river they discovered, the Molonglo.13 After climbing what was believed to be Black Mountain and deciding that the Aborigine’s ‘great river’ was a myth, Smith and Wild returned upstream on the Molonglo, discovering the Queanbeyan River on 8 December, 1820.14 The party then returned to Lake George through the Molonglo Plains, the rapidity of their return journey suggesting that they must have followed aboriginal trackways through some quite difficult country.

Smith’s report to his uncle that the ‘great west river’ did not exist, led to a quarrel. But the expedition had nevertheless been useful, not only in the discovery of the Molonglo and Queanbeyan rivers, but also in finding river flats of ‘fine rich soil’ and practicable access routes into the new country.”15

Charles Throsby, rejecting Smith’s conclusions concerning the great westward flowing river, set out in March 1821 to seek again this ‘great river’. After leaving Lake George he moved along the eastern side of the Molonglo Plains and then struck westward to the upper Molonglo River, probably near the eleven mile post on the present Captains Flat Road.16 A difficult journey then led to the junction with the Queanbeyan River, from which point he continued along the Molonglo through the Limestone Plains. In his subsequent letter to the Governor, he referred to ‘rich meadow land’ bordering the river.17 Passing under the shadow of Black Mountain, Throsby turned off the river probably at Yarralumla Creek, and took a ‘south east’ direction through the present Woden Valley. His path along the valley appears broadly to have coincided with the present Yarra Glen and Athllon Drive routes, leading him to the low saddle between the Woden and Tuggeranong Valleys.18 From that point, he would have recognised from the configuration of the land ahead that he was close to his objective and success. One can thus see him with lightened step passing through the present Wanniassa area and reaching the ‘Morumbidgee’ River near Pine Island, exultant at the culmination of his dedicated search. He had confounded quite a few sceptics; more importantly, he had demonstrated the reliability of aboriginal information on matters topographical.

On the return journey, his enquiring mind led him downstream along the Molonglo River sufficiently far to indicate that it would join the Murrumbidgee.19 His return journey probably followed broadly the route through the Gundaroo area and along the Yass River, thence to Lake George, traversed by his nephew Charles Throsby Smith. This, his most successful exploration, rounded off a major contribution to the heritage of the ACT, while at the same time opening up the way for early settlement.

On 10 May 1821 Throsby despatched to Governor Macquarie a letter setting out the details and results of his journey to the Murrumbidgee. A letter to one of his friends in Sydney was published in the Australian Magazine of June 1821. In almost valedictory terms he wrote ‘I admit the great extent of country through which the rivers appear to run, places it far beyond my power to determine their termination; yet I still hope they will be ultimately found to communicate with the sea, but most certainly not on the Eastern Coast.’20

Two further journeys into the ACT area were made before its settlement began. The first journey began on 22 May 1823, when Captain Mark Currie and Major Ovens set out from Bong Bong. With them were ‘Joseph Wild, a constable of the district of Argyle, well known as a bushman on similar excursions’, and one Aboriginal.21 Their route followed the eastern side of Lake George and the Molonglo Plains, turning sharply westward along the Molonglo River. The party crossed the river probably at Burbong and reached the Queanbeyan River, where they camped on 1 June. They turned south and taking a route or track which probably largely coincided with the present Monaro Highway, reached the present Isabella Plains and later, the Bredbo River which they believed to be theMurrumbidgee.22 They made a short reconnaissance further into the new country called by natives ‘Monaroo’, and then returned through the Queanbeyan River’s junction with the Molonglo. Next day they set out on a north-easterly course and reached Lake George, arriving back in Bong Bong on l4 June, 1823.23

The second exploration party, led by botanist Allan Cunningham, followed Currie’s track through the Molonglo Plains but continued on past the ‘Carwoola’ country, possibly along part of the present Captains Flat Road. The party turned westward to cross the Queanbeyan River and camped by the Murrumbidgee near Mt. Tennant on the 15 April, 1824.24 From this point they travelled downstream to Pine Island and then struck off northward on a course probably paralleling Charles Throsby’s, but deviating into the Weston Creek valley, and probably traversing the general direction of the present Namatjira and Streeton Drives. On reaching the Molonglo River, Cunningham’s party turned eastward upstream to Black Mountain, from which they travelled up Sullivans Creek to the vicinity of Northbourne Avenue and then took a northerly route towards Gundaroo.


 Surveyors at work in 1865






Fig. 1.4: Surveyors at work in 1865, using “metric” chain unit of 66 feet divided into 100 “links”. Photo: Dept. of Main Roads, NSW.


The four-year period of pioneering exploration and new discovery thus ended with a scientific botanical examination of the new lands. In that period, valuable farming and grazing lands had been discovered and practicable access routes which had been traversed, removed the last obstacle to the southern extension of settlement. In perspective, the progress made was in essence related to the long-term vision of Governor Macquarie and his encouragement of exploration, road construction and building works.

Colonial Roads

The important trigonometrical survey of the ‘Nineteen Counties’ of the Colony and particularly of the topographical features and the existing roads, was completed and set out on a map drawn by Mitchell in 1834.25 It is presently reproduced by the NSW Central Mapping Authority and noted as ‘still considered accurate by today’s standards’. The scale of the map was determined by the limited size of ship’s copper available in Sydney for engraving the map.26

Mitchell displayed his superb draftsmanship on this map, which he considered his own personal responsibility and for which he received a knighthood.27 The base line for his survey, laid out to the north of Lake George, facilitated the subsequent co-ordination of surveys in the County of Murray.28

The ‘Nineteen Counties’ map shows the location and pattern of the access tracks converging on the Limestone Plains and on Bungendore. North of Bungendore the track to Goulburn passes through Currandooly and along the eastern shore of Lake George. A track easterly from Currandooly leads to Lake Bathurst and connects there to the road to Bungonia and the ‘old Great South Road’.29

From Bungendore a track is shown bearing south-westerly through the present Kowen forest area to the Limestone Plains. Southerly from Bungendore, a track leads through the Molonglo Plains to the Molonglo River ford near Balcomb Hill, at the present ‘eleven mile’ post on the Captains Flat Road. The track then takes a quite direct line to a ford on the Queanbeyan River, passing near the present golf course.30 A track is shown passing through the Limestone Plains southerly to the ‘Miccaligo’ Plains and thence to the ‘Monaroo’ beyond the ‘Nineteen Counties’.

The tracks in and through the present ACT area, and indeed the roads generally, shown on Mitchell’s map, might be regarded as primitive, but it would be well to relate them to the then existing condition of the British road system. In 1810 ‘there was not one continuous piece of road designed to connect any two important terminals — a thing which had not existed since the breakdown of Roman government in the 5th century’.31 Telford of great engineering fame completed the first such road in England, from London to Holyhead, in the year 1830.32

The focus of tracks in the ACT area gradually became identified with the junction of the Molonglo and Queanbeyan Rivers. All the land purchases were located on the western side of the Queanbeyan River thus involving a river crossing on the journey to Sydney. That route was noted on the village plan at the end of Mouatt Street, and present day directories still refer to ‘the old Sydney Road’.33 By 1839 another track from Bungendore across the Burbong ford on the Molonglo River and down the ‘Big Hill’ into Queanbeyan, was coming into some use, as was a route southerly from the ‘eleven mile crossing’ through London Bridge to Michelago as the Monaro’s ‘old Sydney Road.’34 Also important to the district were the road to Gundaroo and Gunning, and the track to Yass which also gave access to Duntroon, to Ginninderra and Gungahlin.

Within the district were several old tracks. Settlement in the Isabella Plains-Tuggeranong Valley first gained access by a ‘Lanyon road’, which turned off the Cooma-Monaro track near Rose Cottage and, skirting Simpsons Hill, crossed the Tuggeranong Creek about two hundred yards below the Tuggeranong homestead and climbed the ridge to make a track now coinciding with the Tharwa Road. The Lanyon homestead thus had access some years before the establishment of Queanbeyan.35 The track extended beyond Tharwa up into Top Naas and to Gudgenby and then later into the Boboyan country, having crossed the Murrumbidgee at the Tharwa ford. It is recorded that 14-year-old Archibald Crawford traversed this Boboyan track in 1847 in taking the family wool to Sydney in a bullock wagon.36

Another early internal track was named and is still named in Queanbeyan, the Uriarra Road. It broadly paralleled the Molonglo to a point near Kingston, and then turned west to intersect with the ‘Narrabunda Road’ to Scott’s Ford,37 but importantly, it also continued down the Molonglo River country to the ford over the Murrumbidgee River at Uriarra. On the west side of that river, settlers had a track towards Yass, while to the south west was a track, probably an Aboriginal trackway to the top of the Brindabellas for the annual Moth Hunt. It later was also a route for some of the gold seekers of the 1860s moving into the Goodradigbee valley and on to Kiandra.38

One track shown on early maps as running almost in a straight line from Bungendore to a ford on the Molonglo near the Oaks Estate has almost entirely disappeared. Shown by both White and Dixon in the 1830s, Dixon’s 1837 plan shows a development from White’s, in that the track, on nearing the river, bifurcated, the western limb proceeding westward and crossing the river at what was to be known as the Dairy Flat Ford. Another track, from the site of Queanbeyan to Burra Creek was not shown on the 1837 Dixon map, but appeared on Surveyor Larmer’s map of ‘The Township of Queanbeyan’ in 1838. This could reflect the rapidity of the growth of settlement in the Queanbeyan River and Burra Creek valleys during the 1830s.39

The best illustration of the growth of unsurveyed, unofficial tracks would probably be ‘A Map of the County of Murray’, Sheet No. 18 of Baker’s Australian Atlas, which was dedicated to Sir Thomas Mitchell and probably was prepared early in the 1840s. It was drawn in colour to define the boundaries of Parishes and Police Districts in the County.40

The increasing volume of movement of all kinds on the ‘roads’ of the County can be better understood by reference to both human and animal populations. The census of 1828 indicated a population in the Limestone-Queanbeyan area of about 126 in numbers, including 73 convicts serving out their terms as assigned servants.41 Only 5 of the 126 men had arrived in the NSW colony as free immigrants. By the year 1835, it was stated that one third of the whole NSW colony’s sheep and cattle grazed on the country between Lake Bathurst and the Monaro. 42 Bullock teams were the main form of bulk transport for the wool and other products of this grazing industry, and in the length and breadth of the Murray County these teams were causing damage to the primitive tracks, far beyond that from domestic travel by cart or carriage.









Fig. 1.5: Corduroy, laid over swampy ground or water courses. Photo: Dept. of Main Roads, NSW.


The market for wool was Sydney, the main routes taken being generally through Queanbeyan to Bungendore and Bungonia, or through Gundaroo and Goulburn. A traveller in 1838, writing on the southward journey from Sydney said, ‘beyond Berrima, the road was unsafe for wheeled vehicles other than the drays which bullock teams drew at slow walking pace’.42a Another writer stated, ‘nothing but bush track with no bridges over water courses’.42b

Improvement in communications came in 1840 with the inauguration of a fast mail coach service between Goulburn and Sydney, running throughout a night and two days.43 Thirty years later, the section of the Yass road between ‘Duntroon,’ and Queanbeyan was so deplorable in wet weather that the road in use was half a mile wide, and every two or three days a fresh track had to be taken.44

Gold was found in 1852 in the Gundaroo area and in 1859 at Kiandra.45 The 200 mile journey between Kiandra and Goulburn provided a rich harvest for the bushrangers of the day 46

Roads and tracks to the various mining centres were primitive and in most cases only foot and bridle tracks were in use. There were several tracks from the Limestone Plains to Kiandra, including one through Tharwa up by the Gudgenby to Shannons Flat, one over Murrays Gap, and a track through Uriarra to the Brindabellas and into the Goodradigbee valley.47

The effects of the gold rushes on the Limestone Plains-Queanbeyan district were similar to those in other parts of the country. Labourers and station hands were unobtainable,48 and such mundane tasks as road reconstruction and maintenance could not be effectively carried out. The inevitable result was a serious deterioration in the state of most ‘roads’ and tracks, and there were innumerable instances of virtually impossible travel conditions.

Portents for an improvement in road conditions at the time were dimmed by the expansion of the railway system which began with the opening of the line from Sydney to Parramatta in 1855, although some 30 years would elapse before rail transport was available to the Queanbeyan district .49

In summing up the period ‘after the explorers’, it can reasonably be said that the heritage of roads and bridges in that non-engineering period lay, not in any physical improvements or scientific techniques, but more in the spirit of the pioneers who, aided by pragmatic ingenuity, courageously and sometimes rebelliously endured the hardships, dangers and discomforts of travel on what were ‘roads’ in name only.

Early Engineered Roads

In March 1865 Mr W.C. Bennett, Engineer-in-Chief for Roads, gave to the NSW Parliament a ‘Report of the State of the Roads in the Colony of New South Wales'50 outlining his aims in tackling the State’s road problems: 
(i) Removal of all complete interruptions to traffic, particularly to mail transit, by bridging the rivers and creeks.
(ii) The improvement of the most difficult mountain passes and swamps.
(iii) The final determination of the direction of the roads, followed by drainage and culverting where most required.
(iv) The forming and metalling of roads over which most traffic passed, commencing first at railways terminals.
(v) The connection of all the isolated pieces of metalling to make the roads continuous.


A Cobb &





Fig. 1.6: A Cobb & Co. coach with a common problem. Photo: Department of Main Roads, NSW.



Bennett also introduced in his report a table showing the ‘cost and time’ benefits of road improvement works.51

A change in orientation of road haulage and general traffic in the district commenced when the railway, which had reached Goulburn in 1869, was extended and by 1875 was at Gunning.52 Advantage of the new facility was soon taken, as the distance for bullock dray haulage of wool from the district was more than halved. The Sutton and Gundaroo roads almost immediately were carrying greatly increased numbers of vehicles, both heavy and light, with increasing discomfort and delays. The natural surface, in many places just sheer bog, was incapable of carrying the loads imposed upon it.53

In 1879, the building by the Public Works Department of a timber bridge over the Yass River near Gundaroo 54 was followed in the same year by the calling of tenders for the ‘construction’ of the road through Gundaroo to Queanbeyan. This was probably the first road in the district to be built to specified requirements. Many sorrowing travellers in later years found that even those specifications were inadequate.

The Bungendore to Queanbeyan road, reduced in importance by the increased use of the Gundaroo road after 1875, came back into its own as the main entry to the Queanbeyan area when a southerly extension of the railway from Goulburn reached Bungendore in 1885.55 The road through Bungendore was to continue as the favoured route to the ACT area for another 45 years. The railway reached Queanbeyan in 1887 and was officially opened by the Minister for Works on 8 September.56 The immediate effect was most materially to reduce the travel time to Sydney, and at the same time to relieve much of the road system, of the heavy and damaging loads carried on steel-tyred bullock wagons.

Bridge construction from 1855 to 1907

From every point of view — engineering, safety, social amenity and engineering heritage — the bridges built between 1855 and 1907 were the most exciting developments in the field of public works. The early roads and tracks interrupted by streams and rivers were always headed towards the natural fords in the streams, which were never comfortable and seldom safe.57 In a country where flash floods occur with little warning, and where prolonged rains would submerge the fords for long periods, those who became impatient at delay, who misjudged the velocity and depth of the water, or who were somewhat less than sober, lost their lives in attempting to cross.58

Public pressure to build a bridge over the Queanbeyan River at Queanbeyan led to Government grants of three hundred pounds and then of a further seven hundred pounds.59 A superintendent architect appointed by the Colonial Architect arrived in Queanbeyan in March 1857 and a site on the line of Monaro Street was rapidly determined.60 Equally rapid was the preparation of a design, for by June 1857 bridgeworks began.61

The design was unusual. It provided for three timber trusses of 76 feet span and two of 57 feet span, each apparently designed as a ‘bowstring’ arch. The piers seem to have been mainly set or ‘lewised’ into bedrock, but some were of driven piles. The roadway width of 20 feet was generous for the times; the total length of the bridge, 342 feet.62

The estimated cost of £7,000 for the bridge compares with the final actual cost of £6,300, a most singular phenomenon.63 The bridge was said ‘to surpass any bridge as yet constructed in the Colony.’

Unhappily, this first bridge in the district did not live up to the public praise given to its design and apparent graceful form. In January 1861, two and a half years after the opening, a sudden flood came down the Queanbeyan River. The ‘Queens Bridge’ was damaged and was ‘sinking at one end’.64 In May 1862 tenders were called to repair it, but in 1865 it was reported as being ‘in a worn and dangerous state’.65 By 1873 the Queens Bridge was described as being ‘in a more or less dangerous state for the past three or four years on account of the vicious plan on which it was constructed. The Government plans to erect a new superstructure on the existing piers’.66 Contractors for the new work commenced in May 1873, and the bridge was re-opened on 17 September 1874.67 The combination of an unproven design, and the urge to make savings on the construction cost, probably has a major heritage message.



 Early road making methods





Fig. 1.7: Early road making methods. Photo: Dept. of Main Roads, NSW.




Cobb &






Fig. 1.8: Cobb & Co. coach crossing a flooded river. Photo: National Library of Australia.





Accident on Clyde Mountain






Fig. 1.9: Accident on Clyde Mountain c. 1903. Photo: National Library of Australia.





Bogged in Mulga








Fig. 1.10: Bogged in Mulga. Photo by Charles Kerry, National Library of Australia.






Coach bogged at night






Fig. 1.11. Coach bogged at night. Reproduced from the ‘Australasian Sketcher’. Photo: National Library of Australia.





There was a sequel to the Queen’s Bridge episode. On 29 May 1873, tenders were about to be called for a bridge to be constructed over the Molonglo River at Burbong, the site being a rocky point about 500 yards below the existing ford.68 On 7 April, 1875 it was reported, ‘this new structure is now complete, beyond the attachment of some hand- railing on the northern end, the ‘flooring’ having been finished on Monday. In design it exactly resembles the Queanbeyan bridge, the piles and superstructure being both on the same principles’.69

At the subsequent formal opening ceremony, some 200 people assembled, together with appropriate refreshments. Unfortunately, the band from Queanbeyan did not play, as the bandmaster went on strike at the last moment. More fortunate was the naming of the bridge the ‘de Salis Bridge’, in a tribute to the local Parliamentary representative. However his bridge lasted only about 20 years before it was ‘declared unsafe for traffic and those who use it do so at their own peril’.70

The period 1855 to 1907 could well be named as the ‘time of the bridge builders’. The acceleration in bridge building towards the end of the period was not entirely unrelated to the activities of the local Member of Parliament E.W. O’Sullivan, who served for a time as Minister for Public Works. He won 9 elections, and was said to be responsible for the building of 67 bridges.71

The construction of the de Salis Bridge in 1875 was followed by the inclusion in the 1875 Parliamentary estimates of a sum of £2,000 for a bridge over the Molonglo River about a mile from Queanbeyan on the Gunning (Sutton) Road. A contract was let in 1876 and in September 1877 the bridge was formally opened and christened the ‘Robertson Bridge’. The length was 226 feet, and the roadway width 16 feet.72

This bridge provided access not only to Gunning, but also to the north-side settlements such as Duntroon, Ginninderra and Gungahlin, and thence to the established road to Yass. Its opening gave added incentive at that time to the use of Gunning as the principal railhead for despatch of wool to Sydney.73

Like its predecessors, the Robertson Bridge failed to take account of the scale of floods in the river system. On 16 July, 1891 it was reported ‘traffic over the bridge is entirely suspended because of damage done in the floods. It is difficult for farmers in the Ginninderra district to get their produce to Queanbeyan, as the crossing in the river is so deep that it is only possible to cross when the river is very low’.74 As with the Queen’s Bridge and de Salis Bridge, the three crossings were ‘back to Nature’.

Next in the sequence of timber bridges, a bridge over the Yass River at Gundaroo removed the last obstacle to all-weather access from the Limestone Plains-Queanbeyan area to Gunning and the railway. A report dated 12 March 1879 covering the opening ceremony stated the bridge would be named ‘Gundaroo Bridge’.75 It spanned the Yass River a short distance upstream of the old ford crossing. This time there was a band present, there was no strike and music filled the air.

Two small creek crossings which impeded safe travel between the ‘Canberry’ and Duntroon areas, and Queanbeyan, were bridged in 1893. Mill Creek, now Jerrabomberra Creek, on the old track to Queanbeyan, had been the scene of several drownings.76 The new bridge had stone abutments on which ‘iron’ girders were laid and then decked with timber. It might have been the first steel girder span built in the County.

The second small bridge also gave a significant improvement in safety, the location having a record of flood tragedy. Woolshed Creek, on the Yass-Duntroon-Queanbeyan road, had been crossed at a ford for almost 70 years, prior to completion of the bridge in 1893.77

To the south, early routes to Lanyon and Tharwa across the boggy Isabella Plains became extremely difficult for heavy haulage, especially for the wool teams. In 1874 an alternative route across Tuggeranong Creek at Brennan’s Flat came into use with the building of a timber beam bridge over the creek. It was reported in February 1874 to be ‘completed and a very good piece of workmanship’.78 Further south, on the road to Cooma, a bridge had been constructed just north of Micalago over a difficult gully. The timbers, some girders being over 40 feet, ‘had to be carted 40 miles from over the Tinderry Mountains’.79

A high point in the construction of fine, scientifically designed, timber bridges came with the building of the Tharwa bridge in 1895.80 All the bridges previously built fade into the background in comparison with the task of bridging the Murrumbidgee River.81 In prehistoric times, the Aboriginals ferried their families across deep waters of the river in canoes made of bark ‘hammered out’ from trees along the river banks. Following that prehistoric example, a punt was in use by the year 1858 to cross the Murrumbidgee near Lanyon in times of flood.82 The punt was also in some use for ferrying wool, 2 bales at a time, on the way to the Sydney road and the wool market.83

The first Queen






Fig. 1.12: The first Queen’s Bridge, Queanbeyan, opened 15 August 1858. Photo: National Library of Australia. Sketch
from ‘Illustrated Sydney News’, Nov. 1866.



Fortunately for the settlers so frequently isolated on the west bank, community pressure to bridge the river was at a high level at the time when their local Member of Parliament was being groomed as the Minister for Public Works.84 So the work was authorised and the Public Works Department commenced the design of the bridge.

The site selected was adjacent to the ford near the Tharwa settlement and required a total length of bridge of about 600 feet.85 In final detail, the four central timber trusses of ‘Allan-Howe’ type, each of 90 feet span, were flanked on the east by one 30’ and three 35’ timber beam spans, and on the west by one 30’ and two 35’ timber beam spans. Width between kerbs was 15 feet. The super-structure, with a clearance above low water level of about 40 feet, rested on well braced timber piers with long timber piles driven about 20 feet into bouldery gravel.86

The size of timbers in the trusses can be illustrated by a few dimensions: cross beams 15” x 10”, top truss members double 14” x 61/2”, braces 8” x 8” and lower chord members, double 12” X 5”.

Tenders for the bridge closed in March 1894, the lowest, of Christopher McClure, being in the sum of £4469. 14.10.87

The commencement of construction was delayed by the very bad state of the roads leading to the site. The heavy ironbark piles, girders and other timber members, procured from the North Coast forests were despatched with the ironwork by rail to the railway siding of ‘Tuggeranong’, the line having reached Micalago in 1887.88 From the siding the shocking condition of the ‘road’ through the Isabella Plains resulted in delays in delivery on site amounting to several weeks.89

Weather conditions and low river flows favoured the builders of the Tharwa bridge, and the work was completed well within the contract time.90 The opening ceremony took place on 27 March, 1895, a day which was declared a public holiday. With a succession of carriages carrying the ‘Very Important People’, among them the redoubtable Mr E.W. O’Sullivan, and with 1,500 other people present, the success of the day was assured. With the cutting of the ribbon by the oldest local resident, the outpouring of a bottle of champagne over the decking, and the necessary speeches and bestowal of the name ‘Tharwa Bridge’, the Queanbeyan band played, there were family picnics and a dance at night.91 But the celebrations were but the backdrop to the presence of the great ‘Bridge’ and the end of isolation. It created a heritage of its own.

A new Burbong bridge was next in line for construction, replacing the poorly designed de Salis bridge which in 1896 was declared unsafe.92 The design was largely derived from that of the Tharwa bridge, the one central ‘Howe’ truss 90 feet long being identical with the Tharwa trusses. The width of 15 feet between kerbs was also the same. On each side of the truss three timber beam spans of 30 feet gave an overall length of 270 feet.

 Timber from NSW North Coast






fig. 1.13: Timber from NSW North Coast was used extensively in bridge construction in the Canberra region. Photo:
Dept. of Main Roads, NSW.




The superstructure rested on braced pile driven piers, and the dimensions of all timbers on truss and approach spans were similar to the Tharwa prototype.93 The contractor for the construction of the bridge in August 1897 engaged a special train to convey his material from Goulburn to Burbong, and work was stated to have then started immediately.94 The bridge was opened in the following year.

The last of the major bridges of the 19th century was the replacement of the ill-fated Queens Bridge at Queanbeyan. The third attempt to provide a crossing of the turbulent Queanbeyan River was successful and not surprising, with the skill, experience and tradition built up by the Public Works Department in some 40 years of bridge building. The design provided for three “composite” type truss spans, the vertical members and lower chords of which, being in tension, were in steel.95 The 90 foot truss spans were flanked at each end by a single 30 foot timber beam span, the superstructure resting on four concrete piers and two concrete abutments. The width between kerbs was 20 feet.

Tenders for the construction of the bridge were opened in July 1898,96 and in December of that year the contractor was reported to be making good progress. On 24 March, 1900 the bridge was opened.97

Settlers in the area around Uriarra had a very long standing campaign to have a bridge across the Murrumbidgee River, and in 1901 they achieved their objective.98 A low level bridge on concrete piers was designed by the Public Works Department, and on 5 October 1901 the Minister for Works, the Hon. E.W. O’Sullivan, welcomed by about 500 residents, duly opened the bridge.99 Five spans totaling in length 259 feet extended from bank to bank, the deck being about 8 feet above the summer level of the river. The bridge opened up access not only to Uriarra Station and other holdings, but also gave continuity to a vehicular road leading to Yass.

In summary, this period from 1855 to 1907 brought many benefits to settlers and communities isolated or endangered by flood swollen streams, through a significant programme of bridgeworks. Funds for roads were however, very limited, particularly throughout the financial depression of the 1890s,100 and travel continued on most roads to be slow, and haulage deadly slow. Coach travel, fast and committed to mail delivery at nominated times, often became hazardous. A gripping description of such travel in 1870 serves to portray the situation:

“The coach starts ... with the passengers and mails over a road on which travelling in the daytime is wretched enough, but in the night is excruciating. The road has received very little attention in the way of making from anybody, and is just what a track over stony ground, cut up for a score of years, would be. For twenty or thirty miles it consists of sand and rocks intermingled, over which the coach is driven as fast as the horses can drag it. The result is a continuous series of jolts, which must be felt to be appreciated, and which in weak persons would likely cause internal injuries. During this period of suffering, if the wind follows the coach, there is a constant atmosphere of dust. The driver has shortcuts and paths of his own through the forest, and the passenger on the box seat is constantly engaged in a mental calculation of the odds in favour of running foul of innumberable stumps which he sees flying past, or dashing headlong against the trees through which he can see no road until in the midst of them. The leader of the team however, follows the twists and turns of the bush road with amazing accuracy and though we graze the very bark of the trees, still on we go, frequently at full gallop, and the driver is quite unconscious of doing anything wonderful”.101

Murrumbidgee River






Fig. 1. 14: Murrumbidgee River at Tharwa as bridge construction gets under way in 1894. Photo:


Motor Transport

At the end of the 19th century, many wise men worldwide were giving much thought to roads and travel and means of travel. It was in 1901 that H.G. Wells in his prophetic Anticipations, wrote about ‘land locomotion’ in the 20th century, of ‘explosive engines’ using a portable substance, the decomposition of which would evolve energy about numerous experimental motors — about privately owned ‘motor carriages’.102 Also about the roads they would use — “probably made of a good asphalt sloped to drain, and used only by soft tyred conveyances, the perpetual filth of horse traffic and the clumsy wheels of laden carts will never wear them. Their traffic in opposite directions will be strictly separated — where their ways branch, the streams of traffic will not cross at a level, but by bridges.103

This challenging transitional period from 1855 to 1907 saw a move forward into self government with demonstrably a general benefit to the people of the district. There was an increase in scientific knowledge and a more scientific approach to engineering endeavour exceeding past performances and achievements. At the end, on 1 January, 1907, local government was extended to virtually the whole of the State of New South Wales with application specifically and relevantly to the district then centred on Queanbeyan.104 `

 The Tharwa Bridge






Fig. 1. 15: The Tharwa Bridge as first completed with timber trestles. Photo: Institution of Engineers collection.

The ACT Established

Following abandonment of Dalgety, the definition of the present area for the national capital was resolved, and in 1910 formal handover of NSW land was completed. Yarralumla Shire became but a fragment of its original size.

The Federal Capital Territory in 1910 thus inherited its roads from the Yarrowlumla Shire Council105 and the urban section of these roads appeared on Scrivener’s early plans.106 Only limited funds were made available for the maintenance of those roads and some poor conditions were apparent, particularly on the rural roads of the Territory. This was hardly surprising as, pending the implementing of a city plan, commitments on the existing roads were avoided. However, by 1913, work was proceeding to establish important ‘headworks’ for the engineering services for the future city, including water supply and sewerage, an electricity power house and a railway line from the existing system at Queanbeyan, while a survey by Charles Robert Scrivener, Director of Lands and Surveys, demonstrated the feasibility of a satisfactory route for a railway connection to Jervis Bay.107

Walter Burley Griffin’s tribulations, following his award of first prize in the international competition, began before he came to Canberra, and many of the criticisms related to roads and the planning of the road system. The Minister of the day, the Honourable King O’Malley, on 27 June 1912, referred Griffin’s design and the other premiated designs to a departmental board of experts for report.108 On 25 November, 1912 the board reported that it was unable to recommend any of the designs, and submitted for approval a design of its own.109 On 10 January, 1913 King O’Malley formally approved the board’s plan and instructed that work be commenced immediately. On 12 March 1913, when the name ‘Canberra’ was bestowed on the city, it was being constructed in accordance with the board’s plan.110







Fig. 1.16: Burbong Bridge over the Molonglo River on the road to Bungendore. The bridge was opened in 1898. The
central truss was identical with the Tharwa trusses. Photo by author showing steel girders which replaced
original timbers, and concrete piers replacing timber piles.


The Uriarra low level






Fig. 1.17: The Uriarra low level bridge over the Murrumbidgee River. The opening ceremony shown in the photograph
took place on 5 Oct., 1901. Photo: National Library of Australia (John Gale and Mrs Falleck collection).

There came a change of Government, and of Ministers, and for the first time, Burley Griffin was invited to visit Canberra. Subsequently, the departmental board was disbanded and Griffin was appointed Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction.111 It is not apparent that the members of the departmental board ever forgave Griffin for winning ‘the battle of the plans’.

On 13 October 1913, Griffin, in response to a request from the Minister, the Hon. W.H. Kelly, presented a ‘Report Explanatory’, a key to the whole Griffin plan.112 In addition, Griffin submitted a revised ‘Preliminary Plan’ and in the covering letter stated, very appropriately, “it must be understood that the original design was in the nature of preliminary study. This (present) stage of the work consists solely in the direction of determining the main lines diagramatically on the basis of a general system of organization, generalities necessarily preceding particulars".113

Full authority to implement Griffin’s plan did not eventuate, and the onset of the 1914—18 war restricted funding.114 However, bridge progress continued at a low tempo, and in 1916, the first bridge over the Molonglo River, on Commonwealth Avenue, was completed. It was a six-span timber beam bridge on driven timber piles, built well below flood level and quite inadequately designed to withstand submergence. There were only four piles per pier, and only three of the five piers used the outer piles as rakers. The bridge survived about five years.115

In 1916 a Royal Commission was set up to examine various aspects of the Capital’s development, and in its report stated that Griffin had been faced with Departmental obstruction.116 The Minister formally approved the Griffin design and confirmed Griffin’s role in charge of all the work in connection with the National Capital.

Charles Robert Scrivener









Fig.1.18: Charles Robert Scrivener: ‘Contour map of the
site of the City of Canberra’ showing the existing
roads and road names. Photo: Copy of map
in Division of National Mapping.

The Griffin Roads

It is not surprising that Griffin proceeded forthwith and with increased vigour to establish his design on the ground, and this required a concentration of effort on road location, survey and road construction. He was asked by the Chief Surveyor, in this connection, ‘to supply a section of your various classes of streets’, to enable the Commonwealth surveyors to establish permanent reference marks in suitable positions in the streets.117 In his reply on 17 March, 1917, Griffin forwarded a schedule of ‘Type Cross Sections’:

Commonwealth and Federal (Kings) Avenues
Park and pathway 2 x 50’. Roadways 2 x 30’. Park and
tramway 40’.
Adelaide Avenue, Northbourne Avenue, etc
Park and pathway 2 x 20’. Roadways 2 x 30’. Park and
tramway 100’.
Business Highways
Park and parking 2 x 20’. Roadways 2 x 20’. Park and
tramway 20’.
Residence Highways
Individual parking 2 x 25’. Park and pathway 2 x 10’. Road-
way 30’ and park and tramway 30’.118

Griffin’s proposals for land use would have placed commercial buildings in ribbon form along some main roads, and fortunately were later abandoned. The dominant weakness in the Griffin plan however, was not in the area of National Capital design, of which it was later stated, in 1955, ‘nearly half a century of planning experience can add nothing to its quality’.119 The weakness lay in the supplementary planning outlines for the residential areas, where ‘the geometric formality of the central idea, when extended to the residential suburbs becomes absurdly extravagant’.120

The results of Griffin’s efforts to establish his plan on the ground were clearly visible by the year 1920. Commonwealth and Adelaide Avenues were constructed in preliminary fashion and became recognisable as part of the plan; so also were the short sections of Canberra Valley Avenue (Northbourne Avenue), Eastlake and Interlake Avenues (Canberra and Wentworth Avenues), Eastview Avenue (Sturt Avenue), City Circuit (London Circuit), sections of National Circuit, roads for the suburb of Braddon, Ainslie Avenue, a road to Acton and earthworks for a West Basin Boulevard on the north shore of the future Lake.

Griffin’s departure from the Canberra scene was the inevitable corollary to a decision by the Minister for Home Affairs, Sir Littleton Groom in 1920 to establish a “Federal Capital Advisory Committee”, to advise the Government on the construction of the City.122Griffin, realising that there were to be elements of the old ‘departmental board’ and associates in the Advisory Committee, and believing that his, the approved plan for Canberra, might be prejudiced, declined to accept a position on the Committee.123

The fears which Griffin felt were verified after the termination of his appointment as Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction. Despite the Order in Council of January 1921, which established the Advisory Committee,124 and which specifically required the Committee to operate ‘on the basis of the acceptance of the plan of layout of the Federal City by Mr W.B. Griffin’, one of the first acts of the Committee was to recommend a return to the Departmental Board’s 1912 ‘plan’ of layout.125 The government firmly rejected the recommendation.

Notwithstanding this chastening admonition, it seems that further actions tending to undermine or prejudice the basic principles of the Griffin plan continued for some time. Only months later, in 1921, the Federal Capital Advisory Committee recommended to the Minister that a new bridge should be constructed over the Molonglo River ‘on’ Federal (Kings) Avenue.126 Plans were prepared for a 14 span timber beam bridge, not ‘on’ the Avenue but on a line angled off Federal Avenue and offset from it. It certainly bore no legitimate relationship to the road design for the parliamentary area set out in the approved Griffin plan 127

Crossing the ford






Fig. 1.19: Crossing the ford near the Power House Weir.

Typical of roads






Fig. 1. 20: Typical of roads in the 1920s. Photo: Department of Main Roads, NSW.

Steam engine






Fig. 1.21: Steam engine for gradall and other work.

The first Commonwealth Avenue Bridge





Fig. 1.22: The first Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, completed 1916. Photo: National Library of Australia (Daley

 Early road making





Fig. 1.23: Early road making in Canberra — Keystone steam shovel with horse and dray. Photo: Australian Archives
(Collingridge collection).

Roads constructed








1.24: Roads constructed at 31-12-1920. Date of
resignation of Walter Burley Griffin. Diagram
based on data from Department of the Interior.

 Proposed Bridge on Kings






Fig. 1.25: Proposed Bridge on Kings (Federal) Avenue,
March 1922.

Tenders for the construction of the bridge closed on 10 April, 1922, and on 3 May the contract was awarded to the lowest tenderers, Messrs. Sly and Starling, in the sum of £5, The contractors diligently placed orders for the timbers and other materials and by July 1922 had on site a large amount of their materials and plant, and were about to commence construction.

The Flood 1922

On the 27 July, 1922 heavy flooding of the Molonglo River occurred, and the timber beam bridge on Commonwealth Avenue was floated up and damaged.129 In the flood, the southern approach was breached about 60 feet wide and about 12 feet deep. In reporting to the Minister on these events, the Advisory Committee recommended that a new bridge be built over the Molonglo River on Commonwealth Avenue,130 and that the billabong where the breach in the southern approach road embankment had occurred, should also be bridged. The Committee then recommended that the contract for the Federal Avenue bridge and all the assembled plant and materials, should be transferred, in entirety to the Billabong site.131 Thus the flood saved the Griffin plan from conscious desecration in the important Kings Avenue area of the Parliament place.

The replacement for the damaged bridge on Commonwealth Avenue was to be higher and with longer spans.132 The design incorporated ‘composite’ trusses of the NSW, ‘Leychester’ type, each of the three spans being 106 feet 7 inches in length, resting on concrete piers and abutments. The lower chords were dual 12” x 31/2” rolled steel joists, and the dual vertical tension rods ranged in diameter from 11/2” to 21/2”. The roadway width, between kerbs, was 20 feet, and footways 5 feet wide were provided on each outer side of the bridge, the wind bracing being curved to provide headroom on the footways.133

In March 1923 the tender for the building of the bridge submitted by J.A. Jackson of Chatswood, Sydney, was accepted in the sum of £22,808.134 The foundation work involved mass concrete piers set two feet into a rock which was of uncertain quality. Excavations up to thirty-two feet below river bed level were found to be necessary for the founding of the piers. Otherwise, work appears to have proceeded satisfactorily and by October 1924 the two contractors Sly and Starling on the Billabong bridge, and J.A. Jackson on the Molonglo River bridge, had completed their tasks on the two contiguous sites.135 Commonwealth Avenue was again an uninterrupted access route and was showing some early promise of Walter Burley Griffin’s major boulevard.

There was extensive flood damage in 1922 on other roads in the ACT and it was most evident at creek and river crossings. Washaways on bridge and culvert approaches were numerous, but in addition many structures had to be completely replaced or rebuilt. The old low level bridge over the Molonglo on the Acton road (the Lennox crossing) was seriously damaged and was only temporarily replaced.136 On the Queanbeyan-Tharwa road an old ford on Jerrabomberra Creek was unusable, and a small timber beam bridge was designed for the site. The successful tenderer for the construction was J.A. Jackson, and the bridge was opened for traffic in December 1924.137 The Point Hut crossing on the Murrumbidgee River some distance downstream of Tharwa was washed out and dangerous. A causeway was designed expeditiously and in January 1923 its construction was authorised, the estimated cost being £500.138

Twenty-one years after an auspicious official opening in 1901, the low level Uriarra bridge was left derelict after the 1922 flood in the Murrumbidgee River.139 The concrete piers remained, but the superstructure was destroyed. Crossing of the river was extremely hazardous, and the despair of the settlers so isolated, was evident in a letter of 14 August, 1922 sent to the local Member of Parliament, the Hon. Austin Chapman: ‘We are in great trouble at Uriarra. We have lost our low level bridge. We have no way of getting to Queanbeyan. All we have is an old boat that the late E.W. O’Sullivan gave us when we got the low level bridge. It has been twenty-one years in the wool- shed’.140

Despite many pleas, fourteen years were to elapse before the Uriarra bridge was reconstructed. However, an alternative road to Canberra was quickly surveyed and put to construction, providing a link from the Uriarra Homestead road to the Cotter Road near the Cotter reserve.141 The new road was completed in June 1923, but high level access over the Murrumbidgee was not immediately available because of the damage to the Cottermouth bridge, caused by the same 1922 flood. A ladder had to be used to reach the western end of the deck.142

The Billabong Bridge





Fig. 1.26:The Billabong Bridge on Commonwealth Ave., translated from the Kings Avenue site in 1923. Photo shows a
flood in 1956 under the bridge. Photo: Australian Information Service.

The Second Commonwealth Avenue





Fig. 1.27: The Second Commonwealth Avenue Bridge nearing completion in 1924. Photo: National Library of Australia.

 A bridge similar to the second





Fig. 1.28: A bridge similar to the second Commonwealth Avenue Bridge with its three truss span c. 1924-5. Photo: National Library of Australia.

The first bridge at this location on the Cotter Road over the Murrumbidgee River was a timber 2 span low level structure built probably in 1913.143 It was used for the transport of men, materials and plant required for the construction of the mass concrete Cotter Dam, and was located close to the site of the Cotter pumping station and near the pipe line tunnel under the river. During freshes, which were not infrequent, this low level bridge was under water, and a new high level bridge took its place in 1915.

The location of the new bridge was some 100 yards upstream of the pumping station, and its five spans were supported on tall concrete piers and abutments founded on rock.144 The superstructure consisted of steel plate girders, and the timber deck provided a width between kerbs of only eleven feet, its height above the river bed being about 36 feet. There were two main spans each of 70 feet, the plate girders being 4 feet 6 inches in depth with twelve inch flanges. The eastern shore span and the two western spans were all 48 feet six inches in length, the girders being three feet in depth. The overall length of the bridge was about 288 feet.

The eastern abutment was built against a steep and firm river bank. On the western end of the bridge, an approach embankment was built on the heavy river gravel beach.145

Following the completion in 1915 of the Cotter Dam, with an overshot crest which created a highly interesting spillwater pattern, a very popular tourist attraction was created for Canberra. Most visitors to the city journeyed to the dam and in the process crossed the high, narrow bridge over the Murrumbidgee River.146

Lenox Crossing Bridge





Fig. 1. 29: Lenox Crossing Bridge following the 1925 flood. Photo: National Library of Australia.

Tractor hauling materials







Fig. 1.30: Tractor hauling materials across Cotter Bridge in 1915. Photo: Bert Sheedy.

The 1922 flood put this strategically important bridge out of commission for a considerable period. The piers and superstructure remained intact, but the western approach embankment was breached and washed away.147 As a result, the Cotter dam, the Paddy’s River Road and the new road to Uriarra were isolated, and the familiar stream of tourists was also halted. It was not surprising that design for an increased waterway under the bridge was urgently put in hand. The bridge was to be lengthened by the addition at the western end, of three 70 foot spans similar to the existing central spans, thus providing an eight span bridge approximately 500 feet in length.148

The estimated cost of the new works was £7,000, and construction was authorised on 31 August, 1922. Quotations were sought for the 70 ft. long plate girders, 4 feet six inches in depth and nine in number. The Government Dockyard was awarded the contract in the sum of £2 ,289. 14.10. 149

In a submission made on 16 July, 1923 by the Director-General of Works, the Minister was advised that the concrete pier foundations had to be taken down to rock 20 feet lower than expected, deliveries of the steel girders were delayed and an alteration to the western approach road was necessary.150 Additional funds of £3,000 were authorised by the Minister on the following day.

On 26 June, 1924 a further submission stated that the main work on the bridge had been completed, but additional flood bracing was required and was proceeding. The additional cost authorised was £700, bringing the total cost of the extensions to £10,700. The bridge was completed and in use about October, 1924.151

Among other bridges in the ACT built in the period prior to 1925 was one over Woden Creek on Jerrabomberra Valley Avenue, on the road to Cooma. This timber structure had a single span thirty feet in length.152 The successful tenderer for its construction was the firm of Sly and Starling in the sum of £495.12.6, and the bridge was completed in August, 1924.

On 27 July, 1923 the Queanbeyan Chamber of Commerce brought to the attention of Sir Austin Chapman, ‘a standing danger to people travelling daily between Canberra and Queanbeyan’. The Uriarra Road passed over the railway line at a level crossing with gates which travellers were themselves required to open and c1ose.153 There were dangers of unclosed gates and of straying stock on the line.

The Commonwealth Government supported the proposal to build an overbridge at a suitable cutting to the north of the level crossing, and agreed to pay half of the cost of the bridge. In addition land required for the new road of access to the bridge was acquired and formally transferred to the Queanbeyan Council.154

The earlier 5 span bridge





Fig. 1.31: The earlier 5 span bridge on Cotter Road showing (left) the Western approach road embankment later destroyed
in the July 1922 flood. Photo: National Library of Australia (Lea collection).

The bridge was duly built by the NSW Railway Authorities. It was always an obviously difficult bridge to negotiate, having two way traffic in a roadway width of only sixteen feet, with no pedestrian footway. It is interesting to note that in 1941 the Commonwealth Government and the Queanbeyan Council requested the Railway Commissioner to provide a footway for pedestrians regularly using the railway bridge.155 The requests were refused.

Federal Capital Commission, 1925

In the nineteen twenties some concern began to appear regarding the delay in having the Parliament moved from Melbourne to Canberra. Reflecting this mood, Parliament itself resolved on 28 June, 1923 that the transfer should be made by the year 1926.156 The first sod for the Parliament House, was turned on the 28 August, 1923.

While problems such as the ravages of the 1922 floods could be dealt with, and while roads and engineering services were being satisfactorily established, difficulties and delays occurred in the building, not only of Parliament House, but also of office accommodation, housing and other facilities.157 Here was inadequate co-ordination of the funding and construction programmes.

Thus, in April 1924, a Seat of Government (Adminstration) Bill was introduced into Parliament and became an Act in July 1924. It provided for the establishment of a Federal Capital Commission which would be responsible for the construction and also the administration of the Federal Capital.158

The question of the status of Walter Burley Griffin’s design was also resolved in the Act of July 1924. Section 4 sub-section (1) stated: ‘As soon as practicable after the commencement of this Act the Minister shall publish in the Gazette a plan of layout of the City of Canberra and its environs’.159 That plan of layout was required to conform to the Walter Burley Griffin plan of layout. Future variation proposals would have to be notified in the Gazette and would also have to be laid before both Houses of Parliament. Disallowance by either House would negate the proposal.160

The Commonwealth Parliament itself thus became the guardian of the Canberra plan, and this safeguard is still in force through the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the ACT. The need for their approval to modifications to the City Plan is well established.

On 11 November, 1925 a plan duly appeared in the Commonwealth Gazette under the authority of the Minister for Home and Territories, with the simple preamble titled ‘Publication of Plan of Layout of the City of Canberra and its Environs’. It was in essence a plan of roads.

On 1 January, 1925 the Federal Capital Commission ‘assumed control of Canberra’s development, with very wide powers in regard to actual constructional and developmental work’.161 The Commission had primary responsibility to complete the Parliament Houseand provide buildings for transferred government departments together with the requirements of housing, schools, roads, bridges. In addition, it was responsible for the operation, servicing and maintenance of engineering and building works and for supplying land for private enterprise leases, the first of which had been auctioned in December 1924.162 The Commission had the further task of administering the Territory.

The 1925 Flood

The new Commission’s works programme was seriously disrupted when in May 1925 torrential rain fell throughout the ACT and the region, rivers rising to levels above the 1922 flood and which still stand as the record flood heights in the ACT.163 The Chief Commissioner, Mr John Butters, in an advice to the Minister for Home Affairs, stated ‘a phenomenal flood occurred on the Molonglo River, the water rising from practically normal to a maximum in a little over twelve hours’.164

One major result of the June 1925 flood in the Molonglo River was the damage to the newly completed Commonwealth Avenue bridge, which was said to be ‘almost floating’ at the peak of the flood.165 Washaways occurred on the approaches and the embankment at the Billabong bridge. Instructions given by the Commissioner to his Engineer for Roads and Bridges, Mr P.T. Owen, referred to ‘raising the bridge and embankment by three feet, wing walls and banks to be strengthened with piles and sheathing, and the Billabong bridge to be repaired and revetted’.

Subsequently, proposals for an extra truss span on Commonwealth Avenue bridge were adopted and in January 1926 tenders were invited for the truss.166 The successful tenderer was the NSW Government Dockyard at Newcastle. The work was completed and Commonwealth Avenue was open to traffic and in use, in time for the tenth Commonwealth Parliament to meet on 9 May, 1927 for the first sitting in Canberra.

There were other serious flood damages in the ACT. The ‘Robertson’ bridge over the Molonglo River near Queanbeyan was badly damaged and was closed to traffic.167 The Royal Military College gave useful assistance with some temporary bridge sections, and in August 1925 funds were sought from Treasury for ‘extensions and repairs to the wooden bridge over the Molonglo River on the Yass-Queanbeyan Road’, in order to make communications possible without passing through the deep ford in the river.168 The need for funds followed a request from Duntroon ‘to enable removal of the temporary military bridge’. The repairs and new spans were carried out by the Commission in 1926.

At Lennox crossing on the access road to the Acton area, a small low level bridge was damaged. Two additional spans were added to the existing bridge, improved approaches were constructed and the river channel was also realigned to reduce siltation and deposition of gravel against the bridge.169

Following the 1925 flood rains the Yass Road within the Shire of Goodradigbee became in many sections virtually impassable, particularly at the crossings of watercourses. The Shire Council, joined by the Yass Municipal Council, requested the Federal Capital Commission to construct a first class road from Yass to Canberra. The Secretary to the Commission, Mr Charles Daley, replied to the effect, ‘it is not within the scope or power of the Commission to spend moneys on improving roads outside the Territory. The Commission however would welcome an improvement in the Yass-Canberra road’.170

Other Roads and Bridges

In 1927 a bridge of two 25 foot spans was constructed at Ginninderra Creek on the Yass Road. The creek had some historical interest, and had been the scene of some fatalities in times of flood. The contractor, Mr Warren McDonald, tendered a price of £4,184 for the construction of the reinforced concrete bridge, apparently the first of its type in the ACT.171

The third Commonwealth Avenue Bridge






Fig. 1.32: The third Commonwealth Avenue Bridge with the additional truss span and other work carried out after the
1925 flood (still the highest on record). Photo: National Library of Australia (Strangman collection).

In the same year, a request that a road be constructed to a tourist resort on Mt Stromlo was presented to the Commission. In rejecting the idea, the Minister in this instance, referring to the research work in astronomy being carried out at Mt Stromlo, advised ‘the possibility of an outcry from a section of the public concerned only from the tourist standpoint, is a consideration of minor importance and cannot be permitted to detract from the obligation of making proper provision to meet the essential needs of the scientific.’172

Having in mind the tight programme for the Parliament House, office buildings and staff housing, the Commission’s programme for major road improvements was not extensive. Environmental conditions on the dusty unsurfaced roads continued to be unpleasant and have been graphically recorded in early cinematograph films now in the National Library.173 A commencement on a few lengths of tar and bitumen surfacing, both flush scales and bitumen penetration was made in 1926, when a sealed surface was being applied to the Commonwealth Avenue base course from City Hill to the Hotel Canberra.174 Short- age of funds led to the final, southern section of the Avenue being left with a waterbound macadam surface. A bituminous hot-mix plant was purchased in 1928, but was ‘very little used’ and was sold in 1935 to the NSW Department of Main Roads)175

In 1929 two bridges were constructed by the Commission.176 One was located on University Avenue over Sullivans Creek. It provided improved access to the Black Mountain area and to useful quartzite and gravel pits. The other was a dry-weather low level bridge over the Molonglo River at the foot of Church Lane, where a ford in the river existed and was shown on Scrivener’s 1914 plan.177 Ostensibly the bridge would connect to the old Narrabundah Road leading to Tharwa. In fact, the bridge, noted as Scott’s Crossingbridge, provided a dry weather route from Constitution Avenue to the centre of the Parliamentary area and meandered in an unofficial way towards Kings Avenue — originally Federal Avenue. The planning of a new steel bridge at Scott’s Crossing was later to be the subject of a scrutiny in depth by two Parliamentary Committees in the 1950s.

There was another dry-weather route across the Molonglo River in the vicinity of the Parliamentary area. A short distance upstream of Kings Avenue a low weir built in 1914 across the Molonglo River formed a sizeable pond from which water was drawn for the Power House steam engine cooling system. During periods of low river levels the river waters passed through a crenellated section of the wall of the weir and cascaded down into a channel, from which pipes led under a concrete causeway to discharge into the natural river bed. The track over the causeway continued somewhat tortuously toward Russell Hill and the road to the airport.178

The Federal Capital Commission, ‘having surmounted at short notice the precipitous task of accommodating Parliament and a portion of the public service in Canberra’179 was by 1929 under considerable stress. The situation arose partly from the financial stringencies imposed and related to the onset of the ‘Great Depression’ of the 1930s. But the main difficulties were associated with the Commission’s corporate and social responsibilities for the total administration of a Territory with ‘a new and growing community; a colony of displaced and in many instances disgruntled people’.180

A Keystone excavator





Fig. 1.33: A Keystone excavator of the Federal Capital Commission constructing Northbourne Avenue. Looking towards
Alinga Street.

London Circuit






Fig. 1.34: London Circuit under construction outside the first part of the Sydney/Melbourne building development.
Photo: National Library of Australia.

Scotts Crossing bridge





Fig. 1.35: Scotts Crossing bridge over the Molonglo River with Blundell’s cottage and Mt Pleasant in the background. Photo — NCDC.

On the second November 1929 Sir John Butters retired from the office of Chief Commissioner.181 Four months later the Seat of Government (Administration) Act 1930 was assented to and the responsibilities of the Federal Capital Commission were distributed among four Departments, an Advisory Council and later, a National Capital Planning and Development Committee.

Roadworks and Unemployment Relief

One of the last major works of the Commission was commenced in 1929, and was of great importance to the Federal Capital Territory. An agreement was reached between the NSW and Commonwealth Governments to build a new road, a ‘Federal Highway’, between Goulburn through Collector to Canberra,182 the Commonwealth to provide two thirds of the cost of the section within the State of NSW. Such a road had been under discussion by Parliamentarians for some time, the Hon. William Morris (Billy) Hughes being an earnest advocate.

By the time the Commission was dissolved, substantial progress had been made on the ACT section of the new Highway. The ominous signs of a severe financial depression were becoming obvious as unemployment became a dominant national concern.183 In 1930, 118 men were employed on the construction of the Highway, 97 on the NSW section and 21 on the ACT section south of the border to the junction with the Yass Road. The whole of the new road was sealed; in the ACT a road-mix surface course using Australian tar was applied.184

The Federal Highway was opened to traffic on 25 February, 1931, and a press release pointed out that the new road to Canberra was eight miles shorter than the older route through Bungendore. A pleasant finale to the project came when a saving in cost was found to have been made on the ACT section, and this was applied to the sealing of the dusty Northbourne Avenue pavement through to the Civic Centre.185 The requirement for this use of funds was that unemployed men should be used, on ‘broken time’. The sealing was completed by October 1931.

A ‘very important access’ to the Canberra Golf Links on the river flats below Commonwealth Avenue bridge, was badly damaged by a flood in 1930.186 This access, a suspension footbridge over the Molonglo River, was restored in 1932, a willow tree being removed, after environmental argument, in order ‘to allow the bridge to swing in a flood’. The treatment was to no avail, as in another flood in 1934 the suspension bridge was ‘completely lost’.187

A rural track leading from Tharwa through Gudgenby to Shannons Flat was described in a departmental memorandum dated February, 1933 as ‘a poor fine-weather country road through hilly country. The large expenditure necessary would not be justified. The work however would be very suitable for unemployment relief in the event of any additional funds being made available for that purpose’.188 It was noted that ‘only cars in good condition can negotiate the steep grade of Fitz’s Hill’. No funds eventuated.

Bridge over the Molonglo River






Fig. 1.36: Bridge over the Molonglo River near the old Royal Canberra Golf Club west of the Canberra Yacht
Club. Photo: National Library of Australia.

Another rural road received the same fate. A ‘Ginnini Falls Tourist Road’ was proposed to be constructed from Piccadilly Circus to Mt Franklin. It was suggested as a suitable unemployment relief work by the Advisory Council in June, 1933.189

Later in 1933 a proposal to eliminate a number of railway level crossings on the Royalla section of the Cooma Road was put forward, with the notation that “this work will materially assist in relieving unemployment”. Funds were made available in 1935, and the work was satisfactorily completed in January 1936.190

A question raised by Mr T.M. Shakespeare in November 1933 related to the building of “a low level bridge over the Molonglo River between Scott’s Crossing bridge and Queanbeyan”.191 The proposal gained the support of the City administration, in particular the Property and Survey Branch of the Department of the Interior. There had been complaints that stock being driven to the abattoirs near Queanbeyan, were straying away into the Civic area. The bridge appeared in the Estimates for 1936—37, and design was accelerated when a memorandum stated “the position with regard to stock traffic through the city area is becoming very serious”.192

Work on this “Dairy Flat” bridge commenced in November 1936, using day labour resources. The completion report by the Engineer, Roads and Bridges, Mr. L. Thornton, and dated 13 July, 1937, showed that the estimated cost of £3,000 had been exceeded by twenty-eight pounds ten and fourpence.193 When Lake Burley Griffin was constructed in the early 1960s, the piers of this old bridge were raised as far as was feasible, just above lake level. However the inconvenience of periodic inundation led to a decision in 1981 to build a new bridge at high level as one of the first components of the planned Eastern Parkway. The new bridge is to be at the east of the present structure.

The long period of agitation for the replacement of the Uriarra bridge over the Murrumbidgee ended when in January 1935 a contract was signed for its construction.194 The design followed the broad lines of the original, with strengthened concrete piers and a concrete deck and jack arches in cross section, poured around two longitudinal steel girders of 24”x 71/2”section. The girders were exposed over the 6 piers and both abutments. 195 Opening of the new bridge took place in March 1936.

There were flood rains in October, 1934 which caused damage to several bridges in the southern sections of the ACT, the most serious being the washout of approaches and bridge abutments at Tuggeranong Creek on the Tharwa road.196 The soil conditions induced heavy erosion in this Brennans Flat area, and an alternative location was sought for a new bridge ‘which would best offer opportunities for unemployment relief’.197

At that particular time, the road pattern had given priority to the Tharwa road route, there being in consequence no through route giving continuity to the road to Cooma.198 The replacement bridge over Tuggeranong Creek was accordingly built on sound foundation conditions on a new alignment of the Cooma Road closer to the railway line. At that period the Department of Main Roads, NSW was preparing to revise the formal classifications of ‘Main Roads’ adjacent to and abutting on the ACT. The building of the Tuggeranong Creek bridge on the new alignment subsequently made it feasible to raise to State Highway status a continuous road from the Victorian border, through Cooma to Canberral99 where connections existed with the Federal and Barton Highways and the Trunk Road 51 leading to the Coast.

Not far from Tuggeranong Creek an old road in Yarrowlumla Shire, the ‘Cooma Road’, formed a section of the ‘Kings Highway’ running from Royalla through Queanbeyan to Bungendore.200 The construction, under unemployment relief conditions, of the new Tuggeranong Creek bridge resulted in a greater diversion of road traffic from this old ‘Cooma Road’, to Queanbeyan’s ‘Tharwa Road’ and its connection near Canberra with the Monaro Highway. As a result, the old Cooma Road was changed in classification from Trunk Road 52 to Main Road 584. The appellation of ‘Kings Highway’ was then applied to Trunk Road 51 running from Queanbeyan to Bungendore and thence to Batemans Bay.

In NSW, as the financial depression continued, many unemployment relief works were significantly furthered by a far sighted and indeed compassionate special policy of loan-cum-grant aid particularly related to country Shires.201 Roads, causeways and bridges were built by the Shire Councils with unemployed labour under these ‘Spooner Scheme’ programmes initiated by the NSW Minister for Local Government, the Hon. Eric Spooner. The programmes and improvements made were markedly successful, not the least important aspect being the very favourable ‘total cost-benefit’ results arising from the cumulative savings in assessed transport costs on the upgraded road systems.

Road improvements within the ACT in the 1930s were almost invariably associated with their capacity to absorb unemployment relief workers. The road from Canberra City to Yass was no exception. There had been for some time a considerable public pressure to improve this road, which The Canberra Times of 1934 called ‘the Yass Road — a Highway that is not’.202 The section of road within New South Wales was for the first time to be an engineered construction, and the Federal Government provided two thirds of the State’s cost, subject to Canberra unemployment relief workers being engaged on the work.203 The roadwork was completed in September 1936, the actual finishing date having been delayed by one final week in order to resolve an argument about a difference of 1” in level of the road pavements at the junction of the ACT road and the new road surface.

Iron-tyred horse drawn waggom





Fig. 1.37: Iron-tyred horse drawn waggon Passing Parliament House on the way to the railways, circa 1926. Photo:
Australian Survey Office.

Pre-war Work

In 1938 it was reported that ‘the Cotter Road is the subject of much caustic comment by tourists, tourist organisations and other persons’.204 The problem appeared to be that while isolated sections of road, where on a sound alignment, were being surfaced, the intervening gaps had to await a satisfactory re-alignment before the bituminous surfacing was applied. By the end of 1939 most of the road was surfaced, Australia was at war, and minor roads, roads not of strategic importance, thenceforward received only minimal attention.

Bridges, on the other hand, had a greater significance and their maintenance and repair were in many cases upgraded. Both the Burbong and Tharwa timber truss bridges were about 40 years old when it became necessary to replace the piers, the piles having, as so frequently is the case, decayed in the areas where alternations of wet and dry conditions occur.205 The longevity of the eucalypt timbers such as ironbark and grey gum, and of brush box in decking, was well demonstrated by the Tharwa and Burbong bridges.

Replacement of the original timber piers on both bridges was carried out in the 1938-39 period. With falsework supporting the superstructures, the original piles in each of the piers of the Tharwa bridge were cut off below water level, and ten newly driven piles were similarly cut off. 206 A concrete cap encasing about six feet of the piles then provided a base upon which a reinforced concrete pier was constructed. In the case of the Burbong bridge, some new concrete piers were founded on rock, the remainder being founded, as at Tharwa, on concrete caps encasing both old and newly driven timber piles. 207 Both bridges had strategic significance during the early years of the 1939-45 war period.

On a smaller scale, a bridge over Woolshed Creek at Pialligo was also of significance. Originally built in 1893, it was destroyed by flood in 1938. A new location north and upstream of the old bridge was adopted and the necessary deviation of the old Yass Road —now Fairbairn Avenue — was carried out. The new bridge over the creek, with bare provision for two lanes of traffic, was completed in June 1940.208 Following floods in 1976, this bridge was raised and its deck widened in 1978 and the access redesigned.

A small bridge which provided a major and long sought benefit to local residents and travellers alike, was constructed in 1939 over the Gudgenby River on the Boboyan Road near Naas.209 Three 30 foot spans, each with three R.S.J. girders of dimensions 20 by 61/2 inches, rested on concrete piers and abutments founded on rock. The deck was of five inch hardwood giving a width of twelve feet between kerbs. The design, which was completed in July 1938, made provision for later widening.

Technology Advances

Expansion of knowledge in the engineering sciences during the 1930s deserves mention in a ‘heritage’ paper, particularly in relation to road construction techniques and to the ‘materials of nature’ with which engineers are so significantly concerned. There was a great surge of interest in ‘soil mechanics’, as then termed, with new understanding and new processes in soil and foundation engineering introduced through pioneering publications and professional journals.

There were two important aspects particularly worthy of mention. Firstly, the ‘multi-discipline’ approach in engineering science and practice, was accentuated by the influence and contributions of the soil scientist, the soil physicist, the agronomist and the geologist, particularly related to work on large earth dams. Secondly, a need had become pressing for more scientific testing and control of moisture levels and compaction procedures for soils and foundation materials, firstly in high earth dams, and subsequently in road and aerodrome pavements. Articles by R.P. Proctor in 1933 introduced important new ideas and testing techniques in soil compaction, and ‘on-site’ compaction testing laboratories became common.210 One of the First applications of Proctor’s work was on the Eildon Weir. Another early instance was the programme of war- time aerodrome runway construction with soil cement pavements which were fundamentally dependent on principles and test procedures initiated by Proctor.211 So in pioneering research and its application, another facet of an engineering heritage was developed and has progressed with continuing refinement into present day road construction practice.

Post-war ‘Work

During the war period, the population of Canberra increased by about twenty-five per cent, chiefly due to some wartime augmentation of administrative staff, and in June 1945 reached l3,250.212 The comparatively small influx, in terms of the total Federal staffing level throughout Australia, placed considerable strain on accommodation, services and roads. A letter in The Canberra Times described the situation: ‘We came into homes without fences or driveways, unsealed roads, no electric stoves, bath heaters or hotwater service, no insulation, and we waited weeks for a fuel copper. Transport — one bus in the morning, one in the afternoon’.213

A programme prepared in 1948 for the transfer of about 7,000 staff to Canberra was approved by the Government,214 possibly remembering the separation of the Executive and Parliament from many Departments of State during the war years, resulting in Canberra, as the National Capital and Seat of Government, conducting the war effort by telephone, telegraph and by uncomfortable journeys to various State capitals.215 But the programme failed, and the construction of the basic requirements of office and housing accommodation and services for the proposed transferees did not eventuate on time. ‘The Public Service Board painted a melancholy picture of the slowness of progress’, when presenting its 25th Annual Report to Parliament.216 It was further stated in the Report that ‘the implementation of the transfer arrangements seemed likely to belong deferred’. In 1952, four years after the programme was approved, the Board again ‘regretted the lack of progress, making it impossible to begin the transfer of Departments from Melbourne to Canberra’.217

A small bridge on the Queanbeyan





Fig. 1.38: A small bridge on the Queanbeyan to Cooma railway line near Tralee, associated with the Petrov espionage
investigation. Photo: Author.

An interruption of this mournful sequence might be excused in order to discuss a bridge of some note.

It appears from the records that a gentleman named Vladimir Petrov ‘resigned’ on 3 April, 1954 from his position on the staff of the USSR Embassy in Canberra, and decided to ‘tell all’ about the conduct of espionage and related activities in Australia.

In evidence given on 5 July, 1954 by Mr Petrov, before a Royal Commission,218 the three learned Judges forming the Royal Commission were told that a recent instruction from his Moscow superiors had been given to Mr Petrov to select hiding places into which agents could put secret information and through which documents could be transmitted.219 The first selected hiding place was at a bridge beneath the Queanbeyan-Cooma railway line where access under the railway line for vehicles was available.220 The location was some six and a half miles from Canberra.

Evidence was given that no other hiding places had been selected, and indeed the bridge was a singularly unusual hiding place. The fact that this well engineered timber bridge was also in good order after some 67 years of service, supports the view that, in the annals of espionage and engineering, it was a unique bridge and had made a contribution to the historical engineering heritage of the ACT.

A bridge with a happier record was built in 1957 over the Gudgenby River at the Glendale Crossing.221 Consisting of two 20 foot reinforced concrete spans integral with concrete pier and abutments, it was founded on rock at shallow depth. The concrete deck provided a width of twelve feet between kerbs.222 This bridge was a significant step towards extending the Boboyan Road to Gudgenby and Shannons Flat.

The Senate Select Committee — 1955 Report

While the ‘lack of progress’ in transferring staff to Canberra was continuing to create serious administrative problems, proposals which would materially and deleteriously affect the whole shape of the National Capital and the environment of the Parliamentary area, were being pressed forward in Canberra.223 The ‘Lakes scheme’, a vital and integral part of Griffin’s plan, had been truncated,224 and a long steel bridge at Scott’s Crossing had been proposed across the centre of the important Central Basin of the residual ‘Lake’.225 The combined effect of the various untoward proposals, and the faltering general programme for the building of Canberra, led to the formation in 1954 of a Select Committee of the Senate, under the chairmanship of Senator J.A. McCallum, ‘to enquire into and report upon the Development of Canberra’.226

The Senate Committee comprehensively examined the situation in respect of the Australian National Capital from its conception in Section 125 of the Commonwealth Constitution, to the year 1955. It found evidence of inadequacies and disabilities in programme performance and a serious lack of co-ordination due to the number of Government Departments involved in the administration and building of Canberra:227 It noted that ‘the lack of forward planning, the difficulties of finance from time to time and the lack of generally co-ordinated policy have left a legacy over the last 25 years of temporary buildings of various kinds — buildings of expediency’;228 it found evidence of a continuing effort to depart seriously from the Griffin concepts: it found much divided responsibility, and a pressing need for unified direction of development.229

West Lake from the Hospital Peninsula





Fig. 1.39: West Lake from the Hospital Peninsula to Government House, Yarralumla was eliminated from the City Plan on l1 June 1953.

The Senate Committee recognised that ‘the lakes scheme is the most important aspect of the Griffin plan’.230 In the absence of any decision on its future, other development, (including the location and construction of roads and bridges), would be endangered. It noted that insufficient investigation had been made into the lake scheme when in 1953 the whole of the lake, west of the Acton area, had been deleted from the official Gazetted plan of Canberra.231 It noted that there had been ‘those who feel the elimination of the West Lake would . . . permit of utilisation of the area for other purposes’.232 The sceptic could have added ‘to wit, the continued use of the area for a golf course’.

Little has been done to develop





Fig. 1.40: ‘Little has been done to develop the main features of the Griffin Plan’ (Extract from Senate Select Committee
Report, 1955). Scene of harvesting lucerne between Parliament House and St. John’s church in the late 1950s.
Photo: Australian Information Service.

There were other disquieting issues brought out during the course of the Committee’s investigations. In 1953 a proposal for a steel bridge over the future lake, located on the main axis on the Griffin plan from Mt Ainslie to Capital Hill, had been submitted for endorsement to the Standing Committee for Public Works. This Scott’s Crossing proposal was rejected, and the Senate Committee in its Report of 1955 commended the Parliamentary Works Committee for its action in preventing a serious departure from the Griffin plan and which in so doing, also prevented traffic difficulties being created in the centre of the ‘government triangle’.233

The Senate Committee further stated ‘it is to be hoped that the necessity will not again arise for serious consideration to be given to any proposal so fundamentally opposed to the main principles of the Griffin plan as that for a central bridge’.234

All of the problems encountered by the Committee supplemented its major concern at the lack of a ‘national character’ in the development so far in evidence. ‘The city has grown, but its main features are wide open spaces that serve to puzzle tourists and uninformed residents alike, while the Molonglo River still winds its way along its shallow bed. After 40 years of city development, the important planned areas stand out, not as monumental regions symbolising the character of a national capital, but more as graveyards where departed spirits await a resurrection of national pride.’235

In its Report dated 29 September 1955, the Senate Committee in noting that, in the past, ‘every forecast in regard to the transfer of Departments to Canberra has been woefully upset’, recommended the establishment of a single Authority for the administration, planning, construction and development of the Federal Capital.236 At the date of the Report, the population of Canberra was approximately 31,000.237

The Government of the day under Prime Minister Menzies subsequently moved to implement most of the Senate Committee’s recommendations, and in October 1957 a Bill to establish a ‘National Capital Development Commission’ was passed by the Parliament.238 Responsibility for the administration of the City, recommended by the Senate Committee, was firmly deleted,239 and the statutory functions of the Commission were stated in Section 11 of the Act — ‘to undertake and carry out the planning, development and construction of the City of Canberra as the National Capital of the Commonwealth’.

Provision was also made for a ‘National Capital Planning Committee’ of independent experts to provide supplementary advice to the Commission.240 The Government also received a Report sought from Sir William Holford, a world authority on city planning and development and who had been invited to visit Canberra.241 The Holford report, ‘Observations on the Future Development of Canberra’, included a number of advices on roads and bridges within the Central and Parliamentary areas of the City, which in particular gave rise to studies and then design of a link between Commonwealth and Kings Avenues. Now known as ‘Parkes Way’, it was to become the first ‘parkway’ in Canberra.

Continuing Advances in Technology

Before moving on from the engineering heritage of this period, several technical advances which emerged in the post-war years to 1958 are worthy of particular mention, especially in the context of a National Capital becoming increasingly the focus of national sentiment. The first mention should be of new techniques in prestressed and post-tensioned reinforced concrete construction. These were highly worthy of consideration in the Canberra scene, not only because high quality concrete aggregates were available in the ACT, but also because the higher design stresses permitted more slender and attractive forms of structure, particularly in the bridges. 242

A second development, related to road design from the viewpoint of safety in urban areas, flowed from a paper, ‘Subdividing for Traffic Safety’, presented at Berkeley University in January 1957.243 The paper included records and research data supporting road planning techniques for reducing the indiscriminate intrusion of traffic into residential areas, with consequent reductions of up to 80% in accident occurence.244 The analytically based paper did not present new layouts or new concepts, but in analysing and restating a number of sound principles in the pattern and layout of residential roads, provided proof of their effectiveness and practicability.245 It was thus most relevant in the ‘de novo’ Canberra scene, where the most effective and safe configuration was being sought for roads required in a rapidly expanding urban area.

A third development in road design and the aesthetics of road alignments also provided opportunities for improving the quality of travel in the future Canberra. Overseas research, especially in Britain and Germany, involving optical studies in three dimensional design of major roads, was particularly adaptable to design for landscaped roads and ‘driver perspective’ quality in the ACT.246

These several technical advances significantly influenced the design of roadworks in Canberra.

Onwards From 1958. Planning and Action

The situation in Canberra existant at the time of the first meeting of the National Capital Development Commission in March 1958 was found to be well described by the words of the Senate Select Committee’s Report of September 1955. The main features of the Griffin plan were in fact largely ‘grassy stretches’, and the Molonglo River was still ‘winding its way’ along a shallow bed past grazing cattle and lucerne crops.247 There was a monumental statue of King George V on the central axis of the plan, and also Cork Hill, a hillock blotting out a sector of the vista from Parliament House.248 There was the timber bridge on Commonwealth Avenue, showing signs of its age and inadequate in capacity.249 Kings Avenue did not exist beyond the little Public Library building in Barton. In the suburban scene there were signs of pressured expansion, but a strategy for co-ordinated planning and programming of works was still to be established.

The first meeting of the Commission250 set out to prepare its organisational arrangements, to establish specific responsibilities for longer term planning and programming, and to set in train an orderly assessment of research and priorities in preparation for a balanced initial construction programme in the 1958—59 financial year.251 Cancellation of the calling of tenders for a steel bridge over the Molonglo River, on Kings Avenue, was also directed.

The roads and bridges of the ACT were seen to be approaching the point where substantial shortcomings in capacity, safety and convenience required early attention. In the central, Parliamentary area however, road and bridge planning had to await decisions on the future of the lakes scheme,252 which was historically a controversial and contentious issue and had to be recognised as the linchpin around which a series of other issues had to be resolved. Action was accordingly put in hand urgently to prepare reports and data dealing with the lakes scheme. At a meeting of the National Capital Planning Committee, the statutory body set up to advise the Commission,253 an engineering sub-committee was asked to examine the lakes scheme.254 After inspections, discussions with Departments and an analysis of all data, the sub-committee reported: ‘technically there was no doubt that the lakes scheme was practicable, from a planning aspect the scheme was desirable, and the alternative to the lakes scheme involved the perpetuation of an untidy, empty area of land in the very centre of the City, remaining always under the threat of flooding and with little prospect of improvement in either use or appearance’.255

With acceptance of the report by the Commission, and then concurrence by the Government, it became possible to move into action which involved the co-ordination of the skills within and outside the Commission to relate research in such fields as hydraulics and foundation engineering, with long term planning of roads, bridges and land uses in the central area of the Capital.

The Parliamentary Triangle

The siting of new bridges on Commonwealth Avenue and Kings Avenue was clarified in the lake studies and reports, permitting action to be taken early in 1959 to carry out the design of the bridges. Design of the Kings Avenue bridge was the first work put in hand and provided a pattern for future functional and performance criteria.256

Primarily the bridge had to reflect its importance as a lake crossing leading to the Parliament House, as well as a link between the road systems north and south of the future lake. The bridge had to contribute to the future water and landscape scene, and it had to withstand high flood flows. The design also had to provide for a high level of safe road performance, and allow for possible future public transport space. It had to be an economical structure built of materials available and appropriate for modern construction techniques. Its lighting was to be carefully studied, with a view to reducing the cluttering effect of stalk-like poles interrupting the smooth lines of a well designed superstructure.

The final design met these various criteria. The bridge was to consist of two separate structures corresponding to the dual carriageways of Kings Avenue, and excepting the outer placement of each footway, were identical. The length between abutments was to be 891 feet, and the seven spans included two shore spans of 93 feet 6 inches, two spans of 132 feet, two spans of 143 feet and a central span of 154 feet. The roadway widths were 26 feet, allowing two lanes of eleven feet, each kerbside lane having an additional four feet for safety clearance. The clear space between structures was to be 44 feet, adequate for future mass transport needs.

In elevation, the semi-continuous prestressed reinforced concrete beams, four in number and spaced at eight feet centres in each span of the structure, were to increase in depth incrementally towards the centre of the bridge, the resultant line of the soffits creating a pleasing visual impression of a taut bow.

Construction was authorised in 1959.257 Driving of the clusters of piles under piers and abutments created some minor interruptions only. The eighteen inch steel tube piles after being driven were filled with concrete, reinforcing steel being placed in the upper sections of concreting. On tests, the piles provided more than specified load bearing capacity.

Kings Avenue Bridge









Fig. 1.41: Kings Avenue Bridge with superstructure well advanced . The large gantry was cantilevered forward to carry the
pre-cast beams into place on the piers. Photo: Australian Information Service.

The concrete beams were cast and prestressed in a casting yard on the old Kings Avenue roadway, and were picked up and progressively placed by a travelling gantry, over a dry lake bed.

When completed, the Kings Avenue bridge, in its relationship to the total landscape of the ‘National Capital areas’ and to the adjacent road system, had a significance only exceeded later by the Commonwealth Avenue bridge. It was the first new element in the process of building some National Capital character into the ‘graveyard’ described in the Senate Committee’s Report, and in particular it was to give rapid access between Parliament House and the airport, and to the important Russell offices.

Kings Avenue bridge was formally opened by Prime Minister R.G. Menzies on 10 March 1962.

Commonwealth Avenue bridge, to be built over the dry bed of the future lake, was to be the fourth bridge occupying the site. The new bridge demanded a design of outstanding quality, and was to accommodate six lanes of traffic, three on each of the dual structures, and with footways cantilevered out from them. Foreshore roads on each side of the lake were to pass under Commonwealth Avenue. In broad perspective, an aesthetically pleasing design was required, with a generally horizontal impression and with reasonably long spans resting on slim piers, in order to provide a sense of visual continuity between the central and west basins of the future lake.

The final design, incorporating engineering and architectual advices,258 was considered to have satisfactorily met these requirements. There were two shore spans of 180 feet, two intermediate spans of 210 feet, and a central span of 240 feet. Piers were to rest on clusters of bored vertical and raked piles 6 ft in diameter, belled at the base to 9ft; at the southern abutment, limestone rock provided a satisfactory foundation.

Each bridge superstructure was designed in elevation as a single geometrical arc formed by a continuous prestressed concrete box girder having a uniform depth of nine feet throughout the 1020 feet length of the bridge. The roadway width was to be 37 feet, accommodating three traffic lanes eleven feet wide with the kerbside lane being widened by four feet. An asphaltic concrete wearing surface for the roadway was designed to be placed on the top element of the box girder members, and footways, six feet wide, were to be cantilevered out from these box girder members.

The construction of Commonwealth Avenue bridge was authorised, in the 1960—61 Civil Works programme and the tender submitted by a joint venture including the contractor then building the Kings Avenue bridge, was accepted.259 Work commenced in March 1961.

Building of the Commonwealth Avenue bridge called for extremely close attention to dimensioning and to the procurement of the highest quality materials. Crucial to the design concept was the production of a high strength concrete specified to achieve a standard compressive strength of 6,000 pounds per square inch at 28 days. Locally available aggregates, crushed porphyritic dacite rock and a range of sands, after extensive grading tests were found to be capable of meeting the specification requirements. In the final outcome, the average tested strengths of the concrete used in the superstructure proved to be over 7,000 pounds per square inch, a result reflecting great credit on the contractor, and on the design and supervision teams brought together in the building of the bridge.

Commonwealth Avenue Bridge under construction







Fig. 1.42: Commonwealth Avenue Bridge under construction. Timber trestles supported the 10 feet long 45 ton pre-cast
segments placed to fine tolerances. Photo: Australian Information Service.

Commonwealth Avenue Bridge under construction across the dry





Fig 1.43: Commonwealth Avenue Bridge under construction across the dry lake bed in October 1962. Photo: NCDC.

The works area for the bridge







Fig. 1.44:The works area for the bridge showing the diversion road, the assembly of extra 45 ton pre-cast segments and, at
top left, the excavation of Cork Hill from the front of Parliament House. Photo: NCDC.

Commonwealth Avenue Bridge as completed









Fig. 1.45: Commonwealth Avenue Bridge as completed. Photo: Australian Information

Fortunately no floods occurred in the Molonglo River while building was in progress. As a result there was little impediment to the use of the extensive timber staging to the exacting degree of accuracy required for the initial support of the superstructure.

Noteworthy in itself, especially in a heritage sense, was the technology involved in the pre-designed method of construction of the concrete box girder superstructure. For each bridge one hundred and two identical reinforced concrete box segments each ten feet in length were cast on site and after curing were placed by gantry in precise position on the timber staging of each bridge. The three inch wide gap between each segment was filled with fine concrete to form in total the box girder continuous over the length of 1,020 feet. This was post tensioned by external high tensile steel cables one-and-one eighth inches in diameter. Subsequently, after final tests and checks on the stressing operation, the cables were encased in fine concrete for protection from corrosion.

The Commonwealth Avenue bridge over the lake and floodway of the Molonglo River was opened to traffic in November 1963. From any viewpoint it was considered to be a fine and monumental example of skilled engineering science allied with a high level of aesthetic quality and form. It is appropriate that it remains the principal entry point into the Parliamentary area of the National Capital.

A final accolade accorded the Commonwealth Avenue bridge was bestowed by the Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies in October 1964 when, in a ceremony marking the inauguration of the lake called ‘Lake Burley Griffin’, he described the bridge as ‘the finest building in the National Capital’ 260

Concepts and Configuration of the Road System

The governmental decisions to proceed in 1958 with the establishment and growth of the National Capital involved the provision of a very wide range of urban developments and services. The pressing requirement for early action and longer term planning in respect of roads was recognised by the National Capital Development Commission in its initial reports to the Parliament, and in reports issued to the citizens of the city.261

Standards of performance of the total road system were to be assessed in terms of safe and expeditious travel for private vehicles and public transport, a satisfactory cost and cost-benefit balance, and adaptability for future expansion. From the beginning the Commission linked its forward road planning with the planning of future suburbs and centres of employment, and sought compatibility of each class of road with the land uses being served. From this requirement flowed the preparation of a classification of road types.262

After much research and consultation, principles of road classification were established by the Commission and the pattern or configuration of the road locations within the ACT was actively implemented. A paragraph in the annual report of 1958—59 referred to early work in this field, with ‘the pattern of roads in subdivisions discouraging the movement of fast ‘through’ traffic in residential areas, and of traffic channelled into arterial roads skirting the neighbourhoods, the design of the main arterial roads providing for limited access to ensure safe and free movement of traffic’.263

Decisions on the classification of roads are of necessity involved with the mathematics of road usage, future traffic flows and consequent road capacities. The Canberra Area Transportation Study carried out in 1964, provided useful forecasting data, using computerised origin-destination programmes intended to be adaptable to new external factors and to differing growth rates for the ACT. In general terms, the transportation data facilitated the location of the main routes within the ACT, and the programming of stage-by-stage construction could be related to actual growth in road traffic and in public transport, and to budgetary disciplines.

The location of the major urban arterial roads had to be defined at an early stage and in advance of residential subdivision planning, and the Commission gave a great deal of thought to the location studies and to the form of the arterial roads which the growth of the Capital would require. In a report of 1964 a solution was brought forward to the question of insuring the compatibility of major transportation routes with a sound urban environment.264 After extensive examination by the Commission and advisers, a concept of an ‘urban corridor’ emerged, providing for the location of major urban arterial roads external to but adjoining residential and other urban areas. These roads would accommodate safe free-flowing traffic under controlled access conditions on divided carriage-ways. Such a road could be designed to provide ‘priority’ lanes for bus operations, and some lengths of the median space could be designed for future express public transport usage, graduating from the conventional bus to advanced types of light fixed or guided rail systems. 265 The important planning requirement inherent in the concept was the early definition of the corridor reservation, in order to permit design for the adjoining residential or other urban lands to be carried out in programmed sequences.

Road diagram










Fig. 1.46: Road diagram 1961— an initial study of future
locations and patterns of arterial road routes in
the ACT. Plan: NCDC.

The 1969 Strategy Plan










Fig. 1.47: The 1969 Strategy Plan for Metropolitan Growth. — NCDC Annual Report 1970-71.

Supplementing the urban arterial corridors, the report brought forward the concept of a ‘parkway corridor’ system, providing for presently unpredictable future demands for transportation, with safe free-flow movement within landscaped corridors, functioning also as a major bypass of city and town centres and as high standard routes connecting with the adjoining State Highways and National Route systems.

The design of the parkway corridors involved multi-discipline design teams, particularly in respect of landscaping and ‘three dimensional’ flowing alignment design. Implementation was seen to be very adaptable to staged construction, and a high level of safety and amenity in travel journeys was achieved. 266 As had been seen in some overseas projects, the opportunity existed for multi-purpose uses such as cycle paths, and equestrian routes to be incorporated in the design of the landscaping of the parkway corridor. This has been carried out in the development of the Parkes Way extension and the first carriageway of the Tuggeranong Parkway.

The need at any particular time for arterial road capacity was modified and reduced in scale by the planned distribution of diversified private enterprise employment in new town centres of the ACT. The amount of such employment was also increased by the building in those centres of some government office accommodation, housing those departments with lesser claims for proximity to the Parliamentary area.267 This rational distribution of employment capacity between Civic Centre and the new towns, provided an opportunity for shorter journeys to work, to shopping and to recreation areas but it modified the growth of retailing and entertainment facilities in Civic Centre.

Consequently by the 1980s, the growth of these facilities at Civic Centre appeared to falter due in part to the ageing of the surrounding population and the development of new shopping facilities in the town centres of Woden and Belconnen. Concern was expressed that Civic’s primacy be strengthened particularly in regard to tourist activity and entertainment facilities.

Statistically, the pattern, classification and purpose-design of roads in an environment of balanced employment distribution, have in total produced in Canberra a smaller than average mileage of roads per capita than in other Australian cities, with a higher than average level of safety and performance.268

The combination of road







Fig. 1.48: The combination of road engineering and landscape design has resulted in a very satisfying appearance and
sound performance of Parkes Way. Photo: NCDC.

Suburban Access Roads: Concepts and Design Aspects

Planning for the internal suburban roads was significantly influenced by the need to establish fundamental residential areas or neighbourhoods as safe ‘precincts’ where the pedestrian would have precedence in travel to schools, shops and recreation facilities, and where ‘short cuts’, speeding and through traffic would be ‘planned out’. It was stated by the Commission ‘we are working on the principle that the individual is more important than the motor car’.269 The road pattern in the newly planned neighbourhoods was found to reduce accident occurrence and severity very markedly. Accident numbers were in general about one third of those occurring in the older ‘gridiron’ suburban layouts, and this level of improvement was consistent with results in similiar overseas situations.

Another development which greatly added to residential amenity came when engineering management advances led to the use of ‘serial’ or long term contracts for land sub-divisions and servicing.270 These resulted in innovative techniques and great economies of scale in the construction of residential roads and estate facilities. With the high technology engendered by these stable and comprehensive contracts, it became feasible to raise many construction standards. For example, asphaltic concrete or ‘hotmix’ road surfaces became economically feasible.271 In replacing the flush seals of the ‘bitumen and chips’ era, added smoothness, and reduced noise levels were achieved, with added amenity in the neighbourhood.

The long term contract economies also made possible a further improvement in neighbourhood safety. It was found that, at economical cost, pedestrian underpasses could be provided under the principal circulatory internal roads of the precinctual areas and thus give safe walking access to schools, shops and other facilities.272

A related aspect of the long-term contracts is worthy of noting. In carrying out full estate development, programmed to meet the Government’s requirements for staff transfers and private enterprise growth in the National Capital, excavations and trenching for underground water, drainage and sewerage services were carried out economically by specialised equipment. There was careful co-ordination of the programme timetable for these underground trenching operations with that for road construction. The beneficial result was the absence of road openings and costly restorations familiar in other places.

Development of equipment and plant contributed in very considerable measure to the more rapid and cost effective construction of both roads and bridges. Ready mix concrete of high quality almost entirely took over from on-site installations on many works, and the availability of large mobile cranes and pile drivers gave improved flexibility in organisation and programming of works. On road works, basic excavation machinery increased in size, and loading into the larger, higher heavy trucks became the province of the highly mobile front-end loaders. The ‘Caterpillar 12’ type of grader retained its place as a superb piece of machinery for creating longitudinal and cross-sectional accuracy of road bed for the reception of the improved road pavement materials. The high density pavements of crushed rock consolidated by vibrating rollers and then given asphaltic concrete surfaces, provided high quality and durable road profiles in estate subdivision roading and in the stronger, heavily loaded arterial roads of the ACT.

A Canberra neighbourhood











Fig. 1.49: A Canberra neighbourhood bounded by arte-
rial roads with improved internal road patterns.
The road accidents in such areas are about one
third of those in older layouts. Plan: NCDC.

A pedestrian underpass built








Fig. 1.50: A pedestrian underpass built as part of the
original land servicing contract. Photo: NCDC .

Tuggeranong Parkway bridge





Fig. 1.51: Tuggeranong Parkway bridge over the Molonglo River. Photo: Author.

Ginnznaerra Drive passes





Fig. 1.52: Ginninderra Drive passes over Lake Ginninderra. Photo: Author.

 Commonwealth Avenue passing over State Circle





Fig. 1.53: Commonwealth Avenue passing over State Circle. Photo: Author.

Landscaped carparks





Fig 1.54: Landscaped carparks of the automatic and semi-automatic type have been provided. Photo Author

it metropolitan wide network





Fig. 1.55. A metropolitan wide network of cycle paths is used by people of all ages. Photo: NCDC.

The first carriageway of Tuggeranong Parkway





Fig. 1.56: The first carriageway of Tuggeranong Parkway provides efficient and pollution free travel on the periphery
rather than through the urban areas. Photo: Author.

Footbridge in Commonwealth Gardens.







Fig. 1.57: Footbridge in Commonwealth Gardens. Photo: NCDC.

The first major transportation





Fig. 1.58: The first major transportation corridor in Canberra to a new town.

The carillon









Fig. 1.59:The carillon, gift from the United Kingdom, has
been embellished with this curved footbridge,
Photo: A.I.S.

Pedestrian ovepasses









Fig. 1.60: Pedestrian overpasses provide safer movement
in city areas. Photo: A.I.S.

 Pedestrian malls






Fig. 1.61: Pedestrian malls have been created in city areas by the closure of streets to traffic. Photo: A.I.S

An overseas example





Fig. 1.62: An overseas example of a multi-purpose transportation corridor.

Yarra Glen provides safe





Fig. 1.63: Yarra Glen provides safe efficient movement of private vehicles and public transport on bus-only lanes. Space is
available for future public transport in the median. Photo: Australian Information Service.


During the past twenty five years electronic science has increasingly influenced the design, construction and management of roads and has made a significant contribution to the engineering heritage. Traffic engineers have used the electronic computer to provide data processing and analyses of origin-destination type surveys. Electronic traffic signal installations sense vehicle movements in volume and time for individual intersections, and for groups over an area traffic control system. These have provided opportunities for safer and more efficient use of both suburban and arterial roads. In some situations they act as a first-stage solution to complex intersection movements, pending the construction of grade-separation structures.

In the design of new arterial roads, multiple inputs to computers have enabled comparative studies of alternative routes, earthwork quantities, alignment, grades and profiles to be readily examined in print-out form. Such studies in 1964 of the proposed Hindmarsh Drive route were the first to be undertaken in the ACT. Another application of computers became available in seeking improvement in roadside environmental quality as seen by the users of arterial roads. The production by computer of three-dimensional perspective sketches based on trial alignments provided an opportunity to design arterial roads with ‘free-flowing alignments’ which, in conjunction with landscape design, would ‘persuade the driver over its course by its fluency and singleness of purpose’.273

Bridge design procedures involving complex computations for ‘indeterminate’ structures have been greatly aided by the employment of high speed computers. The expanding field of design in pre-stressed and post tensioned reinforced concrete structures also benefitted by the use of electronic strain gauges, particularly in the control of final stressing of high tensile cables.274

Programme and construction control were greatly refined following the introduction in the early 1960s of computer aids. Rapid print-out of job and total programme progress, time and cost information became available through network analysis and critical path techniques.275 Opportunities were thus given at short call to recognise problems at an early stage and to initiate orderly remedial adjustment of operations and performance in terms of both time and cost.

There are many other instances of the use of electronic aids. Microcircuitry, radar and laser technology can be expected to extend further their contribution to scientific design and management of roads.

Engineering and Landscape Design

In 1911, tree planting was accepted as one of the necessary elements in the plans to construct the National Capital, and this was demonstrated by the first sizeable plantings carried out in 1915. Today, the wide ranging pattern of trees and other vegetation is a conspicuous and satisfying feature of the Canberra scene, all the more remarkable when it is realised that the central areas in their original natural state were almost devoid of trees.

The present high standards of landscape have evolved through a conscious understanding that there should be a harmonious association of trees and landscaping with the topography and topographical features, landforms, roads and structures. The value of multi-disciplinary design teamwork has nowhere been better demonstrated than in the joint efforts of engineering and landscape professionals.

Future Development

A review of our heritage has additional value when we identify from our past experience the desirable direction for future development. Looking back on the work done in Canberra on roads and bridges, a major lesson for the future is the need to complete the peripheral dual carriage- way parkways. They will probably have to be staged and part of that staging may involve single carriageways in the first instance, like Tuggeranong Parkway. But the need for them is undeniable. One of the soundest developmental concepts proposed for Canberra, and supported by overseas experience, is the idea of a well landscaped parkway with separate carriageways like Parkes Way that can carry through traffic with minimum pollution, maximum safety and a consequent reduction of traffic volumes in the urban areas.

Associated with this essential future development is the need to reserve the routes for the intertown public transport system and to progressively build and use components of it as has already been done in a modest way on the approaches to Belconnen Town Centre. No conflicting development should be allowed to prejudice such Inter- town Public Transport routes.

The completion of these two key items of the city’s infrastructure will provide the generations to come with a heritage in transportation that is worthy of our National Capital.


Acknowledgment is gratefully made of the generous and valuable assistance given by many organisations, their officers and by many historically minded people; including the following: The NSW State Library Mitchell Library Archives, Office of NSW Department of Main Roads, NSW Department of Lands, NSW Department of Public Works, NSW John Fairfax and Sons Ltd., Australian National Library Australian Archives Office, Australian Survey Office, Department of Transport and Construction, National Capital Development Commission, Department of the Capital Territory, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Bureau of Mineral Resources, Dr Keith Carter ANU Research School of Social Sciences and Pacific Studies, Australian Heritage Commission, Dr J.M. Flood Canberra and District Historical Society, Australian Federal Police, Yarrowlumla Shire Council, Queanbeyan City Council, Tallaganda Shire Council, Professor L.D. Pryor, Mr Lyall Gillespie, Mr Bruce Moore, Mr Bert Sheedy and Mr Russell Wenholz

References & Notes

Records in Australian Archives referred to in the notes to this chapter:

Department of Works and Railways, 1916-1932

Central Office, Melbourne

CRS A199, Correspondence files, annual single number series with FCW’ (Federal Capital Works) prefix to 1917, then ‘FC’ (Federal Capital) prefix, 1913-1926.
CRS A292, Correspondence files, single number series with ‘C’ prefix (Canberra Works), 1930-1950.

Works Branch, Federal Capital Territory 1912-1925

CP 464/2 Correspondence files, annual single number series with ‘A’ prefix, 1923-1924
CRS A3560 Mildenhall collection of glass plate negatives, c.192I-1935
Note: The photographs cited as located in Australian Archives come from this series.

Department of Home and Territories, 19 16-1928.
Department of Home Affairs [II], 192 8-1932.

CRS Al Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1903-1938.

Lands and Survey Branch, 1911-1932

CRS A192, Correspondence files, ‘FCL’ (Federal Capital Lands)series, 1913-1924

Federal Capital Commission, 1925-1930

Engineer’s Department

CP 698/2, Correspondence files, E series (Engineers) 1925.
CP 698/23 Correspondence files, El series, 1925-1930.

Department of the Interior [I], 1932-1935

Works and Services Branch

CRS A2190 Engineering drawings, C and CC series, by 1923-1959.
Note: The drawings cited in the notes with C and CC prefixes come from this series
CRS A2445 Mechanical drawings, single number series with the prefix, 1910
Note: The drawings cited in the notes with an M prefix come from this series.


Walter M. Shellshear, ASTC, FIE Aust, Grad. M.C. of S. (U.K.)

The author is an Honorary Life Member of the Australian Railway Historical Society. His own early career as a railway engineer came to an untimely end when his cadetship with the NSW Railways was terminated by the Depression in the 1930s. His subsequent engineering career included service with the MWS and D Board, Sydney; with the Department of Army during the war years where he was responsible for the design of infantry weapons; and at the time of his retirement in 1973 was Inspecting Engineer, Civil Works, with the Snowy Mountains Hydro- electric Authority.

THE early railways of the ACT were unique. With the exception of the short branch line from Queanbeyan to Canberra which opened in 1914, they came, they served their purpose and they were gone, all in the space of about eight years between 1920 and 1927.

These railways within the City area, in fact, can only be regarded as having served as construction facilities, although that was not the purpose for which the Kingston- Civic line was planned. Although this might have become part of Griffin’s plan — and this would have been indeed a very worthwhile legacy to have inherited — fate determined otherwise, when the bridge carrying the railway over the Molonglo River was destroyed in a flood in July 1922 and was never rebuilt. So, although we did not inherit anything directly from these early railways nor from the grandiose plans for railway connections to Yass and Jervis Bay, those that did eventuate certainly facilitated the construction of the buildings which housed our early parliamentarians and civil servants, and which became the nucleus from which the present city of Canberra grew.

From another point of view, an engineering work may qualify as a heritage item if it is associated with the work of an outstanding figure — and who could be more worthy of such an accolade than Walter Burley Griffin — a man whose vision encompassed not only the overall plan of a great city, but also the engineering services associated with that city, including its railways.

One wonders in hindsight how much better off we might have been today had Griffin’s detailed plan for a city railway and for connections to the ‘Great Southern Railway’ at Yass come to fruition.

Griffin, the Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction from 1913 to 1920, achieved by his own drive the construction of the railway to Civic Centre in 1920, causing not a little friction with the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner, who wrote in 1928:

‘The Tramway was built without reference to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner. He was not consulted nor was he responsible in any way for the building of the tramway.’

It is little wonder that The Canberra Times of 16 December 1926 wrote:

The NSW Rail System







Fig. 2.1: The NSW Rail System at the time of Federation.

‘Mr Burley Griffin, during a visit to Canberra, deplored the backward policy regarding the development of the North side of the River, which, he said, was the best portion of the City. For this he blamed the lack of a railway’.

Before proceeding to a detailed examination of the Territory’s early railways and of its planned railways which never eventuated, it is of interest to note that, in that short space of 8 years, and in such a small area, two more or less unrelated railway developments took place, and that these were of different rail gauges.

Had the Commonwealth Government’s plans of 1915— 1918 for an arsenal at Tuggeranong come to fruition, a third and again, unrelated railway development would have been included within the ACT in that same general period.

However, impetus for railway construction in the Federal Capital Territory was contained in the Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909 which provided that in the event of the Commonwealth constructing a railway in the Territory to its northern border, the State of New South Wales would construct a railway from Yass (on the main Sydney-Melbourne line) to join it, and that the Commonwealth would have the right also to construct a railway from the Territory to its proposed port at Jervis Bay.

In the event, after the establishment of the Federal Territory on 1 January 1911, the location of the site for the Capital City being less than 8 km from the existing station at Queanbeyan, NSW, (on the Goulburn-Cooma line) led to the construction of a railway connection in 1914 for goods traffic to facilitate the building of the City. Queanbeyan, as part of the great expansion of the NSW railway system in the 19th century, secured a station in 1887 which served the rural area which was to become the Capital Territory after the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia in 1901.


Goulburn-Queanbeyan Connection


In 1869, the ‘Great Southern Railway’ of NSW from Sydney had reached Goulburn. Twelve years later, the NSW Parliament authorised the construction of a branch line from Goulburn to Cooma via Queanbeyan and borrowed a sum of £1,430,000 for its construction.

A tender for the construction of the first section, from Goulburn to Bungendore, a distance of 64 km, was awarded to Topham, Angus and Co., who completed the line to Bungendore by March 1885.

The Queanbeyan-Canberra Railway






Fig. 2.2: The Queanbeyan-Canberra Railway as at 1942. Diagrams — the author.


The next section of the Cooma line, from Bungendore to Michelago, for which a contract was awarded to A. Johnston & Co., was a difficult one. It involved three tunnels, two bridges, steep grades and sharp curves around very difficult, and in some places precipitous country — particularly the approach into Queanbeyan, where the line runs down the left side of the precipitous but beautiful Molonglo Gorge. However, the contractors put up a very competent performance, and by 8 September 1887, the section to Queanbeyan had been completed, and the extension to Michelago completed three months later.

For many years, one mixed train ran daily between Goulburn and Queanbeyan (Sunday excepted), arriving Queanbeyan at 5.55 a.m. and leaving for Goulburn at 9.10 p.m. On Saturdays the train left at 8 p.m. and like the weekday train, did not proceed beyond Goulburn By 1891, the line had reached Cooma.

Canberra Railway Station





Fig. 2.3:The first train to arrive at Canberra Railway Station in 1914.
The engine was re-numbered 12/0 in the 1924 re-classification. Photo— Courtesy SKA of NSW.

How then did people get from Queanbeyan or Yass to Canberra in these early but critical years before and immediately after the establishment of the Capital Territory in 1911?

From the arrival of the railhead at Queanbeyan in 1887, horse-drawn mail coaches served the immediate area, as they did from all railheads as the State’s railway network expanded. Horse drawn coaches operated from the Queanbeyan railhead to Canberra, Cooma and many other places on the Monaro, and at least one coach service operated from Yass to Canberra.

The decision to construct a line from Queanbeyan to Canberra was taken by the Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, in a letter to the NSW Premier in August 1911 after an agreement was reached that the State would build the line and that the Commonwealth would meet the cost, plus a loading of 5 per cent of the total cost to cover the hire of NSW Government plant.

Work commenced on 1 February 1913, under the supervision of W.R. Beaver, Jnr, Chief Engineer, Railway and Tramway Construction, Public Works Dept. of NSW, TGG MacKay being his site engineer. Before its completion, a ceremony was held at Canberra to officially name the new Capital on 12 March 1913, and special trains from Sydney and Melbourne brought guests as far as Queanbeyan and Yass. From these stations they would have travelled by car or horse drawn vehicle to Capital Hill.

No doubt, the dust stirred up by the contractor’s earth moving equipment on the Queanbeyan-Canberra line contributed to an injunction contained in the official timetable for the special trains to the ladies to wear their dust cloaks! At the time the Queanbeyan-Canberra road ran alongside the railway for most of the way.

The original surveys for the Canberra-Queanbeyan line were carried out by Surveyor Marshall under the direction of Charles Scrivener. Before construction commenced, H.C. Deane, Chief Engineer Railway and Tramway Construction, NSWGR, was asked to report on the suitability of the route. After making his inspection he made some minor changes, one of which was perhaps regrettable in that it was used as an excuse to delay the commencement of passenger services on the line for seven years. It was his insistence that the new Canberra branch be connected to the loop line at Queanbeyan and not to the main line.

Locomotive 1210





Fig.2.4:Locomotive 1210 preserved on a plinth near Canberra Railway Station.
(The 1927 station building may be seen in the background). Photo — the author.


On 25 May 1914, the Administrator of the Department of Home Affairs, Colonel David Miller, sent a telegram to his Minister in Melbourne:

“First goods train arrived this morning Power House siding Canberra, everything satisfactory”.

It was hauled by C-class engine No. 120 built by Beyer Peacock of Manchester in September 1879, and which followed very closely the design of the tank engine built by the same firm for the London Metropolitan Railway. The engine now stands on a concrete plinth near the present Canberra railway station. Some changes have occurred over its 100 years of service — a new boiler with Belpaire firebox replaces the original boiler with round topped firebox, the cow-catcher has gone, so have the kerosene headlights and marker lights. In a general reclassification of engines in 1924, its number was changed and it became No. 1210 of the Z12 class.

The locomotive was retired from active service in January 1962 after having covered 1,900,000 km. In 1979 a special steam-hauled train was operated by the Australian Railway Historical Society, ACT Division, to celebrate the hundredth birthday of Canberra’s historic locomotive.

The Canberra-Queanbeyan line was 6.58 kilometres in length. The cost, as reviewed in February 1917 was £47,120, some £10,000 above the estimate. Some of the extra cost, however, was involved in repairing damage due to a heavy storm on 17 March 1914.

The early history of the line is surrounded in mystery and there is much confusion as to who wrote the specification for the work. Only two years after the line opened, a Royal Commission in 1916 was asking:

‘Was the railway to the Power House built in accordance with, or contrary to the decision of the Minister? Was the construction at a cost of £49,000 in lieu of a light railway or tramway a justifiable expenditure of Public Moneys? Was expense in excess of the estimate — if so is any officer culpable in respect to the estimate or the expense? Does the railway as constructed tend to destroy the symmetry and one of the main features of Mr. Griffin’s plan?’

And in the following year the Commissioner of the Commonwealth Railways was asked:

  1. ‘Was the original intention that the line should be of a temporary character only — if so what was the estimated cost of construction?
  2. Under whose authority was it built as a permanent line, and what estimates for its construction as a permanent line were made, and by whom?
  3. Were any special warnings received as to the necessity for ample provision for the escape of water, from the Administrator, or otherwise?
  4. Who decided the route?
  5. Were any alternative routes submitted?
  6. Are there any notes respecting other routes examined by the Location Surveyor?
  7. Was the route adopted for the permanent line the same as that proposed for the temporary line?’

Fortunately, even before construction of the Queanbeyan-Canberra line commenced, the people of Queanbeyan, apparently sensing some disagreement as to the nature of the line, presented a petition to the Minister in June 1912 asking that the line ‘be made of a substantial character and suitable for a permanent railway line’. Two months later King O’Malley, Minister for Home and Territories, was asked ‘is the line to be temporary or permanent?’ O’Malley replied, ‘it will be a permanent one’.

This statement provided an answer to most of the questions put by a later minister for Home and Territories, and must have been a comforting piece of information to anyone whose neck may have been at risk from the findings of the Royal Commission of 1916.

It is of interest to note, that, on hearing of the decision to construct the later railway from Kingston to Civic Centre, and no doubt mindful of the 1916 Royal Commission, The Queanbeyan Age of 12 January 1917 published the following pointed paragraph:

‘What oh! A start has been made of the railway from the Power House Yasswards. Wonder will there be a Royal Commission into this expenditure?’

In 1910-11 Surveyor Marshall had surveyed a rail connection to the Goulburn-Cooma railway from the capital site, joining the line near Bungendore. The original intention, however, was to connect the site of the Capital to Queanbeyan in order to provide transport facilities to the City at an early stage. The 1911 Official Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia stated that, regardless of this early intention, and because the line from Queanbeyan to Bungendore had more than 11 km of one-in-40 gradient and very sharp curves, the direct connection from the Capital to Bungendore would place the railway transport to the Capital on a more satisfactory basis than would exist by connection to Queanbeyan.

There would appear therefore to be some justification for the confusion surrounding the decision to go back to the original intention of connecting with Queanbeyan — which was obviously against the advice of the Surveyor General.

With the arrival of steam trains in Canberra and the use of other items of steam-operated plant, a dispute arose between the Engine Drivers and Firemen’s Union and the Department of Home Affairs which insisted that all engine drivers should have a certificate of competence issued by the Commonwealth. After a period, the Commonwealth backed down, but as a face-saver the Minister for Home Affairs issued the following statement:

‘On completion of the Power House, all works will be erected using electric motors, with the exception of some few steam traction engines, so that the number of steam engine drivers will be small’.

The opening of the line was followed by the inauguration of a daily service (Sundays excepted), but before the line had been in operation for six months, the Minister approved a reduction in the service to two trains only per week, leaving Queanbeyan at 4.50 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays and returning from Canberra at 6.10 p.m. On 18 September 1914, the officer at Canberra was withdrawn and traffic to and from Canberra was treated under ‘platform and siding conditions’. Canberra was placed under the control of the station master, Queanbeyan, and the engine stationed at Queanbeyan for Canberra work was withdrawn.

The Minister’s pessimism as to the value of the line appeared to be justified by the revenue figures for the year ended 30 June 1915, which recorded a loss of £598 despite revenue of £1,040.

Before long the Director, Supply and Transport, suggested the Commonwealth should consider the practicability of running the service itself and that it would be desirable to keep an engine at Canberra, and to run it as required. E.E. Lucy, Chief Mechanical Engineer of the NSW Railways, reluctantly agreed to the sale to the Commonwealth of a CC class engine for about £2750. However, the Administrator of the Federal Capital Territory replied on 11 November 1914 he could see no reason to buy the engine.

Threats to Close the Line

Little wonder then that the Department of Works and Railways suggested the closing of the line as unprofitable when the annual loss rose to £3182 in 1919. There was one snag, however, how to get coal to the power house? One of the suggested solutions was the use of horse traction on the railway. Walter Burley Griffin thought that a ‘Slow Train’ was preferable, so long as the line could carry a locomotive.

A further proposal to close the line was made in May 1920 but fell upon deaf ears, and on 12 July 1920 the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner advised that no alteration to the existing services on the Queanbeyan-Canberra line would be made. A reduction in expenditure had been effected, he reported, by re-organising the methods of maintaining and operating the line, and freight rates had been increased to bring revenue up to operating expenses.

Agitation for a Passenger Service

As early as October 1914, Queanbeyan was pressing for a daily passenger service to Canberra. The Minister was unimpressed and replied:

‘There is no justification for passenger services between Canberra and Queanbeyan. The line was provided for the conveyance of material for the purpose of establishing the Seat of Government at Canberra.’

In a letter dated 11 October 1916, Burley Griffin wrote:

‘My proposal to establish a passenger service on this railway is now before the New South Wales Commissioners.’

Griffin proposed the service should start from the power house as he considered that the existing temporary station was in the wrong spot.

The NSW Premier, replying to these proposals, said:

‘There was no direct connection with the power house branch line at Canberra. It can’t start from that point. A crossing could be provided but would involve alteration to all signalling and interlocking. In the circumstances, the train should run to, and start from the existing platform. At Queanbeyan there are no means of getting off the branch line to the platform and it would be necessary to lay in a cross-over between the main line and the loop at the south end of the station. This would need to be signalled and interlocked. It was estimated this would cost £1029. It would also be necessary to provide an engine and rolling stock. The bare running expenses would be £32 per week. It would be necessary for the Commonwealth to defray this cost’.

Following this advice, W.M. Hughes told the Prime Minister that he considered it inadvisable to incur the additional expense and so passenger services were again deferred.

A request for a steam tram service using ‘the old steam tram’ and two cars, like the Cronulla tram service, was then requested by Queanbeyan folk, but met with a similar fate.

Horse coaches were still operating in 1916 between Queanbeyan and Canberra as the NSW railway timetable for that year contained the following details:

Township to which coach runs Canberra
Railway from which coach starts Queanbeyan
Miles from rail town 9
Leave railway town 6.00 a.m. Mon., Wed., Fri.
Arrive township 7.55 a.m.
Return journey, dep. Township 3.30 p.m. Tue., Thur., Sat. Arriv. 4.45
Fare, single 2/6
Fare, return 4/6
Township to which coach runs Canberra
Railway from which coach starts Yass Town
Miles from railway town 35
Depart railway town 7.30 a.m. Tue., Thur., Sat.
Arrive township 2.40 p.m.
Return journey, dep. Township 9.15 a.m. Mon., Wed., Fri.
Arrive railway town 5.00 p.m.
Fare, single 8/-
Fare, return 12/6

These services met trains which arrived at Queanbeyan at 4.13 a.m. Mon., Wed., Fri., and which left Queanbeyan for Sydney at 10.17 p.m. Tue., Thur., Sat. The Yass service met trains which arrived at Yass Town at 4.28 a.m. Tue., Thur., Sat. and which left Yass Town for Sydney at 5.18 p.m.

A motor service between Queanbeyan and Yass Town also operated at this time and presumably ran via Canberra. Its timetable was as follows:

Leave Queanbeyan 3.30 p.m. Tue., Fri.
Arrive Yass Town 6.00 p.m.
Leave Yass Town 9.30 a.m. Tue., Fri.
Arrive Queanbeyan 12.00 noon
Fare, single 22/6
Fare, return 40/-

Later, in 1920 the mail car service was amended to run three days a week instead of two, the service being as follows:

Leave Queanbeyan 9.30 a.m. Mon., Wed., Fri.
Arrive Yass 3.00 p.m.
Leave Yass 9.00 a.m. Tue., Thur., Sat.
Arrive Queanbeyan 3.00 p.m.

A further attempt to get a passenger service was made by Queanbeyan’s Chamber of Commerce in September 1921. The Chamber pointed out the difficulties of the existing situation:

‘Until Federal Authorities provide houses for workers at Canberra, it is necessary they find accommodation at Queanbeyan, and as Queanbeyan does this, it relieves the Commonwealth of immediate obligation. The difficulty of workers getting to and from Canberra, horses, vehicles, motor cycles, bikes, are a tax on their wages and a drain on their energies’.

On 12 September, Senator Garling approached the Minister with a view to obtaining agreement to carry passengers on the Queanbeyan-Canberra railway.

‘If this facility was provided, he said, people at Acton and Civic Centre, Molonglo and Duntroon would be able to visit the picture shows at Queanbeyan, to inspect the shops and so forth, and would then be more contented’.

Again the response was that the expenditure necessary was not considered justified at present. Unsympathetic as the attitude of the Government may have seemed to the wishes of Queanbeyan and the needs of Canberra’s construction workers, if one related the needs of the people to the population of Canberra over these years, one can perhaps understand why the government did not feel any urgency to enter into new commitments. From a population of 2780 in 1914 the district population actually fell to 2583 by 1921 — hardly the growth rate to justify the expenditure of a large sum of public money.

The Government seemed determined that the new line to Canberra should be regarded as a construction expedient only, for the building of the Seat of Government, and to judge from the following brief paragraph in The Queanbeyan Age of 2 March 1923, maintenance costs were being kept to an absolute minimum:

‘The decking of the bridge over the railway line at Molonglo camp is very wobbly lately — some of the planking seems to have no fastenings whatever, and the noise made by traffic in crossing can be heard at some considerable distance away. It is to be hoped the structure does not collapse while a heavy load is on it some of these days’.

On 11 September 1923, R.F. Tetley announced his intention to operate a regular ‘charabanc service’ between Queanbeyan and Canberra calling at Molonglo Camp. It was to have had seating for 40 people. Unfortunately for Tetley, only a month after his charabancservice started, a breakthrough was achieved with negotiations with the Commonwealth Railways for a passenger service by rail to Canberra.

When a through passenger rail service was finally achieved to Canberra, The Canberra Times wrote:

‘Passengers for Canberra occupying either sleepers or ordinary carriages will not be obliged this winter to disembark in the dark and cold at Queanbeyan, then to undertake an eight to ten miles run by car to Canberra’.

Commencement of Passenger Services

The decision was made on 10 October 1923, when the Commissioner of the Commonwealth Railways informed the Department of Works and Railways that, as the result of representations made by NSW Railways, it had been arranged that a passenger train service was to be instigated between Queanbeyan and Canberra, commencing on 15 October 1923. The approved timetable was as follows:

Queanbeyan depart 7.10 a.m. Weekdays
Power House arrive 7.40 a.m. Weekdays
Power House depart 9.15 a.m. Mon. to Fri.
Queanbeyan arrive 9.45 a.m. Mon. to Fri.
Queanbeyan depart 3.45 p.m. Mon. to Fri.
Power House arrive 4.15 p.m. Mon. to Fri.
Power House depart 5.15 p.m. Mon. to Fri.
Queanbeyan arrive 5.45 p.m. Mon. to Fri.
Power House depart 12.15 p.m. Saturday
Queanbeyan arrive 12.45 p.m. Saturday

Passengers, said the timetable, should be conveyed by all trains. Ample facilities were to be afforded for persons in the Capital desiring to shop in Queanbeyan.

The following were to be the fares:

Queanbeyan to Molonglo (3M) — 5d 2nd class single, 2/9 workmens weekly. Queanbeyan to Power House — lad 2nd class single, 4/6 workmens weekly. Molonglo to Power House — 5d 2nd class single, 2/9 workmens weekly.

A small timber platform was provided at Molonglo (near the present suburb of Fyshwick) where an internee’s camp was established from 1918 to 1920. The camp later provided married quarters for construction workers in Canberra until 1927, when it was removed, but the timber platform remained until 1941.

Early Timetables

The first timetable introduced when the line was opened for passenger business, provided for two return trips each week day and one on Saturdays. In less than two years this was reduced to one trip per day, leaving Queanbeyan at 6.35 a.m. and returning from Canberra at 5.25 p.m. A special Friday service from Canberra to Goulburn was established in September 1926, to connect with the Sydney and Melbourne expresses. A more satisfactory railway timetable was introduced in 1927 and merited the following headlines in The Canberra Times, 24 March 1927:

‘The Railway services to Canberra have been remodelled and through trains have been provided daily, which obviate the break of journey at Queanbeyan. On Monday last, with the introduction of the rail motor service with Goulburn, a new timetablecame into effect. A through train to Sydney with a sleeping car, leaves Eastlakes station on week nights, and a train to Canberra connects with the mail from Sydney every morning.
Five trains a day are now arriving at Canberra under the new railway timetable which came into force on Monday last, and Eastlake railway station has become indeed the railway station of Canberra instead of Queanbeyan’.

It will be noted that these new services included a rail motor service leaving Canberra at 9.17 a.m. and returning at 6.40 p.m., allowing about 31/2 hours for shopping at Goulburn. This service was cancelled six months later.

From 1927, through the early 1930s many changes of timetables took place, mainly as the result of parliamentarians seeking better services to their homes in Sydney and Melbourne.

Early timetables setting out the rail services between Canberra and Sydney and between Canberra and Melbourne, consisted of small pocket folders, the outside colour of which varied from issue to issue.

One Melbourne based politician demanded the addition of a breakfast car to the pickup train from Goulburn. He was informed by Chief Commissioner J. Fraser of the NSW Government Railways that it was not possible to arrive in Canberra in time for breakfast but this could be obtained at Goulburn. NSWGR had no dining cars in commission in June 1925, he said.

From the middle of 1926, sleeping cars from Melbourne on Sydney-bound trains were detached at Goulburn and attached to Canberra-bound trains. (This continued right through to 1974, when sleeping cars from the Spirit of Progress were detached and loco hauled into Canberra).

By 1930, lack of patronage was being felt as a result of the Depression and the Department complained that some of the services were ‘down to an absolute minimum — one first class and one second class car, and only 25% filled’.

Sunday services to Sydney commenced on 7 November 1937 and continued in a modified form to the present day.

It might be wondered why the present timetable shows very little improvement, compared with these early timetables of the 1920s and 1930s, but the incentive which brought about these early improvements is now gone. Most members of Parliament living beyond Canberra now travel by plane. However, in 1981 the NSW Railways inaugurated a day return trip to Sydney, on six days a week.

Later Deviations

The first few kms of the new railway were plagued with troubles due to the inadequate storm water provisions. Even during the construction period a heavy storm on 14 March 1914, followed by heavy rains on 2 April, washed out sections on the track five kms from Queanbeyan. It was reported the water rose some feet above the culverts before the banks gave way.

After opening to traffic, the line was again badly damaged by a flood on 22 February 1916 when banks were damaged and the rails again washed out. Temporary repairs were made, it was reported, to permit a train speed of 4 m.p.h. (6.4 kph).

Then, in 1925, more serious flooding was experienced, and it was agreed the line be diverted at a point approximately three km beyond Queanbeyan, the Commonwealth Railways agreeing to carry out the work. It is not clear whether this work was ever done as the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner stated in March of the following year that he was unable to get on with the work as funds had not been made available. It is clear however, that the line must have been made serviceable for the opening of Parliament on 9 May 1927.

In June 1928 proposals were recorded for the deviation of the line because of ‘recent floods’. This report indicated that the damaged areas were about five km beyond Queanbeyan and at a second section near the Jerrabomberra Ck crossing. At the first section, the remedial work consisted of the erection of a stone piled wall and the removal of the track 21 m back from the river, raising it 1.5 m above the original level. At the second section, which, the report stated had been washed out in 1916, 1922 and 1925, the track was raised 1.8 m. The estimated cost of the remedial work was £10,100. The earthworks of the lower abandoned embankment at the first named site can still clearly be seen.

In later years, further changes took place in the Fyshwick-Canberra section. In May 1967 the Queanbeyan-Canberra line was diverted to a new location south of the original line between 6.4 km and 7.8 km from Queanbeyan, to allow the earthworks for the new Main Line and North Shunt Line to proceed. The diverted line became the South Shunt Line serving sidings south of the Main Line. A new and substantial high-level bridge was constructed over Jerrabomberra Ck for the Main Line and North Shunt Line, and a road overpass replaced the Ipswich St. level crossing. Curve and grade easing also took place between 3.5 and 5.1 km from Queanbeyan.

The Terminus










Fig. 2.6: The Terminus at 1956. Diagrams — the author.

The 1980 Yard Layout





Fig. 2.7: The 1980 Yard Layout. Diagram— the author.


A new freight terminal and connection between the new freight terminal and the North Shunt lines were brought into use on 6 January 1969. The North Shunt line forms the second line across the new Jerrabomberra Ck bridge. At about the same time the locomotive turntable and water tower were removed. Newcastle Street over-bridge was replaced by a new structure on a different alignment in June 1969. This will allow extensions to the North and South Shunt lines as required.

The Station Buildings

When the line was first opened in 1914, the terminus was at the site of the present railway station. From the station yard a branch line led to the power house and stores area. It will be noted also from the details of the first passenger timetable that at the time of commencement of passenger services, the terminus was shown as ‘Power House’. In April 1924, a 60 m long platform was constructed at the present station site.

The first building was retained for various purposes after the second building was erected in 1927.

In July 1925, the Department of Works and Railways was asked to design a new station building for Canberra. John Butters, the chairman of the Federal Capital Commission, stressed that the station building was to provide ‘the absolute minimum of building accommodation’.

The Commissioner of the Commonwealth Railways recommended against any re-alignment to the location shown on the Griffin plans because of the heavy excavation involved in the approaches to the Eastlake station. He felt that the following work should be commenced at the earliest possible moment: ‘The erection of a new station building; improvement to the station yard; provision of a ten ton crane; deviations near mileage 198M’.

The 1914 station building





Fig. 2.8: The 1914 station building (left) and the 1927 building(right).
Photo-Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

Plan of the 1927 station building








Fig. 2.9: Plan of the 1927 station building. Diagram— the author, from data contained on Australian Archives files.

Mr Butters, who was anxious to have a suitable station structure ready for the opening of Parliament, was more than ready to agree. By early 1927, the work was completed and the station platform extended to 600 ft (183 m) in length.

It would appear that Mr Butters (later Sir John) may have had cause to regret his injunctions regarding the absolute minimum of building accommodation, as later extensions to the eastern end of the building almost doubled its floor area.

The second building was never regarded as an outstanding piece of architecture and it became known to the station staff as the old tin building because of the pressed metal external sheeting. By the late 1950s, the old No. I station had deteriorated to the stage where, by virtue of the attention of vandals and others, it was no longer an object of beauty, and the second station was not held in much higher regard.

In October 1966, both the No. I and No. 2 stations were replaced by the present structure, a building far more in keeping with the Nation’s capital than its predecessors.

Whilst the history of the railways of the ACT dates from relatively recent times, searchers for historic relics will be pleased to learn that the lever for the points at the Southern Portland Cement siding at Fyshwick was made by J. Toumbe of Kilkenny in 1886.

The City Railway

Griffin’s prize-winning design for the layout of the Federal Capital City in 1912 provided for a railway serving the southern, eastern and northern parts of the city. On being informed of the success of his entry, Griffin came to Canberra in 1913 and after checking the feasibility of his railway proposals on site, made some very minor alterations to his plans.

Griffin’s railway started at a point a mile or so inside the boundary of the Territory near Queanbeyan. To assist in identifying the route proposed for Griffin’s railway, it has been plotted onto a current Canberra street map (Fig. 2.16). The station names are those given by Griffin. From the Kingston Power House area, the line ran almost due north on a raised embankment named by Griffin ‘The Causeway’. In his early plans the Causeway appears as a physical division between East Basin and East Lake, the latter a somehwat ambitious feature of Griffin’s plan which has not yet eventuated.

The 1966 passenger terminal building






Fig. 2.10: The 1966 passenger terminal building. Above — From platform side showing foot-warmer annex/garage. Below —Street entrance. Photos — the author.


Immediately north of his Central Station, the line was to run into a tunnel 1400 ft (427 m) long, and an underground station was contemplated at Civic Centre, located at the foot of Ainslie Avenue.

Griffin’s estimate of the cost of his railway was £72,879, of which the tunnel accounted for £43,126. It was to be built with a ruling grade of 1 in 100, with 40 chain (800 m) minimum radius curves, and was to have been double track with a rather far sighted provision for quadruplication later.

Alternative City Routes

Although Griffin was Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction, his plans were submitted on 24 June 1915 to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works for investigation and report, as some doubts were felt as to the suitability of the route. To resolve some of these doubts the matter was referred to the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner who promptly put forward a number of alternatives. These alternative routes, with the estimated cost of each are shown in the accompanying figure which is a reproduction of the diagram which accompanied the Standing Committee’s report.

In its findings the Standing Committee reported:

‘While the Committee approves the general direction of the permanent City Railway as indicated by Mr Griffin on the schematic plan, subject to a deviation to eliminate the tunnel, and following generally the route Cl suggested by Mr Bell (the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner), it is of the opinion that there is no reason for the construction of anything but temporary surface lines until the development of the City warrants the construction of the permanent line’.

The Standing Committee believed that a temporary surface line, 5 m 11 ch (8.2 km) could be built for £5,156, which could be capable of handling ‘material and light traffic’.

Construction Railway to Civic

Following the announcement of the findings of the Standing Committee; Griffin approached the Minister for Home Affairs, King O’Malley, in October 1916, for authority to construct the tramway 5.2 km long, for which he had prepared plans. This was promptly granted.

There does not appear to be any record of work having commenced till December 1920, when the NSW Railways Commissioner agreed to carry out the work on the same terms as applied to the construction of the Queanbeyan-Canberra line, i.e., the Commonwealth would pay all costs plus 5% of the total cost to cover hire of plant. All the materials remaining from the construction of the Queanbeyan-Canberra line were to be used. However, this decision coincided with the termination of Griffin’s position as Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction and his association with the development of Canberra.

Fig. 2.11

Civic Centre platform
















Civic Centre platform of the 1921-22
construction railway, after rails had been lifted.
Construction was of timber facings backfilled
with soil. Photo — B.T. Macdonald.

Survey data was prepared and the work commenced under the direction of Sub-foreman J. Doyle of the NSW Railway and Tramway Department. Details of the chainages, surface levels, formation levels, cuts, fill and gradients use are recorded on file at Australian Archives.

During the construction of the work, a locomotive, six trucks, a rest van, locomotive crew and a guard were requested by the Commonwealth. The NSW Railway Commissioner replied that as his Department was doing the work he would provide what was necessary.

On 15 June, the Director of Works advised that construction of the line was complete and that it was open for goods traffic. It is recorded that the line was also used for limited passenger transport in the guards van.

The route taken by the construction tramway, which cost £5,370 to build, branched off from the Power House siding only a few yards from what is now Cunningham Street, Kingston, and ran out onto a raised embankment running almost due north from the Causeway settlement to the Molonglo River. Jerrabomberra Ck. Creek and the Molonglo River were crossed by rather flimsy timber trestle bridges. Griffin, during a visit in 1926, admitted that the bridge across the Molonglo had been only of a temporary character, and with the funds available, it had been impossible to construct a structure of sufficient strength to stand the great floods which had assailed it.

After crossing the Molonglo River, the line swung north-west in long easy curves which straightened out to run on a track somewhat to the south of today’s Amaroo Street, Reid, behind St. John’s Church and the site of the present TAFE College. Beyond that location, the line then passed to the north to a short platform located almost in the centre of what is now Garema Place. Beyond this point, the line branched into a short marshalling yard terminating near Eloura Street, Braddon.

A fairly long siding was provided just to the north of the river crossing which no doubt served a worker’s camp at Russell Hill and Duntroon.

Official Circular No. 189, issued on 14 June 1922 to “Station Masters, Guards, Engine Drivers and all others concerned” by the Chief Traffic Manager of the NSW Railways, promulgated the following instructions for the operation of the Queanbeyan — Civic Centre Railway:

‘Speed Restrictions — The speed of trains and light engines from Queanbeyan to Civic Centre Sidings must not exceed six (6) mph. When passing over the Molonglo Bridge, and for three quarters of a mile to or from Civic Centre Terminus, speed must be reduced to four (4) mph.
Locomotives — Two engines coupled may be run on the Canberra line as far as the Power House Siding, but not between Power House Siding and Civic Centre. Standard goods locomotives, classes D50, D53 and D55 are not permitted beyond Power House Siding.’

Termination of Services

However, after a total of less than one and a half years of official instruction for the operation of the line, disaster overtook the railway in July 1922 when a major flood in the operation, and only a month after the issue of the first Molonglo River carried away the supports of the temporary bridge and lowered the rails into the water.

A closer study of the bridge photograph might suggest why this failure took place. Had the piers of the skew bridge been aligned in the direction of flow of the river and not at right angles to the bridge centre line, the bridge may have stood a better chance of survival.

In November 1922, and only four months after the loss of the bridge, the Federal Capital Advisory Committee said it was not proposed to carry out any work in connection with the temporary city railway station until approval had been given for the reconstruction of the railway bridge over the Molonglo.

Timber railway bridge





Fig. 2.13: Timber railway bridge over the Molonglo River, looking upstream.
Photo— Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

Panorama of the Construction Railway





Fig. 2.14 Panorama of the Construction Railway to Civic Centre.
Photo-Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

The molonglo bridge





Fig. 2.15: The Molonglo bridge after the July 1922 floods. The bridge was never rebuilt. Photo-Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

Meanwhile, discussion regarding responsibility for management of the ‘Seat of Government Railway’ had culminated in the issue of ‘An Ordinance Relating to the Management of the Seat of Government Railway’ (No. 8 of 1923).

The Schedule of the Ordinance included the Kingston- Civic Railway, although at the date of issue of the Ordinance, the Civic Centre Railway had been out of operation for 14 months.

The Federal Capital Commission, two and a half years later, again advised that it had not completed its enquiries sufficiently to make a definite recommendation regarding the railway bridge replacement. The Commission said the re-design of the bridge would take some time. Shortly afterwards, the Minister approved the preparation of plans by the Commonwealth Railways Commissioner for bridges over the Jerrabomberra Creek and the Molonglo River.

In the meantime, agitation for the restoration of a railway service to Civic Centre grew in volume. The Canberra Times carried headlines:

‘The City Railway is Essential to the Economical Development of the Federal Territory. Immediate Consideration by the Public Works Committee of railway communication with Canberra has become a matter of vital concern to the development of the city.’

It went on to say, in its leading article:

‘In one respect it had regretfully to be admitted that Canberra is less favourably equipped than it was five years ago. Five years ago there was a city railway and trains ran to Civic Centre . . . If it were fitting that the railway should be provided from Eastlake to Civic Centre at a cost of more than £5,000 in 1921, that railway is more imperative today at double or treble the cost’.

In Parliament a question was asked in 1928:

‘Is the Minister aware that tradesmen and business men at Civic Centre and Ainslie Avenue are being penalised by the heavy cost of transport from the present railway site to places of business, and anxiously await a decision on the question of re-opening of the line to Ainslie station — when will the line be re-opened?’

The reply received was:

‘There had never been a public line for railway traffic to Ainslie — it was a construction tramway only and was put out of commission by floods in July 1922. It is expected it will be at least 12 months before present investigations will be complete’.

Later Alternatives to the City Railway

Despite the demise of the construction railway in 1922, the idea of a permanent city railway to eventually connect with a line to Yass was still a live issue. A Parliamentary Standing Committee of 1924, which had recommended that the line be terminated as near as possible at mileage 2051/2 from Sydney, had described proposals as they then stood as follows:

‘It is now proposed to abandon the existing line from Power House to Civic Centre, and commence from a point one mile from the Power House on the existing line from Queanbeyan, to construct a railway through the City to the North boundary of the Federal Territory. From whence it will be an obligation on the N.S.W. Government to continue the line to connect with its system in the vicinity of Yass Junction, as agreed in the Seat of Government Acceptance Act of 1909. The starting point was marked as 199 1/2 miles on the existing line from Sydney to Canberra and a distance of approximately three miles from Queanbeyan and three miles from the City boundaries. Then it was to run West, following for some distance Lakebourne Avenue, crossing the Jerrabomberra Creek at a point higher up than the existing crossing. Then it turns North through a deep cutting into Eastlake Circle, crosses the Jerrabomberra Creek again and then almost due North to cross the Molonglo river at 202 3/4 miles, at a point about three miles from the Power House. A high embankment 16 ft high will cross the country either side of Jerrabomberra Creek and between the creek and the Molonglo River. Beyond the River, it bears away in a north-westerly direction at 1 in 73 grade on a route slightly departing from the Griffin route, and also from the temporary line he built to Civic Centre. It runs almost midway between the two, passing the Junction of Capital Terrace and The Parade. At this point it will pass through a ‘tunnel’ (it will actually be an open cutting covered to enable streets to cross here). Then it will proceed along the Prospect Parkway, dropping down a little till it reaches Civic Centre. It is proposed to put the station on Ainslie Avenue close to Civic Centre and below surface, to avoid interference with street crossing. At this point Griffin’s plans provided for a curve but a straight line has been substituted in order to avoid a station on a curve. After leaving Civic Centre it turns again almost North and following the railway reservation, crosses Interrange Avenue at 206 m 8 ch. (All mileages measured from Sydney Central Station). Near the 207 mile point, the line leaves the City area and bends away to the North-east, following that direction to about 214 miles, where again it turns north, crosses the Federal Territory boundary at 216 m 8 ch at about 1 1/2 miles west of Hall. The total distance is 16 m 48 ch., and is laid in single track, standard gauge with 80 lb rails and 4 1/2” x 9” x 8’0” sleepers. The ruling grade will be 1 in 66, and the minimum radius curve 20 chains. There is provision for stations at Eastlake Circle, Prospect Parkway, Civic Centre and at three points between Civic Centre and Hall. It is proposed to place the goods shed at 206 3/4 miles at about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 miles north of Civic Centre.’










Fig. 2.16: Griffin’s proposed City Railway of 1912 plotted onto a current Canberra street map, together with the brickworks railway and the Kingston to Civic construction railway.

Mr Butters, Commissioner of the Federal Capital Commission, in May 1925, stated that he disliked the Griffin route for the Canberra-Yass railway, especially the deep cuttings involved. He felt it should be possible to skirt the lower slopes of Mt. Ainslie, and then run out about the centre of Majura Avenue and along the centre of the industrial area on the surface, with only sideling cuttings. His connection to the City station was near Civic Place (now know as Vernon Circle) by a branch line along the central parkway of Ainslie Avenue.

Accordingly, three alternative routes between the North side of the Molonglo Crossing and a point on the Canberra-Yass line a few miles north of the Civic Centre were investigated:

1. Via Parkway Avenue, through Prospect Place (at the head of Anzac Parade near the War Memorial) and thence via Canberra Avenue and Ainslie Avenue, thence following the general direction of the stormwater drain at the base of Mt. Ainslie.

2. Via Prospect Parkway and Prospect Place, thence through the area reserved for the War Memorial, then east of a knoll at the intersection of Ainslie and Canberra Avenues, (now Limestone Avenue) after which it also followed the stormwater drain.

3. Via a circuit on the north-east of the War Memorial site, then north to the knoll and the stormwater drain.

These alternatives were closely examined and finally rejected in March 1929 by Sir John Butters, (who was made a knight after the opening of Parliament in 1927) in favour of the route recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee of 1915-16. Sir John recommended the Molonglo bridge be designed for one track and a roadway, the roadway later to become a second rail track when traffic warranted.

In October of the same year an estimate was made for the so-called ‘through city’ railway. The estimated cost of £532,605 included a bridge over Jerrabomberra Creek with three 200 ft spans, and one over the Molonglo River with five 200 ft spans. The Federal Capital Commission was abolished in 1930 and there was a lapse of four years before the railway was discussed at a meeting of the Commonwealth Advisory Council in May 1934 which stated in part:

‘The Council considered it would be a difficult task to design a bridge over the Molonglo that would withstand floods, and according to the accepted design, the railway is supposed to traverse along the Causeway and in this position, the crossing of the Molonglo River is oblique to the direction of the stream and would be unsatisfactory for a bridge. The same applies to the crossing of the Jerrabomberra Creek. Thus the erection of a bridge for railway traffic would be an exceedingly costly matter as the bridges are over low-lying land liable to flood’.

On 3 September 1934, the Canberra Chamber of Commerce queried the advisability of building a bridge over the Molonglo for a railway. The Chamber was advised that there was no provision in the current year’s estimates. In the event of the Government deciding at a later date, estimates would be put in hand.

The ‘later date’ has not yet arrived.

The rails of the old construction railway remained in place for many years before being finally lifted. The points where the construction railway branched off from the Power House siding were removed in December 1934, effectively putting an end to that chapter of the Territory’s railway history.

The Brickworks Railway

One of the most obvious prerequisites to the speedy establishment of a Seat of Government in an open, relatively uninhabited area such as the undeveloped site of Canberra, was an adequate supply of good bricks. No time was lost therefore in seeking out a suitable local site for a brickworks, and satisfactory clays were found at Yarralumla, or ‘Westridge’ as Griffin had named it. Here the Commonwealth Brickworks was established in 1913.

The next prerequisite was an effective means of transsporting the bricks to where they were required for the construction of the Power House, Parliament House, Hotel Canberra, and the other public buildings and offices.

gauge brickworks railway






Fig. 2.17: The 3’-6” (1067 mm) gauge brickworks railway passing the old Parliament House. Bricks transported on the railway were used in the building’s construction. Photo — Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

At first, the bricks were moved by steam traction engines hauling heavy, iron wheeled trailers on mostly unmade roads. As can be imagined, this soon proved unsatisfactory and time consuming, and it is on record that the traction engines only achieved two round trips a day between the brickworks and Parliament House.

The inevitable decision was therefore taken to construct a light railway as demand for more effective transport increased, and by the end of 1923 a 3’-6” (1067 mm) gauge steam hauled railway was in operation for the conveyance of bricks to the expanding construction works.

The southern terminus of the railway was at the Power House, although existing records do not show clearly how far the 3’-6” gauge extended southwards from the Power House building, other than to connect with a small engine shed.

After the failure of the standard gauge construction railway to Civic Centre, the brickworks tramway was extended to Civic, crossing the Molonglo River on a small timber bridge near the Scotts Crossing Road. There is evidence to indicate that in the city area, the abandoned standard gauge track may have been used by moving one rail 14 1/2 inches across on the existing sleepers to form the narrower gauge. It is believed the brickworks tramway terminated about 40 ft beyond the Civic Centre platform.

In the clean-up prior to the opening of Parliament House on 9 May 1927, and possibly also because it had by that stage become more economical to transport the bricks by motor lorry, the tramway was removed.

 the Molonglo River





Fig. 2.18: The bridge over the Molonglo River which carried the brickworks railway extension into Civic Centre (looking north east). Photo — Australian National Library.

It is of interest to note that, at the time of the closing of the tramway, the capacity of the brickworks was 6,000,000 bricks per annum.

Rolling Stock

To operate the railway, the Government transferred two Kitson 0-6-0 tank locomotives from the Henderson Naval Base in WA in 1923. These two locomotives had a colourful history, having been bought originally by the West Australia Lands Co. in 1881 for work on the wharves at Albany and elsewhere. They were known as ‘Princess’ and ‘Duchess’, and were purchased by the WA Government in 1896 when they were numbered 162 and 163 of the “S” class. The engines worked on the WA Government Railways until 1915, when they were purchased by the Commonwealth Government for the construction of the Henderson Naval Base.

When transferred by the Commonwealth for service at the brickworks, locomotives 162 and 163 were re-numbered Nos. I and 2 respectively.

When the tramway was extended to Civic Centre, a third locomotive, an 0-4-2 Hudswell Clarke tank locomotive, was purchased from the Wallaroo Mines Ltd. of SA. The locomotive was 20 ft (6.1 m) long, weighed 14 tons (14.2 tonnes) and had 10” (254 mm) diameter cylinders, supplied with steam at 150 psi (1034 kPa). With a driving wheel diameter of 2’-6” (762 mm) its tractive effort was only slightly greater than that of the ex “S” class locomotives.

A timber framed side-tipping truck was used for the conveyance of the bricks, each truck holding about 500 bricks.

On the termination of the railway in 1927, the equipment was put up for sale. The three locomotives were purchased by the NSW Associated Blue Metal Quarries No. 1 going to Prospect Quarry, No. 2 to Bass Point Quarry near Shellharbour, and the Hudswell Clarke engine to Bombo.

Some of the side tipping trucks were also bought by Blue Metal Quarries.

Kitson locomotive





Fig. 2.19: Kitson locomotive purchased from WA. Government Railways for use, first at Henderson Naval Base, and later, for use on the brickworks railway. Overall length 20’-6” (6.2 m), cylinders 11 1/2” (292 mm) dia. x 15” (381 mm) stroke, boiler pressure 120 psi (844 kPa), driving wheels 2’-11 1/2” (902 mm) dia., weight 17 tons (17.3 tonnes). Diagrams— the author.








Hudswell Clarke saddle tank locomotive purchased from Wallaroo Mines Ltd., South Australia, for use on the brickworks railway. Overall length 20 ft. (6.1 m), cylinders 10” (254 mm) dia. x 14” (356 mm) stroke, boiler pressure 150 psi (1034 kPa), 2’-6” (762 mm) dia. driving wheels, trailing wheels 1’-6” (457 mm) dia., weight 14 tons (14.2 tonnes).

The Power House terminus





Fig. 2.21: The Power House terminus of the Brickwork’s railway. The loaded truck at the right of the photograph shows the random manner in which the trucks were loaded (breakage rate is not known!). Also on the extreme right of the picture may be seen the little engine shed where the locomotives were stabled. One of the locomotives is standing near the workshop building. Photo — Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

So the brickworks railway came to an end and was soon forgotten, but a number of famous and now historic buildings remain as testimony to the engineering skills of those who conceived this facility for their construction.

At time of writing, the only remaining evidence of this once extensive 3’-6” gauge railway network is the formation between Denman Street, Yarralumla and the west side of the brickworks area.


One other minor facet of the ACT’s railway history remains to be recorded. At the brickworks and the Mugga and Mt Ainslie Quarries, and on some of the earliest construction projects, in the days before the internal combustion engine had made its impact felt, small narrow gauge tramways — what one might almost call ‘back-yard railways’ — were employed to move material won at the quarry face or for aggregate movement between crusher and concrete mixer.

Brickworks Quarry Tramway

At the Commonwealth brickworks at Yarralumla, a 2 ft (610 mm) gauge tramway was laid in the quarry area in such a way that the loaded trucks ran downhill to the works and the empty trucks were pushed back by manpower. These little tramways were very flexible and were easily moved along as the quarry face advanced.

The trucks used at the brickworks and other quarries were side tipping steel trucks, made by Francis Theakston Ltd., Light Railway Engineers, Crewe Works, 66 Tufton Street, London.

Mugga Quarry Tramway

This differed a little from the brickworks tramway in that it extended beyond the confines of the works and was used to convey the material won in the quarry to the Mugga Lane where there was obviously a facility for tipping the material from the trucks into some form of road transport.

The little tramway from the quarry to Mugga Lane is clearly shown on a ‘Plan of Canberra the Federal Capital of the Commonwealth of Australia’ published by the Federal Capital Commission from the First Premiated Designs by Walter Burley Griffin and from surveys conducted under the direction of C.R. Scrivener, late Director of Lands and Survey, with approved detailed modifications of designs to May 1927. A copy of this map is held at the National Library, Canberra.

Although much man-handling of the trucks took place in the quarry area, a small petrol engine built by Purcell Engineering, was provided to work between the crusher and Mugga Lane. It is possible that the locale of the engine photo is the point at which the trucks’ contents were unloaded into motor or other forms of road transport.

Between the quarry and the crusher house, a cableway was used to lower the loaded trucks from the quarry area and to raise the empty trucks back to the quarry. The trucks were raised and lowered by cable actuated by a small haulage engine. A similar haulage way was operated at the Mt Ainslie Quarry.

Construction Tramways

From photos still in existence, it is evident that the identical side tipping trucks were used during the construction of Cotter Dam in 1913 and of the Weston Creek Sewerage Works in the l920s, for movement of aggregate between crusher and concrete mixers, although the method of propulsion is not clear from these photos. An excellent photograph of the Cotter Dam tramway and of the steam powered crusher appears in Alan Fitzgerald’s ‘Historic Canberra 1825-1945’.

Side-tipping truck






Fig. 2.22: Side-tipping truck for conveyance of bricks from
the Canberra Brickworks. Photo: Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

The end of the line








Fig. 2.23: The end of the line. Ex-Brickworks Railway
locomotive ‘Princess’ laid to rest at the Prospect
Quarry after disposal by the Brickworks.
Photo — R.S. Minchin Collection.

The Railway Gun

The “Amiens” gun was a 180 tonne German, 28 cm railway gun, 22 m long, 2.64 m wide with a range of 24,000 metres. It fired a shell weighing 300 kg and wrought considerable havoc on the French city of Amiens during World War 1.

On 8 August 1918, in the course of a successful operation by the Australian Corps, the 31st Battalion, when advancing near Harbonnieres, noticed a train steaming up and down a track about 730 metres away. The train comprised a railway gun, coaches for the crew and an ammunition truck. After it had fired a few rounds the train was attacked from the air and a great explosion followed. Shortly afterwards, the Battalion reached its objective some 180 m short of the gun. Two or three hours later, Gunner Geo. Burrows and Sappers Strachan and Palmer, 5 Aust. Division Engineers, went out under heavy machine gun fire, raised steam on the engine, coupled up to the gun and ammunition truck and brought it back within the Australian lines.

Brickworks Quarry tramway






Fig. 2.24: Brickworks Quarry tramway, showing light,
side tipping trucks as supplied by Francis
Theakston, London. Photo: Australian
Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

Petrol driven locomotive







Fig. 2.25: Petrol driven locomotive used on Mugga
Quarry tramway. The locomotive was supplied
by Purcell Engineering. Photo: National
Library, Collingridge Collection.

Construction tramway






Fig. 2.26: Construction tramway at Cotter Dam. The
wall of the dam, prior to the raising of its height,
may be seen in the middle distance. Photo:
Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

The Mugga Quarry cableway





Fig. 2.27: The Mugga Quarry cableway. The foundations of the crushing plant at the foot of the slope are still in evidence
near the present vehicle parking bay. Photo: Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

The gun was later exhibited in London and Paris and was eventually sent to Sydney where it was on display for some time before being consigned to Canberra for the proposed War Memorial on 16 May 1923. Some days later, the railway gun arrived at Molonglo where it was placed at the platform siding. This was some six months before passengers were carried on the Queanbeyan-Canberra railway. However, the arrival of the gun did not pass unnoticed. The Molonglo correspondent of The Queanbeyan Age wrote, on 29 May:

‘Big Bertha is still the centre of attention. Numerous visitors call on her daily. One wonders what the lady’s reflections must be at being exiled away from her kith and kin, and worst of all, in a place where her countrymen were interned. It must be galling enough to make her go “pop”’.






Fig. 2.28: The ‘Amiens’ railway gun. Photo: Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

On 27 June 1924, the gun was moved away from the platform to the position shown on the diagram so that the platform to the position shown in Fig. 2.29 so that the intended — the loading and unloading of freight. Here it stood until May 1927, during which time it was much damaged and disfigured by vandals. In that month it was moved to Kingston and placed on a temporary track near Wentworth Avenue, no doubt as an attraction for visitors attending the opening of Parliament . The cost of its removal from Molonglo was £761. In March 1935, the gun was repainted and four years later a light fence was erected around it to discourage vandalism.

The Molonglo siding





Fig. 2.29: The Molonglo siding in 1924, showing where the railway gun was located between 1923 and 1927 before being removed to the Kingston station yard. Diagram from data on file at Australian Archives.

Its subsequent history is a sad one. During World War II, its mountings, bogies and lifting hydraulics were taken off for use elsewhere in Australia on the condition that they be returned on the cessation of hostilities. They were never returned and the barrel, a rather sorry remnant of a magnificent piece of machinery, is now displayed at the Australian War Memorial.


Arsenal Railway

There were proposals for the establishment of a Government Arsenal at Tuggeranong during World War I. Many and varied schemes were considered for connecting the various sites proposed to the NSW Railways system. In the last of these proposals put forward in October 1918, before the whole project was abandoned, the branch railway was to leave the Queanbeyan-Cooma line just north of the Jerrabomberra Creek crossing and run parallel to that line for a considerable distance. This was because the Cooma line climbed at a grade of 1 in 40 for about three miles beyond that junction, and the NSW Railways would not permit a branch on such a steep grade.

In early deliberations regarding rail access into the complex, the following requirements were laid down:

‘The connecting line into the NSW Railway system was to be 4’-81/2” (1435 mm) gauge.

‘The connection must be such as will admit of taking any NSW Railway goods stock.

‘Provision should be made for future duplication.

‘Branch lines connecting ammunition groups and cordite factories should be operated by the Arsenal authorities. Whether they should be standard gauge or narrow gauge has not yet been determined’.

In a report by Walter Burley Griffin dated 13 March 1917, he stated that five miles (8 km) of electric tramways, at an estimated cost of £10,000 per mile, were contemplated to provide for Arsenal connections.

Canberra — Jervis Bay Railway

The Seat of Government Act provided that the Territory acquired for the Seat of Government was to have access to the sea at Jervis Bay.

By 1909 an exploration of the country between Canberra and the seaport had been carried out by C.R. Scrivener, Director, Commonwealth Lands and Survey, the route being plotted by Scrivener onto a copy of the Department of Mines map of the Mining Districts of NSW, which is at present held in the National Library.

A later Trial Survey, carried out by Surveyor Marshall, was finished in November 1914 and included a direct railway connection from Civic Centre to a point about 16 km north of Bungendore, keeping to the north side of the Molonglo River.

The 1918 proposals





Fig. 2.30: The 1918 proposals for a branch railway from the Goulburn-Bombala Railway to the site of the proposed Tuggeranong
Arsenal. Plotted by the author from the data contained in Australian Archives files and from information
researched by Mr T.F.C. Lawrence, AM, FIE Aust.






The length of the Canberra — Jervis Bay Trial Survey was 225 km, with 1.6 km of bridges, 1180 metres of tunnels, and construction of the line was estimated to cost £1,747,670. However, despite periodic agitation for construction of the line the Commonwealth Surveyor General reported on 5 October 1921:

‘I do not think there is the slightest hope of any development work being undertaken for a long time’.

That is still the present situation.

Nowra — Jervis Bay Connection

The matter of an extension of the South Coast Railway from its present terminus at Bombaderry to Jervis Bay appears to have been first raised in 1909, when the Director-General of Works proposed that the railway should be extended to serve the Jervis Bay Naval College.

Three years later the NSW Premier stated he was favourable to the construction of a railway to Jervis Bay. At the same time Surveyor Marshall was asked to locate a section of the proposed Canberra-Jervis Bay railway from the Bay to a point one mile west of the Nowra Road, to which the section from Nowra might be joined, and so save the cost of a separate line into Jervis Bay. The trial line to this point was completed on 29 May 1912.

In the same year, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works found that the line would involve heavy loss, estimated at £9,000 annually.

Although the NSW Premier suggested that the Commonwealth should make some provision in connection with any loss, the suggestion was turned down, Prime Minister Fisher reaffirming on 18 August 1915, that the Government was not prepared to defray any portion of the loss on the line.

The matter was raised again in the following year in a letter to King O’Malley, Minister for Home Affairs, but the Secretary of the Department wrote on 17 April 1916 that: ‘There is not much interest in the railway between Nowra and Jervis Bay’. At this stage the proposal, understandably, lapsed. Fifty-four years later there was a revival of interest in the line. In 1970, it was reported that the NSW Government had agreed to extend the Illawarra Line from Bomaderry to Jervis Bay, a distance of about 32 km, if the American Armco Steel Consortium decided to go ahead with its plans for setting up a $300 m steel works at Jervis Bay. This did not eventuate.

Although permanent railway connections between Canberra and Jervis Bay, and between Nowra and Jervis Bay never eventuated, a temporary construction railway was built at Jervis Bay in 1915 to convey rock from a quarry just east of the Naval College to a harbour breakwater, at that time being extended to a total length of 240 yards. The steam locomotive transhipped from Sydney to operate the railway was a standard gauge NSWGR P(127) class locomotive, originally imported in 1879 to operate the Richmond branch line in Sydney.

Canberra — Yass Railway

The Seat of Government Acceptance Act, 1909, provides that, in the event of the Commonwealth Government constructing a railway in the Territory to its Northern Boundary, the State of NSW shall construct a railway from a point near Yass on the Great Southern- Railway to join the said railway, and the Commonwealth and State shall grant to each other such reciprocal running rights as may be agreed upon, or as, in default of agreement, may be determined by arbitration over such portions of that railway as are owned by each.

The proposed Nowra









Fig. 2.32: The proposed Nowra to Jervis Bay connection. Diagram from data on file at Australian Archives.

Standard Gauge





Fig. 2.33: Standard Gauge (1435 mm) 0-6-0 saddle tank locomotive No. 530 purchased from NSWGR in 1975 for breakwater construction at Jervis Bay Naval Base. Cylinder diameter 12” (305 mm) x 17” (432 mm) stroke; driving wheel dia. 36” (914 mm); boiler pressure 120 psi (837 kPa); total wt. 22 tons 76 cwt (23.2 tonnes). Diagram: the author.

Pursuant to the above, the Minister for Home Affairs, George Fuller, on 17 April 1910, approved of Surveyor Marshall (who appears to have done more than his fair share in locating the railways proposed for the ACT) carrying out a trial survey within the ACT to the northern border, or to be more correct, the north-western border, for a line to Yass.

It appears the NSW Railways commenced their survey from the border to Yass at about the same time, for it was reported in the Bi-Monthly Digest of 1 November 1916 that trial surveys from the boundary of the Federal Territory towards Yass, a distance of 32 miles (51 km), had been completed by NSW.

The trial survey was based on a ruling grade of 1 in 100 with minimum radius curves of 15 chains — an extravagance which was later criticised by the Commissioner of the Commonwealth Railways in October 1917, as the connecting State line has much steeper grades. He suggested the line be re-surveyed on the basis of a ruling grade of 1 in 66 with the following grade compensation on curves:

Curve Radius Ruling Grade
20 Chains 1 in 75
25 " 1 in 75
30 " 1 in 70
35 " 1 in 70
40 " 1 in 70
  (one chain=20.1 m)

Minimum curve radius was to be 20 chains.

Although agreeing in principle, the NSW Railway Commissioner objected to paying the cost of a further survey, estimated at approximately £1,900, on the grounds that he had already paid the cost of the original survey. However, an amount of £2,000 was eventually included in the NSW estimates for 1921-22 and the survey was commenced in March 1922.

On 10 April 1923, the Prime Minister, Mr Bruce, was informed that the working survey was complete. Based on a total length of 27 m 54 ch., and with 80 lb rail fully ballasted, the estimated cost to build the NSW section of the line was £295,725.

In a letter dated 25 February 1924, the NSW Premier made it clear that, because of serious financial restrictions his State was experiencing, NSW could not promise an early start, even if the Commonwealth started its section.

At this time however, a Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works was examining evidence relating to the proposed construction of the railway to connect Canberra and Yass and in May 1924, the Committee published its findings.

Amongst these was a recommendation that the line be terminated as near as possible to the theoretical point on the City Railway 205 1/2 miles from Sydney — a point a little north of Civic Centre.

The estimated total cost of the line from Yass to Canberra, as published in the Committee’s report, was £743,745, of which the Commonwealth would have had to provide £433,000. On the other hand, should the Committee’s recommendation to terminate the line at mileage 205 1/2 be accepted, the cost to the Government was estimated at £131,000.

The decision having been taken to terminate the line at mileage 205 1/2, the Prime Minister informed the NSW Premier that ‘it was improbable that the construction of the line to Yass would be undertaken at present’. This was confirmed by The Melbourne Age which told its readers on 21 August 1925 that the Minister for Home and Territories, Senator Pearce, had said that expert opinion was at present hostile to building the Canberra-Yass Railway.

A small ray of hope was injected the following year when, following a deputation from the Chamber of Commerce and the Yass Railway League to Prime Minister Bruce, John Butters, Commissioner of the Federal Capital Commission, said he felt there should be some better connection of Canberra to the Sydney-Melbourne line, and the matter was receiving the consideration of the Government.

Trial Surveys















Fig. 2.34: The 1916 and 1965 Trial Surveys for a Railway connection between Canberra and Yass. Diagram: the author, prepared from data furnished by SRA of NSW archives and CR archives.

As with the Canberra-Jervis Bay proposals the apparent demise of the Canberra-Yass proposal was followed by many protests from Yass and other country districts, many of whom believed there were better options than to connect in at Yass. The Adelong Railway League, for example, felt that the railway from Melbourne to Canberra should pass through their area. Others considered the Canberra line should come through Tumut to Wagga.

The searching round for alternatives reached the most improbable height when The Canberra Times of 2 December 1926 announced that a survey for a railway from Albury to Canberra was ‘in prospect’.

Since the 1925 report, the project has been reviewed a revise number of times — for example in 1934, the ACT Advisory Council suggested that the time had arrived to the estimates for the Canberra-Yass Railway.

Nothing significant however, occurred for another 22 years until, in October 1966, the Secretary of the Commonwealth Railways advised that consideration was being given to altering the location of the originally proposed route where it passed through the ACT.

An aerial survey was accordingly undertaken in order to assist in a determination being made as to the practicability of the new route on NSW territory. The Canberra Times of 31 August 1965 reported:

‘A new aerial survey of a proposed rail route to Yass is to begin this year, which will enable a firm decision to be made on the site for Canberra’s new passenger terminal, for which about four chains of lease land had been set aside provisionally, one quarter of a mile along Majura Road, Pialligo on the Canberra side of Woolshed Creek’.

On 14 September of the same year, The Canberra Times carried a headline:

‘Rail Link with Yass Supported by the Advisory Council’.

Plans produced by aerial photogrammetry, together with a locality map, trial plan and longitudinal sections were subsequently forwarded to the Secretary, Commonwealth Railways, in March 1967. The preliminary estimate of the new route, exclusive of signalling and land resumptions, was £10,490,000 and was based on the following specifications:

Length 30 miles (48 km) Ruling grade I in 75 compensated. Minimum radius curve 40 chains (805 m) Formation width, cuttings and embankments 28 ft (8.5 m). 107 lb (48.5 kg) rail.

On 24 October, 1968 Canberra newspapers reported:

‘Belconnen Rail Link Announced. Commonwealth Railways have foreshadowed a rail link to Belconnen as part of its forward planning for the ACT.’

Canberra Courier

‘Another Rail Terminal Planned.

A railway passenger terminal west of the Canberra Airport is envisaged in planning for railway facilities in the ACT. It is believed such developments could be included in a report to reach the Minister for Supply and Transport this week’.

The Canberra Times

The report from Commonwealth Railways did not reach the Minister until December1969 and the conclusion of the report was that action should be taken to implement the construction of the Canberra-Yass Railway. This conclusion was not supported by the Commonwealth Government which considered that further investigation was warranted. On 21 April 1971, The Canberra News reported:

‘A new investigation will be carried out into the proposed railway between Canberra and Yass. The Bureau of Transport Economics has been asked to make a detailed examination and report, the Minister announced today. Mr Nixon said the estimated cost of the railway, its route and the assessed benefits as reported by the Railways Commissioner could not be regarded as final’.

In reply to a question in the House of Representatives on 9 May 1972 the Minister said:

‘As a result of a recently completed Bureau of Transport Economics evaluation of a proposed line between Canberra and Yass the proposal was not found to be economically justified. Accordingly there is no plan to proceed any further with the project as it is Government Policy that funds will only be provided for those railway projects where it can be demonstrated that the expected benefits exceed the cost involved in their construction’.

Three years later, the Minister for the Capital Territory, Gordon Bryant, made an attempt to have the matter reconsidered, but he was not supported by his colleagues.

Three or four years later again, the Commonwealth Department of Traffic and Tfansport, having regard to the totally changed energy environment since the 1971 investigation by the Bureau of Transport Economics, decided to take a fresh look at the long standing proposal to build a line from Canberra to Yass.

This was also prompted by the attention drawn in a recent Sydney-Melbourne railway electrification study, to the very unsatisfactory alignment of the main line from Goulburn to Yass and Junee. It was felt that if a re-alignment of the Goulburn-Yass section was considered in conjunction with Canberra’s rail needs, an attractive proposal could emerge.

Some initial work has been carried out by the Department at time of writing, with a view to relocating the Goulburn-Yass line about 15 km south of the existing line, to a 160 kph standard, and a suitable route is believed to have been found.

A new line north from Canberra could connect with such a Goulburn-Yass re-alignment, at a point about 30 km east of Yass, and only about 40 km in length.

The proposal would avoid the need for upgrading the existing Goulburn-Yass connection 70 km long.

Many other advantages are claimed. Not only would travel time from Goulburn to Yass be reduced by 40 minutes, but also a journey time of 3 hours from Sydney to Canberra with the new XPT trains, would be feasible. Canberra-Melbourne direct services could be operated at an estimated trip time of 6 1/2 hours.

The Australian Railway Historical Society in the ACT

The Australian Railway Historical Society was founded in Sydney in 1933 to promote the study and discussion of all aspects of railway history and operation. A Branch of the NSW Division of the Society was formed in Canberra in 1967, which became a Division in its own right in 1975.

In 1974, the Society was approached by the Committee of Inquiry on Museums and National Collections to accept responsibility for the restoration and operation of one of the last remaining examples of the Garratt locomotives of the Public Transport Commission of NSW. At the end of the engine’s useful life it was agreed that the locomotive revert to the Commonwealth Government for display in a future National Transport Museum.

Restoration work on the locomotive was completed by the Society’s members in July 1976. A set of passenger carriages had been acquired, and the sound of a steam chime whistle was heard again in Canberra after a silence of many years.

A second engine of a smaller type was subsequently obtained by the Society and steam operated tours for the public have been a regular feature of the Society’s operations every year.

Although the Beyer-Garratt locomotive was typical of the steam locomotive in its final development in this country, it was not part of the heritage of the ACT as it had never operated south of Captains Flat. Nevertheless the running of the Society’s trains is providing a glimpse of a way of life which was part of the Territory’s heritage, particularly in the period between the commencement of passenger service in 1923 and the 1950s, say, when aircraft superseded the railways as the accepted means of travelling to and from the Federal Capital.


The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance received from the Australian National Library, Australian National Railways, Australian Archives and the Archives of the SRA of NSW.

The author is also grateful to Mr Bruce Macdonald, railway historian, for kindly reviewing the material in this chapter, to Mr Ray Minchin for assistance in tracing the history of the brick-works locomotives, and to the Australian Railway Historical Society for permission to use some of the material from the May and November 1967 issues of the Bulletins of that Society.


  • B.T. MACDONALD — Railways in the Australian Capital Territory Bulletin No. 355, the Australian Railway Historical Society
  • CC. SINGLETON — Railways in the Australian Capital Territory Bulletin No. 361, the Australian Railway Historical Society.
  • Source Analysis — Railways in the ACT., 1901-1979, prepared by Australian Archives and covering references in the following files:

CA 8. Department of Home Affairs (1) 1901-1916
CRS Al 10 Correspondence files, FC Series, 1910-1917
CA 14. Department of Works and Railways, 1916-1932
CRS A106 Correspondence files, G Series, 1910-1927
CRS A197 Correspondence files, staff series, 1912-1918
CRS A199 Correspondence files, FCW Series, 1913-1926
CRS A292 Correspondence files, C Series, 1930-1950

CRS A554 Papers relating to Railways, 1928-1931
CRS A2503 Architectural Drawings, Ac single number series, 3rd size, 1925-1931
CA 27. Department of Interior (1) 1932-1939
CRS A556 Papers relating to transport, 1933-1937
CA 15. Department of Home and Territories. 1916-1928
CRS Al Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1903- 1938
CA 226. Federal Capital Commission. 1925-1930
CP 698/1 and CP 325/3. Correspondence files, G Series, 1925-1930
CRS A3560 Mildenhall Collection of Glass Plate Negatives, c. 1921-1935
CP 69 8/2 Correspondence files, E Series, 1925
CP 325/4 and CP 698/23. Correspondence files, El Series, 1925- 1930
CP 325/4 and CP 698/24. Correspondence files, E2 Series, 1925- 1930
CA 31. Department of Interior (2). 1939-1972
CRS A431. Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1946-
CA 11. Department of the Treasury (1). 1901-1976
CRS A571. Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1901-1976
CA 12. Prime Minister’s Department. 1911-1971
CRS A2. Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1904-1920
CRS A457. Correspondence files, multiple number series, first system, 1921-1923
CRS A458. Correspondence files, multiple number series, second system, 1923-1934
CRS A461 - Correspondence files, multiple number series, third system, 1934-1950
CRS A462. Correspondence files, multiple number series, fourth system, 1951-1956
CRS A463. Correspondence files, annual single number series, 1956-

  • ALAN FITZGERALD— Historic Canberra 1825-1945, Australian Government Publishing Service for the Department of the Capital Territory, 1977.

A $300,000 home





Fig. 2.35: A $300,000 home for historic railway equipment is being developed by the ACT Division of the Australian Railway Historical Society in its new yards and sidings at Kingston. Located at the end of Cunningham Street behind the old goods’ shed, the first stage of the yards calls for leveling, fencing, laying of turnouts and track and construction of facilities block. Later development is expected to include additional trackwork, a turntable and locomotive shed. The total cost of the project is expected to be about S300, 000, most of which will come from society funds. The yards will provide a home for the society’s locomotives and rolling stock. Carriage sheds and workshops will be built on the site and it will function both as a working depot and a museum.

Diagram courtesy Canberra Times



Ian G. Cooper, BA, Dip.Pub. Ad., MCIT
Leslie J. Pascoe, B Com, AASA(S)
Ian Morison, BE, DTP, MIE Aust, FRAPI

Ian Cooper is the author of Trolley Buses of Tasmania published in 1980 and while at University of Tasmania presented a dissertation entitled “Passenger Transport Administration in Hobart”. After 21 years in Hobart Ian joined the Department of the Capital Territory in 1974 and has been Director of Public Transit — Policy and Planning since 1975.

Leslie Pascoe is one of the few contributors to this book who does not have engineering qualifications: he is an accountant who has a Bachelor of Commerce Degree from the University of Newcastle, NSW, and who is a Senior Associate Member of the Australian Society of Accountants. His interest in the Canberra Omnibus Service arises out of a life-long interest in urban street transport.

Ian Morison, after winning third prize in a world wide competition for a solution to London’s traffic problems, joined the National Capital Development Commission in 1959 and was its Traffic Engineer and Transport Planner throughout the 1960s. He was therefore largely responsible for metropolitan transport systems developed during that decade. He went to the USA in 1966 to work with the American consultant Alan M. Voorhees on the development of what became the metropolitan strategy plan, or “Y” Plan, for the ACT

CANBERRA had its beginnings in the heyday of the tram. Griffin intended to use trams on the median to link urban facilities lining the broad straight avenues he designed. He also proposed an eventual rapid transit in these medians set below grade — a concept that was still being examined by NCDC/DCT sixty years later as a possible future development. The avenues were built but major buildings were only loosely associated with them, and Canberra’s halting growth gave no real prospect for the development of a tramway system.

Instead, Canberra grew up in, and was eventually shaped by, the age of the internal combustion engine, with its public transport on rubber tyres. From the first charabancs that carried workmen and school children from Kingston across the bed of the Molongloto Ainslie, Canberra’s omnibus service has become a high quality metropolitan transport system, fully integrated into the physical fabric of the National Capital. Since about 1960, bus routes have been an important factor in urban planning and design.

This chapter is about the evolution of the omnibus service as a system, and as a vehicle fleet which, in terms of coverage, operating hours, safety, operating costs and overall efficiency, is the equal of any metropolitan public transport system today in Australia.

The Old Canberra System

The first public omnibus service in the Canberra City area was commenced by the Commonwealth Department of Works in October 1923 for the benefit of workers constructing buildings in the new city. The service originated from construction camps and ‘tent cities’ at the Causeway and Pialligo, and the temporary railhead at Eastlake (Kingston), and two charabancs carried people to the various building sites in Civic Centre and Parkes.

The general public was first served by bus transport in July 1925 when a private operator, Mrs Helen Barton, commenced running buses between Ainslie and Eastlake, the two residential areas then being occupied, and included trips to the only available shopping centre at Queanbeyan. Although the privately owned service linking Queanbeyan and Canberra continues to this day (now under the ownership of Lever Coach Lines) private operations within Canberra were short lived because the Federal Capital Commission started its own bus service on 19 July 1926.

 Two Graham Dodge





Fig. 3.1: Two Graham Dodge Charabancs purchased by Department of Works in 1922. These were the first buses to operate in Canberra. Photo — DCT Collection.

Photographed in the yard at Eastlake





Fig. 3. 2:. Photographed in the yard at Eastlake (Kingston) in about 1928 were the FCC fleet of four Beans and one of the AEC Renowns. Photo — DCT Collection.

Four AEC Renown buses provided the Commission’s service which ran between a southern terminus at Eastlake anda northern terminus at Ainslie, using several different routes. This basic route pattern was maintained for the next 25 years, with minor variations and extensions of the service to keep pace with the gradual spread of residential suburbs. With the opening of Parliament House in May 1927 and the associated relocation of Commonwealth Government Departments to Canberra, the frequency of service offered by the Canberra City Omnibus Service gradually increased as the population of the new city grew.

It was not until the early 1950s with the expansion of Narrabundah and Yarralumla and the development of O’Connor, that any significant departure was made from the traditional Kingston-Ainslie axis. These routes were extended further in the late 1950s with the development of Red Hill, Lyneham, Dickson and Campbell. But the tradition that almost all buses should serve Kingston and Manuka shopping centres was maintained, thus reflecting both the minor role of Civic during Canberra’s first 30 years and the operational convenience of running buses to and from terminals situated adjacent to the bus depots. For the passengers, however, the public transport system was only convenient for those who were organised to suit the timetable of the service. It was a country town service essentially, designed to get public servants to their offices at starting time and bring them home again after work. But it was tailored to meet other recognised demands such as shopping and theatre trips, albeit on a limited scale.

Transition: Town to Metropolitan System

A comprehensive survey of Canberra’s public and private transport commissioned in 1961 by the still relatively new NCDC showed the Department of the Interior’s bus services were carrying only 7 per cent of the daily persontrips and around 15 per cent of work trips1. While this level of patronage was about the same as that in comparable sized towns like Toowoomba and Townsville, it was less than half that of the smallest State capitals2.

Given that Canberra might grow to several times its 1961 size (56,000) it was clear to the NCDC’s planners that positive measures would have to be taken to get more people to use buses: to lift Canberra’s public transport from a small town service to a metropolitan service3. It took several years to get the planning concepts together, and developed as a practical programme, before fundamental reforms to the system could be implemented.

By the early 1960s, urban expansion into the Woden Valley posed questions about new centres, routes for express movement, and the future balance to be struck between public and private transport modes. Recent innovations in Europe and North America were being studied by the Commission and presented in a Canberra context: urban transport (bus or rail); ‘park and ride’ stations; co-ordinated management of road and public transport systems with design and planning concepts4.

Meanwhile, bus services were having to be operated into the new suburbs, introduced usually as the first homes were occupied, to establish patronage in the formative years. The first Woden Valley (Hughes) service was introduced on 19 August 1963 following first occupancy of houses in 1963. Similar early services were provided for other areas. Care was taken on the details affecting bus routes in the planning of all new suburbs; they were to be within half a mile of all homes, pass the local shops and schools and have pedestrian ways co-ordinated with bus stops.

In 1966, a major step was taken to bring together sound land use and transport planning practices on a larger scale. A ‘general plan concept’ was formulated for the NCDC by Alan M. Voorhees and Associates, who recommended that Canberra’s metropolitan growth be along a limited number of corridors each served by a public transport ‘spine’. The towns forming these corridors would have their own major work centres from which local public transport routes would radiate. This concept was also consistent with the thinking of the bus operator.

The Voorhees analysis showed that good quality public transport service under such a concept should be able to attract sufficient patronage between town centres to justify the construction eventually of a separate right-of-way. This study was the first of its kind in Australia to properly integrate land use and transport planning, and it showed that two types of public transport operations were needed in Canberra: local and inter-town. It cleared the way for planning new features of the system: a rapid transit alignment; town centre interchanges; large capacity inter-town vehicles. The total concept was first publicised in the professional press in 19686 and by the NCDC in Tomorrow’s Canberra.7

While this sorting-out took place on the most appropriate future shape of Canberra, and the shape of the public transport system in a car-owning community, quite a few changes were being made to the existing network of bus services. From 1961 the new Russell Hill defence complex demanded a growing number of additional peak services including feeders from Civic. The Lennox Crossing route came to an end and a new Acton service from Civic began when Lake Burley Griffin, started to fill in 1963. The Scott’s Crossing route had also to be replaced because of the construction of the Lake. The system was at last being forced to keep to those avenues designed for trams, with Civic Centre as the main interchange point between services. These changes began to highlight operational problems inherent in the traditional method of operation. Timetabling was becoming more complex for management; the fleet had grown from 25 buses in 1942 to over 90 by 1966. Since 1958, patronage had doubled, but had not kept pace with population growth.

In 1966 agreement was reached between NCDC and the Department of the Interior to engage consultants to review the usage and efficiency of the service. This study by P.G. Pak Poy and Associates was the first of its kind in Australia, bringing together operational, administrative, and urban development contributions to effective public transport management. It was jointly directed by the NCDC’s transport engineer and the Transport Manager and the Director of Traffic of the Department, and looked into three inter-related aspects of the system: its internal operations (administrative, manning and financial), its external operations (route network and bus operations) and public attitude to the service8.

A survey of households undertaken as part of the study showed that of all the home-based trips made in Canberra, 69 per cent were by people whose circumstances made them captives to car travel, and 7 1/2 per cent were by people who, because of their age or income, were captives to public transport. More significant perhaps for the use of the bus system were discoveries about the remaining 23 per cent of trips, which were by people who could choose between buses and cars: almost all of them were opting to travel as car passengers9. Such as it was, nearly 80 per cent of bus usage was connected with school or work: the prevailing belief that public transport had no other real role seemed to be confirmed. But was this really so? The study showed that actual and potential demand for bus services was less concentrated around peak periods than the service itself: strains on the system might be eased and more passengers attracted if there was more flexibility in their time of travel10. Much else was brought to light concerning the operation of the system, providing the basis for revised timetabling and rostering procedures, bus layout and design, size and composition of the fleet, public relations, simplification of route network, to give a system of regular, easily remembered services throughout the dayh11.

These findings were accepted by both clients in 1967 and the detailing of a new system of bus operations began. Over the years some strange route patterns had been adopted as a result of local lobbying. People in areas where a straightening out of routes was needed had to be consulted. With one or two exceptions, the simplified radial networks from Civic were agreed to and an NCDC contract for installing many new bus stops and removing some hundreds of old ones was let in 1968.

At the same time, completely new bus timetables and driver schedules were drafted, based on not less than halfhourly services on all routes throughout the day with synchronised movements through the main centres. On 25 March 1968, the reformed bus system began to swing into action.


Secure in the knowledge that guidelines for land use and transport systems development, and existing public transport operations, were pointing in the same direction, the way was clear for the authorities to undertake a whole range of new developments to equip Canberra and its burgeoning new towns of Woden/Weston Creek and Belconnen with fast and efficient public transport.

The 1970s was a decade of ‘on the ground’ achievement for public transport in Canberra. The first significant commitment was the construction of the Woden Interchange.

Woden Interchange

The idea of a bus interchange at the new Woden Town Centre had first been mooted about 1963 but it was not until March 1968 that the express bus service was implemented between Woden and City and an interchange had to be effected between express and local services. It began as a temporary ‘on street’ operation in Melrose Drive, Lyons, on 25 March 1968 — a large bus stop and passenger shelter with a mess room for drivers and supervisors.

The permanent interchange which was planned to be as central as possible to the activities of Woden Town Centre was one of the first purpose-built suburban bus terminals in Australia. It was designed for NCDC by Graeme Gunn, with Maunsell and Partners as consulting engineers and Leighton Contractors the builder. Its fifteen ‘sawtooth’ platforms, with ticket sales and information facilities and public address system, were first used on 4 December 1972.

The original interchange was remodelled and a second stage built in 1982 to provide covered platform space for an additional 15 buses. Most platforms can now accommodate either one articulated bus or two standard buses. This extension, to cater for growth in Tuggeranong, was designed in-house by NCDC. Leighton Contractors was the construction manager and Cameron, McNamara and Partners Pty Ltd, the consulting engineers.

Belconnen Interchange

The Belconnen Centre was the first in Australia to incorporate a significant length of permanent way exclusively for buses and it was of a geometric standard to suit a future rapid rail transit system. This was built into plans approved in 1970 but provision of an interchange was fraught with lengthy delays.

As a direct result of problems with the siting of the shopping centre, the future Belconnen Mall, a temporary bus interchange was opened in the West Belconnen suburb of Higgins on 2 July 1973, the most convenient turning point for feeder buses at that time. Initially located on Fullager Crescent outside Higgins Shops, it was moved off-street’ on 22 December 1975 because of traffic congestion in the streets surrounding the shops. Although intended as a stop gap measure to serve the northern, north-western and western Belconnen suburbs, delays in the construction of the town centre interchange resulted in a life of five and a half years for the Higgins Interchange.

Woden Interchange.










Fig. 3.3: Woden Interchange.

The new Belconnen Interchange was finally opened on 27 January 1979. Sixteen platforms were included in the first stage. Its two-kilometres of bus-only roadway linking Coulter Drive and Eastern Valley Way provides unimpeded access for buses, improving the efficiency of the Belconnen operation. The pedestrian spine of the interchange forms part of the overall Belconnen Town Centre system which includes pedestrian bridges over roads. The project was designed by John Andrews International, architects for the adjacent Cameron Offices; Maunsell and Partners were the consulting engineers and Civil and Civic were the builders.

The ‘ACTION’ Service

The Department of the Capital Territory was concerned to raise not only the quality of the service offered by Canberra’s buses — through the best available mechanical technology and an efficient route network —but also the perceived public image of the service. Since 1930, the bus service had had various names: ‘Canberra City Omnibus Service’; ‘Canberra City Bus Service’; ‘Canberra Omnibus Service’; and ‘Canberra Bus Service’.

During the years of Canberra’s relative stagnation following the abolition of the Federal Capital Commission in 1930, the Department of Home Affairs had controlled the bus service until that Department’s functions were absorbed by the newly formed Department of the Interior in 1932, which was responsible until 1972 for the Capital Territory. In December 1972, the Department of the Capital Territory was formed and its administrative resources for public transport management were expanded.

In 1977, the service received another change of name, in association with a major programme to upgrade the service by the purchase of new vehicles, a new range of prepurchased tickets, passenger facilities such as shelters and a new colour scheme for the buses. On 14 February, the new system was unveiled — the Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network — or ACTION.

As a result of the integration of public transport system requirements into Canberra’s development and substantial capital investment to provide a good quality service, the system was able to attract a 33 per cent increase ip patronage in the two years between 1977—78 and 1979—80 when fuel prices were rising. Unfortunately, however, nearly 12 per cent of this gain in patronage was lost because of drivers’ strikes in 1981. Patronage is steadily recovering..

Facilities for Express Services

The intertown system, as it began to be known, received a lot of study in the late 1960s and first half of the 1970s. In 1970, Voorhees and Maunsell outlined a possible right of way for intertown rapid transit, prepared preliminary plans and cost estimates for its construction and a programme for its development. The study also looked into potential patronage, appropriate types of vehicles and the effects of charges for parking on the competitive position of express services. It nominated station locations and interchangedesigns for a line through Belconnen, North Canberra, the Central Area and Woden. It was recom- mended that land needed for the route be safeguarded and it concluded that “an urban busway system on a separate private right-of-way will best meet Canberra’s express public transport needs.”12

A modern duo-rail system was also considered, but was expected to cost up to 20 per cent more to build and to be more difficult to develop in stages.

In the early 1970s, the Commonwealth Bureau of Roads and the Bureau of Transport Economics developed schemes for public transport improvements grants in the States, taking into account consequential benefits of reduced car usage and parking. They identified the critical factors that were needed to attract people into public transport and the capital needed to develop improved systems. For the ACT, the NCDC and the new Department of the Capital Territory carried out an Intertown Public Transport Study in 1974 and 1975, reviewed by the Bureau of Transport Economics and the Department of Transport.

The main conclusions were:

  1. No non-conventional (automated) public transport system could be recommended for installation in the National Capital of Australia, on a metropolitan wide scale, in the near future.
  2. A conventional priority bus system was the preferred system for Canberra for the foreseeable future, i.e., the next 5—10 years.
  3. Changes in Canberra’s intertown public transport system should take place gradually in an evolutionary manner, and the priorities of improvements should be as follows:
    • a re-examination of the operating strategy utilised;
    • the early establishment of convenient efficient and comfortable bus interchanges;
    • the application of absolute bus priority in the vicinity of interchanges;
    • the planning, design and development of other bus priority arrangements, within an overall priority system strategy, as and when appropriate.
  4. Formal steps should be taken to ensure that a practical alignment for a grade-separated system on its own track is permanently reserved within the urban structure for possible future use in tomorrow’s Canberra.13

Belconnen Interchange





Fig. 3.4: Belconnen Interchange showing Bus-way links.

Stage 1 of the Belconnen Bus Interchange








Fig. 3.5: Stage 1 of the Belconnen Bus Interchange, with Benjamin Offices in the background. The Interchange has 16 bus platforms and provides commuters and shoppers with easy access to local and intertown public transport services. Four MAN SL200 buses at the feeder route platforms are flanked on the extreme left and right by Volvo B58s. Photo — Raeburn Trindall.

Belconnen Interchange.





Fig. 3.6: Belconnen Interchange. A MAN express articulated bus has arrived at the platform on the left from Woden and City. Photo: DCT Collection.

It was also proposed that facilities built for exclusive public transport should be designed and constructed to geometric standards suitable for future conversion to a commuter rail system. This decision was reflected in the Belconnen Interchange design together with exclusive public transport lanes on both approaches to the interchange. Express buses can move at speed along major roads, but it is the delays approaching the city or town interchange that so commonly detract from the efficiency and attractiveness of public transport.

One of the evolutionary improvements in express travel in Canberra resulted from the establishment in 1975 of a lane exclusively for buses on the City-Woden run. It was for non-stop travel so was implemented in the median lane and now operates over a distance of 4.5 kilometres. Another was on the City-Belconnen run, where traffic signals were the main source of delays: an exclusive kerbside lane was introduced to give buses priority for several hundred metres on the congested approaches to certain intersection signals.

While Canberra was experiencing strong growth, it was fully expected that an exclusive right of way would be constructed, like the section in the Belconnen Town Centre, for the congested City section of the planned rapid transit route. By the mid-1970s however, the slump in Canberra’s growth rate and capital funding made it clear that no separate right of way would be developed in City in the foreseeable future, and another approach would have to be taken to solving the interchange problems there.

City Interchange

One of the longest running sagas in Canberra concerns the siting and construction of an interchange in City. Initial studies into the siting of a bus interchange in City began in 1974 when it was realised that the projected growth of Canberra would outstrip the capacity of the street bus stops to cater efficiently for the expected number of passengers, especially those transferring between buses.

Various sites were examined for the construction of a temporary interchange which would be used until the final alignment of the intertown public transport route was determined. In 1977, it was resolved to build the interchange on the car parks on the southern side of London Circuit, flanking the intersection with Northbourne Avenue, below City Hill. The site was compatible with possible routes of the permanent intertown public transport alignment.

A need for thirty-seven bus bays was identified by ACTION. Functional layouts were developed with bus turning radii checked out on a large pavement area at Fairbairn airport. Streamlined access was planned with slip roads on and off Vernon Circle to minimise delays to buses entering and leaving the interchange. An architect was engaged to provide an attractive structure incorporating all the functional and comfort needs of passengers. Based on these designs, tenders were to be called but sections of the community opposed the proposal, and the Minister for the Capital Territory asked for the tender advertisement to be cancelled.

One of the principal reasons for this, quoted at the time, was the alienation of a large tract of land solely for a single storey bus station in the heart of City. The key engineer at the NCDC for the project, Bill Minty. offers a different perspective:

There was never any intention to alienate the land for only a single storey bus station. The structure for which tenders were to be called had a frontage of shops and community facilities. There was residual land for such development as a Tourist Centre and at any stage, full air rights were available for development to any reasonable height over the full site. This could have been decked as replacement car parking, or for City offices. Indeed, one proposal was for new offices over the bus station to accommodate NCDC and the Department of the Capital Territory, but no finance was available at that time for any more than the bus interchange. Opponents of the London Circuit site also pointed to the problem of pedestrian access to the interchange. However, other plans were available to add pedestrian underpasses. Alternatively, overpasses could have been provided like those at Alinga Street and Belconnen Interchange. The question of traffic and pedestrian conflict in Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit relates to the broader issue of peripheral parkways which should bypass the city centre. City was then, and still is bisected by six lanes of heavy highway traffic including concrete agitators, huge semitrailers carrying cattle, sheep, steel etc. and every other type of industrial and private vehicle. Elsewhere, highways are being progressively diverted from downtown areas.

In 1980 the Minister requested a further review of the proposal taking into consideration the significant decrease in the projected population of Canberra.

The review reaffirmed the benefits of an off-street interchange, but showed that, to be cost effective, an off-street facility in the City should be combined with another land use. Subsequent projections of bus needs indicated that a much smaller interchange would be quite adequate for at least ten years and that it was now possible to accommodate all bus bays on-street in the ‘T’ shape formed by East Row, Mort Street and Alinga Street. This location has the advantage of being part of the pedestrian area of the eastern half of the City.

The present interchange was designed in-house by NCDC. Construction Manager was Leightons and the consulting engineers were Cameron, McNamara & Partners Pty Ltd. It was officially opened on 23 November 1982.


In many respects Canberra has adopted a bold and innovative approach to engineering matters as exemplified by the following list of events in relation to Australian public transport.

  • one of the first operators of AEC Renowns (1926)
  • one of the first operators of AEC Regal buses (1933)
  • the first city to operate a diesel bus (1934)
  • one of the first cities to test air bag suspension (1960)
  • the first with an AEC air suspended bus (1960)
  • the first Government operator of a Leyland Leopard(1962)
  • one of the first government operators to buy a rear engined bus (1967)
  • the first operator of AEC Swift buses (1967)
  • the first operator of Volvo city buses (1972)
  • the first operator of a German VOV designed bus (MAN) 1975
  • the first government operator of MAN SL200 buses (1975)
  • the first operator of an articulated bus, MAN SG192 (1976)
  • the first operator to buy buses with integral retarders (1978)
  • the first city to test Firestone HELP energy absorbing bumpers (1978) and the first city to equip production buses with these bumpers (1981)
  • the first operator of a Mercedes 0 305 built essentially to the German VOV design (1981).

Various Models, 1922—51

Two Graham-Dodge charabancs were the first government buses in Canberra. Both were purchased by the Department of Works in 1922 and passed to the Federal Capital Commission in 1925. The latter organisation purchased a third Dodge in 1925 for school and workmen’s services. The public bus service was started in 1926 and provided by four AEC Renown, 411s with Syd Wood bodies. The 411 model had been introduced in 1925 and the FCC was one of the first customers in this country for the new bus. A fifth Renown was added to the fleet at the end of 1926.

 Two MAN SL200 buses





Fig. 3.7: Two MAN SL200 buses at the Alinga Street platform of the new City Interchange. Forty-three per cent of the current ACTION fleet are standard MAN buses. Photo — DCT Collection.

In early 1928, four 17-passenger Bean Empire buses were delivered, the first one-man operated buses in the fleet. The Beans were not a success — their small capacity rendered them unsuitable for most services and they proved very costly to maintain. Reports of chronic overloading no doubt contributed to the mechanical problems of these lightweight vehicles. They were replaced by 30seat AEC Regals after a life of only five years.

After this trial with a lightweight chassis, the FCC was again to the forefront in purchasing heavyweight vehicles. Later in 1928, two Associated Daimlers (ADC) were brought, a model that had recently been added to the market in England. In June 1929, a rare example of an ADC/AEC (probably of the 426 type introduced in March 1928) was purchased; rare simply because the partnership between the Associated Equipment Company Ltd (AEC) and the Daimler Company Ltd, was dissolved in July 1928.

After a brief encounter with Commers (two were purchased from the General Bus Company of Parramatta after it ceased operations following introduction in NSW of a bus service tax in 1931) Canberra switched back to AEC for its major source of buses. Over the years, Canberra had the longest association with AEC of any Australian bus operator, the AEC model 3MP2R supplied in 1974—75 being among the last batch made by the company. AEC was taken over by Leyland in 1962 and the manufacturer has now disappeared from the scene. It is interesting to note that the first Commer entered service in Canberra still bearing its General Bus Company livery of biscuit fawn with yellow band, a colour scheme which was then adopted by Canberra to replace the original maroon and buff.

In December 1930, the London General Omnibus Company introduced three experimental AEC buses fitted with diesel engines — the first in regular public service. These were followed in 1931—32 by a further batch of diesels. By 1933, AEC had perfected the diesel and new models were being offered. Canberra was again to the forefront. After buying four petrol engine AEC Regals with Smith and Waddington bodies in late 1933, The Canberra Times reported in May 1934 that bus number 24 had been fitted with an AEC ‘diesel type fuel oil engine’ for evaluation. It was claimed to be the first time an engine of this type had been used for passenger transport in Australia. The tests were successful and the next six buses delivered in late 1936 were fitted with six-cylinder AEC diesel engines.

A natural progression from the long line of 84 AEC Regals bought between 1933 and 1951 was the underfloorengine AEC Reliance introduced in England in 1953. The decision to order the Reliance in September 1955 was also inspired by a report in 1953 by Messrs W.D. Chapman and L.A. Schumer which recommended the progressive introduction of one-man operation of buses. The body design of the AEC Regal made one-man operation unworkable.

AEC Reliances 1956—68 and Leyland Leopards 1962—66

Although it was not the first operator of Reliances in Australia, the Department bought 120 over twelve years — the largest fleet in the country. Canberra’s first Reliance arrived in April 1956 and was the forerunner of 52 similar buses, with bodies by Commonwealth Engineering, over the next five years. One of these vehicles, number 037, which entered service in December 1960, was fitted with air bag suspension, one of the first city buses in Australia so equipped. Unfortunately the Department felt that this pioneering attempt at improving the quality of the ride of buses was not altogether successful as the manufacture of reliable air levelling valves had not yet been perfected. Canberrans had to wait until the arrival of the Leyland Nationals in 1974 before again experiencing the comfort of air suspension.

Leyland’s medium weight chassis, the Leopard, was introduced at the end of 1959 and the first models reached Australia in 1961. Although a couple of Sydney private operators bought examples in 1961 and early 1962, Canberra was the first Government concern to buy a Leopard. Number 015 was registered in August 1962. Only 11 examples of this marque were bought, because the AEC competitor, the Reliance, was preferred.

AEC Regal at Telopea Park High School





Fig. 3.8: AEC Regal at Telopea Park High School. Date of photo unknown but could be just after the end of World War II. The bus is a pre-war model typical of 80 Regals with half cab bodies built for Canberra between 1936 and 1951. Photo — DCT Collection.

The Reliance with AH470 engine, was, in the main, a reliable medium weight chassis. For an underfloor-engine bus it was generally quiet, gave a good ride and was economical. However, frequent failure of the heaters was a severe inconvenience in the Canberra winter.

AEC Swifts, 1967—75

AEC offered a rear-engine alternative to the Reliance at the 1964 Commercial Motor Show in London in the form of a 36-foot Swift with the AH505 engine. A 33’ 6” version was released in 1966. Interest in lowering floor and step heights by placing the engine at the back of the bus gained momentum in Britain during the mid-1960s and there was a rush among manufacturers to offer a suitable chassis.

Among the pioneer operators in Australia to buy rearengine city buses was the Department of the Interior. Canberra chose to buy the 33’ 6” Swift and in December 1967, number 121, a Hedges bodied unit entered service, the first of four similar buses bought for evaluation alongside the more familiar Reliance. Although drivers were not keen on the low driving position and the gear linkage, the Swift offered exceptional comfort for passengers on a bus with leaf springs. It also had a wide, low entrance platform and relatively low noise level. It is very rare for a rear-engine city bus to be fitted with manual transmission and these four buses, plus 10 bought in 1969, were among the few manual gearbox Swifts in the world.

Passenger appeal had entered a new era in Canberra. More Reliances and Swifts followed in 1968 and 1969 and then it was decided to buy Swifts exclusively, but this time Canberra moved into the semi-automatic gearbox arena — or to describe it in more specific terms, the Department ordered the AEC Swift 3MP2R, the ‘2’ signifying the fitting of a Wilson semi-automatic epicyclic transmission with Mono-control electro-pneumatic gear selection. The Wilson transmission made by Self Changing Gears was one of the most common gearboxes on British-built buses whilst the Mono-control gear selector switch, mounted on the steering column, had been devised by AEC in conjunction with CAV Ltd. The first semi-automatic Swift, number 156, was bodied by CVI in Sydney and entered service in Canberra on 23 November 1970.

Although Canberra trailed most other cities by many years in introducing such transmissions, passengers were to suffer from the occasional over-energetic driver. The reason was published many years ago in UK: ‘Semiautomatic gearboxes made bad driving so easy’. All the driver had to do was flick a little lever on the steering column from one gear to the next. Although drivers should pause when moving the lever between each gear to permit an appropriate matching of engine revolutions and road speed, one or two over-anxious drivers did not attempt to relate the two variables, with the resultant whiplash affect on the unsuspecting passenger and premature failure of the transmission.

Like other British rear-engine buses of this era, the Swift experienced some engine failures, in the main, caused by the breakage of fan brackets. Some problems were no fault of the chassis design. To quote from Blue Triangle, a history of AEC buses by Alan Townsin, ‘Not all bodybuilders had appreciated the extent to which the body structure of rear-engined single deckers had to cope with the effect of the ton of machinery suspended from the rear overhang of the inevitably flexible chassis — a problem experienced with other similar chasses’14 Canberra ran into a body stress problem and some rectification work was necessary on the buses within a relatively short time after delivery. But despite all this, the Swift was generally an attractive bus for passengers. A total of 101 Swifts were bought — 14 bodied by Athol Hedges, 30 by CVI, (the last buses built by this subsidiary of Commonwealth Engineering), 37 by Freighter and 20 by Smithfield. This constituted the largest fleet of 505-powered Swifts in the world outside London Transport which bought 838 of the type.

The Volvos, 1972—76

Reliability problems with earlier buses prompted the Department to have a look at the new Volvo B58 then being offered for the first time in Australia. A fairly conventional chassis in the traditional underfloor-engine format, the Volvo has been called the Swedish equivalent to the Leyland Leopard. After examining the one demonstration chassis which later received a Denning coach body, two Volvo B58-50 chassis were ordered and bodied by Freighter at the end of an order for 20 Swifts. Both were delivered in February 1972 and proved to be very reliable buses.

Volvo then introduced their turbo-charged engine THD 100A to the Australian scene and in February 1973, it was decided to order six B58-56 chassis powered by the new engine. The first such bus with a Smithfield body was Number 236, delivered in August 1974, and it entered service on the intertown route between Woden and Belconnen. It was among the first turbo-charged buses in Australia. Number 236 was followed by an order for a further sixteen B58s in September 1973 and another 54 in three batches in 1974. The one major obstacle to a higher Volvo sale to Canberra at that time was Volvo’s inability to supply more vehicles to meet a very tight delivery schedule, having just commenced their assembly line in Australia.

With the exception of 17 Volvos fitted with two-speed ZF 2HP45 fully automatic transmissions, all the Volvos had the Wilson semi-automatic transmission as fitted to the Swifts. Again, as with the Swifts, this transmission is sometimes not used correctly by drivers. At the time of writing, tests are under way to re-equip some Volvos with Voith 851 three-speed fully automatic gearboxes with integral retarders. The Department felt that such equipment should overcome the problems it saw in brakes and transmissions.

The Leylands, 1974—75

Cabinet approved in August 1973 a major upgrading of the Canberra Bus Service with the introduction of new routes and improved timetables. A substantial addition to the bus fleet was required and speedy delivery was essential. Leyland appeared to be the only manufacturer capable of delivering all the required number of buses in the time. Accordingly, the Department ordered seventy of the brand new Leyland National 10.9 (10.9 metres long — a bus especially developed for the Australian and New Zealand markets to meet rear axle weight restrictions), plus sixteen Volvos. Delivery of the Nationals was expected between April and August 1974. Originally it was intended that 32 of the buses would be imported complete from England and the others assembled in Sydney from imported components. Following objections from trade unions and a realisation that it was going to be easier too btain shipping space for boxes of components rather than complete buses, the mix was altered to 16 imports plus 54 assembled in Australia. A combination of labour disputes in England and Australia and delays in shipping between the two countries resulted in the first National being delivered to Canberra in November 1974 and the last in October 1975.

M.A.N. buses at Woden Interchange





Fig. 3.9: M.A.N. buses at Woden Interchange showing the original 1972 structure in the background and the recent extensions closer to the camera. Photo — DCT Collection.

Again being the pioneer operator of another brand of English rear engined bus created problems. Although the National has an exceedingly strong and good looking steel body, is a delightful bus to drive and offers a high level of comfort to passengers, it has had more than its share of mechanical and electrical problems. Also, the innovative ‘70’ series low profile tyres have not been particularly successful. On the other hand, the bodywork, after eight years, is in the best condition of any series of buses purchased for Canberra. The Department has replaced the original steering with heavy duty steering arms designed for the Leyland Titan double decker and in one bus has substituted a Gardner 6HLXB engine for the original Leyland 510 in a bid to improve the reliability of the bus and reduce the excessive smoke problem which has plagued the National since new. It is pertinent to note that Leyland has discontinued using the 510 engine in Nationals and is now offering Gardner and Leyland TL11 engines as original equipment on the revised National Mark II now available in Great Britain. If Canberra’s re-powering is successful, it is expected that other Nationals will be re-engined, thus extending their economic life.

MAN Buses, 1975—81

The slow delivery offered by some manufacturers encouraged the Department to seek alternative suppliers of buses. Germany’s standard municipal VOV bus was thought to be an attractive solution to Canberra’s problem and when tenders were called in late 1974 for forty-seven buses, MAN of Munich successfully tendered for ten complete SL200 city buses fitted with the ‘SU’ intercity front end. Volvo successfully bid for the supply of thirtyseven B58-56 chassis to the same specification as earlier units.

The first MAN was imported to Australia in a framed state and Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation in Melbourne was appointed to complete the bodywork using a high proportion of imported components.

Number 410, was delivered in July 1975 — the first bus in Australia built to the basic German city bus design. In the same month, Perth took delivery of its first Mercedes Benz 0 305 city bus — the Mercedes competitor to the MAN SL200. However, Perth decided to fit its standard Western Australian body to the Mercedes chassis.

From December 1974 to June 1979, a total of one hundred and forty-one additional MAN SL200 buses were ordered, the biggest single batch being 86 ordered in April 1975. All but 16 were completed by Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, the last 16 being built by Smithfield and Custom Coaches. Although not without their problems, such as an engine air filter which could not cope with Canberra conditions, the MAN has been a remarkably successful bus and has certainly had less major problems than any other recent bus delivered to Canberra. It would appear that Canberra’s roads are more dusty than those experienced by MANs in their native Germany. The more recent MANs were successfully modified prior to delivery. Although there are a total of one hundred and forty-one SL200 buses in the fleet, all looking basically similar, there are significant differences ‘under the skin’, and many modifications have been made to the design over a period of five years. Another initiative saw the delivery in January 1978 of bus 518, the first in the fleet with a fully automatic transmission with integral retarder — a Renk Doromat unit — the only bus then in Australia so equipped. Integral retarders which vastly improve braking performance, and hence safety, are now almost a standard feature on Australian city vehicles.

In April 1975, Australia’s first articulated bus was ordered from the MAN company. Faced with increasing patronage among a rapidly growing population, the Department foresaw the need to move more people in the peak period as economically as possible. The introduction of articulated buses would not only reduce labour costs, but would provide greater comfort to passengers in offering more seats to more people.

Bus Number 450 entered service on 27 September 1976 on a trial basis between Woden and City. Seating 71 passengers and operated by one man, the bus was an immediate success. A further twenty-one MAN SG192 articulated buses were purchased over the next three years for use on linehaul services including express school routes. The articulated buses have proved to be very reliable units, cost no more to maintain than a standard bus and are popular with passengers and drivers alike. Canberra’s operational experience with articulated buses attracted widespread attention throughout Australia and New Zealand, and operators in Auckland, Sydney, Adelaide, Perth, Hobart and Darwin have either ordered or are operating articulated buses made by MAN, Mercedes Benz, Volvo and Leyland.

Mercedes-Benz, 1981—83

Canberra is moving closer to the European scene in that it now operates a fleet of MAN and Mercedes-Benz city buses, in both the standard and articulated varieties as are found in many German cities.

In December 1980, Mercedes-Benz was awarded a three year contract to supply buses to Canberra.Ansair was appointed body contractor by Mercedes and the first product of the ‘three pointed star’ manufacturer in the Canberra fleet was officially handed over on 11 November 1981. Although built essentially to the same basic VOV design as the MANs, a myriad of improvements has been made to the Mercedes unit. They are the first Mercedes Benz 0 305s built in Australia to a German design although the Canberra buses have the front end from the 0 307 intercity bus. A total of twenty-eight buses were delivered in 1981 and 1982, and at the end of 1982, a further twenty one were on order for delivery in 1983.

Five Mercedes-Benz 0 305G vehicles were ordered in March 1981. A new-generation articulated bus was delivered to Canberra late in 1982. These buses constitute a break with the previous engineering approach to building articulated buses. Whereas theMAN SG192 has a trailer towed by a prime mover with the drive provided through the second axle of the prime mover, the Mercedes Benz 0 305G has its drive axle in the trailer which acts as a ‘pusher’ to the front section of the bus. Claimed advantages are greater stability and comfort, lower floor height and reduced engine noise.


For most of its existence, the Canberra Bus Service had only one workshop at Kingston which was also the central workshop for the Government car and truck fleet. Kingston bus depot was supplemented by a small sub-depot at Ainslie. It has only been in the last decade that a massive expansion has taken place in depot and workshop facilities with new buildings being opened in Belconnen and Woden.


At Kingston, the original depot was located on the river side of the Power House. In the late 1920s, a new garage and workshop was built off Wentworth Avenue’ to the south of the power station. This latter garage was then incorporated into a much larger depot in the 1930s and was, in turn, converted into the existing bus and truck workshop, in the early 1970s.

The amount of land occupied by the Transport Section at Kingston increased over a 45-year period until it reached its maximum in 1971 when the existing ‘new’ depot was opened. A fibro-clad shed had been built adjacent to the present Government Printing Office during World War II, and acquired some years later by the bus service. This was followed by a new lubritorium in the early 1950s. Alterations to the first group of buildings were made over many years until the original structure became almost unrecognisable.

By the time the building, later known as the ‘lower workshop’ was reconstructed in 1981, only one small galvanised iron wall of the old building remained in situ. The recent renovations included construction of a new store, offices and electrical workshop. This area is now used solely for repairs to the car and truck fleet owned by DCT and the Department of Administrative Services.

Kingston Depot about 1934.




Fig. 3.10: Kingston Depot about 1934. The buses are, left to right: Associated Daimler, AEC Regal, Commer, Coinmer Parlorcoach, AEC Renown and AEC Regal. Photo — DCT Collection.


When the Ainslie Depot opened in June 1929, it consisted of two garages, which originally came from the Molonglo Construction camp near the present suburb of Fyshwick. Two more garages and a workshop shed were added in the early 1930s.

This depot was situated at the corner of Leslie Crescent and Campbell Street, near the northern end of Corroboree Park.

In December 1941, eight brick individual garages, built side by side, each with their own roller shutter door, were constructed at a new location at the intersection of Stephen and Tyson Streets. A second group of eight garages was built next to the first eight in 1945—46 and an additional sixteen garages were built by 1950.

There were no mechanical servicing facilities but a fuelling installation was provided when, due to delays in the construction of a depot at Belconnen, busports to cover 30 buses were built in the yard at Ainslie to assist in the accommodation of the overflow of buses from Kingston. These busports were used from 23 May 1977 and, when Ainslie was closed on 2 September 1979, were dismantled and re-erected at Woden Depot.

The most striking developments in the provision of infrastructure have occurred in Belconnen and Woden. Both towns have purpose-built off-street bus interchanges and their local fleets are housed and maintained at depots in the service trades areas adjacent to both town centres.


Initially, buses from Kingston serviced the new suburbs in Woden Valley. The first stage of the Woden Depot, housing 44 buses and workshop was opened on 16 April 1974. A second depot building also housing 44 buses was completed on 14 July 1975. Woden Depot was designed by the Department of Works in association with Winterbottom, Moore and Associates. Miller, Milston and Ferris (Engineers) Pty Ltd were structural engineers and Leighton Contractors the builders.

Extension of bus services into Tuggeranong gave rise to additional depot requirements met by the transfer of busports from the old Ainslie Depot. In 1983 the workshop will be doubled to provide purpose-built facilities for the growing number of articulated buses as well as standard buses. New fuelling and washing facilities are also to be provided. The then Department of Housing and Construction designed the extensions with Leighton being awarded the construction contract.


Although a public bus service to Belconnen commenced in 1967, it was not until 1979 that a depot was available in the new town. Problems with the design of the depot followed by budgetary restraints caused delays to the start of construction.

Belconnen Depot opened on 3 September 1979. Designed to accommodate, under cover, 250 buses, it is easily the largest depot in Canberra and among the largest in Australia. Associated with the depot is the Belconnen workshop, a facility opened in October 1978 although it did not perform its complete role until the depot opened. Belconnen workshop has a dual role, providing day-to-day maintenance of buses operating out of Belconnen Depot and functioning as the major overhaul facility for the entire fleet.

With the opening of this workshop, ACTION extended its ‘repair by replacement’ programme. When a major component requires repair or replacement it is removed from the bus at the ‘home’ depot workshop and immediately replaced at that workshop with a new or reconditioned component enabling the bus to return to service. The Belconnen workshop provides fully reconditioned engines, gearboxes and other parts to all three depot workshops.

One of the features of the building is the largest underground workshop in Australia. Leighton Project/Construction Management Division were the construction managers for Belconnen Depot and Workshop.


From its modest beginnings, public transport in the ACT has been a story of continuing innovations, including several firsts for Australia. Had the high growth rates of the 1960s and early 1970s continued, long range planning studies might have led to more ‘firsts’.

It is often suggested that Canberra has been designed for the motor car, with the implied criticism that public transport has been neglected. Contrary to popular belief, Canberra has been planned and developed over the last twenty years to provide for public transport, and it now has a most effective network of inter-town as well as local services.

Ninety-five per cent of residents in most neighbourhoods are within 400 metres walk of a bus stop on a route to their local town centre. Buses operate on a basic headway of 30 minutes throughout the day with most areas receiving a bus every fifteen minutes in the peak. Busier routes have a bus every seven or eight minutes in the morning peak.

From interchanges, peak period express buses operate every seven to eight minutes to the major employment zones such as Russell and Barton. The proportion of passengers seated in peak periods is believed to be higher than most other cities in Australia.

Small components of a possible future rapid transport system operating on its own right of way have been built into Belconnen Town Centre. Other facilities could be adapted to meet its requirements with a minimum of disruption, including those of property resumption.

From its earliest years a primary consideration in NCDC planning of new neighbourhoods was the bus routes and the provision of convenient access to them. Emphasis was placed on planning that would encourage people to leave their private vehicles at home, and take public transport. In later years, disincentives such as control of commuter parking were added to the incentives to use public transport.

Like many other public utilities, most public transport systems do not recoup their costs from the individual user, the magnitude of the deficit depending on the magnitude of the system. The optimum scale of public transport able to be supported in a planned city becomes a matter of very detailed study. NCDC and DCT carried out many such studies beginning in the sixties.

A later study in the mid-1970s concluded that the heavy capital outlay for a transition from a bus-on-street system to a complementary fixed rail system or busway on its own right-of-way could not be justified until Canberra had about three quarters of a million people plus associated increases in densities brought about by infill and redevelopment around each of the town centres, inter-town centres and planned stations on the proposed inter-town public transport system15.

New developments in bus technology (such as double articulated buses) strengthen this conclusion and have extended the population at which a change to a bus on its own right-of-way or a fixed rail system would be justified. Nevertheless, engineers recognised that in most cities the late insertion of a transit right-of-way normally entails exceedingly high costs for land resumptions and/or tunnelling.

The latest in public transport





Fig. 3.11: The latest in public transport. ACTION is taking delivery of five Mercedes-Benz 0 305G ‘pusher’ articulated buses. These 70 seat buses are 17.26 metres long and are powered by an 11.4 litre engine located in the trailer. The rear section ‘pushes’ the front part but a hydraulic device prevents jackknifing. Steps and floor levels are lower than in earlier articulated buses and the vehicles are more stable in all road conditions. Photo — DCT Collection.

ACTION has ordered 21 additional Mercedes&





Fig. 3.12: ACTION has ordered 21 additional Mercedes—Benz 0305 buses similar to this unit delivered in November / 981. The new buses will befitted with ABS anti-lock braking, another engineering highlight for Canberra. They will be the first buses in service in Australia with this safety equipment. Photo — Ian Cooper.

In Canberra, where urban development was created directly from rural land, there was a responsibility to define the land required for the future transit, and to control interim land use so that minimum acquisition costs are involved l6. Indeed, in areas such as the important approaches to town centres where most delays normally occur, there was a strong case for building the permanent approaches early. This has almost been achieved at Belconnen Town Centre. The only component still needed is the bridge over Benjamin ‘Way which can easily be added when justified.

Canberra has acquired sound foundations for the continuing development of its public transport. The corridors are secured for the progressive introduction of separate express routes. Attractive passenger interchanges operate at three major stations where they provide high visibility for the system; and there is a high performance bus fleet which functions well. As a result of their German ancestry through that country’s municipal public transport association, the bodywork of the latest ACTION buses is related to that seen on German trams. It is perhaps ironic that Burley Griffin’s plans for trams should develop in the shape of rubber-tyred buses originating from Europe.



The authors record their appreciation to Roger Payne, Nelson Simpson and Keith Downey for their helpful, constructive comments on the draft chapter.

 An Associated Daimler built







Fig. 3.13: An Associated Daimler built in 1928 and number CO 13 in the FCC fleet at the Corroboree Park, Ainslie terminus. Photo-DCT Collection.


Clive J. Price MBE, BE,
FIE Aust., Hon. FRAPI


The author has been actively engaged in the development and management of water resources for military, municipal, and recreational purposes and for hydro-electric development over the past forty years. Between 1958 and 1972 he was First Assistant Commissioner, Engineering of the National Capital Development Commission during which many of the major works, including Lake Burley Griffin, were undertaken. For the subsequent ten years he was a Director of consulting engineers, Maunsell and Partners, also working on major development projects for Canberra.

ONE of the many definitions of engineering suggests that it is the application of available resources for the benefit of man. In the construction of Canberra’s lakes and dams over the past decades, the Territory’s water resources have been developed to provide an increasing range of benefits, initially for the supply of adequate quantities of drinking water of acceptable standards (Cotter, Corin, Bendora and Googong Reservoirs), and with Lake Burley Griffin providing an ornamental setting of great beauty for the Capital and a recreational facility of inestimable value. Lake Ginninderra, adjacent to the Belconnen Town Centre, also provides a pleasant amenity and recreational facility for residents on a smaller scale as well as providing a degree of environmental protection for the Murrumbidgee River.

An assured and adequate water supply and beauty of the site were factors in the selection of the Canberra area as the site for the National Capital. Scrivener who inspected the district in 1909 was impressed by the opportunity it afforded for ‘storing water for ornamental purposes at reasonable cost’. In making his choice, Scrivener unknowingly selected the spot where, in pleistocene time, a freshwater lake had existed, created when scree from Black Mountain blocked the channel of the Molonglo River, damming the water back to a height of about 556 m above sea level. In his 1909 contour survey, Scrivener showed four alternative weir sites for the construction of an ornamental lake with a water level of 556 m. These were the first schemes for a lake at Canberra and the concepts were similar in size and shape to the lake as it exists today.

In determining that the future Capital would have adequate water supplies, Scrivener proposed that the Capital Territory should include the catchments of the Molonglo and Queanbeyan Rivers to prevent pollution of the rivers before they flowed through the city site. Legislation to create the Territory was passed by the State and Commonwealth Governments, but the Molonglo and Queanbeyan River catchments were excluded.

However, the Seat of Government Act which led to the establishment of the Capital Territory on 1 January 1911 gave the Commonwealth paramount rights over the Molonglo and Queanbeyan Rivers and their tributaries, and made the State of NSW responsible for protection of the river waters from pollution. The new Territory also included the catchment of the Cotter River and it was to be on this river that three of Canberra’s four water supply storages, Cotter, Corin and Bendora were to be constructed.

The wisdom of the ‘ Founding Fathers’ has enabled a substantial heritage to build up through the lakes and dams which have emerged as the rivers and streams have been developed for water supply, for active and passive recreation, for water quality control, for town centre cooling and as an integral part of the complex planning of a National Capital. The significance of Lake Burley Griffin and its parklands as the centre-piece of Canberra can now be seen and this, more than any other single feature, has led to the acceptance by the people of Australia of Canberra as their National Capital.

Lake Burley Griffin





Fig. 4.1: A general view of Lake Burley Griffin with the Australian National University and the Royal Canberra Hospital in the foreground, and the Parliamentary Triangle and Russell Defence Offices in the middle distance. Chapter Four

Lake Burley Griffin

Lake Burley Griffin is about 9 kilometres long, covers a surface area of 678 ha and varies in width from 300 to 1200 metres. It has about 33 kilometres of landscaped foreshores which provide access to 314 ha of parkland and 142 ha of the Eastlake Wetlands, a breeding ground for many species of water birds. It is a shallow lake with a maximum depth of almost 18 metres near Scrivener Dam and a mean depth of nearly 4 metres.

The lake evolved out of the investigations and debates of earlier years combined with the opportunities to adapt rapid advances in technology in a favourable political climate. The National Capital Development Commission, under the leadership of Commissioner John Overall, recognising the well of political and public support for the development of Canberra in the late 1950s, tackled forcefully the problems remaining from earlier years. The application of new and sophisticated techniques for dam and gate design for flood control, and of intensive hydrological activities led to construction of a dam across the Molonglo River below Black Mountain in 1963 and the filling of the Lake in 1964.

Completion of the physical works is not the end of the story because the maturing of the surrounding landscape in which 55,000 trees were planted and the introduction of beaches, picnic areas and other facilities around the lake shore is a continuing process which will delight the generations to come. The lake and its landscape lie at the heart of the National Capital but are also part of an open space system which provides a variety of recreational experiences for residents and visitors to Canberra.

The story of the lake’s construction is one of vision and short-sightedness, of confidence and doubts, and of procrastination and performance out of which emerged a water feature consistent with the vision of Scrivener and the intentions of Walter Burley Griffin.

When the conditions for the competition for the design of the Capital were announced in 1911, they were accompanied by a more detailed survey on which Scrivener had shown the level reached by a flood in 1891. This and other information prompted most competitors to include a water feature in their designs.

An engineer, J.A. Smith, was one of the majority of judges who awarded first prize to Walter Burley Griffin in 1912 for his entry in the Federal Capital Design Competition. Their decision was subsequently upheld by Mr King O’Malley, the Minister for Home Affairs. Griffin had placed the central basin of his lake scheme across the land axis of his design, with two formal basins at each end forming his ‘water axis’. Around these three basins and on these two axes, his main civic design compositions were arranged. Not content with this limited area, he submitted another plan ‘rendered on cambric in monotone’, to indicate the dominant topographical features and their relationship to the proposed architectural and landscape development.

This shows the irregular ‘West Lake’ at the same level as the formal basins, 556m and the balancing ‘East Lake’ set six metres higher. This was certainly the grandest scheme submitted, yet it had an appealing simplicity and clarity.

Griffin was a man with remarkable powers of imagination and a genius of topography. Unable to visit Australia, he studied a plaster model of the city site to a scale of about 1:5000, provided for the information of competitors in the British Consulate General in Chicago. From this, he had grasped, as his rivals and critics had not, the significance of the Molonglo flood plain.

The basic fact was that right across the middle of the city site lay a belt of land, averaging 0.8 km in width, which, despite the Competition conditions’ promise of a regulating weir at least 23 km above the City, would always be in danger of flooding. It could not, except with great difficulty and expense, be built upon.

Two alternatives were possible, either the flood plain could be treated as a continuous park bordering a shallow stream, designed to suffer periodical submersion without damage, or it could be permanently flooded by damming the river at a point below the City, thus forming a chain of natural lakes.

As to which of these alternatives would be more effective in uniting the two halves of the city in a scenically dramatic way, Griffin was in no doubt.

He wrote in his competition report:

“The main waterway, the Molonglo, is left in its present state in the lowest and widest regions” ie., below the City . . . “. . . Next above and at the second of the weir sites suggested in the invitation program (i.e. at Yarralumla) a dam of very modest proportions, constructed in connection with one of the roadway crossings, floods the lower outlying informal lake (i.e., the West Lake) and the triple internal architectural basins which bound on three sides the government group for the reflection of its buildings, and for improvement of humidity conditions in the heart of the City . . . The most difficult problem connected with the waterway through the centre of the site is to minimise its interference with traffic and at the same time least cut up areas.” “The circular pools (ie., the East and West Basins) and the connecting (Central) basin provide three water bodies, each complete in itself, located in the spaces between the direct lines of communications from centre to centre. At the same time, because of their largeness of scale and severe simplicity, they conform to the architectural character of the centre of the City with its monumental groups and throngs of busy people.”

Although awarded first prize by the Minister, Griffin’s design was referred, along with other premiated designs, to a Departmental Board of experts for advice. The Board, on which Scrivener served, produced a scheme of its own, which contained another lake scheme, a near relation of the entry submitted in the design competition by the Australian group of Scott, Griffiths, Coulter and Caswell.

When construction of the capital was inaugurated on 20 February 1913, the Board’s scheme was the basis for the City’s development. Griffin subsequently was appointed ‘Federal Capital Director of Design and Construction’ on 18 October 1913. He then published his Preliminary Plan which shows the modifications resulting from his examinations of the site and his discussions with the Board.

He further refined his plan producing a “Schematic” Plan two years later. This was examined by the Parliamentary Works Committee in their enquiry into the Provision of Dams for Ornamental Waters in 1916. This forced Griffin to defend his scheme against the criticism of the former members of the Departmental Board and others. Scrivener, for instance, said “We would not agree with Mr Griffin. One of the points of contention being the form of the lake. I regard the artificial form as much less beautiful than the natural contour. It gets rid of the bays and indentations that are the principal charms of Sydney Harbour”.

A Griffin plan










Fig. 4.2: A Griffin plan with East Lake added to show its relation to the present Dairy Flat Road, Pialligo Avenue and the Airport. This widespread East Lake was to be 6 metres higher than the present Lake Burley Griffin.

Griffin was unshaken in his belief in the formal elements of his scheme, defending it vigorously from all attack. He worked out schemes for the treatment of the formal boulevards that were to surround them, which he claimed were ‘one of the reasons d’etre of the ornamental waters’.

In spite of Griffin’s impressive stand, the Committee decided that the formation of East Lake should be indefinitely postponed, and that the shape of the formal basins should be modified, decisions which have persisted to the present day.

Most of the construction work that had occurred up to 1916 had been outside the City Area and therefore beyond Griffin’s theoretical control, such as the dam on the Cotter River for the city’s water supply which was completed in 1915.

Although Griffin’s revised plan of 1918, with a few amendments, became the official plan for the National Capital following the passage of the Seat of Government (Administration) Act in 1924, there was a number of significant alternative, though interim, lake proposals considered over the years. In the main they consisted of schemes which would allow the progressive development of the full proposal and consisted of a number of weirs established to provide “a ribbon of water” between Yarralumla and the Causeway. The more significant of these were referred to Parliamentary Standing Committees on Public Works whose reports provide enlightening reading and an insight into the difficulties of those earlier years in assessing the feasibility of measures for flood and drought provisions.

The Owen and Peake Report prepared in 1929 is representative of the thinking of this intermediate period and its conclusions drew attention to several hydrological issues which greatly influenced the decisions on the size and security of storages. These issues were examined in more recent studies and with the support of more extensive data and research were able to be resolved. Thus the original concept proved practicable. A third ribbon of water scheme was suggested to replace the West Lake which had been incorporated in the Canberra Plan in 1933. The Wilson Report of 1955 brought the full proposals back into line and with the subsequent appraisals of 1958-1964 led to the present lake.

These earlier schemes were summarised in a memorandum of April 1956 to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works (Metric equivalents have been substituted):

The Owen and Peake Report of 1929, discussed the first Ribbon of Water Scheme suggested in 1926, but not approved by the Public Works Committee. That entailed a weir at Yarralumla at 548m level, and was to bank up the water only as far back as Commonwealth Bridge.

The Owen and Peake Report suggested that, until the lake scheme was implemented, some of the objections to the 1926 Ribbon Scheme could be met by adding to the Yarralumla weir another small weir, at 551 level, near Scott’s Crossing, to back up the water to the weir already constructed to the 553 level at the power house. This in turn backs up the water to the Causeway — the beginning of the former East Lake. This second ribbon scheme would therefore have made use of the main Yarralumladam, the Scott’s Crossing weir, and the power house weir to provide a continuous ribbon of water through the city. This scheme was not approved. It would have been relatively inexpensive, but depended entirely on the assumption that large control dams could be built on the Upper Queanbeyan River to provide water for city parks, etc., and sewerage dilution, as well as for flood control.

Otherwise there would have been risk to the Commonwealth Bridge in flood times, through backing up by the Yarralumla weir.

The third ribbon of water scheme, substituted for the west lake on the Canberra Plan of 1953, was a different proposal altogether. It aimed at placing a low weir at Yarralumla, and also a large dam at Lennox Crossing to form three main lake basins, and to use the area surrounding the ribbon for special gardens and recreation areas. This scheme would be enormously expensive — much greater than the lakes scheme — and, making no provision for flood control, would have been subject to frequent floodings. It was subsequently shown that the foundations for that weir at Lennox Crossing were most doubtful in that position, and a dam on the upper reaches of the Queanbeyan River for flood control would be impractical. A tremendous amount of water would be needed, covering a vast area of good country, and even then it would only delay the peak of the floods for a few hours.

It was stressed in the Owen and Peake Report that because of lack of data their conclusions were not definite.

The Wilson Report was made after a very careful survey of the area and all the records, which are now a deal more complete than in the time of the Owen and Peake Report. Mr Wilson based his findings on a somewhat different basis to the former report, but has left no ambiguity about the aims of it and the probable results. He makes it plain that, in drought years the lakes could fall by as much as O.84m, but the occasions will be very few and in 50 per cent of the years there will be no fall at all. It is shown that the lakes scheme can be successfully implemented with those limitations, but a dam on the Upper Queanbeyan would be essential if some of the other requisites, such as flood control efforts, were to be insisted upon.

The Wilson Report made no attempt to provide water for Sewerage dilution, as the amount required is now so great that the present river flow would not cope with it, and other measures will be required. He concluded with the suggestions that the lakes scheme should be implemented at the 556 level, and the disadvantages of it accepted for the time being. In the unlikely event of them proving really objectionable, it will still be possible to construct the smaller of the dams suggested on the Queanbeyan River to supplement the flow occasionally.

The point to be remembered is that really, effective flood control would be impossible and the ribbon scheme from that aspect alone is most undesirable, but it is essential to carry on immediately with planning and preparatory works on the lakes, gardens, and bridges, and this matter must be determined without delay.

The question of the aesthetics of retaining west lake in the scheme was doubted by the chairman of the Planning Committee, but a large majority of the witnesses in the Senate Committee’s Inquiry were in favour of it.

Mr Wilson’s conclusion that the lakes scheme should be implemented at present without the dam on the Queanbeyan River for drought and flood control, was made with the full knowledge of the Owen and Peake Report. That report showed that even with the big dam at Googong, the 1925 flood would have been controlled for only 12 1/2 hours.

Sailing on Lake Burley Griffin





Fig. 4.3: Sailing on Lake Burley Griffin. Photo — NCDC.

The Senate Inquiry of 1955 led to the establishment in 1957 of the National Capital Development Commission which quickly recognised the importance of the lake. It was able to draw on the earlier studies and on the technical resources and hydrological data available through Commonwealth departments and authorities. NCDC studies led to a greater assurance on such issues as the behaviour of the lake in terms of floods and droughts and of scour and siltation. Other studies arranged by NCDC were able to provide satisfactory answers on water quality, effects of climate and health, hazards of unsightly margins, of mosquitos and midges and the possible disbenefits from changes in land uses.

Swimming in the lake






Fig. 4.4: Swimming in the lake is permitted everywhere except in the Central Basin. This is the beach at Black Mt. Peninsula. Photo — Pieter Arriens for NCDC.

A number of technical papers listed at the end of this chapter provide further detail on the investigations and designs for the Scrivener Dam and Lake Burley Griffin. It is useful however to record a few interesting points relating to those issues which had plagued the earlier investigations.

Of all the investigations carried out, the hydrological studies were by far the most significant. The best use had to be made of the limited information available on weather and river flows. The question of the availability of water with or without an upstream storage and the effect of future flows, particularly in the Parliamentary Triangle, could not remain unresolved.

The Molonglo River which feeds the ornamental lake in Canberra with an average annual inflow of 180 cumecs has three main tributaries which rise to the east, south-east and south of the City. The catchment with an area of 1810 km2 is subject to the spillover from heavy coastal storms which have, in recent years, produced flood peaks up to 3,540 cumecs (cubic metres per second).

Following the detailed theoretical analysis of rainfall patterns and river flows,4 a river model was constructed which was used to test the adequacy of the theoretical findings. It was shown that these theoretical calculations were extremely accurate and the verification obtained from the model studies was most reassuring and enabled far more detailed information to be provided on many aspects. The usefulness of the main model studies led in later stages of the design to the development of more specific model studies, and, in all, some four models were constructed. The main river model also served as a useful medium for informing those in authority and the public at large of the implications of the lake scheme.

Some of the detailed investigations carried out on the models related to the alignments of the lake shore, the positioning of the bridges, the details of flood levels and the behaviour of the flood gates. For example, Kings Avenue Bridge was resited about 50 metres north of its original proposed location increasing the useful waterway from 60 to 80 per cent of available area. The studies also confirmed that with the proposed gates the lake level of 556 m could be maintained in the central areas for all floods up to 2,300 cumecs and that at the design discharge of 5,600 cumecs the level of the lakes in the central area would not exceed 560 m and that such levels would be controlled not by the lake structure, but by the bar of Black Mountain Peninsula.

The use of the models also allowed studies to be made of the shore alignment, the design of the energy dissipator, the handling of floods through the East Lake area and the potential benefits to be achieved by realigning the main channel leading to the creation of interesting islands.

At the other end of the hydrological scale careful studies were made of drought conditions over past years and allowances made for evaporation, irrigation and leakage. It was determined that the lake would function quite satisfactorily within a metre of the 556 m water level without an upstream storage. By this time the application of British Standards for dilution of sewerage effluent was no longer relevant or practicable.

In addition to general ecological studies, specific investigations related to fogs, fish, the behaviour of aquatic plants, the likely extent and magnitude of waves, conditions required to prevent breeding of mosquitoes and other insects, and matters relating to the use of the lake for a wide range of recreation activities. These were carried out to confirm the feasibility and establish the basic criteria for the design of the lake itself.

The investigations extended in this way over the matters of geology, the expected rise in the water table, the quality of the water, the effect of upstream operations, including discharge of effluents into the Molonglo River and matters of turbidity, sedimentation and erosion.

This latter field of study probably gave the greatest concern because the lake was to be a relatively small, shallow body of water downstream of a large catchment subject to very high flood discharges, capable of carrying considerable quantities of sediments. Hydrological science at the time did not offer a reasonable method of estimating the proportion of such sediments that would be trapped by the lake.

After extensive studies using a number of highly respected advisers, it was determined that provided satisfactory precautions were taken in the catchment, the lake could be expected to function reasonably satisfactorily. Nevertheless, some floods could deposit substantial quantities of sediments, particularly in the upper reaches of the lake. It was impracticable to carry out quantitative studies of sedimentation in the lake and the design has therefore endeavoured to make conditions as favourable as possible for minimum sedimentation.

Under small floods with only one gate down at the dam, an opening 32 metres wide by 5.2 metres high can allow large quantities of sediments to pass straight through the lake. Under any floods above 2,300 cumecs five such gates would be down.

Bed load traps were provided upstream of the dam and widespread soil conservation measures were carried out throughout the ACT portion of the catchment. In addition, an agreement was made with the State Government for a large soil conservation programme to be undertaken in the much greater NSW portion of the catchment. Much of this programme was well underway by the time the lake was built. Such programmes of course make major improvements to property values and hence landholders paid one third of the costs with the Federal and State Governments sharing the remainder.

Scrivener dam consists of a concrete gravity section with five 32 metre x five metre flap gates between two concrete gravity buttress non-overflow sections of 71 metre total length, and of earth embankments 184 metres long of which a total length of 40 metres has a centre concrete cut-off wall founded on rock and one metre thick. Maximum structural height of the dam is 36 metres.

Minister for the Interior






Fig. 4.5: Minister for the Interior, J.D. Anthony, invites the Prime Minister Robert Menzies, to inaugurate Lake Burley Griffin in 1964. Photo — NCDC.

The dam is founded on quartz porphory which was covered by alluvium of varying thickness. On exposure of the foundation under the river itself, a combination of geological faulting required the use of post-tensioned cables to tie several blocks of the dam back to the sound rock upstream.

A roadway is provided across the dam to serve as a river crossing between Woden and the City and Belconnen. It is also used as a means of gaining access for the maintenance of the gates.

The size of the design flood, that is the flood which had to be handled by the structures in the flood plain was determined at 5,600 cumecs. The structures were also examined for a flood of 8,500 cumecs in terms of any possible catastrophic damage arising from this ‘max max’ flood situation.

In calling tenders for the design, manufacture and erection of the five 32-metre crest gates to pass such floods, it was necessary to ensure the minimum obstruction to the passage of debris. The neatness and appearance of the gates also was considered of great importance. The gates as erected are fish belly flap gates designed by Rheinstahl Union Bruckenbau, West Germany. The water load is carried by the steel skin plate of the fish belly section to six cross beams. Each of these cross beams is supported by a hinge, anchored to the concrete dam crest and the four centre beams are also supported approximately at their half points by hydraulic jacks.

The main criteria in the control of Lake Burley Griffin is to keep the water level in the Parliamentary Triangle as near to 556m as is possible with the gates provided in the dam. Three one metre X one metre sluice gates have been installed and can automatically adjust the outflow from the lake for a range of 150mm change in water level.

By setting the float-operated control equipment for the first sluice gate at slightly below the desired Top Water Level, the mean annual inflow of 5.1 cumecs will raise the water level to RL556. Under steady flow conditions the sluice gates can pass a discharge of approximately 60 cumecs without allowing the water to rise above 556. During periods of minor floods the filling of the lake storage above 556m is expected to enable the sluice gates to handle floods with peak discharges of less than 100 cumecs. In some years it will not be necessary to use the flap-gates for flood discharge at all. The longest recorded period that flap-gate operation would not have been required was from December 1925 to March 1929.

The first contract (for the gates) was let in May 1960, work commenced on the Dam in September 1960 and the storage commenced to fill in September 1963. Apart from the unfortunate combination of faulting encountered in the foundations and from normal troubles experienced in the installation of such large gates, the construction of the Dam proceeded well.

The treatment of the lake margins5 varies according to their location and has regard to function, hydraulics, cost, maintenance and the landscape value of particular designs. The interest and beauty of the lake arises as much from the variety in the 33km of shoreline and its treatment as from the area of water itself. Apart from the formal south bank of the central basin, the shoreline is quite informal and seeks to provide this interest. There are four main types of margins.

  • A concrete wall consisting essentially of a low reinforced concrete retaining wall capped by a coping is provided in the formal sections of the lake, particularly where hydraulic conditions require such treatment and the foundations lend themselves to this type of wall. It is designed to allow a fall in lake level without an exposure of the lake bed. The precast coping is capable of adjustment and has enabled a most satisfactory line to be achieved on the long straight margin.
  • In other areas a grouted rock wall has been provided and is an effective treatment from the point of view of maintenance and freedom from erosion and has been extensively used in the upper reaches of the lake where the burden of the incoming floods have to be withstood.
  • The third form of edge treatment was the provision of sand and gravel beaches which are designed to allow some protection to the subsoil and as a provision for entry to the lake for recreational purposes.
  • The fourth type of margin is essentially a natural margin where there are rock outcrops and steeply sloping stable shores. The western areas, in particular, have extensive sections of such foreshores which have been planted for landscape and stability purposes.

Scrivener Dam





Fig. 4.6: Scrivener Dam which creates Lake Burley Griffin, discharging flood of 1976. Photo-NCDC.

The location of the lake margins generally follows the 556m contour which proved an extremely economical location. There were several areas of shallow depth or special functional requirements which have been developed to provide particular features in the lake. For example, in the West Lake area near the University, cut and filling resulted in a larger lake and an interesting island. Similarly, a balanced programme of earthworks led to the developments of the boat harbour in East Basin, the Nerang Pool in an area which was formerly swamp land and the formation of Yarralumla Bay and Lotus Bay for boat shelter. To allow a larger triangular sailing course for races, the ‘finger’ of land at Yarralumla Bay was cut out but the ‘finger nail’ left was another island (Spinnaker). The lake has six islands altogether.

Any reference to Lake Burley Griffin would not be complete without a statement on the design and construction of the traffic bridges which contribute so much to the total composition of the central areas. These are discussed in Chapter One.

Thus it was with the completion of engineering works in September 1963 that all that was required was a supply of water — something beyond the powers of Prime Minister Menzies, Commissioner Overall or the many highly skilled and enthusiastic professionals who had contributed so much to the lake’s construction. As the dry season which had so favoured construction operations continued, doubts began to emerge that the National Rowing Championships, scheduled with an abundance of faith for Lake Burley Griffin 2 May 1964, would become a modified version of the Todd River Regatta. An alternative course was being prepared for use on a partly filled lake when at the end of April 1964 heavy rains fell on the catchments, the lake filled and the Regatta was held successfully, though in the midst of some flotsum and jetsam from the receding flood.

In the years since then, the lake and its parklands have proved universally popular. Power boats are not permitted, other than for safety patrols and the coaching of rowing crews. However on most Saturdays and Sundays in summer, more than 10,000 people are attracted to the lakeshore, more than one-third arriving by car at the one time. The increasing usage of the lake and its foreshores is generating a demand for more beaches and the provision of further facilities associated with direct use of the lake, such as boat sheds, clubhouses, boat launching areas, parking and other structures and amenities.

The pressure of people in some areas leads to conflicts between different kinds of uses and users that need to be resolved by management. There is also increasing demand for sites for tourist oriented development. As the lake and the foreshore are a finite resource, it is desirable that planned uses and facilities are located in accord with its physical character and environmental capability and that the management implications of this are recognised.

Swimming in the lake is only prohibited in the formal Parliamentary area but water quality problems have occasionally caused closure of the lake for short periods. Despite the difficulties in controlling the quality of all inflows, the lake water quality remains mostly acceptable by swimming water quality criteria.

Continuing careful attention to all aspects of lake management is vital, particularly as the lake matures.

Lake Ginninderra

It is not surprising that following the impact of Lake Burley Griffin on the Canberra scene, the availability of water and its maximum beneficial use became an important factor in the development of Canberra’s new towns. There was in the mid 1960s a sensitivity to environmental matters, an awareness of the need to preserve water quality and a changing lifestyle which placed greater emphasis on social and recreational matters.

Lake Ginninderra is about one-sixth the size of Lake Burley Griffin





Fig. 4.7: Lake Ginninderra is about one-sixth the size of Lake Burley Griffin. Belconnen Town Centre
is being developed on its southern foreshores. Photo — NCDC.

In the early planning considerations for the new town of Belconnen, the pattern of neighbourhoods and regions focusing on the town centre defined the general location for that centre. In the detailed consideration of the town it was realised that an opportunity existed, subject to detail study, for the introduction of a water feature into the design of the town centre. The concept of a ‘town in a park’ and even ‘the lake in the town’ were not unreal and the successful completion of Reston in USA though on a smaller scale encouraged thinking along these lines.

Although the concept was valid, the basic hydrological data for Ginninderra Creek was lacking and an analysis of comparable catchments was necessary to define a realistic lake area and to assess the need and extent of any make-up storage.

By 1967 the Belconnen urban areas were developing rapidly and already a trunk sewer had been constructed on an alignment which, under some lake proposals, would be flooded. Planning of major arterials also would be influenced by the arrangements of a future lake.

Ginninderra Creek itself rises in the Hall area of the ACT. It flows for several kilometres in a generally south-westerly direction crossing the Barton Highway about 6.5km on the Canberra side of Hall. At a point close to the Belconnen Town Centre, the creek turned sharply in a northerly direction for about 3 km, then turned again in a direction generally slightly north of west to flow eventually into the Murrumbidgee River.

Feasibility reports prepared in 19676 examined the following aspects:

  1. The feasibility, scale, treatment and cost of a water feature adjacent to the then proposed Belconnen Town Centre.
  2. The establishment of water levels and flood heights based on the hydrology and land form surrounding the Creek as a background for development proposals.
  3. Consideration of the ability of Ginninderra Creek to maintain the lake level and possible sources of toppingup water if required. Consideration of sedimentation problems and the appearance of water; and
  4. A study of the capacity of the existing trunk sewer to safely withstand the loading resulting from lake development above.

The initial considerations related to catchment yield and make-up requirements. The assessments were made on the basis of the Jerrabomberra catchments adjusted for the different rainfall records as provided by Mt Campbell in the Jerrabomberra catchment which has similar land characteristics and uses although its soil characteristics are not comparable. Ginninderra is generally composed of relatively impervious clay and silty clays while the Jerrabomberra catchment has soils which are relatively permeable.

It was demonstrated that the natural flow of the Creek would not maintain a full storage at all times with the lake level at RL578. The maximum draw-down without topping up with water from an external source was estimated to be of the order of 0.64m. Such topping up water could be provided in the early stages of development by either the use of treated waste water, town supply or ultimately by water from a dual purpose upstream storage.

In the later years, run off from the catchment in the Gungahlin area was expected to increase appreciably with the progressive urbanisation of Gungahlin, thus minimising or eliminating the need for topping up the lake. Since its establishment, however urbanisation of Gungahlin has not proceeded but those parts of Belconnen in the lake catchment have mostly been urbanised and the lake has not yet needed topping up.

The full supply level of 578 was adopted after an analysis of the shoreline slopes around the perimeter for levels of 576 and 578. The shore slope characteristics at both levels are similar, the higher perimeter provided some 10.5 km of shoreline compared with 8.4 km at the lower level. The higher dam was selected as it provides better facilities for recreation, such as rowing and sailing.

The earth and rock fill dam has therefore been constructed with a top water level of 578 and an adjacent culvert spillway. The dam served not only to form Lake Ginninderra but provides the arterial road linkage between Belconnen Town Centre and North Belconnen.

The examination of the trunk sewer demonstrated that with adjustments to vents and manholes its structural capacity was adequate. However, the use of this pipe as a main sewer has been progressively reduced with the further development of the Town Centre and the main sewer network.

A section of the main however has continued to be used for the dispersal of the warm water discharge from the integrated air-conditioning system for the Town Centre. About two km length of this main has been adapted to this purpose by the introduction of some 24 dispersing outlets. The hot water is fully dispersed within some 6m of these outlets.

The net cost of constructing Lake Ginninderra was quite low due to such factors as the need anyhow to carry a major arterial across the creek on some major structure, and the augmented land values around the lake.

Lake Ginninderra is a delightful waterscape which is being enhanced as landscape materialises and development proceeds. Earlier visions of having areas in which housing penetrates virtually to the foreshores as occurs on this scale of water-way elsewhere have been thwarted by the presently popular desire to preserve all such areas for public availability. The partially completed Town Centre has not yet established the quayside effect of the mature development but the prospect remains and the opportunity exists in years to come to build on this heritage provided in the 1970s.

Canberra’s water supply storages

The storages for Canberra’s water supply were initially supplied on the Cotter River. In 1912, construction of the first dam commenced and when completed in 1915 the 20m high concrete Cotter Dam had a capacity of 1850 megalitres. The water was pumped from the dam to a storage reservoir on Mount Stromlo, where it gravitated to the city service reservoirs. A pumping scheme was considered to be more economical than a gravitation one since the loss of interest over many years on the additional construction cost of the gravitation scheme would have proved much greater than the cost of pumping.

The water supply system in the first stage was for a population of 25,000 which proved more than adequate for more than 30 years. In 1945, the population of Canberra was only 13,000. In 1950-51, the dam wall was raised a further 7.3m to increase the reservoir’s capacity to 4,700 megalitres.

In 1958 to meet the needs of Canberra’s growing population work began on the 47.2m high Bendora Dam, the first thin wall, double curvature-type dam built in Australia.7

This storage on the Cotter River was recommended by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works after considering two sites, the one on the Cotter and the other at Googong which was favoured technically. Because the Committee doubted that effective control could be exercised over the Googong catchment area and because it considered that the resumption of the whole Queanbeyan River catchment area for control purposes would remove the capital cost advantage of the Googong site, the Committee, on balance, recommended the Upper Cotter site, stipulating that water should at first be pumped from the storage but later a gravitation system be constructed.

Walter Burley Griffin












Fig. 4.8 Walter Burley Griffin’s prize-winning plan for Canberra in 1912.

When construction of the Bendora Dam commenced in 1958, Canberra had begun a population explosion and it was obvious that another dam would be needed soon. Investigations for a new dam began in 1961 while the Bendora Dam was being constructed. By 1963 it had been decided that the third dam, the Corin, should be built on the Cotter River as soon as possible. The investigations indicated that the subsequent site should be at Googong but drew attention to the Upper Murrumbidgee as a future potential source. For example a tunnel could be built from the upper Murrumbidgee near Tantangara to lead water into the Cotter Valley upstream of Corin.

Corin Dam acts as a reserve storage to release water down river to Bendora Dam for supply to the Canberra Water Supply system via the gravity main.

In drought periods and in the years when the water supply demand is approaching the safe yield from the installations on the Cotter River it will be necessary to operate all of the storages in order to obtain the maximum yield. This will require Bendora Dam and the Lower Cotter Dam to be drawn down in the latter part of the summer and autumn to provide storage availability for rain falling anywhere on the catchment. If in these critical years the two lower dams were operated full for optimum pumping and gravity conditions, any rain falling below Corin Dam would be lost over the spiliways of the lower dams.

The design and construction of Corin Dam is well documented in the report on this subject prepared by the Commonwealth Department of Works.8 The following general description of the project is provided for completeness of the record.

Alternative dam proposals included:—

  1. rock fill dam with central earth core;
  2. concrete multiple arch dam; and
  3. earth fill dam.

The earth and rock fill dam was selected as the most satisfactory alternative. The complexity of the concrete multiple-arch dam combined with the uncertainty of the foundations for this type of structure made this alternative less acceptable having regard to the assured foundation for the earth and rock fill alternative. This resulted in a 76.2m high earth-and-rock-fill structure incorporating a side channel spillway and an outlet tower leading to the diversion tunnel. The valves at various heights in the tower allow draw-off at various reservoir levels.

Particular care was taken during construction to minimise the pollution of the live storages in the lower catchment. This applied particularly to the placement of rock fill. Information, particularly on the performance of German rock-fill dams, indicated that the initial movement of this type of dam was considerably reduced by rolling the rock-fill in layers, as contrasted with those constructed by dumping methods. It was reported by the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Authority that the contractors were favourable toward the technique of rolling rock-fill. It was realised that sluicing the rock-fill during the placing process would pollute the river, and this was confirmed by observation of the construction of the Geehi Dam. Continued pollution of the Cotter River during the dam construction would have been most undesirable because it was the sole source of Canberra’s water supply. It was decided to roll the rock-fill in layers without sluicing after the dry and wet strength of the rock was tested and the quartzite rocks showed only a slight decrease in wet strength compared to its dry strength.

A side-channel inlet to the spillway chute was chosen to minimise rock excavation and to ensure reasonable approach conditions to the spillway crest because of the oblique flow from the storage toward the spillway crest.

The decision to develop the terminal structure of the spillway as a ski-jump instead of a stilling basin was a matter of economics. The disadvantage of the ski-jump is the pollution of water whilst the scourhole is being formed. A basic problem of shaping the ski-jump with a spillway with an uncontrolled crest is to cause the small discharge to shoot, leaving the resulting scour remote from the ski-jump structure. This was achieved by superelevating and stepping the ski-jump, thus concentrating low flows to the lower step of the ski-jump where it shoots in a low angle trajectory.

The Cotter catchment is restricted to its use as a water supply catchment in the absence of full water treatment. However, at Corin recognition has been given to the opportunity it provides for the enjoyment of the attractive scenery and of the bushland comprising the catchment. Good road access has therefore been provided to the site across the Dam crest and over the spillway via a bridge to a turning circle and parking area on the left bank. This has provided a popular terminal point for tourists visiting the Brindabella Reserve and the Gibraltar Creek falls.

The construction of the Corin Dam was commenced in March 1966 and completed in October 1968. Together with the other Cotter River storages, it will supply a total Canberra-Queanbeyan population of about 225,000 people. Investigations of possible storage sites for the next dam began in September 1967 and encompassed a wide range of possibilities in the region. This report concluded that the next dam should be built at Googong.

Googong Dam

Googong Dam had been contemplated from the time of the initial nomination of Canberra as the site of the Nation’s Capital and its investigation has been directed from time to time with a view to its use for water supply, flood control, lake provisions and for recreation.

The instruction for the guidance of surveyor C.R. Scrivener in selecting the site for the National Capital in 1908 gave as a primary requirement “That it include the catchment area of the water supply for the Capital — such water supply to be of sufficient magnitude to place the question of volume at all seasons and purity beyond doubt”.

Scrivener nominated 2,628 km2 in the catchments of the Cotter, Queanbeyan and Molonglo Rivers and a request was made to the NSW Government for the surrender of the land. But after negotiations only the Cotter catchment area was included and in respect of the Queanbeyan and Molonglo Rivers, the Seat of Government Acceptance Act, 1908 Schedule 1, provides safeguards.

Thus although not a dam in the ACT Googong has become an integral part of Canberra as a major source of water supply and progressively as a major recreation source.

That Googong provided an assured site for a dam is conveyed by the following extract from an attachment to the Owen and Peake Report of 1929. (Metric equivalents have been substituted):











Fig. 4.9: Griffin’s preliminary plan for Canberra showing the three formal Basins of his ‘water axis’and the irregular West
Lake and portion of the East Lake.

The site of the proposed Googong Dam is by River 27 km above the Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and 10km above the Town of Queanbeyan. It lies between two steep hills and at the low end of extensive river flats which will provide a good storage ground. The river bed level is RL612 or 54m above the deck of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. The catchment area above the site is 875 km2

Dr Woolnough has inspected and reported upon the site and extracts from his report are as follows:

Summarily it may be stated that the site is as nearly ideal from a geological point of view as it is possible to imagine. The area is occupied by a thick series of Silurian sediments and volcanic rocks which are intruded by a considerable mass of granite of somewhat more recent date. The sediments are dominantly slatey in character and no noteworthy outcrops of were seen in the section examined. The slates being easily eroded, have caused the formation of a wide open valley in the neighbourhood of the head station. It is this open valley which will supply the storage for the proposed water conservation. The resistance of the massive quartz porphyries to erosion has caused a sharp constriction in the channel of the Queanbeyan River at a point downstream from the wide valley occupied by the slates. This constriction forms a steep-sided gorge, reduces the cross section of the stream and renders possible the construction of a wall of relatively small dimensions. Furthermore, the solidity of the quartz-porphyries provides foundations of the utmost stability. There need be no fear that such foundations will either give way or leak. The river runs across the ‘grain’ and the foundations are occupied only by the extremely competent quartz prophyries.

A scheme for constructing a dam on this site, 30.5m high, was reported upon by the Parliamentary Standing Committee in March, 1915.1 Amongst the objects stated to be attained by the work was —

To reduce the volume of flood waters of Canberra Plains during heavy rainfall on the Queanbeyan catchment area. As seen from its dimensions the dam is designed as an overshot weir and the capacity of the storage is given with the water level to the top of the wall, the only flood relief it could afford would be when a flood occurred after a long dry period and the reservoir was partly depleted. The Public Works Committee approved of the proposal to construct the reservoir, but did not consider the work ‘urgent or immediately necessary’.

The Molonglo Floods Committee in their report of 16 March, 1927, recommended the construction of a dam with a height of 45.7m the top of the wall being at RL674 and the spillway at RL654. Their suggestion carried the provision of permanent storage behind the wall to RL634 and above this level the dam to serve for flood retardation purposes only. The total capacity of the storage at the spillway level was taken as 67,800 megalitres and deducting the permanent storage of 11,200 megalitres the capacity available for the storage of flood water would be 56,600 megalitres which would have held up to 1925 flood discharge down the Queanbeyan for 12 1/2 hours. The Molonglo being a shorter river than the Queanbeyan the peak of the flood on the Molonglo is generally ahead of the peak on the Queanbeyan, and the retardation at Googong would allow for subsidence in the Molonglo before the Queanbeyan waters joined it.

An attached drawing showed a design of a straight dam with floods controlled by spillways and sluices.

In an NCDC, report of September 1969 (Canberra Water Supply — Further Augmentation) a wide range of potential sources for future supplies to Canberra was examined including both storage proposals and run-of-river schemes. These included:

  • Googong Reservoir, Queanbeyan River
  • Tennent River on the Gudgenby River
  • Coree on the Cotter
  • Pumping from the Murrumbidgee at Tharwa
  • Extensions of the above Tharwa scheme with 4 alternative storages
  • Use of the Goodradigbee River
  • A Murrumbidgee/Cotter diversion near Tantangara

From all these possible schemes Googong was selected as having the following advantages:

  1. Some additional storage is desirable before introducing a run of river scheme.
  2. Value is seen in having storage in two different catchments each responsive in two different weather conditions.
  3. A storage is a valuable safeguard against pollution due to the die away of bacteria in the stored body of the water.
  4. The Commonwealth has paramount rights over the water in the Queanbeyan River.
  5. The Googong storage scheme has been most extensively studied drawing on hydrological records going back to 1911.

Thus the dam which for so long had waited in the wings at last became central on the stage.

The design and construction of Googong Dam is well documented in departmental reports and in a submission by the contractors for a construction achievement award in 1978. The following outlines the main features of the dam and records a notable experience during the construction phase.

Googong Dam is located in a short gorge section of the Queanbeyan River approximately 9 kilometres upstream of Queanbeyan. The Dam consists of an earth rock fill embankment protected by an adjacent spillway.

The water level at Googong has been set at RL663m to provide a reservoir storage of 119 x 106m3. The bulk water supply distribution system has sufficient flexibility that an equivalent population of 450,000 persons can be supplied at unrestricted consumption from the combined Googong and Cotter systems. Googong also contains additional storage for maintaining the level of Lake Burley Griffin during a dry period, and some irrigation and the riparian requirements downstream of the dam.

The maximum probable flood inflow for the reservoir, 4,530 cumecs was calculated by the hydrometeorological method using a maximised storm determined by the Bureau of Meteorology together with a unit hydrograph derived from a flood in 1925 at the damsite which had a recurrence interval in the order of 100 years. Flood routing through the reservoir reduces this to maximum probable spillway outflow flood of 4,320 cumecs.

The geology of the damsite was first investigated in detail in 1929 for the possible construction of a concrete gravity dam. The adits and shafts which formed part of this investigation were still visible on the site. In 1955 geological investigations of a preliminary nature were carried out for use in comparison studies between the Googong and Bendora sites for a dam. In 1962, further investigations were carried out to select either the Googong or Corin sites.

The partly completed






Fig. 4.10: The partly completed earth and rockfill Googong embankment being overtopped in 1976. The flood rose higher
and carried away the tree in the foreground. Photo — NCDC.

Further geological investigations were carried out in 1970 concurrently with the engineering feasibility studies for various types and arrangements of dams on the Googong site. The final design geological investigations for an earth-rockfill dam with a side spillway incorporating the rock quarries, followed on from these feasibility studies and commenced in mid-1972.

In the Googong area the local rock consists of near vertical beds of dacite with meta-sediment lenses all of middle Silurian age, known as the Colinton Volcanics, Granites of Siluro-Devonian age had intruded in the northern section of the area.

No major fault zone was detected on the dam site, however, fracture zones and associated deep weathering exist in the dacite possibly caused by the intrusive effect of the granite and associated hydrothermal activities.

The embankment is founded mainly on dacite, although the downstream toe and the higher levels of the left abutments are on granite. Although the foundation rock is intensely fractured and jointed, no major zones of high permeability were revealed by pressure testing in the diamond drill holes.

Owing to the proximity of a large centre of population, Queanbeyan, downstream of the dam and the large flood flows that can occur on the river a detailed study was carried out for river diversions.

Hydrological studies indicated that flood probabilities were considerably reduced in the dryer September to March period of the year. For this reason it was considered necessary to construct the bulk of the main embankment in this period.

It was considered neither practical nor necessary to construct a river diversion system without utilizing possible overtopping of the uncompleted embankment by large floods. Adequate reinforcement of the downstream slope was carried out to prevent shallow slips and unravelling of the surface rockf ill during overtopping.

In October 1976 the partially completed dam was subjected to a severe flood. The account of this experience prepared by Thiess Bros. Pty Ltd, the contractors for the project provides an excellent summary.

As aforesaid, the 6 months period from 1/9/76 to 1/3/77 was regarded as the “dry” period of the year, of minimum flood risk, and as such was selected by the designers for the construction of the “critical section” of the embankment between RL620 and RL665. It was therefore expected that weather conditions would be favourable and that after the successful completion of the first stage embankment construction on target date, the embankment construction progress would not be further adversely affected.

As it happened, the 1976 year proved to be an exceptional year.

On the morning of Friday, 15 October, 1976, the Bureau of Meteorology issued a confidential alert of possible flood producing rains over the Googong Catchment Area. The embankment fills were completed at this stage to RL627 in the core and upstream rockfill sections, the downstream rockfill section was completed to RL630. The RL630 layer of downstream slope reinforcement protection was at the time 75 per cent complete, and the top of the embankment fill was 140m wide at this point of construction.

NCDC and Departmental





Fig. 4.11: NCDC and Departmental observers watching the Googong embankment being overtopped on 16 October 1976.

In the afternoon, after further warning, an instruction was issued by the Superintending Resident Engineer to put the Contractor’s workforce on standby for the night and for the weekend, and to complete the uncompleted 25 per cent of the downstream slope protection reinforcement if required. The workforce of approximately 30 men and staff was called Out for this purpose at 5.00 am on Saturday morning, and worked until the embankment over-topped, at 10.25 am. The protective reinforcement had been completed as required by this time.

Prior to that, all construction plant was moved from the low lying areas and secured, except for two draglines used for excavation of materials from the sand and gravel deposits of the site of the dam. Access to these became impossible immediately after the river started to rise.

The embankment was overtopped completely at 10.25 am on Saturday morning. This first overflow lasted 17.5 hours, and the maximum depth of flow over the crest in the first peak was 2.5m, which represents an overflow of some 550 cubic metres per second, and with 220 cubic metres per second of additional flow through the diversion tunnel this was a flood of approximately one in one hundred year frequency for the October/ November period of the year.

This first overflow ceased at approximately 4.00 am on Sunday. The second overflow began at 9.20 am on Sunday 17 October, and ceased at 1.20 am on Monday the following morning. This second peak had a maximum depth of 1.5m over the crest, which represents a flow of some 200 cubic metres per second. During both peaks, the 5m diameter diversion tunnel was running full with a flow of 220 cubic metres per second.

Between the overflows, from 2.00 am to 9.20 am, an inspection showed that the downstream slope protection reinforcement was still in generally good condition. In a section of the crest, a channel section of 4m long, 2m wide and 1m deep, had eroded in the top layer of the reinforced rockfill. Work commenced immediately to repair it. Also, several sections of rock were repacked behind the adjacent mesh, and debris caught on the crest were removed. Also some loosened reinforcing bars were rewelded.

After the second over-topping, work recommenced on the repairs to the protective work, debris removal and rock packing on the face.

Shortly after midday on Monday, 18th October, 1976, a further 24 hour flood warning was issued and the repair work had to be accelerated. Immediate steps were taken to ensure that work would continue through the night. Preparation commenced for concreting areas of washed out rock on the downstream rock face. Additional agitator trucks, concrete pumps, welding sets and lighting generators were hired and arrangements made for night-time deliveries of cement and aggregates. The earth drain above the downstream tunnel portal was converted to a haul road to permit truck access on the embankment, enabling concreting of cavities in the downstream embankment face to commence by 3.15 pm on Monday. From that time, mesh and rebar repairs on the armour, and concrete repairs to the downstream face continued non-stop until 6.00 am the following morning. Some 70 sheets of mesh were placed and welded and 154 cubic metres of concrete placed to damaged sections of the downstream face during this period. The third overflow did, however, not occur.

Specific requirements for diversions and related embankment construction included:

  1. A diversion tunnel of 5m internal diameter together with inlet and outlet channels to be constructed through the left abutment (and concrete lined for later usage in the outlet system).
  2. An upstream coffer dam approximately 12m high with a crest level RL622m and reinforced downstream rock slope.
  3. A downstream coffer dam with a crest level lower than the upstream coffer dam.
  4. Embankment to be protected by steel mesh and bar reinforcement on the downstream slope to RL6S2m, which is about 42m above river bed level.

The embankment section consists of an impermeable earth core protected by filters and enclosed by rock shells in the conventional manner. The core is non-symmetrical about the vertical centreline of the embankment, it is inclined slightly upstream to assist in obtaining acceptable slope stabilities and core contact with the most economical section. A slight steepening (1:1.7 from 1:1.8) of the downstream slope was achieved by this method with its consequent economies in materials.

A secondary embankment was constructed in a low saddle approximately 1/2km north east of the main embankment. This embankment is 13.5m high and 240 metres long.

Landscaped foreshores





Fig. 4.12: Landscaped foreshores of Lake Burley Griffin with Government House (right). Photo — Pieter Arriens for NCDC.

The spillway incorporates the two quarries for embankment rockfill. The upper (dacite) quarry forms the approach channel and the major part of the spillway excavation. The lower (granite) quarry is incorporated into the spillway as an energy dissipating basin.

The spillway consists of the quarry approach channel, concrete crest 124m long, curved in plan, a concrete lined chute 64m long converging to 62m at the lip, an unlined channel in rock and quarry dissipating basin.

By February 1978 Googong Dam was a reality and storage had commenced but as a lake its story had just begun.

Since the time when Googong was first envisaged as a multi purpose reservoir Canberra has grown from a village to a Capital of more than 230,000 people. At the same time despite growing pressures for the conservation of water supply catchments and storages for that sole purpose, public pressure has likewise developed throughout the world for the use of such areas for both water supply and recreation. This has been demonstrated as being practicable with adequate water treatment and controls of land and water use.

The increasing pressure around the world for multiple use of water storages was acknowledged but Googong Dam is primarily a terminal city water supply facility in which the health of the total community must have priority over demands for further recreational areas made by some groups.

After a careful review of this conflict, the Minister for the ACT announced a programme of staged development of recreational facilities with careful monitoring of water quality. When the dam was opened, road access and picnic facilities were made available to areas just downstream of the storage. Construction of roads is also taking place to parts of the storage, well upstream of the outlet tower, including the unusual limestone formation called London Bridge and to the adjacent woolshed and picnic area.

In this dry continent, our National Capital has been developed in picturesque valleys with a backdrop of mountains rising to nearly 2000 metres. In times of drought, many of the streams will cease to flow but this and future generations now have a heritage of lakes and dams which should continue down the decades to add sparkle to the landscape, recreational use for all ages and provide a water supply of assured quantity and quality for Canberra.


Kenneth J. Dalgarno BE, FIE Aust.,
LGE (NSW), HE (Tas.) and
A.E. Minty BE, FIE Aust. FCIT


John Dalgarno graduated from the University of Sydney in 1933 following which he spent 14 years with the Sydney Water Board, finally as Senior Shift Engineer on the construction of the Captain Cook Graving Dock.

In 1948, after a brief period in Tasmania, he was appointed to the Commonwealth Department of Works in Canberra, initially as Project Engineer (Construction) for the raising of Cotter Dam. Subsequently as a Supervising Engineer, he had responsibilities for water supply, sewerage and drainage including Bendora Dam exploratory drilling and construction, structural projects and major development projects. He retired in 1973.

After twenty years on major dams, wartime flying and hydro electric work, Bill Minty joined NCDC in 1959 as the Project Engineer for the planning, design and construction of Lake Burley Griffin. He was subsequently appointed a Director with responsibilities for a wide range of hydraulic, transportation and other major projects. He retired in 1981 after nearly 23 years with NCDC.

As well as being a past chairman of Canberra Division of The Institution of Engineers, Australia, and a Councillor from 1979 to 1981 he has been a member of the National Panel on Engineering Heritage since its inception in 1979.

CANBERRA was conceived in the aftermath of the 1897 to 1902 drought, and amidst the bitter wrangles between the newly federated States over the allocation of Murray River waters. In addition, with the memory of the human toll and suffering from disease in the later part of the 19th century still fresh in people’s minds, the need for adequate sanitation remained a major public issue well into the early 1900s.

Not surprisingly, therefore, when Scrivener was given the task by the Commonwealth Parliament of determining the site for the National Capital, he was directed to choose a district which included a catchment capable of supplying a reliable and pure water supply, and which would provide for “a perfect sanitation system”.

The selection of the Limestone Plains area, with catchments bordering the Snowy Mountains to the south, the Great Dividing Range to the East and the Brindabellas to the West has meant that engineers were not searching for water but were faced more with the question of which water storage should be constructed next.

The focus on sanitation ensured the early development of a comprehensive wastewater system, the elements of which continue to provide the basis of the wastewater system today.

Against this background, this chapter deals separately with the progressive development of water supply, waste- water and stormwater systems. However for urban development to be compatible with the preservation of as much as is possible of our natural heritage. it is essential to consider the interrelationship of these three aspects of water engineering. Therefore this chapter concludes with an examination of regional water quality control.

The pattern of dams.











Fig. 5.1: The pattern of dams.


Those key components of water supply engineering, the major storages, have been covered in Clive Price’s chapter on Lakes and Dams but, associated with the dams, there needs to be a complex network of water mains, reservoirs, treatment plants and pumping stations.

The Cotter System

In the Cotter Pumping Station on the Murrumbidgee River, built in 1912-15 as one of the first permanent buildings in the ACT and progressively enlarged, we have the potential for a museum of water supply practice that exhibits the techniques used between 1912 and 1965 — all still in working order.

This pumping station was built to pump water from the newly completed Cotter Dam to a 13.5 megalitre reservoir on Mt Stromlo from which water could be gravitated to the similar size reservoir on Red Hill, thence to the urban areas.

he first two pumps were put to use on 16 October 1918. In subsequent years more pumps were added progressively.

Finally, the original building was extended in 1963 to provide the last two pumps on a vertical rather than horizontal axis leaving the electric motors properly elevated above all possible floods. (The 1925 flood had lapped the base of the earlier pumps and motors).

The following are the details of these pumps:

No. Make No. of Stages Type Motor(Kw) Speed(RPM) Capacity(M3/s) Head(m) Date in stalled
1 & 2 Gwynne 4 Turbine 485 1500 0.13 268 1912
3 Kelly & Lewis 5 Turbine 1120 1000 0.25 275 1935
4 Thompson 4 Volute 1120 1500 0.34 246 1942
5 & 6 Thompson 3 Volute 1120 1500 0.33 229 1955
7 & 8 Thompson 3 Volute 1044 1500 0.34 225 1963

During the 1920s, the water supply needs of Canberra’s small population (5000) could be met by pumping on only one or two days per month. Rather than maintain skilled technicians in Canberra for such infrequent occasions, it became the practice to have one or two technicians travel up from Melbourne for the pumping operation. Old hands said that the Melbourne men looked forward to the monthly trip to Canberra. However, after the novelty of this excursion wore off, a simpler pump, driven hydraulically by a “Pelton Wheel”, was installed in a nearby small pump house. This used 0.27 cub. metres/sec. to pump 0.01 cub. metres/sec. But despite this inefficiency, the continuous operation was sufficient to provide for the population of that time — and there was plenty of water from the Cotter.

A series of mechanical failures over its first three years of use led to the abandoning of this practice and to the resumption of the excursions from Melbourne. Most of the Pelton Wheel installation is still intact and could be fairly easily restored as part of a total Cotter Pumping Station Working Museum. In the meantime, when the full Canberra water supply system approaches the need for a further storage, or if work needs to be done on the Bendora Gravity Main, the availability of the Cotter pumping

(Below) The original Cotter Dam






Fig. 5.2: (Below) The original Cotter Dam under construction. Photo National Library of Aust.

The review of this part of our heritage in water engineering led to the study of a report by William Corin after whom Corin Dam is named. In a paper to the Electrical Association of Australia in 1914—15, Corin spoke ,of a proposal first put forward by that well known engineer E.M. de Burgh for “a combined water supply and hydro electric power scheme from the Cotter River for the Federal Capital”.

This was to have a dam well up the Cotter River with a “race or flume to a balancing reservoir on the top of Mt McDonald whence a fall of 268 metres is available to the Murrumbidgee River”. Staging was feasible, and the scheme was claimed to be “sufficient to provide all the power and domestic water necessary for a population of at least 80,000 people”.

Even in those early days, at the beginning of the century, investigations were made of city water supply schemes on the Naas, Gudgenby and Paddys’ rivers. Indeed, the Gudgenby scheme investigated by Pridham and Weedom in 1901—06 with a dam opposite Mt Tennent should be the next storage for the ACT.

Until after World War II, Canberra’s water supply system consisted simply of the original Cotter Dam and Pumping Station, the rising main to Mt Stromlo and the service reservoirs at Red Hill, Ainslie and Black Mountain from which all reticulated water was drawn.

In 1947—48, a decision was made to raise the 18.3 metre high Cotter Dam to the originally proposed height of 30.5 metres but a subsequent review of the quality of the original design and workmanship, led to a more con- servative decision.

Cotter Pumping Station.






Fig. 5.3: Cotter Pumping Station. Photo — Australian Information Service.

Pumps 1 and 2 by Gwynne installed






Fig. 5.4: Pumps 1 and 2 by Gwynne installed in the Cotter Pumping Station in 1912. Pump No. 3 by Kelly and Lewis is in
the foreground. Photo - Australian Information Service.

Pumps 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in Cotter Pump Station






Fig. 5.5: Pumps 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 in Cotter Pump Station. Photo — Australian Information Service.

Hydro pumping station at Cotter.





Fig. 5.6: Hydro pumping station at Cotter.

The original Cotter





Fig. 5.7: The original Cotter Dam before raising. Photo— H. Phillips.

There were several reasons for these reservations. Firstly, there was evidence of cracking in the old structure, arising from an alkali-aggregate reaction. Next, the specific gravity of some concrete was found to be only 2.16 rather than the design assumption of 2.40. Also, at the time the original structure was designed, there was insufficient understanding around the world of the effect of uplift pressures on large dams. Many old structures were subsequently strengthened, and the Cotter Dam also needed revised uplift assessments.

For all these reasons, a decision was made to build a new and larger dam downstream of the present structure. However, the rapid post war expansion demanded more urgent action, so the existing structure was raised only to a height of 25.8 metres.

This work involved:

• Tents near the Cotter Reserve for workmen;
• grouting the old structure;
• a cableway hired from the Sydney Water Board;
• low heat cement and local sand and river gravel;
• a substantial keyway to anchor the new to the old work;
• a copper seal along the old surface near the upstream face;
• copper seals between Il metre blocks;
• spalls on the top of every pour for improved keying;
• an outlet for a hydro-electric plant which would operate
in times of overflow to provide sufficient power to operate one pump in the pumping station.


Flashboards were used on the spillway crest to provide extra storage, yet fail and hence lower the crest in times of flood.

Apart from the hydro-electric plant itself this work was all completed satisfactorily and remained as the sole storage for Canberra’s water supply until Bendora was completed in 1961. Indeed Cotter still has a reserve function even though its capacity is now only 2.2 per cent of Canberra’s total storage and 8 per cent of the current total Canberra safe draft.

During the raising of the Cotter Dam (1949—51), a second 600 mm dia. main was laid from the dam through a second tunnel to the pumping station, crossing the river on the high level road bridge.

This gave a greater positive pressure on the “suction” side of the pumps, and a more secure inlet which could function independently in the event of a failure of the old tunnel constructed about 1915 below the river bed.

To further increase the efficiency of the pumps, one of the twin 600 mm diameter suction mains from the dam was replaced in 1956 by a 900 mm diameter main as far as the old tunnel entrance. In 1965, a pump-in-line booster was put into that 900 mm main near the tunnel mouth, being a Pomona (Fairbanks Morse) 4-stage propellor type of 890 Kw delivering at 590 RPM, 0.21 cubic metres per second against a head of 34 metres.

Like Cotter Dam and many other engineering projects, the Cotter Pumping Station had its share of interesting stories. Two can be told here.

In the early days, there was a standing order to the pumping station that, when Parliament was in session, the condition of the pumps would not be varied without approval of the Power Station Superintendent, regardless of the state of the reservoirs. It had been found that starting or stopping of the pumps resulted in a variation of line voltage, and this caused a dimming or brightening of lights in the Houses of Parliament, to the distraction of the sitting members. It was also feared that this voltage drop might cause the passenger lifts to malfunction which in turn could cause the Government to fall during a division!

On one occasion, a major burst of the 600 mm rising main from the Cotter pumping station to Stromlo, was caused by a cat belonging to the officer-in-charge of the station. During the early 1950s, in the small hours of the morning, a longitudinal weld of the main, just above the pumping station, tore apart some 1.5 metres long and 130 mm wide. Investigations revealed that the cat had strayed into the station, wandered behind the switch- board, and shorted out the 11,000 volt circuit. The protective circuit breaker opened and power went off the pump. A station attendant in a panic, slammed the Lamer Johnson valve shut and the water hammer did the rest.

It is to the credit of the Department of Works mechanical maintenance fitters that the burst main was back in service the following day.

Laying the water main






Fig. 5.9: Laying the water main on one side of the Cotter Bridge. Photo — Mark de Plater.

Installing the water







Fig. 5.8: Installing the water main through the tunnel between Cotter and Murrumbidgee Rivers. Photo — Australian Information Service.

The Bendora System

In a separate chapter, Clive Price records the choice between Bendora and Googong for the late 1950s addition to the storage capacity of the water supply system. The thin concrete arch of Bendora, 47.2 metres high was chosen, anticipating a subsequent gravity main to Mt Stromlo to avoid the high cost of pumping through the Cotter Pumping Station. Several sites had been examined near Bendora but the one shown to be best was that identified 45 years earlier by William Corin.

Whilst a double curvature arch dam can be made very thin and hence much more economical in concrete, it is essential that it be built against strong abutment rock. After the designs were finalised, some concern was expressed about the abutment rock and the possibility of nappe vibration exacerbating the stresses in some doubtful areas. A second opinion suggested that, where some doubt existed, the conservative attitude would be to adopt a concrete gravity design. However this would have cost very much more money and would create a serious delay at a time of exploding population growth. Bearing in mind the opportunity to control nappe vibration with flow splitters, and to reinforce abutments with rock bolts and stressing cables, the decision was made to implement the double curvature arch design as already finalised.

The extent of excavation and grouting of the foundations and abutments was reviewed very carefully during construction but was further reviewed as the dam neared completion when a similar dam in France failed with a loss of about 300 lives in a village downstream. Bendora’s design was shown to be very sound. Indeed the authors would pay tribute to Ken Harding who was the Supervising Engineer in the Department of Works responsible for the design. In addition, to his acknowledged skills in complex engineering analysis, Harding, like his fellow engineer, Ar Fokkema, had an invaluable intuitive feeling for design, enabling him to detect a poor assessment by an interstate authority and later two different errors by a long established overseas organisation.

Even while Bendora Dam was being completed, growth rates had risen to 12 per cent and were predicted to stay high. In the early sixties the case for the gravity main was established, detailed route investigations proceeded down the precipitous slopes, designs were completed and construction took place.

This fully welded steel pipeline starts at the 900 and 1050 mm outlets previously built into Bendora Dam, then at 1600 and 1450 mm diameter, it passes down the very steep and rugged country a distance of 19.3 km to be concreted into a trench under the Murrumbidgee River nearly 300 metres below the dam. It then connects to the 1050 mm rising main adjacent to the Cotter Pumping Station and leading to Mt Stromlo.

With the exception of four elevated creek crossings, the pipeline is entirely buried, protected internally with coal- tar enamel and externally with coal-tar enamel reinforced with fibreglass and felt wrap.

Pipeline stability was achieved with reinforced concrete anchors together with compacted backfilling. Full trench~ section cut off walls were spaced to suit the grade and a minimum of 0.6 m of top cover was protected by lateral and longitudinal drains. The pipeline route includes ten river crossings, all submerged, with reinforced concrete anchorage and protection. The main was commissioned on January 1968 during the serious drought that had commenced in January 1965.

Bendora Dam overflowing.






Fig. 5.lOa: Bendora Dam overflowing. Photo — J. Dalgarno.

Bendora Dam under construction






Fig. 5.10: Bendora Dam under construction. Photo — NCDC.

While Corin Dam also was completed in January 1968, nine months ahead of schedule, there were negligible inflows to start filling the storage. Severe water restrictions were imposed, and arrangements were made with the Snowy Mountains Council to release water from Tantangara Dam to flow down the Murrumbidgee to Canberra where it would be pumped into the Cotter Dam using an existing suction line for the Cotter Pumping Station.

The water was released from Tantangara but little arrived in Canberra. Apart from the water table being so low and the river a succession of water holes, most land holders along the river felt entitled to any water available, and presumably pumped accordingly. However, the drought finally broke in May 1968.

Stromlo Water Treatment

Until the early 1950s, Canberra enjoyed a clear water supply. Logging in the lower catchment, and clearing of the Cotter Reservoir, required for the raising of the Cotter Dam, led in 1955 to consumer complaints regarding the level of turbidity in the water supply. Consumer dissatisfaction appeared to have been exacerbated by the addition of chlorination at the Cotter Pump Station in 1955.

There was a recurrance of consumer complaints in the mid-1960s following renewed forestry activities in the lower Cotter catchment. Public attitudes perhaps were best summed up by a correspondent who wrote to The Canberra Times asking why people were complaining about the water supply since he had found that, after hosing, there was no need to apply either fertiliser or topsoil to his lawn.

Bendora Dam completed.









Fig. 5.11: Bendora Dam completed. Photo — NCDC.

Delivery of Pipes for the Bendora Gravity Main.






Fig. 5.12: Delivery of Pipes for the Bendora Gravity Main. Photo — NCDC.

Despite the foreseen activity for Corin Dam and the Bendora Gravity Main, NCDC and the Department of Works engineers believed that the unoccupied Cotter Catchment was sufficiently protected not to need the expense of water treatment — a charge that would have to be conveyed to the ratepayers. To decide whether logging activity in the pine forests of the catchment could be made compatible with the maintenance of an adequate quality of water without the expense of treatment, NCDC engaged Professor Teakle, a specialist in agricultural science from the University of Queensland. The late Professor Teakle compiled a set of guidelines which provided for the harvesting of logs in a manner consistent with the protection of water supply.

Ultimately, a decision was taken to provide limited treatment of lower Cotter water as an additional safeguard. At that time, the daily consumption varied between 45 megalitres in mid-winter and 230 megalitres in mid- summer. A capacity of 90 megalitres/day was chosen. By utilising the old 13.6 megalitre water reservoir on Mt Stromlo, a low cost design was evolved consisting of flow splitter, sedimentation bays, clear water storage, waste- water recovery tanks, sludge lagoons, control building including chemical storage and dispensing equipment, and a mixing length of 1350 mm diameter steel main. Facilities for chlorination and addition of fluoride were transferred from the Cotter and Stromlo.

This plant was commissioned on 21 June 1967. Having regard for the protection provided by the unoccupied catchment, this plant was considered adequate to achieve reductions in most water quality parameters to acceptable levels.

Considerable public debate had taken place on the proposal to add fluoride to the water supply. The argument against this was perhaps best summed up by the person who wrote to The Canberra Times calling fluoride a poison and not wanting to have the very best teeth in the cemetery.

The arguments in favour of having a water supply with the optimum content of fluoride were appreciated in the early 1960s by dentists, the public health engineers of NCDC and the Department of Works, and by the medical officers at the Department of Health. The Department of the Interior supported these views which have been confirmed over succeeding years by the major drop in dental caries, particularly among children born in the ACT.

The Googong System

The chapter on Lakes and Dams describes events leading to the decision to build Googong. While the Commonwealth had paramount rights to the use of the waters of the Queanbeyan and Molonglo rivers, special legislation was required to be enacted in the Commonwealth and NSW Parliaments to enable the project to proceed. The legislation fell victim to the 1974 double dissolution of the Commonwealth Parliament, delaying the commencement of the project by 12 months.

The project was also the first to come under the Commonwealth Environmental Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act, necessitating the drafting of the first Environmental Impact Statement under the terms of the Act.

An essential component of the project put forward for approval, was a sophisticated water treatment plant required because this terminal city water supply reservoir would collect water running off a partially occupied catchment.

Googong Dam.






Fig. 5.13: Googong Dam. Photo — NCDC.

Corin Dam.






Fig. 5.14: Corin Dam. Photo — NCDC.

From the multiple level dry outlet tower, the water passes through the plug in the construction river diversion tunnel to a pumping station one kilometre downstream of the dam. Details of the pumps are:

Type: single stage, centrifugal 800 Kw.
Number: currently four(later to seven).
Operating Head: 79 metres.
Delivery: 0.70 cub.metres/sec.
Pump Supply Contract: all Pumps Pty Ltd(Pumps were made in USSR)

The Googong Water Treatment Plant was designed to safeguard the quality of water supply for a wide range of raw water conditions. The treatment process adopted comprises coagulation by liquid alum and a cationic polymer coagulant aid, flocculation, sedimentation, filtration, pH adjustment and stabilisation with lime, recarbonation and fluoridation by sodium silica fluoride. Filters have dual media beds of sand and activated carbon which also adsorbs taste and odour-causing compounds. A non-ionic polymer is used as a filter aid. In addition special treatment processes are required occasionally to deal with excessive colour and abnormally high manganese content. Auxiliary liquid and dry chemical feeding systems can feed chemicals such as hydrochloric or sulphuric acid, sodium hydroxide, iron salts and potassium permanganate.

The first stage of the plant was completed in 1978, with an installed capacity of 180 Ml/d. The plant was designed by the Department of Construction in association with Caldwell Engineers, and was constructed by John Holland.

From the treatment plant, water is conveyed 26 km to Campbell reservoir by a pipeline varying in outside diameter from 1050 mm to 1800 mm. Branch mains convey some water also to Mugga and Red Hill Reservoirs.

The work was put into service at the end of 1978.

Service Reservoirs

The first four reservoirs constructed were at Mt Stromlo (1914), Upper Red Hill (1914), Russell (1926) and Black Mountain (1933), all of which were rectangular in shape and unroofed. After these followed Lower Red Hill (1939) and Ainslie (1940). These were circular and of the old conventional design in reinforced concrete.

The first prestressed reservoir was built at Narrabundah in 1959 (18.2 megalitres). This was followed by many more of similar design and capacity. Larger reservoirs to the order of 45 and up to 68 megalitres were generally rectangular, of cut and fill construction with concrete lining.

Canberra now has 42 reservoirs located as inconspicuously as possible on hills and saddles throughout the metropolitan area.

In the early 1960s, the NCDC and the Department of Works agreed to implement the policy that treated water should not be exposed to daylight until it emerged from the consumer’s tap. Hence all existing and subsequently constructed service reservoirs were roofed.

Distribution System

With the exception of the 450 mm diameter unlined cast iron water main built in 1915 from Cotter Pumping Station to Mt Stromlo (and cement lined in situ in 1967) all mains in Canberra are built with welded steel, cement lined pipes.

A zoning system of up to three zones avoids excessive pressures in low areas and insufficient pressure in high areas.

In addition to distributing water to all the urban areas of Canberra, the system also supplies water to Queanbeyan (as from 1925), Oaks Estate (as from 1938) and Hall (as from 1967).

The existing Cotter River systems can supply water on an unrestricted basis to a population of up to 225,000 persons.

 Diagram of processes at Googong Water Treatment Plant.





Fig. 5.15: Diagram of processes at Googong Water Treatment Plant.

When the second stages of the Googong pumping station and treatment plant are constructed to match the capacity of the Googong Dam, the total system will be able to serve a population of 450,000 persons, including provision for riparian rights, minor irrigation of nearby parklands and topping up of lakes in time of drought.


In this inland part of the world’s driest habitable continent, the disposal of wastewater and water borne wastes is a considerable challenge to public health engineers — a challenge made worse by the complexity of the biological and chemical processes that take place when even the treated wastes are injected into the natural water courses, particularly as these sometimes cease to flow. In the early days, when Canberra’s population was small, the natural water courses were able to absorb reasonably treated wastewater but not since Canberra began to develop into Australia’s largest inland city.

The First Treatment Works

A review of most of the early records discloses a variety of treatment proposals with the inevitable evidence of conflict between Griffin and the Department. These schemes included:
(a) The one favoured by the Department of Home Affairs. This was a Septic Tank Process, followed by filter beds, with effluent to be spread over some 1200 hectares in the Weston Creek area. The scheme was said to have an ultimate capacity for 125,000 persons.
(b) A modified version of the above scheme. This would provide for only 15,000 persons, which it was estimated would be adequate for the first 10 years. The plant was to be located, as an interim measure, at Yarralumla Creek.
(c) A third scheme put forward by the City Designer, Walter Burley Griffin, would not have required a Main Outfall Sewer, having an unspecified number of Emscher or Imhoff Tanks in the city area, with treatment at an early stage and effluent being discharged into the proposed ornamental lakes in the Molonglo River.
(d) The Oliver proposal for eight Emscher or Imhoff tanks each serving a specific area of the Federal City and suburbs.
(e) The Langley schemes from Colonel F.F. Langley, advisory expert in Sanitary Engineering from the Inter- national Health Board of the Rockefeller Foundation. In a report dated 1 November 1922, Colonel Langley offered four choices of treatment:
• Simple sedimentation, with separate digestion of solids, and treatment of liquids on land.
• As above, but with treatment of liquids by trickling filters for better oxidation.
• The activated sludge system.
• A complex version of the first involving sedimentation, activated sludge, clarification, then trickling filters or other equivalent oxidising device.

Col. Langley did not strongly recommend the activated sludge process because of the high cost of the process as then carried out and the fact that the population using the water downstream did not demand at that time nor did it expect to demand the higher degree of purification accomplished by the activated sludge process.

Because of the nature of the soil at Weston Creek, he would not consider any land treatment for the effluent on a longterm basis, but proposed simple sedimentation and sludge digestion of solids, with land treatment of the effluent. He regarded the adoption of the activated sludge system as an auxiliary feature rather than as the sole feature of the plant.

For the small quantity of sewage to be treated during the first few years, the above arrangement would assure a reasonable freedom from offensive odours and the preservation of reasonable purity in the stream below and would be about as economical a treatment as could be arranged.

In the long range, Langley considered that the land dispersion of the effluent, even if adopted at the outset, would ultimately be abandoned. “There are certain old established devices for oxidising sewage liquids and there are other promising features which have been given trial, but which are not yet supported by long experiences.”
(f) The Chief Engineer, Works and Railways (Mr T. Hill) 6 December 1923, put forward four schemes for investigation, developing in stages as suitable for from 6,000 to 20,000 persons. • Sedimentation plus sprinkling filters discharging into the Molonglo River. Incineration of solids and an option for humus tanks.
• A pumping version of the above gravity scheme.
• A scheme pumping even higher than the last so that the final effluent could be discharged over prepared ground.
• An alternative site for the last scheme higher up the Weston Creek Valley.

The original main outfall sewer






Fig. 5.16: The original main outfall sewer from Canberra Hotel to Weston Creek. Photo — Mark de Plater.

Holing through the main outfall sewer.












Fig. 5.17: Holing through the main outfall sewer. Photo — Mark de Plater.

The scheme favoured by the Department involved pumping the effluent another 30 to 60 metres higher for distribution in the Weston Creek area, but this was strongly criticised by the Engineer-in-Chief of the Melbourne and Metropolitan Board of Works, Dr Calder E. Oliver.

Finally, at the Federal Capital Advisory Committee on 28 January 1924, it was moved by Mr de Burgh that an extensive scheme for disposal into the Weston Creek area be adopted and this was agreed to.

In September of that year, the House of Representatives referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works, the question of the sewage treatment works, so that an innocuous effluent might be obtained for discharge into the Molonglo River at Weston Creek.

The proposal subsequently adopted, provided for a first unit of four Imhoff sedimentation tanks (the four most northerly) and three trickling filters, 21 metres diameter by 1.83 metres deep, to deal with 2.28 Ml daily, being the sewage from 5,000 persons, plus flushing water for scouring the sewers in the initial stage. The proposal also included a small experimental activated sludge unit to treat sewage from 500 people. The scheme provided for augmentation to treat sewage from, as a first extension, 10,000 people and later from 25,000 people. In 1925, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works accepted these recommendations.

The Committee was at pains to point out that, whilst the Commonwealth was taking great care to prevent any possible pollution of the Molonglo River below the City, the river above the City still received surface drainage and septic tank effluent from the town of Queanbeyan, where, at that time, there was no attempt to provide a town sewerage system.

The Canberra plant came into operation in 1927.

 The concrete lining of the main outfall sewer.












Fig. 5.18: The concrete lining of the main outfall sewer. Photo — Mark de Plater.

About 1939, six additional Imhoff tanks and another group of three filters were added. About 1948-49, when the population of Canberra was about 19,000, sludge lagoons were added to take the load from the Imhoff tanks. The hydraulic capacity of the filters was also increased. This enabled the plant to handle sewage from a population in excess of 30,000, but the effluent was not quite up to the usually accepted British Royal Commission standard of 20 mg/1 of biological oxygen demand and 30 mg/1 of suspended solids. However, having regard to detention time and loading, the performance was much better than would have been expected.

Subsequent augmentations of the plant took place in 1956—57 to 25,000 persons; in 1960—61 to 60,000 persons; in 1967-69 to 120,000 persons and in 1973 to 130,000 persons. The plant had started with a capacity of 5,000 persons.

In its final form, the plant was using primary and secondary sedimentation, high and low rate trickling filters, sludge digestion and some activated sludge.

 Original activated sludge tank






Fig. 5.19: Original activated sludge tank, Weston Creek. Photo — Mark de Plater.

Construction of the original sedimentation






Fig. 5.20: Construction of the original sedimentation and activated sludge tank, Weston Creek. Photo — Professor R.G, Neale.

The original trickling filters










Fig. 5.21: The original trickling filters at Weston Creek just completed. Photo- Professor R.G. Neale.

 The on gina1 sedimentation tanks






Fig. 5.22: The on gina1 sedimentation tanks at Weston Creek. Photo— Mark de Plater.

The original Imhoffs and some of the earlier low rate trickling filters were abandoned. In the late 1960s odour problems associated with Canberra’s air temperature inversions were being encountered in the nearby towns of Woden-Weston Creek and then at Government House, Yarralumla. In addition to several refinements this led to the abandoning of sludge drying beds. The plant was finally closed in August 1978 when the new Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre achieved practical completion.

Main Outfall Sewer

In 1914, even before a decision was made on the original method of treatment, the Department of Home Affairs had proceeded to design the main outfall sewer westbound from the Canberra Hotel. Along its length of 4.8 km the tunnel was to pass under what is now Stirling Park, the Royal Canberra Golf Club, Lady Denman Drive and Cotter Road. (Brick ventilation shafts from the completed tunnel can be seen today from these roads). The depth of the tunnel varies between 1.5 m and 24 m.

In 1915 the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works accepted the proposal for the deep egg- shaped sewer tunnel 1.68 m high by 1.12 m wide on a concrete invert with sides either concrete or brick depending on the ground encountered.

Construction of the sewer proceeded until April 1917 when it was held up following a report of the Royal Commission investigating Canberra’s administration. Work recommenced in 1922 after a report by Mr E.M. de Burgh, Chief Engineer for Water Supply and Sewerage, Department of Works, NSW.

No record seems to be available as to any brick construction adopted, nor are there records of the mix or quality of concrete used — an important factor in a sewer tunnel. The current regular inspections show that after a life of 55 to 65 years and despite regular surcharging over the last 15 years, there is little evidence of any serious deterioration. This tunnel is still a vital component of Canberra’s sewerage system.

In 1960, Minty was told by the late Doug Vest, the foreman in charge of driving the tunnel, that they struck so much cavernous limestone during the driving that he seriously believed that the Canberra lake would never hold water!

As the westbound tunnel nears the periphery of the Treatment Works area, it makes a sharp right angle turn into the works — evidence, it has been claimed, that the tunnel was originally intended to go beyond Weston Creek to a site at Stoney Creek, also discharging into the Molonglo. No records could be found to support this, and it seems possible that the tunnel was kept to the South simply for better cover or better driving conditions. The tunnel was completed in 1924.

Intercepting Sewers

The original Weston Creek Treatment Works and the main outfall sewer tunnel had to be complemented of course with a system of intercepting sewers of which two deserve a mention. The first was built to collect waste water from north of the Molonglo River. It was an inverted syphon built under the river and on an alignment just upstream of the present Commonwealth Avenue Bridge.

This was in the form of a tunnel designed for two, 450 mm diameter pipes, but initially having one cast iron pipe 230 mm in diameter. When Lake Burley Griffin was being built, the tunnel carried one 450 mm and one 230 mm pipe, but having regard for the age of the tunnel, the possibility of collapse under the pressure of the lake in flood and the difficulty of coping with a collapse, the decision was made to abandon this system. A replacement was provided by 500 and 450 mm pipes through the superstructure of the new Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, with a vent through the south-east decorative pylon of the bridge and a storm tank in Commonwealth Park. Foradded security, the 500 mm main is on the eastern side of the southbound bridge and the standby 450 mm main on the eastern side of the northbound bridge.

In 1953, Parliament approved a change in Canberra’s plan so that in lieu of the lake as now built, there was to be a dam at Acton Peninsula with a mere “ribbon of water” downstream of the hospital. Hence, when soon after this, expansion of the Northern Suburbs called for further sewer capacity across the Molonglo, the decision was made to built another inverted syphon in the form of two 380 mm diameter pipes and one 225 mm diameter pipe just downstream of the expected Acton Dam, near the Royal Canberra Hospital.

External view of construction






Fig. 5.23: External view of construction of sewer tunnel under the Molonglo River at Commonwealth Avenue. Photo R.G. Neale.

Internal view of sewer tunnel






Fig. 5.24: Internal view of sewer tunnel under the Molonglo River at Commonwealth Avenue. Photo — NCDC Collection.

The first trickling filters under construction.







Fig. 5.25: The first trickling filters under construction.

Unlike the Commonwealth Avenue inverted syphon in tunnel, these pipes were laid across the river in a rock trench and encased in concrete. North of the river, pile supports were added when the lake was built. These syphons are nevertheless regarded as susceptible to sedimentation and possible blockage.

Fyshwick Sewage Treatment Works

The construction of Lake Burley Griffin in the early sixties precipitated the rationalisation of the plethora of minor sewerage systems that had accumulated over the years, upstream of the Lake at places like Fairbairn, Pialligo, Duntroon, Harman, Fyshwick and Narrabundah. Interim rationalisation minimised pollution of the lake in the early years and in 1967, the Fyshwick Sewage Treatment Works was completed, collecting wastes from all these areas except Queanbeyan for which the cost was considered too high.

The plant has a capacity equivalent to 20,000 persons, and the treatment consists of coarse screening, grit removal and primary sedimentation, followed by low rate trickling filters, secondary sedimentation in humus tanks and sludge digestion. Four-stage lagoon treatment is followed by chlorination.

The Fyshwick plant was designed in a new era of emphasis on re-use of water. After final treatment in large maturation ponds, and chlorination, the emerging effluent was to be used for irrigation upstream of the lake. This has been done very successfully on the playing fields of Duntroon Military College but the quantity used is less than that available. Further areas should be established for such irrigation.

Belconnen Sewerage

By 1964, NCDC had decided to move into the Belconnen Valley, and proposed a trunk sewer through the valley leading to a new Water Pollution Control Centre at the western end of the valley.

NCDC engaged the Australian consultants, Scott and Furphy to design both the trunk sewer and the Treatment Works.

The Trunk sewer was a 1500 mm diameter concrete pipe laid in a trench adjacent to the Ginninderra Creek, except for a short length tunnelled through a ridge.

In the very early stages of the development of this valley, sewage was led into a temporary timber septic tank just north of the town centre site. When the permanent sewer down the valley to the proposed treatment plant was completed in 1968, the population was still small and the sewage was led into an Imhoff tank.

When the first stage of the treatment works (50,000 persons) was completed in 1970, the Imhoff tank then served as a stormwater tank. The treatment plant known as the Belconnen Control Centre was later enlarged to serve 100,000 persons.

In addition to the usual components in a modern treatment plant, activated sludge was used, followed by maturation ponds. The plant was designed to produce a 15/15 final effluent but in fact, achieved the high standard of less than 10mg/i of both biological oxygen demand and suspended solids.

Canberras Major Wastewater System in 1978.










Fig. 5.26: Canberra’s Major Wastewater System in 1978.

Metropolitan Planning

In 1967, Alan M. Vorhees & Associates submitted to NCDC their report responding to the Commission’s brief for a Land Use Transportation Study on a metropolitan scale. The consultant’s General Plan Concept provided for a series of self-contained towns in each of the main ACT valleys with peripheral parkways flanking the urban areas giving a metropolitan structure in the shape of a Y. This became known as the “Y” Plan.

The study called for a new Town of Gungahlin, north of Mitchell, part of which drained not to the new Belconnen plant, but back to the Sullivans Creek Valley. Despite an NCDC decision not to develop urban areas in the Majura Valley, the Gungahlin proposal and other aspects of the “Y” Plan called for a review of metropolitan sewerage strategies.

One possibility was to tunnel from Clunies Ross Street, under Black Mountain to a new treatment plant to the west, hence allowing relief to, or replacement of, the sixty year old main outfall sewer tunnel on the south side. Thus began some prolonged discussions between NCDC and Works Department on sewerage strategies referred to as the “North versus South” discussions.

Associated with these in-house studies, NCDC engaged Camp, Dresser and McKee, a firm of leading hydraulic consulting engineers from USA to review the existing system and future expansion, from which they were asked to prepare a metropolitan sewerage strategy plan. These consultants, working closely with NCDC and Works Department engineers recommended that the individual treatment plants in individual valleys be phased out and that one large plant having the economy of scale be built well downstream, capable of staged development to cope with all expected expansion, and treating the wastewater to a high standard that minimised biological growth. These consultants forecast the possible need to reduce the nutrients, nitrogen and phosphorus, to very low figures.

At the time, considerable concern had been expressed around the world for the need to maintain the quality of the environment. Algal blooms were continuing to appear in the Murrumbidgee and Burrinjuck Dam, and reports from senior engineers visiting other countries, all led to acceptance of the consultants’ recommendations.

In addition to earlier overseas studies by W.C. Andrews and C.J. Price, NCDC sent its water supply and waste- water specialist Charles Speldewinde on a three-month study tour looking at modern wastewater plants and the consultants who had designed them. About the same time the Commonwealth Department of Works sent their Chief Hydraulic Engineer, Howard Jones on a similar overseas assignment.

Both came back convinced that the Commission had to build a plant capable of removing the nutrients and producing a final effluent which could be released into the Murrumbidgee River at a standard suitable for body contact sports. The consultant chosen to design this plant, the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre, was the American, David Caldwell, who associated his firm with the large Australian firm of structural consultants, John Connell and partners.

Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre

The consultants proposed a physical/chemical/biological plant using ammonia stripping for the nitrogen side such as planned to accommodate up to three more similar stages. NCDC and Works’ engineers acknowledged the very high standards achieved there, but were concerned about such issues as the environmental effect of the towers and the effect of Canberra’s winter climate on the processes.

The Lower Molonglo Water Quality






Fig. 5.27: The Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre. Photo-NCDC.

Accordingly Caldwell proposed the use of nitrification/ denitrification using anoxic stripping towers with methanol. Pilot studies were carried out at a similar plant being developed at Contra Costa, north-east of San Francisco, where similar very high final effluent quality was being demanded.

The design adopted is illustrated in the adjacent diagram. It has a potential capacity to treat 109 megalitres/day currently equivalent to 400,000 persons. The site is planned to accommodate up to three more similar stages.

 Flow diagrams for the Lower Molonglo











Fig. 5.28: Flow diagrams for the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre.

 David Philp, Engineer-in-Charge









Fig. 5.29: David Philp, Engineer-in-Charge, starting a compressor for the biological nitrification tanks at the Lower Molonglo plant. Photo — R. Trindall for NCDC.

Due to scale and the latest design techniques, the capital cost of the plant was comparable with conventional plants, but the methanol process and the oil burning sludge furnaces were conceived before the petroleum products crisis of the mid-seventies. However, the flexibility of the plant is now allowing new techniques to make major reductions in the need for petroleum products.

New Trunk Sewers

It was found to be economical to use a temporary local sewage treatment works (Pasveer ditches) in the Tuggeranong Valley for the first residents in 1974, but in the meantime a concrete lined tunnel 1.9 m diameter was driven from the lower (northern) end of the valley 9.1 kilometres to the periphery of the Weston Creek works. This was complemented by the Molongo Outfall Sewer from the Weston Creek plant 15 km to the Lower Molonglo plant. Most of this latter sewer is a 2.6 metre diameter concrete pipe laid in a trench along the contour and backfilled. However, there are two tunnels and several large creek crossings using steel pipe on piers.

Once the Lower Molonglo plant came on line, another tunnel was completed from the Belconnen Water Pollution Control Centre, thus allowing that plant to be phased out. The tunnel is 5.3 km long, has a circular section of 2130 internal diameter lined with a minimum of 240 mm of concrete with two vortex drops at the Belconnen end. It was completed in 1979, thus bringing close to completion the majority of the master wastewater strategy plan. Most wastes were then draining to one major plant discharging a final effluent ranking amongst the best in the world.


Unlike so many Australian towns and cities often built on or near rich river flats, Canberra is fortunate in being planned and developed having regard to long term floods. But it has not been immune from the property damage and even loss of life arising from deluges.

Lake Burley Griffin has been designed to pass major floods. In the surrounding area no significant buildings are vulnerable to anything smaller than a flood with a return frequency of one hundred years.

In urban areas, stormwater pipes carry five year discharges, with twenty year capacities in town centres. Routes are identified for acceptable depths of overland flow in excess of these discharges.

There are still some areas in old Canberra, in particular, where these standards have not been applied, but in the new areas, a deluge some years ago in Aranda emphasised the importance of adequate standards and allowed easier access to finance for such work.

No attempt has been made to research the lives lost in the pioneer years of the ACT due to floods and downpours, but over the past quarter of a century, the one outstanding tragedy occurred in January 1971.

Yarra Glen had been extended into the Woden Valley taking over from Kent Street as the primary access. Inter- changes on Yarra Glen were being built progressively and had been completed at Hopetoun Circuit, Kent Street and Carruthers Street. Pending the construction of the inter- change just north of the Phillip Town Centre, a typical low-level crossing in the form of a multi-pipe culvert was in use to cross the large stormwater channel passing down the spine of the valley. Other parts of the valley’s bridge and stormwater infrastructure were also yet to be completed.

On the night of 26 January 1971, starting at between 7.30 and 7.50 pm, a coalescing of two intense storm centres produced more than 100 mm of rain over 270 hectares in one hour in the Farrer, Torrens, Mawson area. This tremendous deluge moved down the valley over a two hour period. Seven lives were lost, all from motor vehicles, including those of a nineteen-year-old girl and four young children from one car. The loss of these seven lives in one night was a deeply felt tragedy.

Reports were prepared “on a full and searching basis”. The subsequent enquiry revealed the following figures for the return frequency of rainfall of one hour duration.

Once in 2 years 20mm
Once in 10 years 28mm
Once in 50 years 36mm
Woden Valley Storm 90mm

The flood had substantially passed through the valley in a period of two hours.

Conclusions in the report by the Department of Works said:

“a) Analysis of the above data supports a conclusion that the storm and flood in the Woden Valley on the night of 26 January 1971 was an event which must be considered of rare occurrence with an average return period most probably in excess and even well in excess of 100 years for the Woden Valley in its past and present condition”.
“b) When compared with subsequent relatively large floods in the Woden Valley on 5 February 1971 and 10 February 1971, the flood of 26 January 1971 was more hazardous not only in its far greater peak flow rate but also in the rapidity of the rise rate of the flood which caused areas to change from safe to unsafe within a relatively few minutes”.

Despite the rare nature of this occurrence, extensive reviews were made of physical situations and organisational procedures to minimise the possibility of another such occurrence.

In an NCDC technical paper, details are provided of various designs used for large stormwater channels. In other papers, advantages and details are given of storm- water retarding basins such as have been built at Southwell Park and Manuka.

The final point that must be made on stormwater developments over the last twenty-five years, is the increasing emphasis on water quality. The techniques used to minimise deterioration in standards were prevention of pollution, erosion control, screening, ponding and use of biological filters.


In the above sections of this chapter, developments in water supply, wastewater and stormwater have been discussed cussed separately but each is closely interrelated in terms of both quantity and quality. This becomes particularly apparent in periods such as the current prolonged drought associated with hot weather. Indeed, the lakes and rivers as well as the dams are a vital part of the total water quality system. To maintain our river, lake and dam system at the highest level of quality, it is necessary to make a very detailed scientific study of all the important parameters at a large number of sampling points throughout the region. Such readings need to be taken regularly, and the values of each parameter assessed to understand what controls are necessary.

Until the nineteen seventies, the water quality studies tended to be associated with specific projects like Lake Burley Griffin and the discharge points from each of the sewage treatment works. In 1975, however, NCDC issued a brief for a study of the rivers and lakes of the Murrumbidgee River basin upstream of Burrinjuck Dam with particular reference to the ACT region and the effect of events within the ACT on the quality of these waters. The objectives of the study were:
“a) To provide a bench mark data base describing the present physical chemical and biological characteristics of lakes and streams of the basin.
“b) To develop the means for predicting the effect of changing land-use and of alternative land and water resource planning and management strategies on water quality and aquatic ecology of lakes and streams of the basin.
“c) To establish water quality objectives and criteria necessary for the preservation and enhancement of aquatic ecology and present and future beneficial uses of lakes and streams of the basin.
“d) To develop and evaluate water quality management control methods and criteria providing for the efficient utilisation of resources consistent with water quality objectives and criteria.
“e) To identify ongoing studies required to improve and consolidate the data and to provide the information required for continual re-assessment of effects of urban development.”

The work involved a large number of engineers and scientists from many Commonwealth and State organisations, private consultants and Australian and overseas specialists. Their two-volume report was presented in July 1978 and laid a solid foundation for continuing water quality monitoring and management in the region. Complementary specialist reports have followed, thus providing for this sensitive inland region one of the best possible bases for regional environmental control.

To close this chapter on water supply, wastewater, stormwater and regional water quality control, the authors would stress the close relationship between these four facets, and the importance of monitoring and controlling the potential eutrophication processes in the lakes and streams of the region.

The interrelated physical, chemical and biological processes are very complex. When the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre was being conceived, it was not clear whether it was necessary or desirable to extract the biostimulant, nitrogren. Provision was made for this but ten years later as this book goes to print, this is still a debatable issue, emphasising the importance of continuing monitoring and analysis.

Progressive urban development must be kept compatible with the preservation of as much as possible of our natural heritage.

Donald A Stockdill BE, FIE Aust.

The close partnership and personal warmth that existed between the engineers of NCDC and the Department of Works over twenty-five years tempts the authors to record names with some succinct words on their skills and idiosynchrasies. However, we will content ourselves by recording the name of the late Don Stockdill who, for about 20 years, led the team of engineers in the Department of Works and who did so much of the planning design and construction work for NCDC. His engineering skills and personal qualities won the respect of all his associates. His name has been perpetuated in the road that leads from Belconnen down to the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre.


The authors express their appreciation to Australian Archives, the National Library of Australia, the National Capital Development Commission and the Department of Transport and Construction (formerly the Department of Works).

Special thanks are due to Ross McIntyre, Director of the Canberra Region of the Department of Transport and Construction, not only for the resources he made available for this chapter, but also for the leading role he played for some twenty years in the close partnership between his department’s engineers and those of NCDC.

Charles Speldewinde and Ian Lawrence from NCDC made constructive comments on the text as did Ron Lewis, past Director-General of Works and Frank Waitt, past Chief Hydraulic Engineer of that Department.

The following engineers from the Department of Works also provided technical comments — Tim Richardson, Ar Fokkema, Trevor Daniel, Kevin Payne and Mark de Plater.

Professor Neale, Director General of Australian Archives, took a personal interest in this work and offered old photographs from his family collection, some of which have been used in this chapter.

To all of these we express our thanks.


  1. Canberra Water Supply — Further Augmentation, NCDC, September 1969.
  2. Review of Preliminary Design Report on Googong Water Treatment Plant, CALDWELL CONNELL Engineers, March 1973.
  3. Weston Creek Sewage Treatment Works, Report by Department of Works to NCDC 1967.
  4. Fyshwick Sewage Treatment Works, Report by Department of Works to NCDC 1967.
  5. Reports on Belconnen Sewerage by SCOTT and FURPHY, 1965 to 1968.
  6. Preliminary report on Collection and Treatment of Wastewater for Murrumbidgee & Molonglo River Catchments by CAMP, DRESSER and McKEE. Aug. 1969.
  7. Design Reports by CALDWELL CONNELL on Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre 1970 to 1972.
  8. Reports on Tuggeranong District Sewerage by GUTTERIDGE HASKINS and DAVY, 1969 to 1971.
  9. Reports on Tuggeranong Sewage Treatment by Commonwealth Department of Works, 1972.
  10. Report on Advanced Wastewater Treatment by Commonwealth Department of Works, 1973 to 1974.
  11. Recycled Water Project NCDC, April 1977.
  12. Technical Brochure by Department of Housing and Construction.
  13. Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre NCDC Dec. 1976.
  14. Sewerage Strategies Lake Burley Griffin Catchment NCDC Dec. 1978.
  15. Waters of the Canberra Region NCDC Technical Paper No. 30, Feb. 1981.
  16. Utilisation and Protection of the Murrumbidgee River System in the ACT NCDC Technical Paper No. 34, July 1981.
  17. Lake Burley Griffin, Australia. Paper by A.E. MINTY to International Symposium on “Man-Made Lakes, their Problems and Environmental Effects”. Tennessee, USA, 1971.


H.A. Jones, OBE, MIE Aust.

H.A. Jones is well qualified to write the history of electricity supply in the ACT. He joined the Federal Capital Commission in 1928 as a Cadet and was actively associated with all phases of electricity supply in Canberra from those early years right through to his retirement in 1975: even when away he kept in touch.

After a break in 1943 to carry out wartime defence work, he returned to the Department of Works, Canberra, in 1949 as senior electrical engineer, and on the retirement of Mr W.E. Gray, became supervising electrical engineer. In 1953 he was appointed engineer manager, Canberra Electricity Supply, Department of the Interior, and with formation of the ACT Electricity Authority in 1963 he became its first Chairman, a position he held until retirement.

THE first permanent building in the National Capital was the power station at Kingston. It was designed by the Department of Home Affairs in 1912 and completed in time to generate electricity in August 1915. The new building was the realisation of the dream of the Capital’s founders that the city should be all-electric, which was a far-sighted view early in this century when electricity had only recently been made available in Sydney and Melbourne on a restricted basis.

The Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909 had made provision for the supply of electricity to the Capital by hydro-electric power utilising the abundant waters of the Snowy Mountains in New South Wales. The Act stated:

'The State shall grant to the Commonwealth without payment therefor the right to use the waters of the Snowy River and other such rivers as may be agreed upon or in default of agreement may be determined by arbitration for the generation of electricity for the purposes of the Territory and to construct the works necessary for that purpose and to conduct the electricity so generated to the Territory.'

Development of a Snowy River hydro-electric scheme did not begin until 1949 but in 1911 steam power generation was seen as the means of supplying electricity to the new Capital. On 10 July of that year, Mr F.W. Clements M. Inst. CE MIEE, Chief Engineer and General Manager, Melbourne Electric Supply Co., submitted a report to Colonel P.T. Owen, Director General of Works, Public Works Branch, Department of Home Affairs on ‘A General Electric Supply Scheme for the Proposed Federal Capital at Canberra’. In this report Mr Clements outlined a scheme which would be suitable for:

  1. Electrical requirements during construction of the Capital,
  2. the permanent general electric supply,
  3. Supply Pumping Station at the Cotter River. the provision of power for the proposed Water

A steam power station was specified and the recommendations of his report were followed. His basic recommendation to use alternating current three phase four wire fifty cycles with a generating voltage of 5,000-5,500 volts was far sighted in those days, especially as he was asked to recommend an electric supply for a City of 25,000 inhabitants and having regard to the development of electric supply at that date.

Power Station building






Fig. 6.1: Power Station building at Kingston, 1915.

cooling water at Power Station






Fig. 6.2: Weir for cooling water at Power Station near the present Kings Avenue Bridge. Footbridge removed and concrete roadway added later. Photo: A.E. Minty 1959.

Rear of Power Station






Fig. 6.3: Rear of Power Station building Kingston showing economiser room and original stack 1915.

It was decided to build a power station at Interlake Avenue (Wentworth Avenue, Kingston) adjacent to the Molonglo River where a small dam was built to provide a source of cooling water for the condensers of the steam generating sets. The building, designed and constructed by the Department of Home Affairs, was commenced in 1912 and started generating electricity in August, 1915. The building allowed for the generating equipment recommended by Mr F.W. Clements with assistance on the steam side from Mr Christie, a Consulting Marine Engineer from Sydney.

The power station was not built on the site nominated by Griffin in his prize winning plan but on a site selected according to the Departmental Board’s plan which was substituted for Griffin’s and to which construction of the City was then committed. Griffin had shown the power station to be on the northern shore of his East Basin, below Russell Hill. Subsequently, at the 1916 Royal Commission of Inquiry, Griffin did not object to the location chosen by the Board on the southern shore of the Molonglo River.

The Department decided to build a solid steel and concrete building with brick curtain walls. One and a half million bricks were made and put to grass but unfortunately they were made by the dry press process unsuitable for Canberra’s shale and they disintegrated. The curtain walls were then made of unreinforced concrete made with river gravel.

The power station at the time was considered to be the most modern in Australia, but progress soon made it old fashioned. However, it had some eminence in the early days as a permanent land mark, and late at night its lights served as a beacon to guide many Canberra folk home from Queanbeyan late at night.

When a group of houses was built in a suburb most of the roads were constructed and temporary street lighting was installed along the footpaths included in the road reservation. These were open street lights on wooden poles about 95 metres apart and were to be replaced when the street trees grew. After viewing these illuminations from Red Hill one night a visitor remarked to the Secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department that it was a wonderful sight. “Yes. Paris at night and Arabia in the morning”, answered the bureaucrat. Press Gallery journalists who didn’t like Canberra, called it ‘the only illuminated cemetery in the world!’

The few early residents in houses had electricity provided at a reasonable flat rate of 7s.6d. per month from about 1916 to 1922 when metering was installed and a tariff struck.

The train from Queanbeyan stopped outside the power station until the railway station was built, and the power station even made ice packed in sawdust which was delivered by horse and dray to the Bachelor’s Quarters and houses at Acton.

The total cost of the power station was £76,861 which included £37,501 for the plant, a large expenditure in those days.

The first installation of generating equipment in the power station comprised:

Two Bellis and Morcom triple expansion engines running at 250 rpm and exhausting into condensers but each fitted with flanges to render them suitable later to exhaust into an exhaust turbine. These were direct coupled to Brush Alternators of 600 kW capacity at 0.8 power factor lagging and generating 5,000/5,500 volts, three phase 50 cycles.

One Robey-Hall twin cylinder steam engine direct coupled to a 150kW alternator was installed to be used at periods of very light load.

Bellis and Morcom engines





Fig. 6.4: Bellis and Morcom engines just erected in 1915 with W. Brown, later foreman linesman for many years.
Photo: Bert Brown.

The Boiler Plant comprised four double drum Babcock and Wilcox boilers with chain grate under fired stokers and with superheaters. Each boiler would evaporate 15,000 lb of water per hour at a pressure of 180 lb per square inch superheated to 550° F.

Induced draft fans were provided and a Greens Economiser raised the feed water temperature from 140° to 260° F.

It is worth noting that the original 5,500 volt main switchboard installed in 1915, despite the fact that it was outmoded and could not handle the available fault current, remained in service for about forty years by necessity. Switchgear fires were not unknown but they were extinguished and it carried on until it could be replaced.

Canberra’s first supply of public electricity generated at the Eastlake (Kingston) Steam Power Station from August 1915, was conveyed to Duntroon and Acton on 5,500 volt overhead lines and in 1916 to the Brickworks at 5,500 volts and to the Cotter Pumping Station at 11,000 volts. The first Brickworks motors were run from 11 October, 1916, and the first Cotter Pumping on 16 October, 1918.

A large length of power line for construction mainly of the main sewers was also installed.

The general 5,500 volt overhead lines were mounted on very large swan neck pins with American “Locke” 6,000 volt insulators and with an overhead earth wire. In the middle thirties, this construction was changed to three feet equilateral spacing with a pole top bracket and Australian insulators. The above types of construction were adopted to reduce tree interference because of the narrow clearance required.

On 22 October, 1927 a BTH Curtis type turbo-alternator was connected to the main steam range. This ran at 3,000 rpm and generated 1,500 kW at 0.8 lagging power factor, at 5,500 volts 50 cycles. At this time the Robey-Hall machine was discarded.

Although the addition of this turbine enabled electricity to be produced more economically and in fact the retail tariff was reduced, the Southern Electric Supply Branch of the NSW Department of Public Works submitted a proposition to the Federal Capital Commission to provide electricity from Burrinjuck at an even cheaper rate. This was accepted and some 80 miles of 66 kV three phase line was constructed by the Southern Electric Supply from Burrinjuck Hydro-Electric Station to Canberra.

At the irrigation dam at Burrinjuck Lake the Public Works Department of New South Wales had installed two 5,000 kW hydro-electric alternators for which, without Canberra, they had insufficient loading in the south of New South Wales. Canberra’s supply was taken from Burrinjuck from 1929 to 1938 on a single radial line nearly 80 miles long with the local steam plant remaining as standby.

In the middle thirties, doubt arose regarding the strength of the wall of Burrinjuck Dam and the water level was lowered while remedial work was carried out.

With reduced generating ability there, the Canberra Power Station and others in southern NSW, such as Yanco, generated at full capacity. Also two 1,500 kW Brush-Ljungstrom turbo generators which had been taken out of Port Kembla Power Station were installed at the Canberra Power Station, together with two and Wilcox boilers of 20,000 lb/hour (9,100 Kg) capacity at 200 lb per square inch (1,400 kPa) and 600° F (316° C) Superheat. These were commissioned and on the line on 28 February, 1939. The total generation from Canberra paralleled with the NSW Grid was 5,100 kW. In late 1938, a second 66,000 volt line from Goulburn was connected to the Canberra Switchyard, thus connecting Burrinjuck and Port Kembla Power Stations.

This was later strengthened by a 132 kV line paralleling it between Goulburn and Burrinjuck.

The steam plant at Kingston ran in this fashion generating up to 5,000 kW, regularly at first and later sporadically as required until early 1942 when it was no longer required for grid purposes as Burrinjuck with doubled capacity was then available.

The original 5.5 kV switchboard





Fig. 6.5: The original 5.5 kV switchboard at Kingston. Photo: ACTEA.

From May 1942 the BTH 1,500 kW turbo alternator ran 20 hours per day separately from all other load, to supply the swinging load of a very large transmitter at Belconnen Naval Station at the very close voltage regulation required and did so until after the war. This was considered necessary as spare valves were limited and unobtainable during the war and the Navy did not wish to subject them to the fluctuations due to lightning transients on a grid system traversing the whole of New South Wales.

All power station plant was again pressed into use in 1948 due to the general shortage of generating plant in New South Wales, combined with the rapidly increasing demand for electricity. It ran regularly until 1955 and sporadically until 1957 when it was closed down. Prior to this, in 1947, one Bellis and Morcom generator was sold and installed at the Mount Burr Forestry Mills, South Australia where it produced both electricity and exhaust steam for the timber drying kilns.

The two Bellis and Morcom engines





Fig. 6.6: The two Bellis and Morcom engines driving Brush alternators before the BTH alternator was installed. Photo: ACTEA.

The British Thomson Houston Turbo alternator






Fig. 6.7: The British Thomson Houston Turbo alternator. Photo: ACTEA.

All existing machinery was sold for scrap in 1965 but the building which is a mass of concrete still remains near Wentworth Avenue, Kingston where it is used by the Electricity Authority for a variety of purposes.

Lightning arrestors






Fig. 6.8: Lightning arrestors being installed at Kingston sub-station in 1928. Photo: ACTEA.

Diesel Power Station, Kingston

About 1950, the Electricity Commission of NSW, which was suffering a shortage of generating plant and transmission capacity to serve New South Wales requirements, installed a number of “packet” stations, both steam and diesel, throughout New South Wales and as part of this project in 1953, installed a diesel generating station at Kingston which comprised four Harland and Wolfe diesel engines direct coupled to Brush generators each of 1,250 kVA capacity generating at 3,300 volts. This was stepped up to 11,000 volts and connected to the temporary 11,000 volt busbars at the Kingston substation.

This station, which as well as the steam power station, generated from 1953 to 1956, was sold to the Commonwealth in 1960 and remains there to be used as a standby in the case of total shut down. There are only three diesel alternators left, so the capacity of 3.5 MW compared with Canberra’s peak load of about 500 MW, could only be used for very minor essential loads.

Bulk Supply and Zone Substations

Prior to 1 September, 1929, when it was put into service, the Public Works Department of NSW designed and constructed a bulk substation at Kingston to receive, control and step down the supply of 66,000 volts from Burrinjuck.

The substation comprised two banks each with three single phase transformers to Berry (British Electric Transformer Co.) manufacture of 600 kVA capacity each and had a ratio of 66,000/6,600 volts.

The output from each regulator was fed through a Berry 1,800 kVA Auto transformer star connected 6,600/5,500 volts ratio, thence through two GE (America) Autoreclosing OCB’s in the Power House basement with a metering panel to the Federal Capital Commission’s duplicate 5,500 volt open busbar in the engine room, from which the local 5,500 volt feeders emanated.

On the 66,000 volt side the transformer banks were protected by very long liquid fuses mounted on the steelwork of the sub-station. These were replaced by two Metro-Vick bulk oil three phase circuit breakers.

As an indication of the size of the undertaking at that time, the maximum demand of the Canberra load dropped from 1,200 kVA to 1,174 kVA for 1930-31 but was still the largest load on the Southern NSW system.

In late 1938 a 66,000 volt line from Goulburn tied in with the Burrinjuck line at Canberra Substation thus connecting Burrinjuck generating station with that of Port Kembla. In 1938 also, BTH type JB429 bulk oil circuit breakers were fitted to the terminations of the 66,000 volt lines from Burrinjuck and Goulburn. Later, at the end of 1938, a third circuit breaker of the same type was fitted to an outgoing 66,000 volt overhead line which fed Captains Flat.

A seven panel 11 kV Westinghouse truck switchboard was installed in a brick building at the eastern end of the Kingston Substation in 1938 and was gradually connected to the 6.6 kV system until it comprised the following panels:

Brush-Ljungstrom Generators 5 and 6
Transformer Secondaries No. 1 and No. 2
Canberra Load (to Auto Transformers) No. 1 and No. 2
Canberra Load No. 3 (to Cotter Line Auto Transformers)

The bulk metering was then transferred from the 5,500 volt busbars to the 6,600 volt busbars.

In November 1940 the No. I bank of 3 x 600 kVA single phase 66/6.6 kV transformers was replaced by a Crompton Parkinson Tap Changing Transformer 5,000 kVA capacity 66/6.6 kV ratio.

In 1946, the remaining bank of single phase transformers (No. 2) was replaced by an AGE tap changing transformer of 7,500 kVA capacity.

These remained in service until 14 October 1953 when both the main 66,000/6,600 volt tap changing transformers were replaced by two English Electric 10 MVA 66/11 kV tap changing transformers and our supply voltage changed toll kV from 6.6kV.

With the demand for electricity increasing at a very high rate, the Electricity Commission of New South Wales built a large substation in 1957 at Oaks Estate near Queanbeyan to cater for Canberra, Queanbeyan and Captains Flat. It was of 120 MVA capacity and 132/66 kV ratio, reducing the voltage from the 132 kV lines from Yass and Cooma.

In 1957 one of the 10 MVA Main Transformers at Kingston was removed and two 15 MVA English Electric 66/11 kV were installed, ASEAP Small Oil Content Circuit Breakers controlling the primary side of the new transformers. The Electricity Commission of NSW also changed the incoming BTH 66 kV Incoming Circuit Breakers with ASEA, Circuit Breakers of higher fault capacity. These were changed in 1956, 1957 and 1961.

In the early fifties, Canberra engineers saw the necessity for a number of zone sub-stations and decided to build a 66 kV ring which involved taking supply at Oaks Estate Substation at 66 kV, running initially two lines from there to Kingston Substation which Canberra Electric Supply had bought from the Electricity Commission of NSW. The lines were constructed and put in service in May, 1959.

In 1959, Canberra Electricity Supply took over the Kingston Substation and in 1961 replaced the remaining 10 MVA Main Transformer with a 15 MVA Transformer of Tyree Manufacture. In the same year the first of the new Zone Substations at North Ainslie was built and commissioned in May, 1961.

An 11 kV switchroom at the western end of the Kingston switchyard had been built since 1948 but the 11 kV switch- gear was not designed and installed until 1960. At that time a gradual changeover of 11 kV feeders occurred until the outdoor 11 kV busbar and its plethora of cubicle circuit breakers were eliminated. The switchroom was extended to accommodate additional 11 kV switchgear and the switchboard now comprises 32 panels.

In 1965 a fourth 15 MVA transformer of Tyree Manufacture was added and all transformers were fan cooled, giving a total capacity of 74 MVA with 24-11 kV feeders emanating from it.

A fifth transformer of 19 MVA capacity was moved in from North Ainslie Substation in 1974 and remains as a standby for the other four.

North Ainslie 66 kV Zone Substation

This substation was built on land at the corner of Majura Avenue and Officer Crescent, Ainslie. The first stage was completed and commissioned in May 1961 and comprised 2-15 MVA Tyree tap changing transformers of ratio 66/11 kV.

On the 11 kV side there was an open busbar with a centre tie circuit breaker feeding to a cubicle type outdoor switchboard of E.C.N.S.W. pattern manufactured by Standard Waygood and comprising 13 panels.

To feed this substation a 66 kV overhead line was constructed from Kingston Substation to North Ainslie Substation using the original (1929) double circuit Burrinjuck and Goulburn poles across the river flats to the rear of Mt Ainslie and thence new construction. A further 66 kV line was built from North Ainslie Substation along Phillip Avenue to join the original Burrinjuck Line behind Crace Hill.

In 1962 the 66 kV overhead line ring was completed from Crace Hill behind Black Mountain through Woden and back to the EC NSW Substation at Oaks Estate. The line conductor was steel cored aluminium of 0.2 inch copper equivalent with one conductor per phase and totalled about 32 circuit miles in length.

In 1963 an additional 15 MVA Tyree tap changing 66/11 kV transformer was connected and in 1965 fan cooling was fitted to all transformers giving a total capacity of 57 MVA.

66 kV Woden Zone Substation

The Woden Zone Substation was located near the corner of Devonport and Heyson Street, Lyons and was commissioned in 1964 with two Tyree 15 MVA tap changing transformers which were fan cooled in 1965 giving a total capacity of 38 MVA. A control building on the site housed an 11 kV Westinghouse Switchboard with 17 feeders.

132 kV double circuit transmission tower












Fig. 6.9: 132 kV double circuit transmission tower. Photo: ACTEA.

132 kV double circuit terminal tower











Fig. 6.10: 132 kV double circuit terminal tower. Photo: ACTEA.

Change of Sub Transmission Voltage from 66 kV to 132kv

Despite all the above work which was carried out to maintain supply and keep up with the demands for electricity, it was evident that the rate of increase of demand, always much higher than that. of population, would require drastic action to cope with projected future requirements so in the early sixties, consultation with the Electricity Commission of New South Wales resulted in the decision to built a 330/132 kV Substation at Weetangera district, now Charnwood. This substation would have an initial capacity of 750 MVA and a final capacity of 1,500 MVA occupying a land area of 69 acres (28 ha). Canberra would then take bulk supply from them at this centre at 132 kV, retaining the 66 kV bulk supply point at Oaks Estate, until all Canberra load could be transferred to the 132 kV bulk supply point.

The ACT Electricity Authority commenced design of a 132 kV system with some novel features. To preserve the amenity by using a minimum number of 132 kV lines, it was decided to use tower lines of pleasing proportion and the highest capacity practicable. They were 2-0.5 square inch (322 mm2) copper equivalent SCA (Moose) conductors per phase, each line capable of transmitting 500 MVA.

Every care was taken in close consultation with officers of the National Capital Development Commission to reduce the visual impact of the 132 kV lines as much as possible, and to coordinate their location with the general planning as known at that time. Even tower design was chosen to present a pleasing aspect.

Two lines were built in 1967, emanating from the Electricity Commission of NSW 330 kV substation, one along the Molonglo River Valley to Woden and one through the as yet unbuilt Belconnen Valley to a substation at the foot of Black Mountain and thence to Woden, a total route distance of 26 miles (42 km).

132 kv Circuit Breaker






Fig. 6.11: 132 kV Circuit Breaker.

132/11 kV Transfonner







Fig. 6.12: 132/11 kV Transformer.

Main Zone Substations 132/11 kV

Having decided to take supply at 132 kV which was then the highest sub-transmission voltage used in Australia, a further step, unprecedented at that time in Australia, of direct transformation from 132 kV to 11 kV was adopted. These substations were to be of 60 MVA firm capacity with space available for the future addition of another transformer to enable an increase to 120 MVA later if required. However, the inherent fault capacity available required refined relay protection treatment to prevent widespread damage on fault; and with this done the system as designed and constructed has proved successful in service.

With the first substation installed adjacent to residential areas, the operation of 132 kV air blast circuit breakers with their attendant noise was considered undesirable so small oil volume hydraulically operated circuit breakers (Oerlikon, Switzerland) of 2,000 ampere rating and 8,000 MVA rupturing capacity were installed.

The tap changing transformers were of Tyree manufacture with an ON rating of 30 MVA, an OFB rating of 45 MVA and with each capable of handling a winter peak load of 60 MVA at the Canberra load cycle. They have 18% impedance on 30 MVA to keep the fault value at the 11 kV busbars at a level suitable for the existing 11 kV switchgear on the system.

The transformer connections were ydl and an earthing transformer was used on the 11 kV side which limited the earth fault to 3,000 amperes.

This means simply, that the transformer design was such that each had a capacity of 30 MVA with natural cooling, 45 MVA with forced oil and air cooling, but 60 MVA at the Canberra load cycle in winter when the load peaks. Thus if one transformer was switched out on fault in the winter, the other transformer could carry the whole 60 MVA load.

The transformers are operated each with its own 11 kV feeder load but with a “flip-flop” arrangement so that one transformer automatically takes over the other one’s load should it trip out on fault.

The high current on the 11 kV side of the transformers under emergency conditions required two Main Transformer OCB’s per transformer as 11 kV OCB’s with capacity exceeding 2,000 amperes were unusual. The 11 kV switchboard was of Brush manufacture with 500 MVA rupture rating double busbar and with 16 outgoing feeder circuit breakers each of 800 ampere capacity.

City Zone Substation 132/11 kV

This was situated on land occupied by a former Caravan Park at the foot of Black Mountain and is not only hidden from sight but was given architectural treatment to merge it with the environment as far as possible. It was put into service in July 1967.

Woden Zone Substation 132/11 kV

The existing 66 kV/11 kV zone substation at Woden was converted to 132 kV operation in two stages, the first transformer being put in service in July 1967 and the second in February 1968 when the 66/11 kV transformers and switchgear were removed.

Latham Zone Substation 132/11 kV

This substation situated near Rudall Street, Latham, was constructed in line with the standard adopted for City Zone Substation and went into service in March, 1971, to supply the growing load in the Belconnen Valley. This was the first substation constructed in that area and connected in to a 132 kV line which had been erected prior to any development in the valley. In 1982 a third 60 MVA transformer was installed making the firm capacity of the substation 120 MVA.

Mains plan of the city in 1918










Fig. 6.13: Mains plans of the city in 1918.

Wanniassa Zone Substation 132/11 kV

This 60 MVA zone substation was constructed adjacent to Athllon Drive, Wanniassa and fully put in service during April, 1975. It was fed from two 132 kV feeders supported on wood poles and emanating from the Woden Zone Substation. In 1981, a third 60 MVA transformer was installed making the firm capacity of the substation 120 MVA.

Belconnen Zone Substation 132/11 kV

This 60 MVA zone substation adjacent to the Belconnen Town Centre was commissioned in April 1977, connected into the same 132 kV feeder as Latham Zone Substation and feeds the surrounding residential areas as well as the Belconnen Town Centre.

This substation saw the first installation in the Territory of the new type of sulphur hexafluoride gas circuit breaker, a type of circuit breaker fairly new to Australia but with many advantages.

Mains plan of the metropolitan area 1982










Fig. 6.14: Mains plan of the metropolitan area 1982.

City East Zone Substation

In the middle seventies it was evident that action should be taken to diminish and phase out our demand for bulk electricity from the 66 kV bulk supply point at Oaks Estate1 near Queanbeyan. With this in view, and to cope with the ever increasing load demands, a switching station was established at Bruce allowing two 132 kV lines each of 260 MVA capacity to be connected through circuit breakers and run to a new zone substation at the foot of Mount Ainslie. This substation would then be available to take new load in the area and to take over the 11 kV supply from the Ainslie 66/11 kV substation.

The substation of 60 MVA firm capacity was commissioned in August 1979 and commenced taking over load from the Ainslie 66/11 kV substation. With this 132 kV substation in service only the original Kingston substation requires changing from 66 kV to 132 kV supply and this changeover, together with resiting near the Causeway, is now in hand.

The maximum demand at the 1982 winter peak was 485 MW and this was fed from both systems with 431 MW from 132 kV supply and 54 MW from 66 kV supply.

Distribution System

The original distribution voltage at 1915 was the same as the generated voltage, namely 5,000 volts later increased to 5,500 volts with step up transformers at Kingston delivering electricity at 11,000 volts to the Cotter Pumping Station with a later tee off to Mount Stromlo (1922). In fact the 11,000 volt line from Kingston to the Cotter was erected in 1914 and was one of the first lines of that voltage in Australia and the first to use all aluminium wire. The feeders emanated from Kingston Substation and were all overhead except for underground cable in the Parliamentary area.

From 1946 onward a programme was put in hand not only to increase all feeders to 11 kV operation but to underground a considerable length of them. With shortages of capacity and materials this took a long time but on 14 October 1953, bulk supply was taken at 11 kV and all feeders except some undergrounded feeders in the Parliamentary area which operated through auto transformers at 5,500 volts, were converted and operating at 11 kV. The cable was replaced in the Parliamentary area shortly afterward and since then all feeders are operated at 11 kV excepting two 22 kV feeders- one to the Cotter Pumping Station and the Upper Cotter, and one to Tidbinbilla.

With the change to 11,000 volt distribution considerable underground cable was used, with the result to date that 11,000 volt lines are run in less than one third of the streets and nearly one half of them are underground in the City area. As the rate of increase of demand becomes known in each district and funds are available, it is envisaged that they will all be underground before very long, leaving the streets as uncluttered tree-lined avenues as visualised by Walter Burley Griffin.

To the year 1981-82, there were 1,410 route kilometres of distributor in the City area of which 640 kilometres is underground.

Distribution Substations 11,000 Volts to 415/240 Volts

Apart from a few substations in buildings, mainly Parliament House (which also fed East and West Blocks by low voltage cable) and the Cotter Pumping Station, all early distribution substations were of the two pole overhead type.

As the City developed, it was necessary to research all known systems of distribution networks from the viewpoint of economics and operating efficiency, especially for ease of restoration of supply after fault. It was decided to use an open ring system with two 11,000 volt feeds to each substation in the City area and that this system would be the best until motor traffic problems restricted operator movement. Special arrangements for immediate alternate supply were made where this was absolutely essential.

The substations are now a mixture of overhead, one and two pole to 500 kVA, indoor, unlimited capacity, ironclad kiosk to 750 kVA capacity and pad mounted transformers to 750 kVA capacity each used to their best advantage. The total number of substations in service at 30 June 1982 were:—

Indoor Substations 150
Kiosk Substations 202
Pad Mounted Transformers 1048
Overhead Pole Substations 1479
Ground Type Substations 1479
Total 2893

Low Voltage Mains 415/240 Volts

Underground cable is used extensively in commercial areas and also for feeders into the domestic reticulation system but rear of lot overhead mains with underground or overhead services to the houses are used in domestic areas. This was used from the outset and was initiated by Walter Burley Griffin. Experience has shown that there are few of the problems of easement and access that are encountered in other places, due to Canberra’s system of leasehold tenure of land.

This mains system provides for ease of augmentation and this is essential in Canberra when it is considered that in 1982 it had an average annual usage of 11,258 kWh compared with an Australian average of 6,062 kWh per domestic customer.

The overhead lines are in general mounted on 9.2m wood poles (originally 7.6m) with 1.75m crossarms, the conductors being of copper until recent years and then of aluminium and the standard crossection is 65mm2 copper or its equivalent in aluminium.

Typical pad mounted sub-station 11 kV/415V




Fig. 6.15: Typical pad mounted sub-station 11 kV/415V.

Progress of Electricity Supply in the ACT

At the turn of the century with both Canberra and public Electricity Supply in their infancies, it was decided that electricity with its unpollutive characteristic especially with hydro-electric generation would be the most suitable energy source for the garden City to come. This decision was taken when nearly all the cities of the world relied on coal gas for its distributed energy.

The growth in usage of electricity in the ACT has been tremendous by any standard and far higher than the growth in population. An indication of this growth is given by the following table:

Year Population Maximum Demand MW Units bought MkWh
1928-1929 6,880 1.04 4.9 (est)
1938-1939 10,800 2.40 12.28
1948-1949 19,639 6.44 30.50
1958-1959 46,072 25.32 103.60
1968-1969 121,662 118.30 459.70
1978-1979 220,000 359.30 1,386.00
1981-1982 230,000 485.00 1,602.00

(Population figures prior to 1959 are for urban areas only. Electricity was subsequently extended to rural areas and the figures for 1959 and later include the whole of the ACT. Queanbeyan, fed from Kingston power house from 1920 to 1939, is not included in the population figures.)

In 1981 the ACT accounted for only 6 per cent of the total demand of 8,011 megawatts on the NSW electricity grid. Half of the ACT’s consumption was domestic.

Organisational Responsibility

For many years responsibility for the supply of electricity in Canberra passed from department to department and for most of this time it was carried out in conjunction with all other electrical work such as contracting, day labour and maintenance required by the Commonwealth in the ACT. In fact, even today, a considerable amount of recoverable work, especially maintenance in buildings and undertakings, is still being done by the ACT Electricity Authority.

The movement of responsibility between departments was not as disruptive as it appears as in most cases the work was conducted by the same staff.

All persons in charge of the undertaking have been corporate members of The Institution of Engineers, Australia from its inception and the number of corporate members employed has varied from two to 20.

The following list shows the departments and authorities that have been responsible for electricity supply in the ACT:—

Department of Home Affairs — (Works cell)
(1/1/01—11/11/16); Department of Works and Railways
(14/11/16-1/1/25); Federal Capital Commission
(1/1/25-30/4/30); Department of Works and Railways
(1/5/30-12/4/32); Department of the Interior
(13/4/32-23/11/38); Department of Works — (engineering)
(24/11/38-26/4/39); Department of the Interior
(27/4/39-2/2/45); Department of Works — (engineering)
(2/2/45-13/7/45); Department of Works and Housing
(13/7/45-12/10/53); Department of the Interior(13/10/53-30/6/63); ACT Electricity Authority

Officers in charge

There have been six officers in actual charge of operations since 1914, all of whom have been corporate members of The Institution of Engineers, Australia at one time or another. The dates are as close as can be obtained:

H.P. Moss (visited from Melbourne) (1914-1925);
S.W. Cook (1925-1927);
AM. Fraser (1927-1944);
W.E. Gray (1944-1952);
H.A. Jones (1952-1975);
WE. Bolton (1975- ).

The ACT Electricity Authority was formed under the ACT Electricity Supply Act No. 72 of 1962 which came into force on 1 July 1963. The first meeting of the Authority was held in the conference room at Civic North Offices on 2 July 1963 when the chairman was delegated to carry on with the day to day management of the undertaking.

The Authority was managed by a full time chairman who was assisted on a part time basis by a representative of the Department administering the Territory and an elected representative of the local Advisory Council, later House of Assembly.

Since 1963, the two full time chairmen have been H.A. Jones (1/7/63-21/1/75) and W.E. Bolton (1975 to date).

Elected representatives of the local government body (no executive functions) have been: J.H. Pead (1/7/63-17/ 10/67); R.R. O’Keeffe (17/10/67-12/10/70); J.H. Pead (13/10/70-31/10/74); R.P. Vallee (1/11/74-4/7/79); P.R. Whalan (5/7/79-30/6/82) and P.R. Kobold(1/7/82 to date). They have one vote in three on the Authority to decide any business.

The three appointed representatives of the Department since 1963 have been W. McGregor (1/7/63-8/5/70); J.H. Marshall (9/5/70-1/10/74); and WE. Lawrence (2/10/74- ).

Buildings, offices and depots

Shortly after the ACT Electricity Authority was formed in 1963 it was given permissive occupancy of Block I Section 8 Kingston, an area comprising about 5.46 ha and fronting Wentworth Avenue. On this land, was the old power station (1915), the Kingston zone substation (1929) and its 11 Kv switch room (1948), the linesman’s depot (1958) and the electrical workshop (1956 extended 1967).

The area originally contained not only the power station and the adjacent mechanical fitters shop but a temporary building which initially contained the first joiners shop and other trades, then became the electrical workshop until it was dismantled in 1974. In that year a new stores building was erected on the site and amalgamated with the old fitters shop. The site also contained the first transport depot and fire station, some buildings of which still remain, and three houses by the river now demolished.

As the City grew, it was necessary to decentralise maintenance and construction depots and a first building on the corner of Wakefield Avenue and Limestone Avenue, Ainslie was completed on 8 January 1973.

Electricity House






Fig. 6.16: Electricity House, 1982.

Originally the Electric Supply offices were incorporated in the Acton offices which were demolished to make room for extensions to the Royal Canberra Hospital. When the Federal Capital Commission terminated on 30 April, 1930 the engineering and consumer’s side were transferred to the Jolimont Offices of the Department of Works and Railways in Alinga Street, City.

The Department of Works was incorporated in the new Department of the Interior on 13 April 1932 and moved shortly afterward back to Acton offices. Electric supply engineering moved from there to No. 2 Unit, Barton with the Department of Works and Housing. The Consumer’s records were moved at that time to Jolimont Offices.

On 13 October 1953 the Electric Supply function was re-united in the Department of the Interior at Acton Offices.

On 6 July 1957 the Canberra Electric Supply Branch moved to the Melbourne Building, West Row, Canberra City, into premises rebuilt after a fire which destroyed the Canberra University College Library. The Branch expanded into the top floor of Block 20 Section 1 City and later into Block 3, Section 3 of Hobart Place.

The growth of the function and lack of availability of office space decided the ACT Electricity Authority to obtain a Crown Lease of Block 1 Section 12 City and to build Electricity House, combining offices, a large distribution substation and a distribution control centre.

The tender of $2,701,658 of Civil and Civic Pty Ltd was accepted for the construction of Electricity House on 30 May 1967 to plans and specifications produced by Peddle Thorpe and Walker Architects. Rankine and Hill were the engineering consultants and Rider, Hunt and Partners were the quantity surveyors.

The building was completed at slightly less than the tender price and occupied on 20 January, 1969.

The building has a gross floor area of 11,220m2 and should be large enough for a headquarters building for the foreseeable future. For customer convenience a small office with demonstration theatre was opened in Woden Plaza on 19 September, 1972, and a small office was opened in Belconnen Mall on 22 August, 1978.

Electricity supply in Canberra has now reached a size never contemplated originally, with a maximum demand approaching 500 Megawatts and a total annual revenue of $56.0 million and rising. It is a large organisations by any standard.

It is now run completely on behalf of its customers with staff paid by its customers and is sensitive to its customer’s requirements.

The technical equipment and the accommodation accords with the best modern practice and the outlook of those guiding its destiny is progressive.

Attracted by the high price of oil, reticulated gas is now making its appearance in the City and although it will compete mainly with fuel oil, it will also have some effect in moderating the demand for electricity in heating homes in the winter.

With all sources of energy being used as a taxing medium the economic pendulum will swing back and forth but, no matter what happens, electricity will continue to be the major source of energy for Canberra and its life blood.


The author is grateful for the assistance of the Chairman of the ACT Electricity Authority, Mr W.E. Bolton, and for the opportunity to use information obtained from the records and station log books of the Authority in the preparation of this chapter.


By A.E. Minty BE, FIE Aust. FCIT


After twenty years on major dams, wartime flying and hydro- electric work, Bill Minty joined NCDC in 1959 as the Project Engineer for the planning, design and construction of Lake Burley Griffin. He was subsequently appointed a Director with responsibilities for a wide range of hydraulic, transportation and other major projects (including public lighting and natural gas). He retired in 1981 after nearly twenty-three years with NCDC. As well as being a past chairman of Canberra Division of The Institution of Engineers, Australia, and a Councillor from 1979 to 1981, he has been a member of the National Panel on Engineering Heritage since its inauguration in 1979.

CANBERRA’S standard of public lighting is one feature that has distinguished the National Capital from other cities. From its inception, electricity was reticulated to houses using timber poles placed along the back fences to carry overhead conductors, thus removing from the streetscape the main elements that disfigure Australian cities.

The primary penalty for this hiding of poles and wires, is the need for a separate system of street lighting, using underground cables. Until the early 1960s, a high proportion of street lighting installations used short columns 2.5 or 3.5 metres high, carrying a decorative lantern, with a vertically burning incandescent lamp of low wattage and efficacy. In some cases, where timber poles had to be erected in the street to carry high voltage lines, some street lighting was provided by a short outreach arm off the timber pole and carrying the old ubiquitous radial wave reflector and incandescent lamp.

Until the early 1960s, all this public lighting was pedestrian lighting, with the outreach arms on the timber poles directed towards the house and footpath rather than the road.

In 1962, Kings Ave Bridge was completed with a new approach to lighting using a line of fluorescent tubes in each outer handrail. This was not an attempt to provide traffic route standard of lighting on the carriageway but the one line of tubes was used partly to light one footway and delineate the edge of the carriageway, and partly to shine on the white concrete parapet for night-time display of the bridge structure a splendid example of glare-free integral lighting. This was a decided improvement on the remote flood lighting so often developed as an afterthought when a bridge or building is complete. This lighting installation won the annual award of the Illuminating Engineering Society.

Kings Avenue bridge was so impressive in terms of the clean lines by day and fine lighting effect by night that the proposal to mount post-top lights on Commonwealth Avenue Bridge was abandoned. At the time, the design of the superstructure of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge was complete and construction of the bridge had started. Nevertheless, timber mock-ups were made in Canberra and new designs developed that would use a similar handrail lighting approach. Lines of tubes were also incorporated in the outer aluminium parapets to light the exposed aggregate panels of the bridge superstructure. This installation also won one of the annual awards of the Illuminating Engineering Society.

The integral lighting of Kings






Fig. 7.1: The integral lighting of Kings Avenue Bridge which won the outdoor award of the Illuminating Engineering Society. Photo: NCDC.

 The integral lighting of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge






Fig. 7.2: The integral lighting of Commonwealth Avenue Bridge which also won an award from the Illuminating Engineering Society. Photo-NCDC.

The high mast lighting






Fig. 7.3:The high mast lighting on the southern approaches to Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. Photo — Coward of Canberra for NCDC.

About 1963, three significant events occurred within about one year of each other. Firstly, the ACT Electricity Authority (ACTEA) was set up and unlike the practice in most other Australian cities, responsibility for planning, design and construction of public lighting was given to the National Capital Development Commission rather than ACTEA. Next, some parliamentarians attempting one night to walk the short distance from the Hotel Canberra to Parliament House had one of their number trip and fall down in the poorly lit street. Strong correspondence followed urging NCDC to do something about street lighting.

At about this time also, the Standards Association of Australia set up a committee (with NCDC representation) to prepare an up-to-date set of recommended practices for modern street lighting. In 1964 the section of the code dealing with traffic route lighting was published. In 1965 Northbourne Avenue was provided with Canberra’s first- ever traffic route lighting (to the new code standards) and was followed progressively in subsequent years with similar standard lighting throughout most of the urban areas.

In lieu of the old vertically burning low efficacy incandescent lamps of 100 watts each used for old pedestrian lights, 400 watt high pressure mercury vapour fluorescent lamps were used which burned horizontally in lanterns designed for fine optical control of light output to meet the new SAA code requirements. For higher mounting heights on major roads, 700 watt lamps have been used. Similarly, on the smaller distributor roads, 250 watt lamps were used.

Soon after the development of the first high mast lighting in the Cumberland Basin in England, NCDC was faced with the lighting of the cloverleaf interchanges on Kings and Commonwealth Avenues and Parkes Way. Rather than have a forest of lighting columns of the usual 10.7 metres height, it was decided to use the Cumberland Basin techniques of 4/1000 watt lamps mounted on columns 30.5 metres high. This cut the number of columns to about one third of that needed for a conventional design.

The 1960s also saw the development of the high pressure sodium lamp with its much higher efficacy in terms of lumens per watt. However, NCDC saw considerable advantage in the blue/green colour of the mercury lamps enhancing the colour of the adjacent foliage. As the cost of these new lamps was progressively reduced and assurances developed on other aspects, NCDC agreed to install some test sections for community comment. With no adverse reaction and a developing concern for energy consumption, a decision was made to adopt the light apricot colour of high pressure sodium lamps for all traffic routes. But the deeper orange of low pressure sodium continued to be rejected on colour grounds despite its very much higher efficacy.

The early post-top lighting columns in a landscaped street devoid of timber poles and wires provided a very attractive daytime appearance but as a lighting installation it was not very effective.

Following the major improvements made in traffic route lighting by changing vertically burning lamps to horizontally burning lamps, NCDC in association with ACTEA experimented with 40 to 100 watt luminaires mounted from 3.5 to 7.0 metres high. Apart from the twin twenty watt fluorescent tubes so popular in other Australian cities, the market at that time did not offer a good range of lower wattage lanterns. However, following the production of the traffic route lighting code, the SAA set up another committee to prepare recommendations on pedestrian lighting. Again NCDC was represented and indeed hosted the committee in Canberra to see the trial installations. The committee was loathe to accept any vertically burning post-top lights as a functional light, but made some provision for these in the 1971 code. After prolonged debate between the functional and economy interests of the engineers and the daytime appearance interests of the architects NCDC accepted the twin twenty watt fluorescent tubes on a slim column for collector roads i.e. roads intermediate between the minor residential streets and the main distributor through a neighbourhood. The latter and higher standard roads would use traffic route standard lighting.

The low level post top luminaires






Fig. 7.4: The low level post top luminaires preferred by architects for their day-time appearance.

 The higher mounting height






Fig. 7.5: The higher mounting height and more appropriate distribution of light preferred by engineers even in this cul-de-sac. Photo: NCDC

The twin twenty watt luminaire











Fig. 7.6: The twin twenty watt luminaire for area lighting for pedestrians. Photo: NCDC.

In the early 1970s, the observatory at Mt Stromlo approached NCDC about the problem they had with the increasing brightness of the night sky aureole due to the rapidly increasing number of street lights particularly those close to and south of Mt Stromlo, where the observatory people were trying to measure extremely faint stars. A similar problem had been encountered at the American Observatory at Kitt Peak and had been helped appreciably by shielding and other changes to the public lighting.

NCDC suggested a change also to the linear sodium source, but at the time the observatory did not see this as useful. NCDC therefore engaged the University of NSW to solve the problem. A filter was developed to screen out offending wavelengths, but it was an unattractive colour. The observatory then found a way of coping if NCDC changed to sodium. This coincided with the availability of very low wattage (18 watt) sodium low pressure lamps. Hence a programme commenced for installation of these throughout the district of Weston Creek.

The final section of the Canberra public lighting story covers the floodlighting of buildings and special features, particularly those in the Parliamentary Triangle.

Any record of public lighting in the Central Areas of Canberra has to start with the late Richard Gray, an architect partner of the London based consultants of William Holford and Partners.

Following his architectural advice on Kings and Commonwealth Avenue bridges, Richard Gray, responding to a Brief from NCDC, presented a three-volume report1 in which he said:

“Because of its balanced layout and the symmetrical grouping of buildings around the lake, Canberra can, without affectation, adopt a classical formula for its lighting scheme. (that will be) original and unique”.

The concept he presented for the Central Areas of Canberra between Capital Hill and the Australian War Memorial would provide by night a civic design composition equivalent to the civic design by day.

This design was based on a framework of main avenue lighting using semi cut-off lanterns for Commonwealth and Kings Avenue and special lanterns along Anzac Parade. Within this framework, footpath and carpark lighting was to provide the background patterns; and the illumination of bridges, buildings, fountains and trees were to be the enriching ornaments. High mast lighting would punctuate the avenue intersections, and provision would be made for temporary gala lighting to mark national and festive occasions.

All the lighting was to be designed to be seen in the round and to provide freedom of movement by pedestrians around the central area parklands by night.

This called for integral or short offset floodlights. Unfortunately there was a tendency for an architect to install strong floodlights well offset from the building and try to show off his building to the best advantage only from a distance. Thus people walking around or emerging from a building by night would find themselves facing a battery of glaring floodlights. The brightness of a building depended more on such issues than on the freedom of movement, and harmony and cohesiveness of the total night-time concept of Richard Gray.

In an attempt to come back to Richard Gray’s concept and give the Provisional Parliament House its rightful place in the Triangle, the engineers of NCDC themselves designed the augmentation of the floodlighting of that building, lifting its brightness above all others in the Triangle yet using short offset and integral methods allowing Parliamentarians unfettered use and egress from the house by night.

One of the main features of Richard Gray’s concept for the lighting of the Central Area, was the ceremonial treatment of Anzac Parade with flanking rows of soldier- like columns carrying ellipsoidal luminaires the full length of the Parade from the floodlit War Memorial to the intersection with Parkes Way.

A very attractive column design was evolved by the consultants on this project but NCDC asked them to add a further 1.5 metres to the height. This was readily agreed. From the architects point of view, the preferred luminaire would have been the white translucent ellipsoid throughout. From the engineers viewpoint, Anzac Parade was a major traffic route for which a translucent bowl of any shape would be hopelessly inadequate optically. Hence the design evolved provided the clear acrylic bowl in the bottom through which optically controlled traffic route lighting is projected, but the bulk of the luminaire is the white translucent ellipsoid which provides the ceremonial parade character to the lighting as viewed by day and by night.


The concept for the civic design






Fig. 7.7: The concept for the civic design by night of the Parliamentary Triangle. Photo: NCDC.

 Progress in developing





Fig. 7.8: Progress in developing the civic design of the Parliamentary Triangle by night. Photo: NCDC.

 AnzacParade by night. Photo- NCDC






Fig. 7.9: AnzacParade by night. Photo: NCDC

The decorative/functional luminaire









Fig. 7.10: The decorative/functional luminaire adopted for the formal Anzac Parade. Photo: Author.

As this book goes to press, no attempt has been made to cover the lighting of the National Gallery or High Court. The floodlighting of the new Parliament House will hopefully have regard for the night-time civic design of the Parliamentary Triangle and will allow free movement of people by night inside and outside the building without being blinded by remote floodlights. Finesse rather than brute strength should be the philosophy. For instance, under careful NCDC control, the historic Blundells Cottage was “moonlit” rather than “floodlit”. It is hoped that more use will be made of integral lighting such as Kings Avenue Bridge, Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, the Law Courts, the Mint, the MLC Building and others.

Whilst NCDC generally used private consultants for the special lighting such as Bruce Stadium and high mast work, the detailed design and construction of normal street lighting was done for NCDC by the ACT Electricity Authority.

Indeed the writer would pay a strong tribute to the two successive Chairmen of ACTEA, Mr H.A. Jones and Mr W.E. Bolton, and their various engineers for the assistance they gave on all lighting work and the close harmony of the partnership between the two organisations.

Floodlighting of the provisional






Fig. 7.11: Floodlighting of the provisional Parliament House as seen from the decorative pools and fountains. Photo: NCDC.

Integralfloodlighting of the Royal






Fig. 7.12: Integral floodlighting of the Royal Australian Mint, Deakin. Photo: NCDC.

 Floodlighting of Bruce Stadium






Fig. 7.13: Floodlighting of Bruce Stadium for TV transmission. Photo: Heide Smith for NCDC.

(Above) Integral lighting of Law Courts.






Fig. 7.15: (Above) Integral lighting of Law Courts. Photo — Author.

(Left) Integral lighting of Civic Offices











Fig. 7.14: (Left) Integral lighting of Civic Offices and MLC Building (facade is lit between windows). Photo — Author.

Natural Gas

The record of engineers’ initiatives and actions in Canberra would not be complete without a brief reference to Natural Gas.

Two early studies on the possible introduction of natural gas failed to persuade authorities to bring it to Canberra. In 1980 however, the engineers appreciated that continuing increases in oil prices, large increases expected for electricity charges and the error in principle of burning a finite resource like oil, made plain the advantages of Natural Gas for the heavy space heating and similar needs of Canberra.

A further economic study was mounted in association with other Canberra organisations, Department of Capital Territory, the Pipeline Authority, Department of Housing and Construction and ACTEA. Cabinet submissions were prepared and after inviting proposals from interested organisations, the choice fell between the Australian Gas Light Company and ACTEA with the former being chosen.

The NCDC initiated feasibility studies early in 1980 to identify which government-owned buildings were eligible for conversion based on economic benefits of gas over oil fuel. Where a clear advantage in changing to natural gas was demonstrated, design and documentation work for such buildings was undertaken.

On 24 July 1980, at King Edward Terrace, opposite Parliament House, the Prime Minister, the Right Hon. Malcolm Fraser, turned the first sod in the construction process for Natural Gas for Canberra.

After tapping into the Moomba (SA) to Sydney gas line at Gunning, construction work proceeded on the Gunning to Canberra spur line and on the trunk mains from the City Gate at Mitchell on the northern edge of the city, to the Woden Town Centre in the south, to the Belconnen Town Centre in the west and to Fyshwick in the south-east.

By the end of 1981, NCDC had converted 39 government buildings to natural gas, and on 18 February 1982, the Prime Minister formally opened the valve to allow Canberra’s first gas to flow.

In the first year these 39 buildings reduced the consumption of fuel oil by some 23,000,000 litres representing a saving of $2,300,000 at current fuel costs. These buildings were the first of 185 government buildings for which such savings are expected and for which contracts had been let by NCDC in a planned programme to convert offices, hospitals, institutions and schools from fuel oil to natural gas. By the end of 1982, a further 105 government facilities had been connected with another 60 expected in 1983.

Parallel with this work, the Australian Gas Light Company proceeded with the detailed design and installation of its domestic reticulation, based on householders responses to conversion proposals. By the end of 1982, 1,000 houses had been connected, allowing these householders to appreciate the savings in the cost of space heating during the long cold Canberra winters.


  1. “A comprehensive scheme for the lighting of the central areas of Canberra.” 3 Volume Report by WILLIAM HOLFORD and Partners for NCDC, 1964.


P.A. Clark, MIE Aust.


Paul Clark has been a working telecommunications engineer since graduation in 1952. He has practised in the Central Tablelands, based at Bathurst, Newcastle, Wollongong and Canberra. His association with and residence in Canberra began in 1965 when he was Divisional Engineer in charge of the South Coast and South Tablelands — the area surrounding the ACT. In 1972 he became directly involved in territory communications. He is, at present, Supervising Engineer Monaro Section.

MODERN communications methods arrived in the Canberra district with the opening of a telegraph office at Queanbeyan on 19 August 1864. The line was subsequently extended through Ginninderra to Yass. Ginninderra Post Office, established early in 1859, was the first in what is now the ACT.1

The first private telephone was connected to Edward Kendall Grace’s home, Gungahlin, in August 1887. Mr Grace, after lengthy negotiations, agreed to pay for the cost of iron poles to complete the line to his home from the Ginninderra Post Office, also the cost of erection, and he guaranteed the revenue of the post office to reach £100.

The cost of two telephones was £18, a substantial sum in those days. The line work cost £10. The telephone line to Gungahlin homestead was carried on three 19 foot poles that cost £3.5s, three insulators cost 1/6d and 30 yards (27 m) of wire cost 2/1.

Mr Grace was not to enjoy the new facility for long as he was drowned with his groom when attempting to ford the flooded Ginninderra Greek in 1892.

Until the selection of Canberra as the site for the National Capital, life continued its quiet rural pace and even in 1905 the post mistress at the old Canberra Post Office (Ainslie) was able to signal the arrival of a telegram to the one or two residents within visible distance by hanging a sheet on the clothes line next to the office. Research has not disclosed how this signal was cancelled out on wash day.

From these early days right through to the middle of the 1920s, the district remained a rural one despite some construction activity for the Capital. Generally, telephone and other communications needs were as few in Canberra as in any other country area except for the presence of an Administrator of the Federal Territory, a few officers of the Department of Home Affairs, the Royal Military College, Duntroon and the camps for construction workers.

In 1914, the telephone exchange at the Ainslie Post Office, then located on the Yass-Queanbeyan Road (roughly between Allambee Street, Reid and Limestone Avenue) served only two customers the Canberra Rectory and a Mr J. Murray — and this load was quite a burden, if we can believe the post mistress, Mrs H. McIntosh. On 1 July 1914, she wrote to the PMG Department asking that her salary be increased because of the increase in telephone business! She said:

‘The amount taken for telephone conversations in June 1913 was 10/2, whereas this June it is £1 .8s. One subscriber was connected to this office last October and another is about to be connected. This second subscriber will mean more business. As I have my household duties and a little one to attend to, I cannot cope with the increased telephone business and have to employ an assistant to attend to it. The salary of £30.5s per annum is not sufficient.’

Canberra Post Office atAinslie 1910.





Fig. 8.1: Canberra Post Office at Ainslie 1910.

Tents for telegraphists




Fig. 8.2: Tents for telegraphists and PMG officials for occasion of opening Parliament House, 1927

Canberra Post Office, Parfees 1927.





Fig. 8.3: Canberra Post Office, Parkes 1927.

The Ainslie Post Office was originally called the Canberra Post Office when it was established on 1 January 1863 on another site. A change of name was necessary when the Federal offices were constructed at Acton. The post office there opened on 1 November 1912 but changed its name to Canberra Post Office on 2 June 1913.

The new post master, Mr G.C. Bondfield, had some difficulty in taking formal possession of the post office at Acton. He reported on 30 June 1913 that ‘owing to the flooded state of the Molonglo River and the bridge having been washed away I was unable to reach Acton until 5 pm’. Mr Bondfield who had been transferred from Branxton, NSW, apparently did not notice an anomaly in his conduct of business until it was pointed out to him by Colonel Miller, the Administrator of the Federal Territory. For some weeks, it seemed, Mr Bondfield had been franking correspondence ‘Canberra, NSW’ instead of ‘Canberra— Federal Territory’.

This rural phase of the district’s communications history changed with the increased tempo of construction in the 1920s in preparation for the transfer of Parliament from Melbourne. The influx of workmen naturally increased the demand for post office and telecommunications services. The construction workers were good customers of the telephone service. Enormous queues of people waited at the Canberra Post Office at Acton to make trunk calls because the trunk lines to Sydney and Melbourne were very limited in number.

Sad to relate, monetary inducements were offered (and sometimes accepted) by the operators to reduce waiting time in the queue.

With the opening of Parliament in 1927 Canberra had evolved from a construction camp into a small country town albeit lacking the usual attributes of a long main street lined on both sides with shops and other buildings.

The Canberra Post Office at Acton by this time had a manual exchange of one hundred line capacity. All but four of the telephone services connected to the exchange were leased by Government Departments.

To meet communications needs after the establishment of Parliament House a Strowger Automatic Exchange was installed in the East Block Secretariat building. It was placed in service the week before the official opening of Parliament House on 9 May 1927.

The exchange had a capacity of 2000 lines. It was named Central Exchange, being located at that time, more or less in the geographical centre of Canberra. It is interesting to note that the body controlling Canberra’s development at the time, the Federal Capital Commission, adopted a suggestion made by the Sulman Committee that the electricity and telephone service wires be aligned with the rear boundaries of the dwelling allotments. Provision was made for this in lease agreements. This decision had far reaching effects in the boom years.

Economic depression in the 1930s virtually halted Canberra’s expansion. The need for telephone services was minimal. There was some growth in communications needs during the war but, once again the magnitude was not great.

The post-war growth period when Canberra moved from its small town status to that of a City presented the Engineering Branch of the PMG’s Department with real problems. The growth rate was significant. It was largely uncontrolled.

On 11 January 1949 the Deputy-Director, Posts and Telegraphs NSW advised the Surveyor-General and Chief Property Officer of the need to replace Central by three new exchanges. They were to be situated at Civic Centre, Manuka and on Windsor Walk near Kings Avenue. The Surveyor-General was asked to nominate sites for the buildings. The rate of growth of demand for telephone services was such that there was no time to erect brick buildings. All three exchanges were installed in prefabricated buildings. They were named Civic, Manuka and Barton Exchanges. The Manuka installation consisted of three portable exchanges. One of its buildings was blasted off its piers by a contractor excavating for the permanent exchange building. These structures were not in keeping with the concept of an ideal National Capital, in fact the Barton building was singled out by the Senate Select Committee on the Development of Canberra in its report in 1955. The report stated that the building was ‘devoid of any architectural merit having all the hallmarks of a temporary building.’

At this time, in the late 1940s, there was very little forward civic planning. The PMG was forced into a role to which most utility authorities are accustomed, that of forecaster of the overall City development. In other words, engineering planners were forced to collect data from all the bodies, authorities, and citizens associated with the urban development of the City. They had to arrive at a concept of the shape and rate of its growth and then plan ahead for the telephone facilities required by their concept. Canberra was entering an era of unprecedented growth but the form and shape of the City that would accommodate the growing population was not known with any certainty. The erection of the Barton and Civic prefabricated buildings and later the provision of Yarralumla Portable Exchange was the result of this uncertainty of form and timing. Telecom growth tended to follow demand, not to anticipate it.

The establishment of the National Capital Development Commission in 1957 altered the situation radically. The NCDC was designed to remedy the deficiencies brought to light by the Senate Select Committee report mentioned above.

The functions of the Commission were ‘to plan, develop and construct the City of Canberra as Australia’s National Capital’.

The new Commission quickly produced its outline plans for urban and suburban development. More importantly the plans were clearly staged in time. The PMG’s Department made a definite policy decision that Canberra was to be given priority in accordance with its status as the National Capital.

A close working relationship between PMG Engineers and the NCDC was established and maintained. Intensive planning effort produced communication development plans, both long and short term. More importantly, these plans were, and are, kept under constant review, modified and extended, as required by changes in the NCDC’s City planning.

The result of the planning activity was seen in the erection of high quality telephone exchange buildings in good time to allow equipment installation to meet the requirements of Government, private enterprise and the needs of residents in the new suburbs. The rising tempo of telephone needs can be seen by the timing of the completion of these buildings:

1959 Manuka
1963 Deakin
1964 Civic(permanent Building)
1966 Mawson
1967 Belconnen
1968 Scullin
1969 Weston Creek
1972 Melba
1973 Kambah and Grace(Mitchell)
1976 Fyshwick and Monash

The rapid growth of Canberra in the 1970s was followed by a sudden downturn in expansion towards the end of the decade, leaving two telephone exchange buildings in paddocks at Tuggeranong near Pine Island and at Lanyon. They stand empty today as monuments to interrupted progress.

Telephone exchange switching equipment is only one part of a local telephone network. Cables are needed to connect subscribers to the exchange and to connect the exchanges together. Large civil works are needed to provide underground conduits to carry these cables. The period of growth saw intensive activity on the part of engineers and construction teams to design and lay these conduits and haul in the cables. In the 1960s planning confidence was such that conduit works involving the excavation for, and laying of, up to 120 pipes were going ahead through open paddocks ahead of the roadworks.

A similar degree of effort was expended in the final connection of the telephones. The telephone growth rate of the City was peaking at around 12 per cent per annum. Two typical examples serve to illustrate the rate of growth:

1964 Deakin was put into service with a capacity of 3000 lines
1966 Its Capacity was increased to 4000 lines
1969 Increased to 5000 lines
1970 Increased 8000 lines
1976 Increased 11000 lines
1972 Melba put into service with a capacity of 2000 lines
1973 Increased 4000 lines
1975 Increased 6000 lines

The wisdom of the Sulman Committee’s insistence on the alignment of the electricity and telephone service wires with the rear boundaries of allotments now became apparent. Close cooperation between the Department of the Interior initially and the ACT Electricity Authority finally and Telecom perfected a type of Joint-Use power and telephone construction that increased connection efficiency compared to other cities by at least 100 per cent. The power and telephone lines were erected in housing subdivisions before house fences were erected. As houses were built, connection of the telephone became a simple operation of running a single length of wire between the cable at the rear of the boundary and the house. There was a great need for manpower efficiency in the process of connecting new telephones because of the increase in demand for services coupled with general shortage of staff.

Canberra subscribers were connected for between 60 and 65 per cent of the manpower effort required elsewhere in the nation. The following table illustrates the steep rise in demand:

Financial Year New Telephone Services Connected Percentage Increase
1957/58 1644 -per cent
1962/63 4968 202 per cent
1967/68 6276 26 per cent
1972/73 7539 20 per cent
1977/78 8565 14 per cent

In the area of Private Automatic Branch Exchanges (PABX), the growth of the Government sector as departmental headquarters moved to Canberra saw installation of these units intensify. Very large PABX’s became commonplace in the City. Installations such as the PABX at the Russell Defence Offices are large enough to cater for the needs of a medium sized town. The total number of extension telephones connected to PABX’s exceeded 50,000 in the 1970s.

The rapid planned growth in the size of the Canberra local subscribers’ network equally applied to the trunk line network connecting the City to the rest of Australia. In 1939 there were two 3-channel carrier systems connecting Sydney and Canberra and one between Melbourne and Canberra. Thus a total of nine telephone trunk line links connected the Federal Capital to the two State Capitals. After intensive wartime effort, the number of channels installed by the end of 1945 was twenty-seven, fifteen to Sydney and twelve to Melbourne. Three of these channels were occupied by voice frequency telegraph systems that provided forty-five telegraph and teleprinter links to the two State Capitals.

The trunk line requirements grew at a faster rate than local line needs.

Links out of Canberra were increased over the period 1945 to 1960 by the use of twelve-channel carrier systems on open wire lines. Finally, in 1960 the first 4GHz broadband radio system was provided between Canberra and Sydney. The antenna and radio equipment was accommodated at Red Hill, initially in a portable building and finally in a substantial brick building

Channelling equipment for the radio system was provided at Central Exchange. Red Hill and Central were linked by a co-axial cable.

The original Strowger exchange at Central had been replaced by the Barton exchange in the 50s. Equipment installed at Central since then consisted entirely of trunk and telegraph line equipment, together with the manual trunk operating switchboards and the Central Telegraph Office.

A Siemens semi-automatic trunk exchange was placed in service at Central in 1954. This apparatus was an immense improvement over the older methods of manual trunk switching.

Concurrently with the improvement in equipment for operator handling of trunk line calls, planning was proceeding towards the objective of providing a fully automatic national telephone service. The production of the Community Telephone Plan 1960 established objectives and principles for the long term development of a fully automatic national telephone service. Inherent in the plan was the concept of a nation-wide subscriber trunk dialling through the introduction of crossbar switching equipment and provision of broadband transmission equipment on trunk routes.

As one of the consequences of this philosophy a six-tube co-axial cable was laid from Sydney to Melbourne via Canberra. The project was a very large one by civil as well as communications engineering standards. The length of the cable route was 965 km. In all, buildings for 103 unattended repeater stations were erected. At Canberra back-to-back terminals were installed at Central. The project was commenced in 1959. The first Sydney- Canberra co-axial cable system was put into service in 1961.

The situation, then in 1961 was that the bulk of Canberra’s communications with the rest of the nation was carried by two types of systems, the Sydney-Canberra- Melbourne co-axial cable and the microwave radio system installed at Red Hill. (Subscriber Trunk Dialling was introduced in Canberra in 1962.)

This story of steady progress suffered a setback in the early hours of Friday, 22 September 1961 when the Civic Telephone Exchange/span> was completely destroyed by fire. At the time there were 5,482 working lines connected to the exchange which had a capital value of one million dollars at 1961 prices. The restoration of the service after the fire was a prime example of the team approach that has become commonplace in Canberra.

On the morning of the twenty-second of September a decision was made to provide emergency services by means of a number of portable exchanges. It was decided also to install a replacement exchange in another building on the site. Installation of cable ironwork by linesmen and technicians and building alterations by staff of the Department of Works commenced that morning.

 Part of the 'crash programme






Fig. 8.4: Part of the 'crash programme' for reconstruction after the 1961 fire.

Emergency reliningafterthe 1961 fire.






Fig. 8.5: Emergency relining after the 1961 fire.

The first two portable exchanges arrived at 5.30 pm on the day of the fire. They were transported from Sydney and Wollongong where they had not been in service. The remaining seven portable exchanges that were required were sited at places as far apart as Elizabeth and Adelaide, SA, Drouin, Victoria and at Morriset East in NSW. They were all in service or ready to go into service at these locations. Alternative arrangements had to be designed and implemented to free them for use in Canberra. The last of them was sited at Canberra on 3 October. By 12 October 5,319 (97 per cent) of the out-of-order lines were back in service — a delay of only 20 days. Over 300 urgent services were reconnected in the first three or four days.

Meanwhile, work proceeded on the replacement exchange. It was completed on 11 November, only 51 days after the fire.

At the peak of this fire restoration work, the team in Canberra involved 531 people, including 21 engineers. Other APO groups in NSW, Victoria and South Australia were heavily involved but their numbers cannot be stated accurately. The Department of Works, ACT Police, NSW Police, Commonwealth Hostels, Department of the Interior, the RAAF, Royal Military College Duntroon and many private firms also contributed to the success of the restoration work. The fire provided a prime example of the way the community could combine to work for the common good.

Meanwhile, the importance of the microwave radio installation at Red Hill grew rapidly after 1961. The expansion of the National TV broadcasting system was a major factor in this growth. In late 1962, a national TV transmitter, ABC-3 was established on Black Mountain using a guyed steel lattice mast similar to that already established for the commercial station CTC-7. Programmes for Sydney to the transmitter were carried by a microwave radio bearer installed at Red Hill, linked to Black Mountain and the ABC studios at Northbourne Avenue by coaxial cables. A television operating centre was established at Central Exchange. In 1966, similar bearers were routed via Red Hill to establish national TV transmitters at Bega, Wagga and Griffith.

In 1963 television relay facilities between Sydney and Melbourne were leased for the first time by a commercial network. The number of links of this kind grew in the late 1960s and early 1970s to a total of five simultaneous TV relays. These relays passed through the television operating centre at Central. In addition, it was required, at frequent intervals, to set up national/regional relays from Sydney and Melbourne as well as relays originating in Canberra.

In 1965, the Weapons Research Establishment Communications Centre that transferred data from NASA tracking stations in Australia to the United States was moved from Adelaide to Canberra. The NASA communications Centre, as it was then known, was housed in the Deakin Telephone Exchange, the space being made available by the Australian Post Office at the request of the Department of Supply. It has remained there to this day.

The necessary high reliability teletype and data links between the Centre and various NASA establishments in Australia and the United States were provided via Central Exchange. Considerable engineering effort was expended in Canberra and other centres throughout the country to upgrade the performance of the numerous links required. Central became the APO control centre for NASA communications.

It became clear in 1964 that the future requirements of wideband radio equipment at the Red Hill site would require a very large increase in the size of the tower. The 46 metre tower needed was not viewed with favour by the NCDC because it was on a hilltop providing a background to the Parliamentary Zone. The NCDC asked the Australian Post Office to examine the possibility of phasing out the existing installation on aesthetic grounds and finding an alternative site to meet the rising demand for radio telephone facilities.

Many sites were considered. Finally, twenty were selected for detailed study, ranging from Mt Taylor in the South to Gungaderra in the North. Each site was examined for suitability as a radio telephone station and the cost of establishment of a building, access road, power line, tower and co-axial cable connection to the network was calculated. The Black Mountain site was significantly more economic than the others since access roads, power lines, co-axial cable and other facilities were already established. The site offered a further bonus in the prospect of combining microwave radio telephone facilities with a TV broadcast and FM station, within the next ten to fifteen years.

NCDC accepted Black Mountain as the site for permanent radio telephone facilities and in 1969, the APO presented a proposal for an interim steel lattice tower. This proposal would meet the expanding technical requirements and allow removal of the existing facilities from Red Hill.

In April 1970, the APO requested the Department of Works to undertake a feasibility study of a concrete tower on Black Mountain accommodating both telecommunications services and visitor facilities.

During July 1970, a study was made overseas of nine telecommunications towers and the technical brief was then updated and amplified with guidelines for public facilities. Meanwhile, on 23 July, Black Mountain was gazetted as a Nature Reserve by the Department of the Interior. Some areas were excised for public use for a Botanic Gardens, an access road to the summit where there was a public lookout, studios for CTC-7 and its 435 ft high triangular section, lattice steel guyed transmission mast; a two storey brick transmitter building for ABC-3 and the associated 511 ft high, square section, lattice steel guyed mast.

Subsequently, APO found that the tower building site in the feasibility study was partly within the reserve area.

APO and Works presented their proposal for the telecommunications tower to NCDC in August 1970. The NCDC agreed in principle with a comprehensive masted facility and to the deferment of the earlier proposed interim RT steel lattice tower. However, NCDC was uneasy about the aesthetics of the new proposal. Its view was that the tower was unacceptably bulky on Black Mountain and would detract from, and dominate, the nationally significant design qualities of the Capital’s national area. NCDC sought alternative site studies from APO and also a reduction in the total bulk of the proposed tower by the removal of the public facilities ‘drum’ and the technical equipment ‘drum’ behind the RT dishes. APO considered that public facilities were necessary to finance the proposal and estimated that capital expenditure could be completely amortised within 30 years by income from lookout fees alone.

Discussions between the APO and NCDC continued for months but made little progress from APO’s point of view. NCDC was adamant that the restaurant floor should be eliminated from the proposal. APO then took its tower proposal to Cabinet in October 1971. Cabinet endorsed the technical aspects of the proposal and approved development to the stage where the proposal could be presented to the Public Works Committee.

In March 1972, NCDC issued a public statement outlining its opposition to the provision of visitor facilities and its belief that the 195 metre tower should be reduced to a structure that housed only technical facilities for TV, radio and telecommunications. The NCDC decision to issue a statement had been prompted by concern expressed by organisations and individuals about the impact of the tower on the environment of the Black Mountain Nature Reserve and its being out of scale with the setting for the National area.

The Public Works Committee inquiry opened in June 1972. It was an unusually protracted process. Evidence was given in favour of the tower proposal by the Australian Post Office, the Department of Works, the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the Department of the Interior. The NCDC, private citizens and civic groups opposed the project as submitted.

NCDC proposed a number of design alternatives including a co-masted TV metal tower on Black Mountain and a separate RT tower at Mitchell which could also incorporate visitor facilities. NCDC maintained that the Mitchell site would provide an additional visitor facility instead of replacing one with another, had a much greater level of accessibility than Black Mountain, avoided conservation problems and would be much simpler to develop and manage. The Black Mountain co-masted TV facility could then be of simple, light-weight prefabricated steel construction of minimum mass, bulk and profile.

The Public Works Committee, however, in August 1972 recommended to Parliament that the APO’s tower proposal should be constructed.

The Prime Minister, Mr McMahon, decided that the project should be examined by his Ministers before being debated in Parliament. APO submitted a second Cabinet submission and Cabinet endorsed the project in September 1972. The House of Representatives approved the project in October 1972 but Parliament was dissolved for the general elections before the debate in the Senate was finished.

A Labor Government headed by Mr Whitlam was elected in December 1972 and in accordance with the new Government’s policy on the environment, the Minister for Environment, Housing and Construction sought submission of an Environmental Impact Statement on the project before construction could commence.

The Environmental Impact Statement was prepared by APO and released to the public by the Minister for Environment and Conservation on 28 February 1973. The EIS attracted strong criticism from opponents of the tower, much of which, in retrospect, was justified and might be expected of a maiden effort produced in a very short time.

Meanwhile, tenders for construction of the tower had been called in January.

A protest meeting was called on 11 March and attended by 700 people at the Australian National University whose site is below Black Mountain. The meeting formed a ‘Committee of Citizens to Save Black Mountain’ which immediately began to lobby the Government to postpone construction of the tower until after the EIS had been independently assessed.

Black Mountain Tower diagram.














Fig. 8.6: Black Mountain Tower diagram.

Black Mountain Tower.














Fig. 8.7: Black Mountain Tower.

On 21 May 1973, Cabinet approved construction of the tower. Opponents of the project then called a lunch-time meeting on the lawns in front of Parliament House and attended by about 1,000 people.

On 6 June, a letter of acceptance was issued by the Department of Housing and Construction(formerly Works) to Concrete Constructions (Canberra) Pty Ltd to construct the tower.

A few weeks later the Attorney-General advised the Postmaster-General that a group of fourteen prominent Canberra citizens had sought his fiat to an action to challenge the power of the Government to construct the tower. The fiat was granted on 4 July 1973. It granted institution of proceedings on behalf of the Committee to Save Black Mountain to seek an injunction restraining construction of the tower on three grounds:

  • Building on a public park
  • Lack of NCDC approval
  • The tower would constitute a nuisance.

APO and the concerned citizens were subsequently involved in twenty months of legal proceedings, unprecedented in Australia.

Work on the tower had been formally authorised by the Governor-General in Council on 19 September 1973 but was subsequently declared unlawful by the Supreme Court on 31 October 1973. Preliminary site works which had been undertaken ceased at once. The Court had found that APO and the Minister for Works and Housing did not have the approval of NCDC, the planning authority for the National Capital, to construct the tower. The Court rejected arguments brought by the plaintiffs on environmental and ecological grounds.

Various legal manoeuvres followed, including an appeal by APO against the Supreme Court judgment and a cross appeal by the plaintiffs to the High Court. By the time the judgment of the High Court was handed down on 17 February 1975, construction of the tower had been underway since December 1973.

On 6 December Cabinet had resolved to utilise Section 12 of the National Capital Development Commission Act to break the deadlock. Accordingly, the Minister for the Capital Territory formally directed the NCDC to approve construction of the tower. NCDC responded with a formal refusal. This correspondence was then referred to the Governor-General in Council and he decided in a favour of construction of the tower. Work resumed on the tower site on the same day.

By the middle of 1977 the tower was completed to the stage where installation of equipment could commence. Installation continued with building work until the tower was completed. It was formally opened to the public by the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, in May 1980.

Black Mountain Tower is unique in Australia. Its concept was a ‘first’ for APO (now Telecom). For the first time a telecommunications facility was combined with a tourist feature.

In the first ten months that it was open to the public 430,000 people passed through its turnstiles. The tower has become a major tourist attraction in Canberra and provides panoramic views over the City, the National Area, Lake Burley Griffin and the new towns to the north and south of the central area. The restaurant and snack bar are popular.

As a communications facility, the tower has, at the present state of the art, the capability to house eight high power television transmitters, ten FM radio transmitters, up to 42 parabolic antennae for microwave radio relays and about 80 mobile radio services. Accommodation for all the necessary ancillary services as well as a television operating centre (replacing the one at Central) is also provided.

The tower has also become a landmark for Canberra and can be seen from many kilometres away when approaching the National Capital.

The structural engineering aspects of the tower are described in a paper by Mervyn Cole (3).


The ACT initially was controlled by the Goulburn Engineering Division of the PMG. In 1946 a Canberra Division was established to control the ACT and parts of NSW. The first divisional engineer was B. Browne and the divisional headquarters was established in the East Block secretariat building.

The scope of the control was widened in 1972 with the establishment of an Engineering Section based in Canberra which replaced the Canberra and Goulburn and Monaro Divisions. The first supervising engineer of this section was Don Ferguson.

The history of engineering design and construction relating to telecommunications in Canberra has one dominant theme — that of a team effort. Within the Postmaster-General’s Department, the Australian Post Office and, latterly, Telecom Australia, engineers have combined with technical and line personnel to produce a telephone network that met the needs of the people of the National Capital in an efficient, effective and economical manner. Planning and construction groups in the NSW State and the National headquarters have combined in an exemplary fashion with the Canberra engineering groups to design and complete a long list of major projects. The unique character of the City as a planned entity has contributed greatly to the success of its telecommunications facilities. In particular, engineers of the NCDC, ACTEA, the Departments of Transport and Construction, and Capital Territory have, by their close co-operation and the excellence of their planning and design, made invaluable contributions to Telecom’s success.


  1. Postal History of the ACT, R.C.M. Dale 1958. Paper delivered to the Canberra and District Historical Society. [return]
  2. Telecom Journal of Australia Long distance telephone and telegraph installations in Australia during the war, Vol. 5, No. 6. The Sydney Melbourne co-axial cable project, Vol. 12, No. 1. The Sydney Melbourne co-axial cable project, Vol. 13, No. 3. Emergency telephone service Civic exchange Canberra, Vol. 13, No.4. Coaxial television transmission Sydney Melbourne, Vol. 14, No. 1. Coaxial television transmission Sydney Melbourne, Vol. 14, No. 3.
  3. Telecommunication Tower Canberra, Vol. 31, No. 2.
  4. PMG, APO and Telecom Publications Canberra regional telecommunication development plans, various years. Canberra trunk network plans, various years. NSW broadband development plans, various years. Community telephone plan 1960. Environmental impact statement — Post Office Tower, Black Mountain, ACT.
  5. The Battle of Black Mountain, W .K. Hancock, ANU 1974.


The author’s thanks are expressed to Mrs B. Johnson, Mr C.E. Munns, Mr L.M. Rogers and Mr D. Ferguson for their assistance in the production of this chapter.


Brigadier Paul Yonge AO
BE, FIE Aust., FIArbA


Brigadier Yonge graduated from the Royal Military College, Duntroon in 1943 following which he saw service in the 2nd AIF and the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in Japan.

Graduating from Sydney University in Engineering in 1949 he saw subsequent service in Korea, UK, USA, and Australia. Between 1966 and 1968 he was Chief Engineer, Eastern Command. Following service in Vietnam in 1971 he was appointed Director General of Accommodation and Works, and also Engineer in Chief, Australian Army from 1972 to 1974. His final posting 1975 to 1980 was Director General of Materiel, following which he retired.

MILITARY Engineering, throughout the history of warfare, is the name given to armies’ activities which improve the mobility and technical effectiveness of their own forces, and impede the mobility of their enemies. From earliest times, military engineering included road building, bridge building, water supply, harbour works, defence works, the use of machines and engines of war, sapping and mining and the destruction of roads, bridges and defences to deny them to the enemy.

Military engineering came to the ACT in 1911 at the Royal Military College, Duntroon, where it was practised by the staff cadets as part of their military training. Long before the first military bridge was erected across the Molonglo, the practice of Military Engineering had led to the naming of its counterpart — Civil Engineering. Civil Engineering was practiced in the construction of RMC, Duntroon.

As Civil Engineering developed in the 19th century into other branches of engineering such as mechanical and electrical, the Navy and Army encompassed these engineering branches within their own functions. Their use of other branches of engineering was always in a manner peculiarly suited to their own needs of warfare — they used them for military purposes. In later years, aeroplanes were added to the range of military weapons; with them came further engineering requirements not only aeronautical, but also aerodrome construction and other associated activities. It was therefore reasonable to think of all uses of engineering by the armed forces collectively as Military Engineering.

The Navy in 1912 was primarily a user of mechanical and electrical engineering. However, development of the Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay, was a civil engineering project. The Army in 1911 was still on foot or horseback and was oriented towards civil engineering although, at Duntroon, a steam tractor was used for hauling coal to the boilers. The electricity supply was provided by the Army’s own generating equipment, on loan from the fortress engineers who used it for power and searchlights in the coastal fortifications.

From these simple beginnings in the ACT, both the Navy and Army and later the Air Force, (established in 1921) developed their military engineering capacities to encompass virtually every branch and facet of engineering. The three Services’ engineering is now controlled from Canberra by their engineering staffs within the Department of Defence at Russell Offices and Campbell Park.

The engineer Headquarters and offices and the engineer staffs of the Defence group were in most cases established when the Department of Defence and the three Services were still located in Melbourne.

The move to Canberra of these staffs extended over the period of the 1950s to the 1970s, being dependent on the speed of construction of accommodation at Russell and later at Campbell Park. During this period, not only did the Services vary their organisations, but the Department of Defence itself changed greatly as a result of Government initiatives. By the mid 1970s, the policy for all aspects of military engineering emanated from Canberra.


In January 1910, Lord Kitchener, whose early service in the British Army was in the Royal Engineers, visited Australia at the invitation of the Federal Government to advise it on the defences of the Commonwealth. One of his recommendations was that Australia should establish a college for the training of officers of the permanent military forces.

As a result, Colonel William Throsby Bridges, Australian representative on the Imperial General Staff in London, was instructed to visit and report on military colleges in England and North America. He inspected Woolwich and Sandhurst in England, Kingston in Canada and West Point in the United States of America. He arrived back in Australia on 30 May 1910 and was appointed Commandant of the Military College of Australia with the rank of Brigadier-General.

The Government decided that the Military College was to be established near the Federal Capital. Consequently, Bridges visited the Federal Capital site and selected Duntroon which was the homestead of a sheep station established by Robert Campbell in 1825. On November 7, 1910, a lease of the homestead and 370 acres of land for two years was granted by the owner, Colonel John Edward Campbell, a grandson of Robert Campbell, who lived in England. The rental was £750 per year with the right of renewal for a further two years pending negotiations for purchase of the property.

The boundaries of the College were the Yass—Queanbeyan Road, Woolshed Creek, the Molonglo River and Mount Pleasant. The willows on the banks of the Molonglo grew from the first willows brought from Napoleon’s tomb at St. Helena by William Balcombe, Colonial Treasurer of New South ‘Wales.

Buildings and Engineering Services

The provision of buildings and services to support the establishment of the College at Duntroon generally predated the engineering development of Canberra. Accordingly, it was necessary for the College to be a self supporting entity for a number of years as far as engineering services were concerned.

The development of the College commenced under the management of the Department of Home Affairs as soon as the lease of Duntroon was completed in 1910.

When work commenced on the College, Duntroon House had been empty for many years and required renovation throughout to enable use of the building. Robert Campbell had erected a one-storey stone building with Australian cedar joinery in 1833. A large two-storey stone wing, also with cedar joinery, was added by his son George in 1862. After renovations, this fine building became the Officers Mess of the Military College in 1911, and also housed the offices of the Commandant and his personal staff. It is still used for these purposes.

The construction was started of five 16-man cadet barrack blocks, the cadets mess (to seat 150), the sergeants mess and the mess for subordinate staff, the workshop, the classroom block, science laboratories and meteorological observatory, the lecture theatre (to seat 200), two quartermasters stores, stables, five officers quarters, the parade ground and playing fields.

Construction was generally of asbestos cement with timber lining, or timber, with corrugated iron roofing. The five officers quarters (for the Commandant, the Director of Military Art, the Director of Drill, the Professor of Mathematics and the Professor of Physics) were of block and rough cast two-storey construction and remain today (in Parnell Road) as do four timber officers quarters commenced the following year (in Harrison Road).

RoyalAustralian Naval Colleg





Fig. 9.1: Royal Australian Naval College, Jervis Bay. Workshop under construction 1913.

 RANC,Jervis Bay





Fig. 9.2: RANC, Jervis Bay; Sea wall under construction 1913.

Royal Military College





Fig. 9.3: Royal Military College, Duntroon 1911. Steam tractor hauling coal to boiler house.

RMC,Duntroon 1911. Steam tractor and boiler house.





Fig. 9.4: RMC, Duntroon 1911. Steam tractor and boiler house.

In 1911—12, the second set of cadets barracks were completed and the third commenced. Six wooden cottages for non-commissioned officers were completed, and the menege for training in cavalry equitation started. In the following year, a small ammunition magazine and the College gymnasium were constructed and by 1914, the College construction was virtually finished off with the completion of more NCO quarters, the gun park, a pharmacy and small hospital, a small astronomical observatory on Mt Pleasant, stables, a farriers shop and a sports pavilion.

Construction continued until the effect of war economies was felt from 1915. For the remainder of the war and the post war period, little building was undertaken. Indeed, reports up until the move initiated by the Depression to Victoria Barracks in Sydney in 1930 repeatedly indicated difficulties in maintaining the buildings due to shortages in repair and maintenance monies.

It is of note that the cadets barracks, which were designed as temporary shells housing furniture and fittings to be subsequently used in permanent buildings, were still in use as barracks when the College moved to Sydney in 1930. It might be observed that the military interpretation, or acceptance of the word “temporary” was as broad half a century ago as today.

The first major horizontal construction was the parade ground, 80 metres long by 70 metres wide with a gravel surface, built in 1911. In 1914—15, gravelled roads and stormwater drainage were formed and graded.

Duntroon was not selected as a site for the College until the Department of Home Affairs gave an assurance that a sufficient supply of pure drinking water could be provided.

The arrangements proposed were that until the Federal Capital supply was available, rainwater from the roofs should be stored for drinking, and water from a shallow well on the flats used for washing and other purposes. An oil engine was used to pump the well water to a 30,000 gallon reservoir on the hill above the College, and the water was passed fit for human consumption, fortunately, as the rainwater system was incomplete.

The following year a larger rising main and a new engine were installed. The need for a larger reservoir had already become evident. A shortage of water prevented the College opening after the Christmas break in February 1919, but in September of that year the Cotter Dam supply was connected to the College. Flooding irrigation from the Molonglo river was used effectively for the College vegetable gardens from 1920.

Robert Campbell





Fig. 9.5: Robert Campbell’s Duntroon homestead, 1870.

RMC, Duntroon 1910.





Fig. 9.6: RMC, Duntroon 1910. Construction of Cadet barrack block.

Sewerage. Initially a pan system operated by a Queanbeyan contractor was used. While reported as a satisfactory service, attention was also drawn in reports to a much needed extension of the College grounds for the depositing of night soil. By 1912 a septic tank had been constructed and water closets were being substituted for earth pans.

Heating. A steam engine supplied steam for the laundry, cooking, heating the cadets mess and barracks, and running a saw bench. The barracks heating system was completed by June 1912 and functioned effectively.

Electricity. In 1911 an electric light plant, consisting of a 28 hp oil engine, dynamo and accumulator battery of the types used in forts of the period, was set up and operated by Royal Australian Engineers. The Federal Capital electricity supply service had been promised for 1912, and the plant was then to be used for instruction in searchlights and other purposes. In the event, the Federal supply was not connected until 1915 and gas plant and oil lamps were used to supplement the system.

Return to Canberra

The College returned to Duntroon in 1937 after a series of new buildings had been erected around the parade ground and repair and maintenance carried out on the existing buildings.

The 1939—45 war again saw economies, and no significant development occurred until the 1950s. In the ten years from 1952—62 many facilities were constructed under the control of the Department of Works and Housing and partly by Royal Australian Engineer Unit detachments. Another expansion occurred with the increasing numbers and the development of the Faculties of Engineering, Arts and Science in the early 1970s.

Possibly the most significant construction in the post war period has been the Royal Military College Anzac Memorial Chapel. The Chapel comprises two wings — the combined Protestant and Anglican Chapel and the Roman Catholic Chapel — under a common narthex and was constructed by Royal Australian Engineer Sapper tradesmen and completed in 1966.

Since 1936, the responsibility for works matters in the College has been vested in an officer of the Royal Australian Engineers in the appointments of Staff Officer Engineer Services (1936—1952), Staff Officer Royal Engineers (1952), Deputy Commander Royal Engineers (Works) RMC (1952—58), Staff Officer Grade 2 (Works) RMC (1958—59), Commander Royal Engineers (Works) RMC/ACT (1968—74) and Chief Engineer ACT (1974— present).

Military Engineering Instruction

One of the considerations when establishing the College was whether to carry out training for all Arms at one school, as at the US Military Academy at West Point and the Royal Military College of Canada at Kingston, or at different schools as in England and France. The Royal Military College at Sandhurst educated candidates for commissions in Cavalry, Infantry and Army Service Corps. The Royal Military Academy at Woolwich produced officers for the technical corps of Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers. The answer was decided by the small numbers to be trained. Thirty-two Australian and ten New Zealand cadets entered the College in 1911. The number of artillery and engineer graduates required then, and in the forseeable future, made separate schools impractical. Duntroon, then, was to produce the officers of the Royal Australian Engineers.

All cadets undertook the same course. Approximately half the four-year course was devoted to military instruction and half to civil subjects, the latter being concentrated mainly in the first two years. Civil subjects included Mathematics, English, Modern Languages, Physics and Chemistry. The Military subjects were Military Geography and History, Tactics, Artillery, Military Engineering, Drawing, Administration and Law, Topography and Drill and Physical Training.

The aim of the instruction in Military Engineering was to provide a good general knowledge for regimental or staff officers in any branch of the service. About 15 per cent of the military instruction was devoted to the subject. Military engineering of the day consisted mainly of work on field defences and assistance to the mobility of infantry and cavalry units. It was intensive in manpower, accordingly most of the instruction at Royal Military College was practical, much of it carried out during annual camps on the Molonglo River or the plains around Yarralumla.

Instruction to first year cadets (Fourth Class) was intended to prepare them for such camps. The curriculum covered the planning and laying out of works, design of simple earthworks, and the provision of water, cooking and sanitary arrangements for camps. Instruction to second year cadets (Third Class) was limited to practical application of these camping procedures and an introduction to obstacles, knots and lashings, and use of tackles and spars. Third year cadets (Second Class) spent most of a six week camp on Military Engineering. As well as furthering the understanding and application of work already covered, they moved onto design and construction of bridges, including trestle and suspension types, and rafts. Another use for tackles and spars was for field machines for construction of artillery observation posts.

Instruction to fourth year cadets (First Class) included floating and suspension bridges, demolitions, sapping and mining and theoretical aspects of roads, railways and telegraphs, coast defences and lights, and wireless stations. The Royal Australian Engineers were, at that time, responsible for field engineering, fortress engineering and power supplies, mining and railway engineering and survey and signals.

As there was at the time of the foundation of the College no engineer officer in the Australian forces both available and competent to instruct in Military Engineering, it was decided to obtain an officer of the Royal Engineers. Captain R.L. Wailer RE was the first, followed by Lieutenant R.P. Pakenham-Walsh RE. When Pakenham- Walsh left in May 1915, his place was temporarily taken by Lieutenant R. Park RAE, pending a replacement. Although the British War Office was asked to nominate a convalescent officer, none was forthcoming and from that time the appointment was filled by officers of RAE. Many notable RAE officers served as Instructor Military Engineering in the following years including Lt Col V.A.H. Sturdee, DSO, OBE (1924—25) and Lieutenant M.F. Brogan(1939—40) each of whom later became Chief of the General Staff.

The first intake of cadets was commissioned early, in August 1914, ten days after Australia’s declaration of war. Of the twenty-seven Australians to graduate, three went to Light Horse, eleven to Artillery, two to Engineers and eleven to Infantry. The Second Class also graduated in 1914, more than twelve months prematurely. By the end of the war one-hundred-and-fifty-eight Duntroon graduates had seen active service. Of these, forty-two were killed and fifty-eight wounded.

RMC, Duntroon 1911.






Fig. 9.7: RMC, Duntroon 1911. Senior officers’ quarters under construction.

RMC, Duntroon 1911. Four






Fig. 9.8: RMC, Duntroon 1911. Four of the five senior officers’ quarters.

RMC, Duntroon 1912





Fig. 9.9: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Menage. Riding School.

Much of the engineer instruction was of practical lasting value to the young College and, at times, to the district. In 1916, Second Class constructed a 45 metre long suspension footbridge across the Molonglo River as part of its annual camp. This bridge remained in use until July 1922 when the biggest flood for many years washed it away, along with several other bridges in the district. Occasionally, cadets and staff were able to undertake interesting activities outside the curriculum. In 1918, the Instructor Military Engineering, Major O.W.E. Robson, RAE, was able to undertake what is thought to be the first demolition trials in Australia using trinitrotoluene. Tests were conducted using a large steel girder and 60 lb railway plate. Although the girder was not completely cut, Major Robson concluded that the explosive was as effective as three or four times the same weight of guncotton,. He considered that guncotton was likely to remain the leading service explosive as the slabs were easy to handle whereas the TNT powder had to be contained, in this case in a calico tube. Some months later, Major Robson repeated the trials using double the charge, to successfully cut the girder. He had changed his opinion of the new explosive, considering that the powdered form was easily handled and gave close contact with the target. He concluded that the diameter of explosive tube should be four times the thickness of steel.

The curriculum changed little until the early 1920s. In 1923 military work occupied 55 per cent of the programme, still concentrated in the last two years. Military Engineering occupied only six per cent of the military instruction time but was worth 11 per cent of the marks. The changes in warfare during World War I and, in particular, technological advances, meant that military engineering was becoming less of an all-arms responsibility and more of a specialist skill. All First Class cadets were given some instruction in civil engineering, such as calculation of strength of beams and girders. In 1925, First Class cadets were introduced to reinforced concrete design, including design of reinforced concrete bridges.

The remaining instruction in Military Engineering varied little from that of the 1911 curriculum except that the amount of time devoted in various classes varied from year to year. In 1923, there was no instruction in Fourth Class and only instruction in elementary theory in Third Class. Second Class was instructed in earthworks, field geometry, knots and lashings, use of tackles and spars, and light testle bridging. First Class moved onto floating, suspension and framed trestle bridging, demolitions and engineer reconnaissance.

The requirements of the Army in the early 1930s were such that there was no intake in 1931 and the cadet strength was only 31. In the interest of economy, the College was temporarily moved to Victoria Barracks in Sydney in 1931. During this year, First Class cadets commenced specialist training in the fields to which they would graduate. The requirement for qualified engineers in RAE was well recognised and so specialist training for selected potential engineer officers was directed at preparing them for third year university courses in engineering. It included instruction in civil engineering by both the Instructor, Military Engineering and academic lecturers, visits to engineering works and projects, and attachment to RAE units.

When the College moved back to Duntroon in 1937, specialist training continued with one or two First Class cadets receiving additional instruction in a variety of subjects, primarily aimed at further study in civil or mechanical engineering. To meet a requirement for more officers in the later 1930s, the course was shortened to three years in 1938, with two classes graduating. The course was eventually shortened to two years during World War II, necessitating the dropping of some civil subjects and limiting the scope of instruction in some Military Engineering. The training was aimed at enabling graduates in non-engineer arms to carry out their own field works, thereby reducing demands on engineer units. Emphasis was placed on self help and expedient works and accordingly training was mostly practical with a minimum of time spent in classrooms. During World War II, the practice of sending RMC Engineering graduates to the third and fourth years of Engineering at Sydney University was discontinued. Specialist training continued but with the emphasis on field engineering.

The RMC course returned to a four year duration in 1947. In the same year specialist training reverted to one demolished with technical emphasis aimed at preparation for university. In 1948 the common academic course for all cadets was discontinued and separate courses in Arts and Science were introduced. A further course in Engineering was introduced in 1949.

As occurred after World War I, changes in technology on the battlefield affected the training requirement at RMC. Increased emphasis was placed on minewarfare and equipment bridging, including the new Bailey Bridge. It was impractical and uneconomical to carry out much of this training at RMC. In 1940, Third Class spent a week at the School of Military Engineering at Casula, NSW, undergoing training, mainly in bridging and watermanship. Cadets had undergone training at SME on previous occasions, but never on a regular basis. The success of the 1940 and subsequent visits was such that it remained a regular annual visit, generally for Third Class, until 1969 after which it was discontinued. During this period, the aspects of Military Engineering which were studied remained roughly the same. They covered demolitions, minewarfare, booby traps, obstacles, water supply, field surveying, roads, bridging and engineer services. The presentation of the subject varied considerably. Sometimes it was all given in First Class, other times none in First Class and sometimes spread over all classes.

RMC, Duntroon 1913






Fig. 9.10: RMC, Duntroon 1913. Menage Riding School in use.

RMC, Duntroon. Astronomical observatory on'\












Fig. 9.11: RMC, Duntroon. Astronomical observatory on Mt. Pleasant used for instruction of cadets. Now demolished

The adoption of three separate academic courses in 1949, and the many changes to the RMC curriculum that followed are described by Professor Arthur Corbett in Chapter 10.


The RAN College, Jervis Bay, is situated partly on land granted to the Commonwealth in 1909 and partly on land granted in 1915. The consolidation of Commonwealth property at Jervis Bay was completed in 1915 when the State of NSW granted to the Commonwealth Crown Lands and also Sovereign Rights over an area of about 7200 hectares for the purpose of the Seat of Government. This was effected under the Seat of Government Surrender (State) and Acceptance (Commonwealth) Acts. At that time it was intended to establish a Federal Port in the vicinity at some future date.

A conference to discuss requirements for a Naval College was held early in 1912 between the Minister for Defence, the Minister for Home Affairs, Capt. Chambers, RN (Captain designate for the College) and the Director of Works, and in May the Department of Home Affairs prepared to go ahead with the building. Negotiations with the NSW Government for the provision of a railway to connect Captain’s Point, Jervis Bay with Nowra were undertaken and in July 1912, a survey commenced for both this line and for a railway to connect Captain’s Point with the Federal Capital.

By July 1913, progress had been made with the single officers quarters, with parts of the cadets accommodation, the academic block, the engineering workshop and with the power house; work was still to begin on the married officers quarters, the wharf and administrative blocks.

Early in 1914, the Prime Minister asked for a reduction in expenditure in the building programme, including a reduction in the size and number of married quarters for officers and men and postponement of building of some classrooms.

No documents other than plans relating to the design and construction of the College are known to exist and the names of individual architects of the Public Works Branch of the Department of Home Affairs involved in the work are lost.

Although the site and buildings were not finished, the College moved from Geelong over Christmas 1914 and training began in early 1915 with commissioning of the site as HMAS Franklin. When the cadets moved in, the boat- house and slip and the piers together with many minor items were incomplete.

During 1915, the breakwater was extended to about 240 metres, the stone being quarried just to the east of the College area and delivered by a railway line running along the shore. Other works included two classrooms either side of the laboratory building, the stables and the magazine.

By the end of 1915, the College comprised about sixty buildings which accommodated the cadets, naval personnel and civilian employees. Materials used in the construction of the buildings were concrete, hardwoods and weatherboard. The dark red wood with white stucco and concrete and red roofing tiles gave the College a distinctive style. The roads and paths were of white sandstone top-dressed with red iron-stone gravel. As the area was bushland with no humus and almost pure sand, grasses and 2,000 seedling trees were planted to reduce wind blown sand.

At the end of 1921 the number of cadets at the College was drastically reduced as was the number of staff. The Navy vote was much reduced in 1929—30 and a hasty decision was made to move the College to Flinders Naval Depot in Victoria at the end of 1930.

RMC, Duntroom 1911. Electric light







Fig. 9.12: RMC, Duntroom 1911. Electric light plant adapted from a fortress installation.

RMC, Duntroon 1912. Trestle bridge built






Fig. 9.13: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Trestle bridge built by cadets for military engineering training.

RMC, Duntroon 1912. Suspension bridge






Fig. 9.14: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Suspension bridge built by cadets for military engineering training.

RAJC, Duntroon 1918.APolienski raft






Fig. 9.15: RMC, Duntroon 1918.A Polienski raft carrying an 18 pounder gun and limber. Built by cadets for military engineering training.

RMC, Duntroon 19/6. 45 metre suspension






Fig. 9.16: RMC, Duntroon 1916 45 metre suspension footbridge across Molonglo River. Built by cadets for military engineerinq training

	RMC, Duntroon 1912. Construcing an artillery






Fig. 9.17: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Constructing an artillery observation post using field machines as part of cadets’ military engineering training.

 RMC Duntroon 19/2. Erecting Artillery observation






Fig. 9.18: RMC Duntroon 1912. Erecting Artillery observation post using field machines.

From 1930 until the College returned and was commissioned as HMAS Creswell in 1958, little changed, the buildings being maintained and used for various Government purposes and as a holiday resort.

Professional Training at RAN College

The professional Naval subjects taught to cadets at the College were: seamanship, gunnery, navigation and engineering. The engineering workshop and the power house used for the normal running and maintenance of the watercraft and the College were used for engineering instruction.

The first Engineer Officer of the College was Engineer Commander W.A. Monk, RN who returned to the UK at the end of 1914 and served during the war in destroyers.

Instruction in engineering was given to all cadets whether they were to pass out as Engineers or not. The aim was to give instruction in the different types of engines used in a warship and a general insight into the working of power driven machinery. Workshop Practice and Mechanical Drawing were also studied. The year’s syllabus for Practical Engineering in the 1930s included the following subjects:

Petrol Engine Torsion Meter Boiler Cleaning
Diesel Engine Machine Shop Stream boat
Heating Machinery stripping Power House
Refrigeration Copper Smith
Evaporators Foundry

In 1921, the Engineering Course was recognised as a matriculation course. Until 1968, subsequent professional engineering training was undertaken at the Royal Naval Engineering College in England. In 1968, accreditation was given to RANC to conduct, selected University of NSW Courses in Engineering. The first year level is conducted at RANC Jervis Bay and the following years are completed at the University of New South Wales.

RMC, Duntroon 1912. Artillery observation












Fig. 9.19: RMC, Duntroon 1912. Artillery observation post ready for use.

RMC, Duntroon 1919. Cadets engaged






Fig. 9.20: RMC, Duntroon 1919. Cadets engaged in military engineering training in demolition with gun-cotton slabs.

 RANC, Jervis Bay 1913.





Fig. 9.21: RANC, Jervis Bay 1913. Power house and engineering workshops. Used for engineering instruction.

HMAS Harman

Proposals to make Canberra the centre for RAN long distance wireless communications were first made in 1925. In 1937, sites for a transmitting station and a receiving station were selected at Belconnen and Red Hill respectively and approval to start construction was given on 6 September 1938. Work commenced at Belconnen in November and at Harman in early 1939.

The Transmitting station was established on 20 April 1939, with one 200 kw long wave, one 10 kw short wave and two 20 kw short wave transmitters. The first transmission was made on 22 December, and the Receiving Station was also completed that month.

The Canberra Times of Wednesday, 12 April 1939 re-ported.

‘The first batch of 30 naval officers and ratings to operate and guard the powerful short wave naval radio base at Canberra will arrive here next Monday. They will form the advance guard of the 200 men who will occupy the two naval villages now being established on either side of Canberra, 11 miles (17.5 km) apart. The base will be the most powerful naval wireless station in the British Empire, and the largest naval or commercial station in the southern hemisphere.’

Future WRANS telegraphists (at first called Women’s Emergency Signal Corps) joined on 28 April, 1941 and by the end of World War II exceeded 300 in number; today, WRANS are integrated into all departments in Harman, including electrical technicians employed on maintaining the radio equipment.

The Transmitting and Receiving Stations were both commissioned as HMAS Harman on 1 July 1943 and in 1949 the Navy requested permission to build a new Receiving Station at Bonshaw. The station was completed in 1955 and the direction finding hut in 1956.

HMAS Harman is now the home of the Naval Communications Station (NAVCOMMSTA) Canberra, which comprises the Communications Centre at Harman itself, the Receiving Station at Bonshaw, and the Transmitting Station at Belconnen (where there are now 40 transmitters).

 RANC, Jervis Bay 1913. Power house








Fig. 9.22: RANC, Jervis Bay 1913. Power house used for engineering instruction.


A Royal Australian Air Force squadron (No. 8) was stationed at Canberra in September 1939 on the outbreak of World War II. Some of the personnel subsequently joined the RAAF station established in April 1940. Until the end of the war, the station was an operations base for antisubmarine patrols and a training school for joint Army/RAAF activities.

Australian squadrons based at Canberra during the war were Nos 4, 8 and 13 squadrons and three Dutch squadrons from the Netherlands East Indies which arrived in Australia after the fall of Java to the Japanese.

The Canberra station was reformed in 1952 as Head- quarters RAAF, Canberra, and Base Squadron, Canberra. Subsequently the name was changed in both instances to ‘Fairbairn’, thus conforming with the name of the airfield used also as a civil airport. (The full story of the development of both civil and military aviation at Canberra is dealt with in Chapter Eleven).

No. 2 School of Technical Training

The first RAAF installation at Canberra was the No. 2 School of Technical Training which was originally formed on 18 December 1939 as the No. 2 Civil Training Centre. Its purpose was to provide efficient technical trades training for RAAF personnel under the Empire Air Training Scheme.

The training centre was situated at the RAAF Station, Canberra in the area where barracks were being erected for the developing station. Technical training policy provided that the first course for one hundred trainees would receive fitting instruction at the Canberra Technical College, and suitable arrangements were made to that effect with the College’s Principal.

The first sixty trainees were posted to the unit on 19 December 1939, followed by a further fifty-one on 5 February 1940. By 20 February 1940 the establishment was ready to train up to 316 trainees.

Construction of new barracks at Canberra Technical College in Kingston commenced in mid-May 1940. With an average of fifty men employed on construction, the seventeen buildings for the school, including a small hospital and eight accommodation huts, were ninety-nine per cent complete by the end of June, progress being so satisfactory that construction was a month ahead of schedule. Being eager to occupy its new accommodation, the school moved from the RAAF Station to Kingston on I July 1940. It was finally disbanded on 16 November 1945 when wartime training requirements ceased.

During its existence, the unit conducted a variety of trade training courses for aircraft maintenance, along with many non-technical courses. Altogether, 578 courses were conducted between December 1939 and July 1945, with some 3,921 students passing through the School.

Shortly after the end of World War lithe ACT was again called upon to support the RAAF training system, but this time under peacetime pressures resulting from an overloading of facilities and capabilities of the technical training establishment at RAAF Base Wagga. This led to the formation of a Detachment B of the Ground Training School at RAAF Base, Fairbairn which functioned between 30 October 1951 and 17 September 1953.

With the introduction of progressively more complex aircraft, the RAAF found in 1962 that there was a need to conduct training at Units to fit basically-trained tradesmen to work on the specific types of aircraft being operated. Today, the two Squadrons based at Fairbairn conduct field training courses in all the aircraft trades to provide the range of skills needed for operation of the Utility Helicopter and VIP fleets.

However, whilst no pure engineering instruction has been given at either No. 2 School of Technical Training or RAAF Base Fairbairn, both organisations have contributed much to providing the increasing range and depth of skills needed to support modern aircraft in both peace and war.

RAAF Gungahlin

In March 1940, the RAAF was informed that approximately 32 hectares of land at Gungahlin had been acquired from Dr J.F. Watson. Construction of a wireless transmitting station began without delay, and in mid-1942 the RAAF formally established and occupied the RAAF Gungahlin Wireless Transmitting Station. From its beginning to the end of the war it was a joint Navy and Air Force venture, though today it is wholly owned and operated by the RAAF on behalf of the Meteorological Bureau.

Since 1932, the RAAF has been regularly broadcasting weather information for the Bureau. Initially, these broadcasts were made in morse code by hand and later by automatic morse and radio teletypes. Today, modern equipment has been installed which introduces the ‘Facsimile Weather Chart Broadcasts’ bringing RAAF broadcasts to a standard equal to the world’s best. The information presented is invaluable to both civil and service aircraft, shipping and weather forecasts. Indeed, this is a far cry from the very modest beginnings of the RAAF’s Meteorological Section at Canberra in November 1940. The newly-formed Section was then housed in the civil hangar at the aerodrome and consisted of three officers and one observer, responsible for forecasting prevailing weather conditions up to within a 160 km radius of Canberra.


The Department of Defence Central staffs past and present with engineering functions include:

Defence Industry and Material Policy Division

This Division establishes policies and standard systems from the Defence industrial point of view for the presentation and processing of the Services equipment proposals. The engineers in this Division are civilians.

Materiel Branches

The Chiefs of Naval Materiel, Army Materiel and Air Force Materiel coordinate the development of each Service’s new proposals for major equipment from the conceptual stage to the letting of contracts. Although the three Services vary in their methods of operation, these staffs are generally engineering oriented. The Naval Chief of Materiel, Rear Admiral W.J. Rourke, AO, MEc, FRINA, FIE Aust. and a recent Army Chief of Materiel Major-General D.F.W. Engel, AO, CBE, BE (Civil), FIE Aust. are engineers.

Defence Facilities Division

This Division incorporates the Directors-General of Accommodation and Works for the three Services. It deals with the civil engineering requirements of Defence and Service establishments. In the case of the Army, this office is to a large extent manned by officers of the Royal Australian Engineers. One of the Army’s engineering directorates — Director of Fortifications and Works — lost its interesting name when incorporated into the Defence Department organisations in 1970.

Technical Services

The Chief of Naval Technical Services, the Director- General, Electrical and Mechanical Engineering — Army and the Chief of Air Force Technical Services formulate the engineering and maintenance policies for their own Services and those common to all Services.

The Quality Assurance and Engineering Resources Policy Division

Covers Defence Central and joint Services policies on quality assurance, technical resources and repair and maintenance. The Directors of Naval Ordnance Inspections, Naval Quality Assurance, and the Directors- General of Quality Assurance, Army and Air Force each have engineering staffs in their own Service offices.

Engineering Analysis

The Engineering Analysis Directorate provides policy proposals on the use of industrial engineering, work study and value analysis.

Defence Communications System

The Operations and Engineering Branch of the Defence Communications System Division is involved in the construction, operation and maintenance of the Defence Communications System and for its engineering and technical standards.

Laboratories and Trials

The Service Laboratories and Trials Division planned and executed trials of Service equipment. It maintained a source of engineering design, development and modification for defence force equipment. Two engineers, Air Vice- Marshall R. Noble, AO, BE, FIE Aust., and Rear Admiral D.F. Lynam CBE, FIE Aust., were occupants of the post of Chief of this Division, which has recently been dispersed among other Branches.

Navy Office

Until 1960, the Department of Navy’s Naval Technical Services Branch, under the then Third Naval Member (and Chief of Naval Technical Services) of the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board, was located in Melbourne, when it moved to Canberra.

During the Defence re-organisation approved as a result of the Tange Report in the early 1970s, the Naval Board was dissolved and the Third Naval Member’s title became Chief of Naval Technical Services.

From 1976 the Naval Technical Services Division of the Department of Defence progressively moved across to its new home in Campbell Park Offices, culminating in the Chief of Naval Technical Services moving there in 1978.

Campbell Park is now the permanent home for the headquarters of Naval Engineering in Australia.

Within Navy Office, the Naval Technical Services Division consists of Design Branch, Dockyards and Maintenance Branch and Production Branch. Among other Directorates are those of Naval Aircraft Engineering, Naval Ship Design, Naval Weapons Design and Naval Communications Design. Ships and naval weapons are either selected, developed, designed or maintained as a result of efforts by this and other staffs of Navy Office at Campbell Park.

Army Office

Within the Operations Branch of Army Office, the Director of Engineers is one of the Combat Arms Directors alongside Armour, Artillery and Infantry. He and his staff are members of the Royal Australian Engineers who are the original military engineers and whose role in close tactical support of the army in battle is to assist that army to live, to move and to fight. The modern military engineer still builds roads, bridges, and field defences. He now uses specially designed explosives and mechanical equipment to destroy those of the enemy. Modern needs have widened his tasks to building tactical airfields, rapidly-constructed equipment bridges and ferries for tanks up to 60 tons weight, laying anti-tank minefields and tank obstacles and breaching the enemies minefields and obstacles. The expertise and policy for developing these capacities stems from the Director of Engineers Office at Campbell Park.

Air Office

From the inception of the RAAF in 1921, until 1961, Air Force Engineering management was centralised within the Department of Air, which was located in Melbourne. In 1961, the Air Member for Technical Services, then Air Vice-Marshal E. Hey, CB, CBE, moved from Melbourne with the policy making elements of his Technical Branch, as part of the transfer of the Department of Air to Canberra. Today, the Chief of Air Force Technical Services, provides Technical Services support for the RAAF as part of an Air Force office which now forms part of a single Department of Defence, the old Department of Air organisation having lapsed with the Defence Force organisation of 1972.

Although the engineering organisation within the RAAF has been modified over the years to meet changes in technology and operational needs, it has remained substantially the same over recent years.

Engineering management is applied through Directorates that deal essentially with Aircraft and their systems, Telecommunications (Ground and Air) and Weapons. The development of technical services policy and the management of maintenance activities are the province of Directors of Maintenance Plans and Technical Plans. The plans and policies so developed are applied and managed in detail by Headquarters Operational Command and Headquarters Support Command.

Thus, finally, the central control of all Technical Services functions in the RAAF, including pure engineering, has moved and now resides within the Air Force Office, in Canberra.


In my role as the collector and editor of papers on the many aspects of engineering practised by the Department of Defence, Royal Australian Navy, the Australian Army and the Royal Australian Air Force in the ACT, I am indebted to the following:

  • Brigadier John McDonagh, FIE Aust. who initiated work on this chapter prior to his departure from Canberra.
  • The Chiefs of Staff of the three Services and the Commandant of the Royal Military College, Duntroon who supported the project by allowing their staffs to take part as contributors with access to official records.
  • Colonel L.H.R. Fuhrman (RL), Archivist Royal Military College, Duntroon for assistance and access to records, and loan of negatives of photographs.
  • The Chief of Naval Materiel, the Chief of Air Force Technical Services and the Director General of Accommodation and Works (Air Force) for their personal interest and contributions by members of their staffs.
  • Commander V. Littlewood, RAN, Commanding Officer HMAS Harman for his contribution on that establishment.
  • Major J. Burrough, BE, Chief Engineer (Army) ACT and Major G. Kelly, MIE Aust., RMC for their contributions on the Civil and Military Engineering History of RMC, Duntroon.
  • Flt.Lt. A. McGrath, BCE for his contributions on the RAAF.
  • Brigadier W.J. Urquhart, who was cadet No. I at RMC Duntroon in 1911. He graduated into the Royal Australian Artillery in 1914. Many of the early photographs reproduced in this chapter were taken by him while a cadet at Duntroon.


By Professor A.H. Corbett,
ME, BEd, FIE Aust.

Arthur Hardie Corbett’s appointment in 1968 as Professor of the University of NSW whilst heading the affiliated Department of Engineering in the Royal Military College, Duntroon, climaxed a distinguished career as an engineering educator.
After graduation from Queensland and experience in industry and the CMF, Corbett’s wartime experience included command of a Brigade Workshop in the New Britain campaign. He then returned to university lecturing, and in 1950 became head of the Engineering Department at Duntroon. There he remodelled the courses leading to the affiliation of the College with the University.
He is the author of the definitive history of The Institution of Engineers, Australia and of an early text on an emerging problem ‘Energy for Australia’. He has been an active and distinguished member of the Institution, serving as its President in 1973.

BEFORE the first intake of cadets in 1911 two circumstances could have influenced the early Duntroon curriculum towards engineering. The first was the link with Sydney University which had a department of Military Studies under a Board appointed in 1907 which included Colonel Bridges, other military officers and Professor Barraclough, who had been commissioned in the Australian Corps of Engineers. Subsequently the University advised on the appointment of the first professors at Duntroon. The second was the visit of Bridges to West Point which, early in the 19th century, was the first engineering school in the United States, and continued to include basic engineering subjects in a general military and academic education.

The orderly development of the RMC curriculum was disrupted by the 1914—18 war and the economic policies which followed. The need of the engineer corps for professional officers was met in part by sending top graduates from RMC to Sydney University to complete engineering degrees in two years, although the academic work at Duntroon equated to the first and second years did not include all the engineering subjects taken in universities.

Academic education including engineering developed rapidly after the 1939—45 war and it was realised by the Army that the pre-war system would no longer meet university requirements. The Vasey Committee in 1944 and the Rowell Committee in 1946 made recommendations which had a profound influence on the subsequent development of the College. These committees recommended that the courses should continue to be of four years duration, that the courses should lead to a civil degree or part thereof, that working hours should be divided equally between military and academic subjects, and that the curriculum should be reviewed every two years by a standing committee.

A section headed Engineering General first appeared in the RMC Report for 1949, and recorded a conference between Professors Matheson and Moorhouse of Melbourne University and the College staff at which ‘a course was devised to enable selected cadets to reach the standard of Third Year Engineering’ before graduating from the College. Further, the need was recognised for a Professor and a Lecturer in Engineering, ‘but owing to administrative difficulties the delay will be much greater than anticipated’. Nevertheless the Army pressed on, and instruction in some of the academic subjects was given by Army officers advised by University staff.

Foundation Professor of Engineering

To fill the appointments recommended by the Matheson Committee I took up duty on 17 July 1950, and Leo Peterson as Lecturer on 21 May 1951. At the end of that year the first RMC graduates, five in number, qualified for admission to third year engineering at Melbourne University.

Mathematics and Science were offered in RMC departments founded in the early days by academics with a practical outlook, but otherwise Duntroon was ill prepared for academic engineering. There was no relevant library or laboratory, no tradition of publication or research. Although the first professors had been appointed by Sydney University some of their successors were diffident about claiming professorial status and the small academic staff had grown away from the university world.

My initial brief was to develop engineering subjects to second year university level, but I had no intention of stopping at that point. Two long-term plans were necessary: to build on my contacts in the universities, the profession and industry, and to find more time in the cadets’ crowded lives for academic work and study. In the early days three university professors (Charles Moorhouse, Al Willis and Mansergh Shaw) gave me unfailing support and gradually their colleagues began to accept the concept of close ties in the national interest between Duntroon and the Universities and later the technical colleges. For this a tribute is due to the quality of the graduates who went from Duntroon into undergraduate courses.


The year 1951 was marked by the first meeting of the Standing Committee on the Curriculum which in addition to military members included representatives of three Universities and the Commonwealth Office of Education. An important recommendation was the inclusion in the fourth year of 390 hours of academic engineering subjects, which gave cadets specialising in engineering the choice of one of three electives. This resulted in 1953 in the granting of credits by universities other than Melbourne to RMC graduates. Following staff visits to four States it was reported that their universities ‘recognise the status of the RMC curriculum, and heads of departments welcome the inclusion of Duntroon graduates in their classes’. Again in 1956: ‘Contacts have been maintained and strengthened with the various engineering schools of Australia and New Zealand. Particular interest has been taken in discussions on the shortage of professional engineers, and in the establishment of Institutes of Technology in Sydney and Melbourne’.


The high failure rate in third year courses brought home the fact that few of the cadets who could work at degree level at Duntroon would continue at that level as lieutenants in the universities. Three-year diplomas were a recognised professional qualification and Melbourne Technical College would readily accept RMC graduates into final year courses. The possible saving of a year compared to a degree course also appealed to many of the men concerned and also to senior officers. By 1954 the practice of recommending graduates for either degree or diploma courses had become firmly established.

In order to improve the preparation of cadets in engineering courses for post-RMC studies a major reorganisation of the military curriculum was introduced in 1959 and 580 hours in the final year became available for academic engineering. These changes reduced the pressure on cadets in all years and gave more time for reading and private study. Staff were involved in the planning and development of new subjects which would enable a cadet who elected engineering to take one of four courses at either degree or diploma level. However these courses involving lengthy periods of academic work in the fourth year were short-lived, and the last cadets graduated from them in 1966.

Degrees at RMC

The 1964 Report stated that Army headquarters had adopted the policy that whatever changes necessary should be made to RMC academic courses in order that all graduates of the College might have opportunities to gain degrees for two reasons: in the senior ranks an officer must be equipped to deal with diplomacy, government, industry and the complexities of the military art, and the Army must compete with other professions to attract candidates of high quality. The Standing Committee met periodically from 1961 to implement this policy and to study related problems of staffing and accommodation. In 1963 an Advisory Board on Academic Studies was appointed to develop and supervise the academic courses, and External Examiners were appointed to guarantee their standards. All entrants in 1964 were required to qualify at matriculation standard in their home States or New Zealand and new first year courses were commenced at two levels. There were certain disadvantages in the proposed timetables, an important one for engineers being the compression of more subject matter into the first three years.

The Standing Committee and the Advisory Board brought into formal contact with the College two senior Professors of the University of New South Wales, R.E. Vowels and A.H. Willis. Some years earlier the latter had suggested privately that the University might consider some form of association with the College. To those in sympathy with this possibility the events of 1964 brought it much closer. The graduates from the short-lived 1964 courses received a diploma of Military Studies (‘with Merit’ to those who qualified at the higher level) authorised by the Military Board.


In 1965 the Minister for the Army approved of negotiations between the Standing Committee and a university with a view to affiliation, seen then as an interim step in the progress of RMC towards autonomy, and likely to result in an early decision. Affiliation was also welcomed at RMC as a means of alleviating two recurrent problems — delays in the appointment of academic staff and lack of accommodation in suitable buildings.

The year 1967 was recorded as one of notable progress, marking the opening of a new chapter in the history of the College. The University of New South Wales agreed to set up a Faculty of Military Studies responsible for courses in Arts, Applied Science and Engineering, leading to the award of the University’s degrees of Bachelor of Arts in Military Studies and Bachelor of Science in Military Studies. At that time no engineering degree was offered because the course was not of four years duration, agreement having been reached that the fourth year would be a ‘military’ year for all cadets.

Professional Recognition

University degrees in engineering completed partly at RMC were given the same recognition by the Institution as degrees completed wholly within the University, and from the inception of diploma courses the necessary steps were taken to have these formally inspected and approved by the Institution. In the fifties three-year diplomas were generally accepted as exempting qualifications, but the Institution was moving by 1968 towards the requirement that all courses should be of four years duration (the 1980 Rule). Cadets who entered in 1968—1969 and elected to take engineering courses faced uncertain recognition until 1970 when the University and the Military Board approved a four-year engineering course leading to the University’s degree of Bachelor of Engineering. This could be awarded with the usual University Honours whereas the BA (Mil) and BSc(Mil) at that time were pass degrees only. Transition arrangements were made for cadets already taking engineering degree courses and the first BE degrees, including several with Honours, were awarded at the Graduation Parade in December 1971 on the eve of my retirement as Professor of Engineering.

The 1970 scheme fitted in a fourth academic year by curtailing the military studies normally required in the final year, an uneasy compromise that had been earlier tried and rejected. For cadets entering in 1975 and subsequent years the fourth year became a normal military year and in a fifth year they returned to the College as lieutenants to complete a fourth academic year in engineering or an Honours year in Arts or Applied Science.


In the fifties engineering was the cuckoo in the nest, but the older academic chicks found that the nest could be expanded. Staff shortages could be accepted or minimised by the secondment of military officers whose contributions are well worthy of record; inadequate accommodation could be relieved in recycled huts pending the funding, design and construction of new buildings. Time was found for more academic work at the expense of desirable but non-essential cadet activities. Perhaps the most important factor was the recognition by our university collegues of the worth of the Royal Military College as a national institution.

In my experience it was a pleasure to work with the majority of cadets who were disciplined, well-mannered and highly intelligent. Outstanding students reached major-general and professorial ranks and no doubt many more will reach the highest professional levels. Their achievements justify the acceptance of the frequent changes in courses outlined in this paper, changes which were the result of compromises between various pressures, academic, military and professional.


By T.H. Cooke ASTC, FIE Aust.

Tom Cooke’s professional career began at the Weapons Research Establishment in South Australia, where he was involved with the development of rocket vehicles. Subsequently, he worked for two years at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough in England, for eight years back in Australia at NVRE and Woomera, then for three years with the European Launcher Development Organisation in Paris. He returned to Australia with similar responsibilities in other engineering fields.
Tom Cooke is a Foundation Member and Past President of the Australian Society for Aero Historical Preservation. He is also a Past Councillor of the Institution of Engineers, Australia and Past Chairman of Canberra Division.

THE first controlled powered flight in Australia by a heavier than air machine was made by F.C. Custance who flew for five and half minutes at Bolivar in South Australia on 17 March 1910, at roughly the same time as the location of the National Capital was being chosen. Barely two years later a report on the suitability of sites for a flying school near Duntroon was prepared by Captain Oswald Watt of the Australian Army. It may thus be said that, at least in visionary terms, the planning of aviation in the ACT is as old as the ACT itself and that it predates the naming of Canberra.

This chapter traces the development of aviation facilities and events in the ACT, including the early proposals of Watt which related to the establishment of a military flying school, the commissioning of the first aerodrome in 1924, its subsequent relocation to the present site at Fairbairn Airport in 1926, the transfer of the airport to civil control in 1931, and its development as a joint user airport from 1940 to the present time. It also covers proposals to establish a separate civil airport for Canberra and the development of general aviation in the Canberra district.

Proposals for a Military Flying School

The earliest evidence of the consideration of sites within the ACT as suitable for the establishment of a Central Flying School appears in a report by Captain Watt on 9 March 1912.1 He reported that he “considered the Duntroon plain absolutely ideal for flying”. This view was strongly opposed by Charles Scrivener, Director of Commonwealth Lands and Surveys, who stated “The average aeroplane is extremely noisy even at a distance of a mile and I regard the proposed site as quite unsuitable for the purpose intended”.2He also felt that those using the Queanbeyan-Uriarra Road would be endangered.

Possibly because of Scrivener’s opposition, the Administrator of the Federal Capital Territory requested the Chief of General Staff to make a “technical examination” of sites in the Federal Territory.3Captain Henri Petre, who had been recruited in England in August 1912 and had thus become Australia’s first military aviator, was assigned the task. Petre’s appointment had been foreshadowed in an announcement by the Prime Minister and Treasurer Fisher, who is reported in Hansard of 1 August 1912 as stating that “It is intended to establish a school of training of officers in aviation. Provision has been made for two pilot aviators and four mechanics; also for the purchase of stores. Four machines have already been purchased.”

On 5 February 1913 Petre reported on five sites in the Territory, that at the western end of the present Fairbairn airport being considered by him to be “a very good site”.4 Petre thus endorsed the earlier recommendation by Watt. A second site on what are now the playing fields adjacent to Dickson College was judged by Petre to be “very little inferior” to the first. (Fig. 11.1)

The ultimate recommendation of a site at Altona Bay (Point Cook) as the most suitable for the establishment of a Central Flying School was made by Petre on 13 March 1913, one day after the naming of Canberra as the Nation’s Capital. The site near Duntroon had been rejected because of the height above sea level, which would have demanded training planes of greater power than desirable in training and because of the difficulty of access to Canberra from Melbourne, then the interim seat of the Federal Government.

Early Aircraft to visit Canberra

So far as can be ascertained the first aircraft to fly in the vicinity of the ACT was a Bleriot XI monoplane flown by the Frenchman Maurice Guillaux, who passed to the north en route from Harden to Goulburn on 18 July 1914. This flight set a world record for a mail flight in flying from Melbourne to Sydney between 16—18 July, a distance of 585 miles.5

The first aircraft to alight in Canberra landed at Duntroon in July 1920.6 These were two de Havilland DH9 aircraft of the Australian Flying Corps which were flown by Lt Colonel Richard Williams and Major Lawrence Wackett, both destined to achieve greatness in Australian aviation history. (Fig. 11.2)

It seems probable that the first private aircraft to land near Canberra was a Moth from Goulburn Aero Club which visited the Canberra District in 1922.7 Another Moth also provided joy flights in that year from a paddock near the present Dairy Flat Road.

From the mid-twenties Andy Cunningham, who lived at Top Naas and flew a Moth, was the focus of many tales; he called his plane the ‘Orroral Dingo’ (Fig. 11.3) and delighted in aerobatics. Flying a Moth, he came third in the 1929 Sydney to Perth Air Race. Often, his plane would return home on a horse-drawn dray. Pioneer residents recall his well developed techniques of attracting attention by ‘shooting up’ the local gasoline supplier in Queanbeyan until the supplier drove to the local oval with more fuel.8 In 1930 Cunningham planned to fly solo to England in an Australian designed and built Genairco, but got only as far as Burma.

Airport locations examined










Fig. 11.1: Airport locations examined by Captain Petre in 1913.

De Havilland DH9 aircraft






Fig. 11.2:De Havilland DH9 aircraft of the Australian Flying Corps at Duntroon, July 1920. Pilots were Lt. Col. Richard
Williams and Major Lawrence Wackett. Photo: National Library of Australia.

The “Orroral Din go






Fig. 11.3: The “Orroral Dingo” on the cricket pitch at Tuggeranong. Photo: The National Library of Australia.

Northbourne Aviation Ground

The need to provide an airfield for Canberra was again raised in October 1921 when the Department of Defence advised the Secretary, Home and Territories, that provision should be made for commercial aircraft. In July 1922, C.S. Price, Secretary, Federal Capital Administrative Committee (FCAC) confirmed arrangements for the Director General of Works to consult with Colonel Brinsmead, Controller of Civil Aviation and Wing Commander R. Willams, Director Intelligence and Organisation, RAAF, regarding the location of an airport and on “size, shape and other essential factors”.9

A site on an allotment then leased by Mr Ed Schumack and which is roughly bounded by Majura Avenue, Cowper Street and Antill Street was selected in May 1923 following inspections by an officer representing the controller of Civil Aviation and members of the FCAC. In December 1923 S/L H.N. Wrigley flew to Canberra to take aerial survey photos which were to be exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition in London10 and, on 4 March 1924, following a visit by Captain E.C. Johnston, Superintendent of Aerodromes, Northbourne Aviation Ground became operational.11

It is interesting to note than in 1924 the Northbourne Aviation Ground consisted of an area (now the playing fields adjacent to Dickson College) which was identified by white mounds at the corners and equipped with a wind sock. It had cost a total of £17:12:2 to bring it to operational standard.12Use of the airfield was infrequent and the Commission extended the lease by Schumack for grazing purposes at a reduced rental.

Mass flypast by aircraft







Fig. 11.4: Mass flypast by aircraft of the RAAF at the opening of Parliament House, Canberra, May 1927. Photo: Australian Archives, Mildenhall Collection.

The Northbourne Aviation Ground served as an emergency airfield on the Adelaide-Sydney service commenced by the Australian Aerial Service on 6 June 1924 but Canberra was not at that time a routine stopping place. Services connecting Melbourne, Broken Hill and Adelaide via the Riverina commenced in 1925. Again Canberra was an emergency airfield rather than a scheduled port.

In February 1926 an RAAF DH9 aircraft crashed while approaching the Northbourne Aviation Ground. The pilot, Flying Officer Pitt, was killed in the accident and his observer, Flight Sgt Callinder, died later and was buried at St John’s, Reid. Both Pitt and Callinder had been pulled from the crashed aircraft by a farm worker named Johnson who later received a medal commemorating his bravery.13

Late in 1926 Capt. Johnston talked to the Federal Capital Commission about an extended tenure to Northbourne Aviation Ground. The Commission was unwilling to give such guarantee because of the need for future development and under these circumstances Johnston recommended to Brinsmead on 8 October 1926 that another site — “On the whole a better site” — be chosen at the junction of Majura Lane, Queanbeyan Road and Gundaroo Road.14 Following a visit to Canberra by Brinsmead in November 1926 the selection of the site at the western end of the present Fairbairn Airport was confirmed. Thus, some thirteen years after Petre had chosen this as his “preferred” airfield site approximately the same location was agreed as the site for the Canberra Airport.

A factor which had brought pressure for the resolution of the site for Canberra Airport had no doubt been the decision by the Chief of Air Staff, Group Captain Williams to give the first mass flying display by the RAAF at the opening of Parliament House in May 1927. (Figure 11.4)

As a prelude to the opening ceremony the annual civilian Air Force summer camp was arranged at Canberra and the full strength of the RAAF was assembled. This included three amphibian Seagulls, three DH9’s, four DH9A’s and four SE5A’s from No. 1 Squadron, Pt Cook, whilst No. 3 Squadron, Richmond, deployed four DH9’s, four DH9A’s and four SE5A’s.

The fly past was marred by the crash of one SE5A in which Flight Lt. F.C. Ewen was killed. He was buried at St. John’s Church will full military honours on 11 May 1927,.15

Federal Capital Commission leasing policies

The principal reason for abandoning the Northbourne Aviation Ground had been the unwillingness of the FCC to grant a lease for more than 25 years.

The Department of Defence was unwilling to erect hangars and carry out major works without assurance of extended tenure. It came as some surprise that, following the excitement of the ceremonies in May 1927, the Federal Capital Commission under J.H. Butters, demonstrated the same reluctance for extended lease over the new Canberra Airfield site.16

This impasse was not resolved until the visit to Australia in 1928 by the Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir John Salmond, to advise on air defence developments. Salmond recommended the establishment of an Army co-operation squadron at Canberra and, on the basis of the estimated expenditure on buildings in excess of £100,000, Butters finally supported a lease to Department of Defence for 99 years, including additional land for military buildings.17

The continuing lack of facilities at Canberra Airport drew frequent criticism and in June 1930 the Secretary, Department of Defence, suggested that, as Canberra was not on an air service route, the reponsibility for the airport should be transferred to the Administration of the Territory.18 On 4 April 1931 Federal Capital Territory Branch of Department of Home Affairs agreed to accept responsibility for the airport, and on 4 September 1931 Canberra Airport was granted Licence No. 84 for a period of 12 months and cleared for “all types of land planes”.

Some uncertainties of civil administration

In recalling the situation in the 1930s it must be remembered that the civil authorities administered Canberra Airport at a time when the airport was a large field for which grazing rights were granted, and the arrival of an aircraft was an event of notice. One illustration is chosen to indicate the problems in administering this new undertaking about which the civil authorities were totally ignorant: On 15 February 1933 it was reported that the wind indicator had been stolen from the airport. Inspection showed that the indicator was indeed missing; a file was raised, the police were alerted, interviews followed. Finally the Police Constable noted that the indicator appeared to have torn away and, with admirable deduction, concluded that it had blown away in the high winds of the previous week. The “wind indicator” was, of course, a canvas wind sock — a replacement would have cost next to nothing and hardly warranted two weeks of investigation.19

Three notable visits

Only ten months after Parliament House was opened the arrival of Bert Hinkler marked the beginning of a succession of aviation greats to visit Canberra, Hinkler had flown his tiny Avro Avian solo from England and had almost halved the time taken by Ross and Keith Smith nine years earlier.

The Avian landed at York Park on 17 March 1928 and Hinkler was greeted at Parliament House and at a civic function in his honour. He was presented with a cheque for £1,000 by the Prime Minister, S.M. Bruce, on behalf of the people of Australia.20(Fig. 11.5 & 11.6)

Three months later, on 15 June 1928, the ‘Southern Cross’, landed at Canberra Airport piloted by Charles Kingsford Smith and with Charles Ulm, Warner and Lyons as crew. One week earlier the ‘Southern Cross’ had completed the first trans-Pacific flight from San Francisco to Brisbane between 31 May and 9 June 1928.21(Fig. 11.7)

On 15 June 1930 Amy Johnson was flown to Canberra airfield in a monoplane piloted by Major de Havilland and, although it was proposed that the Commonwealth should purchase her aircraft, the ‘Jason’, no action was taken.22

Aerial Service to Canberra

Plans to link Canberra with Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney by aerial services receive mention in the mid 1920s, and on 10 September, 1926, The Canberra Times forecast that aerial services to Canberra would operate during the parliamentary session. It was proposed that ANEC seven seat aircraft be used but at the same time the paper questioned the adequacy of service in view of there being 36 Senators and 73 MHR’s.2324

Captain H.J. Larkin, who had been active in Australian aviation since World War I and had established aerial services from Melbourne to Adelaide, Adelaide to Sydney (quickly modified to Cootamundra due to poor flying conditions over the Dividing Range) and Melbourne to Mildura and Broken Hill, tendered for the Canberra-Port Augusta special service in 1926 to carry the Duke of York’s mail. No evidence could be found that this contract was granted or service provided.

Joe Collins, who flew a Monospar, operated one of the first services from Sydney to Canberra in the mid 1930s until, as Nancy Bird Walton recalls, “the engines fell out”.

Although a regular service connecting Canberra with the State capitals in NSW, Victoria and South Australia had been proposed in 1926 it was not until 1936 that regular air services to Canberra were established. These were to Sydney and Melbourne, and were operated by Holyman ANA using de Havilland DH86 aircraft.

Development of the Aerodrome

In 1933, following requests from the Canberra Chamber of Commerce, the matter of developing the airport was raised in Parliament. Following agreement between the RAAF and civilian authorities on the location of their respective establishments on the aerodrome, plans were drawn up for the construction of a large hangar. This hangar was completed in mid 1936 after several delays, as the design was modified to accommodate the rapidly increasing size of aircraft operating from Canberra.


Canberra Aero Club was formed in 1937 and began flying instruction. The Club was incorporated in 1938 and, with the exception of a short period during the War, has operated continuously from that time.

Canberra Airport was operated as a civil airport administered by the civic authorities until 31 October 1940, when responsibility was passed to the Department of Air and the airfield became known as ‘RAAF Station, Canberra.25Since that time the airfield has been operated on a joint user basis.

Bert Hinkler at Canberra in 1928






Fig. 11.5: Bert Hinkler at Canberra in 1928. The wings are folded back and this appears to be Hinkler starting the engine. Photo: Collingridge Collection, the National Library of Australia.

Bert Hinkler leaving Canberra





Fig. 11.6: Bert Hinkler leaving Canberra on 17 March 1928. Photo: The National Library of Australia.

RAAF Presence in the ACT

RAAF Station, Canberra, was officially established on 1 April, 1940 under the temporary command of Squadron Leader P.G. Heffernan,, AFC, who was Commanding Officer of No. 8 Squadron. This squadron had been stationed at Canberra since 11 September 1939, and a number of personnel who were previously serving with the squadron were posted to Station Headquarters, Canberra, to establish a nucleus of personnel for establishment of the new station. An orderly room was set up in an office at the civil aerodrome administrative building. Sleeping accommodation at that time consisted solely of tents.

Construction of the RAAF facilities and accommodation began in 1940. From 1940 to the end of World War II, RAAF Station Canberra was an operational base for anti-submarine patrols and a training school for Army co-operation personnel.

Not only Australian Air Force personnel were stationed at RAAF Station, Canberra, during the war. From April, 1942 till December 1943, three squadrons of Netherlands East Indies planes were based there and used to practice bombing on the Isabella Plains in Tuggeranong.

In February 1941, it was announced by the then- Minister for Air, Mr McEwan, that Canberra Aerodrome would be known as Fairbairn Aerodrome. The change of name was decided upon to commemorate the work of Mr J.V. Fairbairn, Minister for Air, who was killed in an air crash at Canberra on 13 August 1940.

Mr Fairbairn had been an enthusiastic advocate of the role of the aeroplane in Australia and was himself a keen pilot. (Fig. 11.8) The crash at Canberra had severe implications for Australia’s war effort as other senior officials who died in the accident were the Minister for the Army, Mr G. A. Street, and the Chief of General Staff, General Sir Brudenell White.

RAAF Station, Canberra was re-formed on June 1, 1952, as Headquarters, RAAF Canberra, and Base Squadron, Canberra.

On completion of the Department of Air move from Melbourne in 1962 to its administrative offices in Canberra, and to facilitate administrative arrangements for the RAAF formations and units located at RAAF Base, Canberra, it was decided that, from 19 March, 1962, the name of RAAF Base, Canberra, would be changed to RAAF Base, Fairbairn.

The residents of canberra pose






Fig. 11.7: The residents of Canberra pose in front of Sir Charles Kingsford Smith's plane, the 'Southern Cross' at Canberra Airport on 15 June 1928. Photo: The library of Australia.

Hard-surfaced Runways

The need to construct hard-surfaced runways on the base was first addressed in 1942, as due to the clay surface, 4 mm of rain was sufficient to close the airfield. The priority assigned to the project, however, was low and at an estimated cost of £51,000, it was postponed indefinitely.

In mid 1944, the project was resurrected with a proposal to consruct two heavy runways and the necessary taxiways to reduce the risk to both civilian and service personnel and aircraft using the poor surface of the aerodrome. Later that year, because of the poor carrying capacity of the sub-grade, concrete pavements were promoted as the only viable solution. In early 1945, the project was recommended at a cost of £211,000. The works were undertaken by the Allied Works Council and were not put out to contract because of the delays that would have been involved in preparing plans and tender documents, the lack of experienced contractors and the number of claims expected because of the interference from operating aircraft. By mid May that year soil testing was complete and the War Cabinet approved the project. A 300 mm cement-stabilised pavement thickness was used for runways but a 350 mm thickness was used for taxiways.

The NSW Department of Main Roads carried out the work which was completed in January 1948 at a final cost of £209,000.

The maximum gross weight of the largest aircraft using the airport increased from 12 tonnes in 1945 to 150 tonnes in 1980. In the same period the runways had been cement stabilised and capped with bituminous concrete with a total thickness of 0.5 metre to provide for the increased loading.

A second Canberra airport

The first consideration of separate civil and service airfields to serve Canberra appears to have been in 1938 when the Department of Defence sought a base for an RAAF presence. There was considered to be no alternative to developing facilities at the existing Canberra airport.

The establishment of NCDC in 1957 led to investigations of alternative sites to meet projected needs and for strategic planning purposes.

NCDC saw the need for a new civil airport with a landscaped parkway approach to the city, an idea which is still being pursued some twenty-five years later. The major problem has been the choice of a site within reasonable distance from the Parliamentary Triangle, yet meeting the stringent standards of the civil aviation authorities.

In the early 1960s NCDC favoured urban development in the Majura Valley, adjacent to the airport, and within reasonable distance of the Parliamentary Triangle. The Department of Civil Aviation had identified an alternative airport site at Mulligan’s Flat(Gungahlin) to the north of which if adopted, would allow urban development in Majura valley to proceed.

However, DCA was in no hurry to leave the present Fairbairn site as a report noted:

‘DCA studies indicated that even in the light of operational difficulties associated with the general siting of Fairbairn, further development could be undertaken to provide satisfactory facilities beyond 1973. The present airport could be modified to cater for most of the demands of forseeable aircraft usage then likely to be servicing Canberra.’

The RAAF, as proprietor of the airport used by civil airlines, had no reservations about staying at Fairbairn, whilst the Army also resisted urban development in the Majura Valley.

However, by 1967 Canberra had experienced a growth rate averaging nearly 11% per year over ten years and, in response, NCDC had developed a comprehensive metropolitan growth plan which became known as the ‘Y’ plan. This provided for the development of a series of new towns in the valleys to the north and south of existing Canberra, and the alternative airport site at Mulligan’s Flat could be no longer considered as it fell within the new urban area.

Based on aircraft movements at Fairbairn (Fig. 11.9) which were considered to be nearing the capacity of the airfield and the continued high growth rate of the population, the Department of Civil Aviation (DCA) supported the identification of an eventual long term alternative to Fairbairn.27 DCA, in liaison with NCDC, continued the investigation of 38 possible sites in and near the ACT.

DCA favoured Bungendore/Lake George although it would be costly to develop. In 1970 the total project was estimated to cost $30 million, including $3 million to drain Lake George, (to minimise fog) plus $18 million for a four lane “controlled access road” (Freeway) to the airport from Canberra. A submission was made to the Government recommending the detailed investigation of the site together with other related actions, but this was not approved.

This led to the decision to upgrade the Fairbairn facilities and to extend the main runway by 2,000 feet with a corresponding deviation of Pialligo Ave. The latter action called for referral to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the ACT, who chose to examine the need for and the nature of these extensions. While the extensions and deviation of Pialligo Ave. were approved in March 1972, some reservations were expressed about the eventual need to develop another airport at Bungendore.

Indeed, the House of Assembly at that time included members who questioned the Department’s choice of take- off path from Fairbairn for a twin engined aircraft with the possibility of losing one of those engines on take off. This led the Department to arrange actual demonstrations taking off with members aboard and simulating such a situation. All along the aisle of the aircraft white knuckles were seen as members gripped the sides of seats. The members quickly became convinced that the Departmental officers were right.

The most recent examination of future airport needs to aid strategic planning of Canberra was instigated in 1974. The study was conducted by an interdepartmental committee with representatives from eight Commonwealth Departments and authorities together with representation from NSW and liaison with citizen groups. After examining 25 sites, the primary conclusion of the IDC was that Canberra (Fairbairn) Airport should remain at its present location and that Canberra airport should be capable of meeting Canberra’s regular public transport (RPT) and military aviation needs for the next thirty years.

In 1982, with the low growth rates and the combined effects of the imposition of the fare scales resulting from the Holcroft recommendations and the depressed economic climate, the projected time at which Fairbairn will again approach saturation levels must remain a matter of speculation.

Eventually Fairbairn may reach movement saturation, accelerated by the wide range of aircraft types all operating from the one airport — home made light aircraft, general aviation and regional commuters, RPT and military aircraft, both fixed wing and helicopters.

Mr J.V. Fairbairn at Canberra Airport






Fig. 11.8: Mr J.V. Fairbairn at Canberra Airport in 1936, standing in front of his de Havilland ‘Spirit of Flinders’.
Photo: The National Library of Australia.

Canberra’s airport terminal






Fig. 11.9: Canberra’s airport terminal building until the first half of the nineteen sixties. The original hangar is seen behind
this building. Photo: The National Library of Australia.

The RAAF have always wanted to stay at Fairbairn and the strongest case exists for their VIP Squadron to do so.

Fairbairn is ideal for the citizen’s convenience, being so close to the city yet separated by the Ainslie-Majura ridge to the North, and the industrial area to the south. With more efficient aircraft, the existing airport is suitable for future needs. If general aviation for sport and recreation flying increases, a second airport may be necessary for this purpose.

Government announcements of intention to provide adequate airport facilities for overseas visitors in time for the 1988 bi-centenary opening of Parliament House reinforce decisions announced late in 1980 to provide a new domestic terminal. This latter decision in a way recognises the inevitability of Canberra as a commuter city in easy reach of the eastern States which makes one-day visits for business or tourism a practical proposition.

Aviation in the ACT has grown from a point where the first Canberra Airport was merely an emergency landing ground for scheduled airlines to a center with major airline links to other State Capitals and by commuter services to many regional centers.

Before the first aircraft had visited Canberra in 1912 Oswald Watt recommended that the Duntroon plains be chosen for an airfield. Whilst Watt could not envisage the development of aircraft in the following seventy years the subsequent choice of the site of Fairbairn airport in 1926 and the development and operation of the airport since that time is a tribute to his foresight.

Year Domestic Commuter GA Milit. Heli Airfield Total Move.
Pax A/cr Pax A/cr
1960 206,096 10,646 --- --- n.a. n.a. n.a. n.a.
1970 577,918 18,227 1,303 474 37,807 13,558 19,437 89,503
1980 951,157 15,106 27,404 5,034 65,363 8,144 18,734 112,381

n.a. — not available.

  1. — Few helicopter movements (201 in 1981) required use of the runway.
  2. — Commuter services in Australia commenced in July 1967.

Fig. 11.10. Passenger and aircraft movements Fairbairn Airport 1960-81.(Courtesy: Dept. of Aviation).



The author wishes to acknowledge assistance given by the staff of the Australian Archives, The National Library of Australia, Australian Survey Office, Mr R.K. Piper, RAAF Historical Section, Capt P.J. Gibbes MVO, DFC, AFC, officers of the Department of Aviation, the Department of Transport and Construction, NCDC, and members of the Canberra and District Historical Society.


R.A. Leslie BEE


Robert A. Leslie has been Senior Assist. Secretary, Space Projects Branch, Department of Science since 1975. He served as an RAAF Radar Officer from 1942 to 1945 with the rank of Flight Lieutenant. In 1948 he became a scientific officer, Weapons Research Establishment, Salisbury, SA, advancing to senior scientific officer in 1954 and principal officer, Target Aircraft, in 1956.
From 1963 to 1967 he served as Station Director, Tidbinbilla and became Superintendent of the American Projects Division of the WRE in 1967. In 1969 he was Assistant Controller, American Projects Branch, Commonwealth Department of Supply, which position he held until 1975 when he was appointed to his present position.

THE first major milestone in the development of space tracking stations in the ACT was reached in 1965 with the opening of the Deep Space Tracking Station at Tidbinbilla to the south-west of Canberra. A second station at Orroral Valley was opened in 1966 and a third, at Honeysuckle Creek, in 1967.

The ACT was selected as the best site in south-eastern Australia for these facilities because of the availability of a quiet environment for receiving radio signals from Space, the closeness of sites to an urban area offering accommodation for personnel and back-up services plus the relative geological stability of the region.

Australia’s association with the US Space Programme began in 1957 when it operated US supplied tracking facilities at Woomera, SA, in support of America’s first satellites, Explorer and Vanguard.

The ACT stations, however, were to be intimately associated with all the great unmanned probes and the Apollo manned flights to the Moon — the high point of this era perhaps being the transmission to the world from Honeysuckle Creek of sound and pictures of astronaut Neil Armstrong stepping onto the surface of the Moon on 21 July 1969. His activities and those of ‘Buzz’ Aldrin were watched by the largest television audience in history via the Parkes/Honeysuckle Creek/NASA INTELSAT system.

Since then, the ACT stations have given support to a variety of unmanned deep space missions to Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn and to the reusable Columbia space shuttle.

The Australian participation in the US Space Programme has captured the imagination of the people and has the support of all governments, no matter what their political persuasions.

In opening the Deep Space station at Tidbinbilla on 19 March 1965, Prime Minister Menzies called the achievements in Space, one of the miracles of the 20th Century. Prime Minister Whitlam, in dedicating an addition to Tidbinbilla in 1973, said that even those who questioned the cost of Space exploration had been moved by its vision and audacity, and by the courage of the astronauts themselves. He said it was a matter of pride for Australians to be involved in this historic programme by having the NASA station in Australia.

Tidbinbilla. Courtesy of Canberra Times.









Fig. 12.1: Tidbinbilla. Courtesy of Canberra Times.

The Australian/American Agreement

In 1960, Australia entered into a ten-year agreement with the USA to support the expanding programme of the newly formed civil space agency, NASA. The US agreed to meet the costs of the programme envisaged, but Australia contributed $140,000 a year, which was the cost of local support at the time. The agreement was subsequently extended to 1980 and again to 1990. The Australian operating agency was originally the Department of Supply, but in 1976, the responsibility was transferred to the Department of Science (now Science and Technology).

After the Explorer and Vanguard projects, Australia provided support for NASA’s manned Mercury space flight. A tracking station was established at Muchea, near Perth in 1960, and Woomera radar at Red Lake, SA, was adapted in the same year. Both stations supported NASA’s first manned orbital flight by astronaut John Glenn in 1962 and the subsequent three Mercury flights.

At about the same time, NASA started preparing for a programme of Deep Space exploration which resulted in the establishment of a station at Island Lagoon, near Woomera, specially designed for very long range communication. This station supported NASA’s Mariner project which provided the first Deep Space probe that flew close to Venus in 1962, and it continued in operation until 1972 in support of the variety of NASA deep space probes that followed the Venus project.

President Kennedy’s announcement in 1961 of the goal, within the decade, of landing men on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth, gave a further boost to NASA’s need for support from Australia. A large sophisticated station was established at Carnarvon, WA, in 1963 to replace the Muchea station. It supported NASA’s second manned Space flight project, Gemini, and it went on to support the Apollo programme which achieved President Kennedy’s goal in 1969. A special satellite communication link was provided by OTC via one of the first INTELSAT commercial satellites that was specially positioned over the Pacific Ocean in 1967 to improve communications in our region for support of Apollo. The Carnarvon station was closed in 1974, upon completion of the Apollo programme and the subsequent Skylab mission which resulted in men working successfully in Space for periods up to three months. Skylab returned the compliment in 1979 when it provided a spectacular fireworks display for Western Australia upon re-entry near Esperance on the south coast, fortunately without inflicting any damage.

NASA had alerted us in 1962 to its need for a site in south-eastern Australia, for four or five new stations, which would be required to give support to its programme. The first requirement was for a second Deep Space Station. However, it was expected that this would be followed by a second manned Space Flight station and also special stations for the support of unmanned scientific and experimental satellites. This initiated the progressive building of the tracking station complex in the ACT.

The responsibility within the Department of Supply for administering the agreement with NASA for the establishment of tracking stations in Australia was carried by Lloyd Bott, who was then First Assistant Secretary Policy and Coordination. He was assisted by Ian Homewood, Assistant Secretary Projects, and the staff of Projects Branch, although, of course, many other sections of the Department were involved in such a large undertaking, notably Contracts, Stores and Transport Branches and the State Regional Offices.

Management of the Stations

The establishment and management of the station in Australia was assigned to the Weapons Research Establishment (WRE) at Salisbury, SA, which operated the Woomera Rocket Range, where it all started in 1957. Bill Boswell, as head of WRE, took a keen interest in the programme from the beginning, as did his deputy, Arthur Wills, Tom Lawrence and many others.

In 1962, when the size of the project, and the potential benefits in technology became apparent, it was decided to involve private industry in the management and staffing of the new stations. A special division of WRE, called the American Projects Division, was set up under the leadership of M.S. Kirkpatrick to streamline the task. This Division performed the task until 1969 when the peak load had passed and when it was becoming apparent that the ACT was the preferred site for long term development of the tracking stations. At the time, the American Projects Division of WRE was transferred to the Department’s central office in Canberra and became known as the American Projects Branch, under the leadership of the author. The Branch was transferred to the Department of Science in 1975 when that Department took on the role of cooperating agency under the tracking station agreement with the USA. The Branch is now known as the Space Projects Branch.

The activity resulted in close working arrangements with many NASA people from the Associate Administrator level to Network Engineer. People involved in the very early stages included Ed Buckley and Buzz Brockett of NASA headquarters, Ozzie Covington, Tec Roberts and Bill Wood from Goddard Space Flight Centre’s manned space flight network, Jack Mengle, Hal Hoff and Buck Heller from GSFC’s satellite tracking and data acquisition network and Eb Rechtin, Bill Bayley and Richard K. Mallis from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) which is responsible for NASA’s Deep Space network. Christopher Kraft and Sig Sjoberg from the manned flight control centre at Houston, Texas, also paid a close interest in the stations. Al Ludington of GSFC was the formal contact for financial matters under the agreement.

Since 1962, NASA has maintained an office in Australia to assist in liaison. The position in Canberra has been filled by Ed Hartman, Ray Hooker, Willson Hunter and Bill Wood. Joseph Kerwin is the current representative. JPL has been represented by Richard Fahnstock, Mel Glenn, Walter Larkin, Phil Tardani and Douglas Mudgway. Walter E. Larkin is the current JPL representative.

Site Selection

The research for a site in south-east Australia, suitable for a number of tracking stations, was undertaken in September 1962 by NASA and WRE people operating as a team.

The general region for the site, in terms of latitude and longitude was dictated by the need for continuous communication with deep space probes from at least one of three sites around the globe. The location of the keystone station in the Deep Space Network had already been chosen, in Southern California USA, so the first requirement was for a site about 120 degrees west from there, and at about an equal but opposite latitude, i.e., south-east Australia. Similar arguments applied to optimising coverage for satellites in high earth orbit and to a lesser extent even for low earth orbiters.

The choice within this region was made on the best balance between a quiet environment for receiving very faint radio signals and the distance from a town or city that could provide sound support to an activity involving several hundred people. Very remote sites such as Woomera, while excellent from the point of view of freedom from interfering radio noise, are very costly considering the inevitably high turn-over of staff, the need for subsidised housing, etc, and the distance from industrial support.

Other factors were also weighed in the balance such as relative freedom from earthquakes or violent storms and firm soils or shallow bedrock, considering the large but fragile antenna structures required and the need for great stability and precision. Natural shielding of stations one from another, and from the nearest town or city, by a series of hills and valleys was also important. Thought was given to avoiding airlanes, at least those in heavy use, because of the possibility of blanking even for a fleeting second, at just the wrong time, and of course because of possible radio interference between the aircraft and the tracking stations, or vice versa. An over-riding consideration was the prospect of obtaining the necessary licence to operate highpower transmitters, to send signals to spacecraft, without interfering with established users of radio in the region.

The use of the radio frequency spectrum is governed by international convention, and the commodity, being limited, must be shared wisely. The frequency band of most interest to NASA in 1962, known as S-band (around 2 202 megahertz) was already assigned to radio relay links around some parts of Australia for the carriage of telephone traffic etc, however a higher frequency band for the links between Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney had been adopted leaving the way clear for the licensing of tracking stations in the ACT in S-band. Engineers of the PMG (now Telecom) have since expressed regret that they did not get in first and so force the tracking stations into more remote places, away from inter-city trunk telephone and television radio relay routes, but in my view the compromise was reasonable as radio frequency congestion is not really a problem here in comparison to most other, more densely populated countries, that manage to live with the congestion.

All but one of the stations that NASA wished to build in the ACT were accepted. The exception was a temporary station that operated in the frequency band already assigned to the Melbourne-Canberra-Sydney radio relay link. That station was established instead at Cooby Creek near Toowoomba in 1966. It was part of a network of stations to support NASA in pioneering efforts in the development of communication and weather satellites that play such an important part in our lives today. The station, being transportable, moved from Australia in 1970 to meet changing requirements, but not before it had made history by providing Australians with the first live TV programmes from overseas.

Having identified the south-west of the ACT as technically desirable for tracking station sites, there followed a period of further survey and negotiation for a particular site for a second deep space station in Australia, which was NASA’s first requirement, and to identify other prospective sites. Many Departments were involved but most particularly the Department of the Interior, or Administrative Services as it is known today. Finally, the present site of the Tidbinbilla Station



An area of 364 acres was withdrawn from the lease of Mr N. Reid’s Oakey Creek Station (now Mr Harding’s Mulumba Station) for the site and the access road to the Tidbinbilla Road was made through the Congwarra Station of Mr W. Flint. An area of about 29 acres was fenced as the inner site of the tracking station and the remainder was returned to Mr Reid for agistment.

A contract for maintenance and operations services at the station was let to Space Track Pty Ltd in early 1963. This company was a consortium of de Haviland, Elliots and Amalgamated Electronic Industries (AET), formed for the purpose of the contract. Stan Joiner of de Haviland managed the contract for the consortium and John Gaibraith was the company’s senior representative for carrying out the task under the contract.

The design of the facilities for the station was undertaken by the ACT Regional Office of the Commonwealth Department of Works. Bob Irvine was the project engineer and George Dunlop was the architect. Basil Monckton and Lance Sharpe of WRE and Mel Glenn of JPL, worked with the Department of Works on the specification and acceptance phases of the construction. The contract for construction of the buildings, the power house and other facilities was let to A.V. Jennings on 1 July 1963. The attractive buildings, basically as we know them today, were completed within one year.

The driving force for the hurried establishment of the Tidbinbilla Station was the need for additional support for NASA’s rapidly expanding deep space programme. In particular NASA needed support from our longitude for the first probe to Mars; Mariner 4, in late 1964, while still supporting the Ranger lunar exploration project from the Island Lagoon Station at Woomera.

The author became the WRE Station Director, Tidbinbilla, in May 1963. The first task was to work with John Gaibraith of Space Track on plans to staff the station, for equipment installation and for the first operations. At the request of JPL, a team of engineers and technicians from the station spent the first half of 1964 at NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Station in California,, becoming familiar with the techniques involved in the Deep Space Network and in assisting to assemble and test the electronic equipment destined for Tidbinbilla. Subsequently, the same group carried out the main work of installing and commissioning the equipment at Tidbinbilla in good time to take over support for Mariner 4 from Island Lagoon in late 1964. This cooperative exercise resulted in excellent working relationships between the US and Australian engineers and so became the model for most of the development that followed in the deep space programme in Australia and elsewhere.

The Tidbinbilla Station, known then as Deep Space Instrumentation Facility 42 (DSIF 42), consisted of a 25.9 m diameter parabaloid antenna on a polar mount, driven in hour-angle and declination, as for astronomical telescopes. The antenna structure was built by the US Blaw Knox Co on foundations built by A.V. Jennings.

The focus of the parabaloid is well above the surface, but this is not a very suitable place for housing large transmitters and efficient but complex receiving amplifiers needed for long-range communication. Consequently, the Tidbinbilla antenna uses the cassegrain system which involves a sub-reflector above the surface to place the focus at the bottom of the dish. The first signal amplifier was housed in a cone at the bottom of the dish and the 20 kilowatt transmitter was housed in a room just below, in order to minimise the losses between those devices and the antenna. The first signal amplifier used a new technique called Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, or MASER for short.

To receive very faint signals, it is necessary for the receiver to be tuned very precisely to the frequency of the incoming signal while, at the same time, being very selective against noise or interference outside the bandwidth occupied by the energy of the desired signal. The problem is compounded as the received frequency varies with the relative velocity of the spacecraft and the station (the “doppler” effect) which is large compared to the bandwidth needed for efficient reception. Probably the most unique feature of the station was its ability to lock on to, and track, the frequency of the incoming signal, while accepting noise and interference only within the band- width occupied by the energy of the signal. The first receiver at Tidbinbilla for instance, was able to receive the main signal (or carrier) from the spacecraft while receiving noise from a bandwidth of only 12 hertz, even though the carrier frequency varied by as much as 30 kilohertz, due to earth rotation alone, and much more when the course of a spacecraft was being altered by the gravitational pull of a planet.

The main aid to navigation of the spacecraft was the measurement of the “doppler” effect, which is a measure of the relative radial velocity of the spacecraft from the station. A signal transmitted from the station was received by the spacecraft, translated in frequency and retransmitted to the station. The received frequency was compared with the outgoing frequency to derive the radial velocity. The great accuracy required of this system for navigation in space stemmed from the stability of the station’s transmitting frequency and the ability of the receiving systems in the spacecraft and on the ground to “lock-on” to the incoming signal frequency and track it within a small part of one cycle. The frequency at that time was rated as stable within 1 part in one hundred thousand million, over the period required to measure the “doppler” effect. This resulted in an ability to measure a spacecraft’s radial velocity of say 100,000 mph with an accuracy of one in 10 to the eleventh.

Tidhinbilla. Courtesy of Canberra Times.






Fig. 12.2: Tidhinbilla. Courtesy of Canberra Times.

Viking photo of Mars.






Fig. 12.3: Viking photo of Mars.

Also, for navigation, but in its infancy, was the measurement of range to the spacecraft. This was achieved by transmitting a coded signal for return via the spacecraft. By comparing the received code with that transmitted the time-delay could be measured. Transmission over great distance was achieved by transmitting the signal slowly within a very narrow bandwidth, and accuracy was achieved by making the coded signal very long. Range measurements of high accuracy were achieved over great distances, but at intervals of time spaced well apart.

Information from the spacecraft, comprising data from instruments such as TV cameras and other sensors, and data on the spacecraft itself such as temperature, attitude, etc. was super-imposed on the transmission from the spacecraft and extracted at the station. Digital systems for transmission of data, which are common today, were relatively new in 1964, but digital systems were used by the first spacecraft supported by Tidbinbilla. A fine balance had to be preserved in the energy in the spacecraft signal devoted to information (the sidebands) as distinct from energy in the basic signal itself (the carrier) which was required for navigation, to ensure that both systems would continue to operate at the same distance from the earth.

Information collected by the station was transmitted to the network control centre in USA by means of teletype transmission followed by despatch of magnetic tape recordings by air freight. Voice circuits were provided for coordination and for some oral reports of spacecraft or station parameters. When Tidbinbilla started operations it was connected with network control by 5 teletype and 4 voice channels shared with other NASA stations in Australia, through a communications switching centre which was originally in Adelaide, but was progressively transferred to Deakin ACT from 1965 to 1968.

The original station was equipped with a digital computer. Although this was an efficient machine, which survived for more than a decade, its function could only be described as peripheral to the main activity in 1964. It provided means of converting brief messages about satellite or deep space probe positions into detailed tables of pointing angles and frequencies against time, for station operation, and it took angles and it took part in experiments in automatic reporting, automatic data reduction and automatic control that has led to much greater network efficiency today.

Tidbinbilla came on the air in December 1964 to support Mariner 4 which was launched on its way to Mars in November of that year. One week later, the Woomera Station was taken down to be converted for support of the Ranger lunar probe. The Tidbinbilla station had a staff of about sixty people at that time which struggled to provide about 11 hours a day tracking, 7 days a week, until Mariner 4 flew by Mars in July 1965. The pictures of Mars revealed the startling (but I think, disappointing) fact that the planet was covered with large craters and that it seemed at that time that Mars was more like the moon than the earth. To many, this served to emphasise the uniqueness of the earth within the solar system.

The signal strength at the encounter with Mars had little margin above station threshold so nothing could be lost. We even went to the extreme of asking the civil aviation authorities to exercise their powers to divert aircraft that could feasibly come between Mars and Tidbinbilla at the critical time of closest approach. Needless to say, there was joking about little green men from Mars popping up to ask what we thought we were doing, but it came as a shock when, right at the critical time, when Mariner 4 had gone behind Mars, the direct phone to Canberra Airport tower rang (for the first time ever) and we were asked if we were experiencing interference from a UFO. Later the object was identified as an errant weather balloon.

The first launch of a deep space probe supported by Tidbinbilla was Pioneer 6, which was put into an orbit around the Sun in January 1965, to report on particles and fields in space. This event put us in particularly close contact with scientists at NASA’s AMES Research Centre and in particular with the AMES Project Manager for Pioneer, Charlie Hall, who paid us a visit shortly after the launch. Pioneer 6 and several of its successors are still reporting on our space environment today. The spacecraft and the station were so well designed that the initial locking onto the spacecraft proved to be easy, but being beginners, we were nervous before the launch and asked many questions as to possibilities, that, although “old hat” to the experienced, helped in establishing standard contingency procedures for the network. The Pioneer project people were sympathetic to our concerns and cooperated in the dialogue.

Although Mariner 4 was the main reason for haste in establishing Tidbinbilla, the Surveyor project was a very close runner-up. Surveyor, a forerunner of manned space exploration of the Moon, was required to make preliminary surveys of several possible landing sites for men. In particular, it was to investigate the landing properties of the lunar surface before committing men to land on what otherwise may have been a sea of dust.

The goal of Surveyor was to make soft landings at various prospective sites for manned landings, to test the strength of the soil and to survey the surroundings by means of television cameras, and to make other observations. All this happened so quickly that we tried the patience of our colleagues in the Department of Works by asking for extensions to the Tidbinbilla buildings before they were half completed, while still pushing for the original completion dates.

The Surveyor project required specialists at the tracking stations to assist in controlling the spacecraft, based on the data received. At that time, in 1966, there was no way for instance, of transmitting live television from Australia to USA. Hal French was the leader of a team of nine engineers and technicians from the Hughes Aircraft Co. USA that joined us before the launch of Surveyor 1 in May 1966 and stayed until the final flight, Surveyor 7 in 1968.

Surveyor 1 was an outstanding success, achieving all of its objectives. Based on history, the project management, anticipating a few failures in the early stages of the new project, was not ready for the success achieved. Indeed we had been asked to put all our effort into preparing for the flight phase, and none at all into the lunar exploratory phase, as a soft landing was rated as unlikely to happen on the first attempt. Well it happened. There was Surveyor sitting happily on the Moon. It arrived during the mutual view period of the US station at Goldstone and the Australian station at Tidbinbilla. From the point of view of Earth, it was setting on USA and rising on Australia. What should be done? Operations from here on had not been rehearsed properly. In any case, the Surveyor ProjectControl was not manned for round the clock operations. Very much to the disappointment of the Tidbinbilla staff, particularly the specialists from Hughes (who had rehearsed anyway), the decision was made to await the dawn over the USA before starting to take pictures of the surface of the moon. In the event, the station staff had plenty of action to keep them on their toes in supporting seven Surveyor spacecraft over a period of 3 years.

One of the highlights of the Surveyor mission from the station’s viewpoint was the awakening of Surveyor I after the first lunar night. Today, similar spacecraft are kept warm at night by heaters driven by nuclear fuel but Surveyor had only solar cells supported by batteries that could not last the long and extremely cold lunar night of 14 earth nights duration. Paddy Johnston was in charge of the shift that finally awoke Surveyor 1, after the sun had warmed it up for a day or so and for that he received the “Prince Charming Award” from the network. Paddy later took up a position in the Deep Space Network at JPL and we still look forward to his brogue on the voice lines today.

The next major change at Tidbinbilla was associated with support for NASA’s Apollo project involving manned exploration of the Moon. The support was secondary to that provided by the new NASA station at Honeysuckle Creek and the history of our support for Apollo will be covered later under Honeysuckle. A new wing was added to the Tidbinbilla operations building (built by T.H. O’Connor in 1966) to house the Apollo equipment and a deputy station director, Don Gray, was appointed at that time to specialise in Apollo support. Regular deep space work continued in non-Apollo periods.

Missions supported by the station in this period included the Mariner 5 flyby of Venus in 1967, Mariner 6 and 7 flyby of Mars in 1969 and Mariner 9 which was placed in orbit around Mars in 1971. Much improved instrumentation carried in the later Mariners revealed extinct volcanoes and huge canyons which showed that the planet was, at one time, far less moonlike than previously thought.

The most significant development for Tidbinbilla since then was the completion of the 64 metre diameter antenna in 1973. The antenna was far enough advanced to lend its support to the last of the manned flights to the Moon in December 1972. The new antenna and its counter-parts in USA and Spain provided a major boost to the capabilities of the network to support deep space probes at greater range, or more complex missions involving the transmission of higher data rates at the same range.

JPL let the contract for the erection of the antenna to Collins Radio, Texas, in 1969 and the contract for the building extensions to cater for the new antenna was let by the Department of Works in 1971 to the Buckman Building Group. Information obtained from CSIRO’s 64 metre radio telescope at Parkes was used in the design of the NASA instrument and this is evident from the family resemblance between the two antennas. The 64 metre antenna was dedicated by Prime Minister Whitlam on 13 April 1973.

There were several changes in the management of the station at about that time. Tom Reid became the Station Director in 1970 and in 1971, AWA displaced Space Track as the maintenance and operations contractor. Frank Northey transferred from the Cooby Creek Station to become the Deputy Station Director responsible for the 64 metre antenna and its associated equipment.

The station went on to support a variety of deep space missions such as the Mariner 10 flyby of Mercury in 1974, the Viking orbiters and landers launched on their way to Mars in 1975, the Pioneers 10 and 11 flyby of Jupiter in 1973 and 1974 and the Pioneer 11flyby of Saturn in 1978 and NASA’s Voyager Ito Saturn in 1980.

The station has been updated continuously with new equipment to improve the data gathering capability and to automate many of the operations. Digital computers are now in wide use at the station.

The latest change to the station configuration involved the extension of the original antenna from 26 metre to 34 metre diameter and to add the capability of receiving at X-band (8,450 megahertz), which is now used for communicating with the most distant probes. The original station was fully stretched in receiving Mariner 4 data at 8 bits per second from Mars in 1964. The station received Voyager 1 data at a rate of 44 kilobits per second from Saturn at a range 8 times greater than before, which represents a tremendous increase in ability to communicate, achieved in less than two decades.

Orroral Valley

The Orroral Valley site for a tracking station to support earth orbiting satellites, as part of NASA’s Spacecraft Tracking and Data Acquisition Network (STADAN), was selected in late 1963. The land was acquired from Mr Greenfield in April 1964 as notified in the Commonwealth Gazette No. 9 of 30 April 1964. An area of about 40 acres was fenced for the use of the station and the remainder of the land was returned to Mr Greenfield for agistment.

The contract for the construction of the station buildings, power house, antenna foundations, etc., was let by the Department of Works to T.H. O’Connor in August 1964.

Tom Reid became the Station Director of Orroral Valley in August 1964 and EMI Australia, in association with Hunting Engineering, accepted a maintenance and operation contract to support the station in September 1964. Ron Reynolds managed the contract for the consortium and Bill Brear was the contractor senior representative responsible for the task under the contract.

The construction work was completed in May 1965 and installation of equipment began. The 26 m antenna was erected by Collins Radio under contract to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre (GSFC) and the electronic equipment was installed by the station staff and GSFC engineers. The station commenced operations in October 1965 on a basis of 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in support of a variety of satellites already in orbit.

The station was formally opened on 24 February 1966 by the Minister for Supply, Senator Henty.

The main requirement of this station, as distinct from the long-range communication task of Tidbinbilla, was to be able to switch quickly from supporting one satellite to another, often with quite different characteristics.

The signal received from satellites in earth orbit are relatively strong but view periods are short; a few minutes being typical. Many of the supported satellites used different systems for transmitting data, or for receiving commands so the station had to cope with a variety of equipment for support of the individual satellites. Data from the satellites were recorded on magnetic tape and air-freighted to USA for study. Limited data were also transmitted directly to the flight control centre at GSFC by voice or by teletype.









Fig. 12.4: Jupiter.







Fig. 12.5: Saturn.

The station operated at first in one of the relatively low frequency bands assigned to space research; 136—138 megahertz for tracking and receiving data and 149—150 megahertz for transmitting commands.

Shortly after the dedication of the station, additional equipment was installed to provide for the support of up to four satellites simultaneously. The later antennas were less sensitive than the original 26 m diameter receiving antenna, which was then used mainly for the reception of relatively weak signals from satellites in high-earth orbit.

The earth orbiting satellites were tracked to define the orbits mainly by the Minitrack Station which was installed at Woomera before the launch of the first US satellites in 1958. Minitrack employs a static antenna array which enables the time of meridian crossing to be detected precisely. Minitrack was shifted from Woomera to Orroral in 1967 and is still operating today. As with the main building, T.H. O’Connor was the building contractor. The pointing angles of the tracking antennas at Orroral were also sent to network control to assist in determining the position of satellites in space. In 1975 the Baker Nunn camera, which can photograph satellites in space (when illuminated by the sun against a black sky), for very precise position finding, was shifted from Woomera to Orroral, where it exists today. Its function has been taken over mainly by a laser ranging satellite tracker which was installed at Orroral in 1975. The laser tracker measures the transit time of a pulse of light from the station to the satellite and back. At the time of writing, range can be measured to the remarkable accuracy of about 100 mm.

In 1971, the maintenance and operations contract for the station was put out to tender and on that occasion, AWA displaced EMI. Ron Stewart managed the contract for AWA, assisted by Les Page. Cohn Smith who had experience at Cooby Creek and Carnarvon tracking stations, was the contractor senior representative for giving effect to the contract at the site. Most of EMI’s staff at the Station transferred to AWA and little disruption to the operations occurred.

In August 1967, Tom Reid left the station to take control of the new NASA tracking station at Honeysuckle Creek and Dennis Willshire transferred to Orroral from the Deep Space Station at Woomera.

In the 1970s, satellites started to use a higher frequency band for their transmissions, similar to that used for deep space probes (known as S-band) and the 26 m antenna at Orroral was consequently modified to accept that frequency band in addition to the frequencies used by the earlier satellites.

A major change to the role of Orroral resulted from the completion of the Apollo programme of manned exploration of the Moon and the following Skylab manned space station experiment. At that time, NASA decided to close down the dedicated manned space flight network, including the Australian stations at Carnarvon and Honeysuckle. Support for future manned space flight programmes would be provided by the STADAN network of which Orroral was a part. Actually Honeysuckle survived as a member of the Deep Space Network, at the expense of the Island Lagoon Station near Woomera which was closed down instead.

A 9 m diameter antenna, designed for transmitting and receiving at S-band, was installed by Collins Radio in 1974. Building modifications to house additional electronic equipment were made by T.H. O’Connor. At the same time, the station was supplied with equipment to measure the range and the radial velocity of satellites with respect to the station. Also at that time, the station received digital computers (from Honeysuckle) designed for automatic editing of data from manned space-craft for transmission to the control centre in USA, at lower rates that could be carried on commercial communication circuits. These computers were also used to improve the service for unmanned satellites and for taking over some of the previous manual tasks such as station reporting and network communications.

Columbia Space Shuttle on launching pad.










Fig. 12.6: Columbia Space Shuttle on launching pad.

The station supported the cooperative US/Soviet Apohlo-Soyuz project in 1974 when American and Russian astronauts linked up vehicles in earth orbit and carried out joint experiments in space.

The next manned space project supported by Orroral was the reusable Space Shuttle which undertook its first orbital flight early in 1981. This vehicle is designed for use over and over again, so reducing the cost of putting satellites into orbit and opening the way for much greater use of space.

Dennis Willshire left the station in 1980 and Lewis Wainwright took over the station director responsibility. Lewis was the station director at Muchea in 1969 and later at Carnarvon. He transferred to Canberra in 1969 as the deputy head of Space Projects Branch.







Fig. 12.7: Orroral.







Fig. 12.8: Honeysuckle.


The Honeysuckle Creek site for a tracking station, designed specially to support the lunar phase of NASA’s Apollo project for manned exploration of the Moon, was selected by a joint WRE/NASA team in 1965. The land was acquired from Mr Richards in September 1965 as notified in Gazette No. 80, 7 October 1965.

The contract for construction of the station buildings, antenna foundations, power house, etc., was let to T.H. O’Connor in 1965. The work was completed in December 1966.

As in the case of Orroral, a 26 metre antenna was erected by Collins Radio under contract to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre (GSFC) and the equipment was installed by the joint effort of station and GSFC staff.

The station was dedicated by Prime Minister Holt on 17 March 1967. The first Apollo mission supported was the unmanned test flight Apollo 4 in November 1967 and the first manned space flight mission supported was Apollo 7 in October 1968.

Changes in administration occurred in the early phase of the station. In August 1967, Tom Reid transferred from Orroral Valley as the Station Director and shortly afterwards Tony Cobden of STC was appointed as the company senior representative responsible for operations under the contract. Norman Stevens managed the contract on behalf of STC.

The main requirement of this station, as distinct from the sensitivity of Tidbinbilla and the flexibility of Orroral, was reliability coupled with sufficient sensitivity to handle communications with astronauts at the Moon and receive their television and other transmissions.

The station was equipped with electronic equipment similar to that at Tidbinbilla and operating in much the same frequency band. The radio frequency part of the station was known as the “Unified S-band System” or USB for short. This name came from the fact that, for Apollo, a single two-way radio link between the spacecraft and the Earth could be used for everything including voice communication, sending commands, receiving data and measuring the range and velocity of the spacecraft. This system worked magnificently and met all the requirements, however the station was equipped with a back-up system operating in the lower frequency band (known as UHF) used for earlier manned space flight missions.

The station had the capability to handle simultaneous communications with astronauts on the Moon and with an astronaut in orbit around the Moon, together with command, data reception and range and velocity measurement for two spacecraft. The moon diameter as seen from earth is about 0.3 degrees which was also the width of the Honeysuckle antenna beam, so that it could handle both the orbiter and the lander.

The original data handling equipment installed at the station, and throughout the manned space flight network, was very advanced by standards of that time. Data transfer between the spacecraft with the mission control centre, via the stations, used digital methods with general purpose digital computers at the station, linked by high-speed communication circuits, to higher-power computers at mission control. Control of the Apollo moon missions was affected by rows of controllers; the first row dealt with the performance of specific spacecraft items such as propulsion, guidance, power, navigation, observing instruments, etc. Higher rows dealt with coordination of systems and ultimately, at the highest level, overall mission control was handled. The flexible digital system enabled each controller to see the data he needed to accomplish his specific task.

The display showed the parameter of interest against the predicted, or expected, value as a function of time. There were many outstanding scientific and technical achievements involved in the Apollo project but the demonstration of the power of electronic digital systems must have a high place on the list.

There were two other stations in the manned space flight network, like Honeysuckle, equipped to support the lunar phase of the Apollo mission, at Goldstone, California and at Madrid, Spain. Although there were less sensitive stations with similar view periods of the Moon at Carnarvon, Guam and Hawaii, still further back-up was required to enable separate stations to concentrate on the orbiters and the lander and to substitute for each other in case of station failures. In our case, this back-up came from the sensitive deep-space station at Tidbinbilla. As previously mentioned, special equipment was installed at Tidbinbilla so that the antenna could be switched over at short notice, from its normal deep space role, to support Apollo. This was done just before each manned flight mission to the Moon. Honeysuckle and Tidbinbihla were linked by a microwave relay system so that Tidbinbihla became a second receiving and trasmitting system for Honeysuckle which processed data from the spacecraft and commands to the spacecraft.

Shortly before the first moon landing attempt, when it became apparent that that landing would take place towards the end of the view period from Goldstone USA, and that most of the first moon walk would be in our view, NASA asked for assistance from CSIRO’s 64 metre radio telescope at Parkes to further enhance the receiving capability here for the most critical period. CSIRO agreed on the basis that NASA would make improvements to its equipment which would give long-lasting benefits to compensate for the loss of observing time that was heavily in demand. Dr E.G. Bowen was the head of CSIRO’s Radio Physics Division and John Bolton was in charge of the radio telescope at Parkes.

Receiving equipment, similar to that at Honeysuckle, was provided by NASA to adapt Parkes for Apollo, and the PMG Department took on the challenge of establishing special communication circuits to carry signals from Parkes to Honeysuckle for processing and subsequent transmission to mission control in USA. Bob Taylor of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre cooperated with Parkes and Honeysuckle/Tidbinbilla in setting up the system. Bruce Window of Tidbinbihla was in charge of the Canberra tracking station team that went to Parkes to assist.

I think anyone reading this account will know that Apollo 11 achieved the first manned landing on the Moon at about 6.00 am. Australian EST on 21 July 1969 and that Astronaut Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the Moon, followed by Astronaut “Buzz” Aldrin, about midday. Their activities were viewed live around the world by the largest television audience in history via the Parkes/ Honeysuckle/NASA/INTELSAT system.

Honeysuckle, with the help of Tidbinbilla and Parkes, went on to give reliable support to the following six Apollo missions to the Moon. Parkes was called in at very short notice to help communicate with Apollo 13 after an explosion in the spacecraft caused the moon landing to be called off and put the safe return of the astronauts in jeopardy. Equipment was reactivated and the communication circuits were re-established with great speed, and in time to provide the assistance sought.

The last mission supported by Honeysuckle, as part of NASA’s manned space flight network, was Skylab, a huge space station designed to test man’s ability to work in space for protracted periods and to make scientific observations from space. The staff of Honeysuckle had to be increased to cater for the long mission periods involved in Skylab even though it was known that this would be the last manned space flight project supported by Honeysuckle.

The station completed its support of Skylab in February 1974 and then started the process of converting to become a part of NASA’s deep space network using equipment from the Woomera station which had already been closed. Special data handling equipment for manned space flight was shifted to Orroral which took over support for future manned space flight.

In early 1970, Tom Reid transferred to Tidbinbilla to take charge of that expanding station and Don Gray became the station director of Honeysuckle to see through support for the Apollo program, the following Skylab and the conversion to the Deep Space role.

Armstrong on moon.










Fig. 12.9: Armstrong on moon.

Station Support

With the transfer of responsibility for the stations from WRE to the Central Office of the Department of Supply in 1969, it was necessary to establish services in Canberra to carry on where WRE left off. This led to the creation of the Network Support Facility (Aust) at Fyshwick in the ACT to provide engineering services in support of buildings and plant etc. Basil Monckton was the first director of the facility and Fairey Australasia provided engineering and technical services by contract. Ron Green of Fairey managed the contract and Len Vincent was the company senior representative for carrying out the task under the contract.

In 1977, Charlie Quiggin took over from Basil Monckton as the director.

A communication switching centre established in Adelaide by the PMG Department to optimise the use of voice and teletype services linking the NASA stations with the several network control centres in the USA, was progressively shifted to Canberra from 1964 to 1968 because of the concentration of the tracking stations in the ACT. It was housed in the Deakin Telephone Exchange. The PMG Department did not wish to operate the facility in Canberra so the Department of Supply took over. Kevin Westbrook, in charge from the outset, was supported by technical and operational staff of the Department.

In the early 60s, the task of the switching centre was to monitor and share out station use of teletype and voice circuits to USA, carried on cables laid on the seabed. With the introduction of commercial satellite services in 1968, much more data could be accommodated including the relay of spacecraft television pictures to the USA. The 1980 capacity leased from Telecom and OTC was two wideband circuits capable of transmitting and receiving data at a rate of 56 kilobits per second, plus several voice and teletype circuits. For the support of the Space Shuttle, three additional wide-band circuits were introduced in 1981.

With the consolidation of the NASA tracking stations in the ACT in the early 1970s, it became apparent that greater efficiency could be achieved by seeking support from a single contractor for all three of the NASA tracking stations in the ACT, and for the Network Support Facility. Fairey Australasia was the successful tenderer and Pat Rothery took over as the local company senior representative for the contract. He was succeeded by Jim Thompson in 1980.

NASA is planning to introduce a synchronous satellite relay system in 1982 to take over support of satellites in low earth orbit from its existing ground station network. This will eventually reduce the workload at Orroral Valley which will then only support satellites in high earth orbit. The staffing of Tidbinbilla and Honeysuckle, in support of deep space probes, has already been consolidated into one team.

At the time of writing, it seems likely that Orroral will be absorbed into that team in about 1984, which will then support high earth orbiters as well as Deep Space probes. Use of all the antennas to receive signals from the most distant probes simultaneously, will increase the range of communication.


This account has so far dealt only with NASA space tracking stations in the ACT, however the headquarters of an Australian station has also been established here.

This station receives data, for use by Australia, from NASA’s Landsat series of satellites which cover the Earth every 18 days.

The Australian Landsat station has operated an antenna at Alice Springs to receive satellite images since October 1979 and a processing facility at Canberra since 1980.

Australia realised the potential value of Landsat images to the management of the continent’s vast resources soon after the first Landsat was launched in 1972, and became an accredited user of the data beamed to Earth from the satellites launched in 1972, 1975 and 1978.







Fig. 12.10: Landsat.

However, without a receiving station, Australian users had to rely on tape recordings made by the satellites when passing over the continent. These recordings were relayed to the United States where they were processed to give images which were then despatched to Australia.

One of the US Landsat satellites,








Fig. 12.11: One of the US Landsat satellites, from which the Australian Landsat Station obtains data for map-making.

Without its own receiving station, Australia was at a disadvantage because it was only one of a number of countries seeking to book recording time. Moreover, each recorder could only store data from two complete orbits, thus limiting the opportunity to look at the continent. The Australian Landsat Station at Alice Springs is centrally placed to give complete coverage of the continent.

Its installation in 1979 followed the recommendation of the Australian Science and Technology Council.

The data acquisition facility at Alice Springs is equipped with a 9.14 metre steerable parabolic dish antenna and electronic equipment, for the reception and recording of Landsat multispectral scanner data and satellite measurement data onto magnetic tape. The antenna design allows all known and foreseeable transmission frequencies of resources satellites to be accommodated without expensive mechanical modifications.

The digital-processing section in Canberra provides bulk processing and precision processing of Landsat image~. Together, the two systems give a considerable degree of image processing and enhancement capability.

The latest satellite, Landsat 4 was launched on 17 July 1982 and with a lower orbit has a 16-day coverage cycle.

The orbit is designed to be sun-synchronous; that is, the satellite passes over each point at the same solar time each day. Due to seasonal changes, the sun’s elevation changes from winter to summer, and therefore shadows vary in length. The orbit is controlled so that the ground track remains close to nominal values and the spacecraft is stabilised by gyroscopes.

Each full scene is about 185 km square. It is formed of picture elements, called pixels, 79 m on the ground. A scanning mirror in the spacecraft sweeps over an array of detectors, each of which is designed to measure reflectance in a single band.

The bulk processing system at Belconnen, a suburb of Canberra, is based on an Interdata 8/32 minicomputer with 256 kilobites of core memory as the prime control element, a unique 256 megabite memory, a 256 megabite disc (shared with the precision system), a line printer and interactive keyboard display unit, CCT handlers and three image writing devices (a precision cathode-ray tube and two Optronics drum recorders — one colour and one monochrome). Input to the system is via high-density tape recorders identical to those in use at Alice Springs, the CCTs or from disc for previously written data.

The high density tapes sent daily by air from Alice Springs are processed to produce ‘quick-look’ images of one spectral band at a scale of about 1:4,000,000, from which cloud cover and data quality assessments are made. This provides the information for the Australian Landsat Station catalogues.

The high-density tapes are also played back at one quarter real time rates to disc to allow for expanded processing, providing the standard range of bulk-processed products. Scene-dependent statistics are calculated and used to derive destriping corrections and contrast stretch coefficients.

The bulk processing system provides CCTs or film imagery. Original transparencies are produced by using either the precision cathode-ray tube system for images (at a scale of 1:3,369,000) on 70 mm film stock or an Optronics drum recorder for images (at a scale of 1:1,000,000) on 240 mm film stock. Partial scenes are available on request at a scale of 1:2,000,000 (x2) or 1:1,000,000 (x4) on 70mm film, and at 1:500,000 (X2) or 1:250,000 (x4) on 250 mm film.

The precision-processing system is also based on an Interdata 8/32 minicomputer, with a line printer and interactive keyboard display unit, CCT handlers and access to the Optronics drum recorders. It is interfaced with a digital image-processing system (COMTAL) which enables the operator to view, enhance and combine the remotely sensed data with graphical overlays. Imagery is generated for recording in either digital form on CCTs, or as black and white or colour imagery on the drum recorders. Input to the precision processing system is either from CCTs or from disc (usually shared with the bulk system) for previously written data.

The main function of the precision processing system is to provide rectification to ground surveys or registration of a Landsat image to a reference image. The system can also perform all the bulk processed corrections, as well as specialised radiometric enhancements and image annotation.

The station sells photographic or computer compatible tape products without restriction.

Computer tapes, containing all four bands, are used by researchers or scientists to analyse data based on the spectral signature (the combination of reflectance values) of ground features.

Optographic products may be black and white single bands or combinations of three bands, each of which is printed in one of the three colours — blue, green, red — on colour film.

Colour composite imagery is the most easily interpreted of these choices. It has become conventional to use false colour similar to that produced by infra-red colour films. Thus, Band 4 is visible green, printed blue; Band 5 is visible red, printed green and Band 7 non-visible infra-red, printed red.

Don Gray, is the station director at Belconnen and Bill Kempees of Fairey Australasia is the chief engineer.

For Australia, with its large land mass and sparse population, satellite remote sensing offers an effective tool whereby the nation’s managers can obtain the type of information necessary to develop and conserve the natural resources and environment. The Australian Landsat Station gives Australia direct access to the satellites and enables these information needs to be satisfied.

Looking back over these past twenty years, there is a sense of deep satisfaction in this work. Compared to the primary effort in the United States, Australia’s contribution was small in magnitude, yet a vital component of some of the most momentous steps forward made by man in scientific and engineering achievement.


  1. Treat-v Series 1960 No. 2. Exchange of Notes between Australia and USA (constituting an agreement relating to space vehicle tracking and communications), 26 February 1960. Australian Government
  2. Treat-v Series 1970 No. 4. Exchange of Notes between Australia and USA to extend the agreement (ref.1.) for 10 years. Australian Government Printer.
  3. ‘A History of the Deep Space Network.’ WILLIAM R. CORLISS NASA CR-151915 (1976).
  4. ‘History of the Manned Space Flight Network, Satellite Tracking and Data Acquisition Network and NASA Communications Network.’ WILLIAM R. CORLISS NASA CR-140390 (1974).
  5. Mariner Mission to Venus. Staff of JPL. McGraw Hill Book Co.
  6. ‘The Interplanetorv Pioneers.’ WILLIAM R. CORLISS NASA SP 278.
  7. Surveyor Programme Results — 1969.
  8. ‘The New Mars. The discoveries of Mariner 9.’ WILLIAM K. HARTMAN AND ODELL RAPER. NASA SP-337 (1974).
  9. ‘Pioneer Odyssey. Encounter with a giant.’ ZIMMEL SWINDELL and BURG~SS, NASA SP-349 (1974).
  10. ‘The Viking Mission to Mars.’ WILLIAM R. CORLISS, NASA SP-334.
  11. ‘Mission to Jupiter and its Satellites.’ Science (The American Association for Advancement of Science) Vol. 204, 1 June 1979, Vol. 206, 23 November 1979.
  12. ‘Mercury Project Summary, including results of the Fourth Manned Orbital Flight May 15—16, 1963’, NASA SP-45.
  13. ‘Scientific Findings of Explorer VI — 1965,’ NASA SP-54.
  14. ‘Orbiting Solar Observatory Satellite — 1965,’ NASA SP-57.
  15. ‘Observations from the Nimbus-I Meteorological Satellite— 1965,’ NASA SP-89.
  16. ‘Apollo II: Preliminary Science Report — 1969,’ NASA SP-2 14.
  17. Satellite Images of Australia, KG. McCRACKEN and CE. ASTLEY-BODEN (Ed.) Harcourt Brace Jovanivich Group (Australia) Pty Ltd. Sydney 1982.


R.P.S. Dalgleish, ASTC, MIE Aust
assisted by
A.E. Taylder, C Eng, MIMechE (UK),
FIE Aust.

The new Parliament House







Fig. 13.1: The new Parliament House, with the provisional Parliament House which served from 1927 to 1988 in the foreground.

Rod Dalgleish began his career at BHP in 1944, as a Mechanical Engineering Trainee. He then worked as a cadet with Newcastle City Council before working on the structural design of Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs Railway. After a period with the Snowy Mountains Authority and the Water Conservation and Irrigation Commission, he joined the National Capital Development Commission, being involved with the construction of Scrivener Dam, the bridges, Lake Burley Griffin and associated national works, the gravity main and Corin Dam. He then became Director of Engineering and Housing, Special National Projects and then Chief Construction Manager. In 1980 he transferred to the Parliament House Construction Authority where he was the Project Manager until retirement.

Tony Ewart Taylder commenced his career as an apprentice with Rolls Royce Ltd aero engine division in England, then trained as a pilot with the RAF. Following World War II he worked with the National Coal Board and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority. Arriving in Australia in 1966, Tony has worked with the NSW Public Works, GEC Projects Division and on such projects as Mt Isa mines, Westmead Hospital and Australia’s new Parliament House.

WITH Federal Parliament the reason for Canberra’s existence, the continued assertion was made that the Parliamentary building should be the city’s pre-eminent structure. This aim for pre-eminence, coupled with the extended vacillation on the selection of a site, had a major influence on the engineering considerations and the solutions incorporated in the development.

Walter Burley Griffin’s 1912 plan for Canberra located the Parliament House on Camp Hill, a substantial rise on the land axis of the Parliamentary Triangle, some 600 metres north of its apex.

The apex of the Triangle was referred to as Kurrajong Hill in earlier documents and more recently has been known as Capital Hill. Griffin’s intent for Capital Hill was for a people’s building in a garden setting. It was to be in an extensive hill park environment:

“for popular reception and ceremonial, or housing archives and commemorating Australia’s achievements rather than for deliberation or counsel”.


Once it had accepted the City Plan the Government was intent on establishing Parliament in Canberra as early as possible. In 1914, with a view to securing the services of an Architect, it invited submissions for the Parliament building design through an international competition.

Layout of the main elements











Fig. 13.2: Layout of the main elements of the new Parliament House.

The building was to be located on Camp Hill and the design was to provide for staging which would allow the immediate housing of the initial necessary functions, in a form which would later become an integral part of the final completed building.

The competition was withdrawn after the start of World War I and when it was reconsidered in 1916 it was postponed indefinitely.

The need to accommodate the Parliament in Canberra re-emerged after the war. By 1921 thoughts were turning towards a temporary arrangement with the permanent building being deferred for many years. The decisions of 1921 and 1922, to establish a provisional building, were to have profound effects on a wide range of uses effecting the subsequent planning and, hence, engineering in the Camp Hill/Capital Hill area.

The site finally selected for the Provisional House was to the north and immediately in front of the Camp Hill site identified by Griffin (and part of the approved City Plan) for the permanent Parliament building.

“The building on this site would enjoy similar central relationship to Canberra as would the permanent building have had” and that: “after use by Parliament the building might be conveniently used as departmental offices”. There was strong opposition to the proposal and vigorous debate. Burley Griffin himself claimed it: “would be like filling the front yard full of out houses”.

He rightly predicted that it would be a continued default on the approved Plan which would preclude the later construction of the permanent building on Camp Hill.

Other views were that the temporary building should be placed in a position from which it must, of necessity, be removed. While this approach may have given some comfort to much of the opposition to the provisional site, there was also a feeling that sentimental and historic interests would cause the temporary building to remain for all time.

As is history, the Provisional House was placed below Camp Hill, in the knowledge that this left both Camp and Kurrajong Hills free for later consideration for the permanent building. This temporary building, completed in 1927, progressively became a symbol to Australia, developing its own identity and character.

Selection of the Site

By the mid 1950s, the temporary building was under great stress to meet the present-day needs. Also emerging were pressures for a more co-ordinated and energetic development of Canberra as the National Capital. In view of the Government’s concerns and the September 1955 Report of the Senate Select Committee, Sir William Holford was engaged to provide ‘Observations of the Future Development of Canberra’.

From the Holford Reports (1957) came recommendations to:

  • construct Lake Burley Griffin in its present form
  • locate the permanent Parliament House on the lake shore, rather than Camp or Capital Hills, and
  • to improve the city traffic circulations, to meet modem traffic needs.

Following the Holford Reports and the establishment of the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) in 1958, planning and development of the Parliamentary Triangle for the next 10 years was on the basis of an approved lakeside Parliament Housesite.

The removal of the Knoll in preparation for the lakeside site (Figure 13.3), general upgrading of Parkes Place, construction of the National Library, development of the High Court and associated access proceeded to approved programmes on this basis. This, however, left the question of what to do with Capital and Camp Hills.

In 1963 the Government agreed in principle to establish a National Centre on Capital Hill, the first building to be the National Gallery. The concept at this stage was basically consistent with the Burley Griffin concept. In October 1967 Cabinet gave approval to proceed with the design and construction of the National Gallery and an architect was selected for the project through a competition.

Meanwhile traffic to the newly emerging Woden area required dramatic adaptation of the Griffin plan at the apex of the Parliamentary Triangle. This led to the construction of the Capital Hill ringroad. The Capital Hill site became an isolated small hill about 30 metres high inside a 640 metre diameter arterial ring road. While this proposal was consistent with a National Centre it was inhibiting for a building complex such as Parliament House.

Paradoxically, proposals were developed around this time for a full size replica of Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour to be placed on Capital Hill to commemorate the Cook bicentenary. Concurrently, planning continued for Parliament House to be sited on the lake edge in Parkes Place and for it to be partly surrounded by a moat. Incongruous as this may seem, the logic was that the Endeavour was to be part of the Maritime Wing of the Museum Section of the National Centre; Parliament House would incorporate a ceremonial access by barge along Lake Burley Griffin from Government House.

In August-October 1968 renewed debate in Parliament led to planning for the Parliamentary Triangle being thrown, once again, into confusion. The lakeside site was ultimately rejected and alternate sites were to be investigated by a Joint Standing Committee.

In May 1969, following these investigations, the Senate voted for Capital Hill and the House of Representatives favoured Camp Hill. The Government decided on Camp Hill. Once again planning in the Parliamentary Triangle was revised and further works committed on the basis of the revised plan.

This decision did not, however, resolve the question and after a further report, in August 1974, a Joint Sitting of both Houses of Parliament finally resolved the site. This time it was to be on Capital Hill.

This decision allowed the development of the Parliamentary Triangle, and particularly for the new Parliament House, to proceed more confidently. The site selection, however, raised a range of design problems for the engineering, as well as those foreshadowed in the reports to Parliament for the architectural and planning aspects.

Without detracting from the imaginative solution developed by Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp, the Architect for the new Parliament House, future generations may debate whether this decision may have downgraded the Griffin concept. It certainly led to the fragmentation of the National Centre, with components scattered throughout Canberra, and saw the total removal of Camp Hill.

Longitundinal section of Land Axis




Fig. 13.3: Longitundinal section of Land Axis, showing original landform and grading at 1988.


By the 1970s the Provisional House was completely inadequate for the needs of contemporary government, despite having been extended to more than twice its original size.

In August 1975 the 29th Parliament established a Joint Standing Committee (JSC) to act on its behalf on all matters concerned with the planning, design and construction of the new Parliament House. It provided NCDC with functional information for incorporation into user requirements which would be the basis for NCDC’s planning, design and construction of the project.

The first report of the JSC, dated 30 March 1977, favoured a two-stage development and concluded that it was both feasible and practical for the first stage to be completed by January 1988, in time for Australia’s bicentenary. After further work on requirements for the brief, the proposal was consolidated to a single-stage development, with provision for future extensions.

The JSC’s third report to Parliament, in May 1978, stressed that for the 1988 date to be achieved the Government had to be committed to proceeding with the project by November that year. This report also recommended on the method for selecting the Architect.

Debate on the merits of the new House vis-a-vis yet further extension to the Provisional House, continued throughout 1978. Finally a Cabinet Ad Hoc Committee was appointed to review the brief requirements and to consider whether a decision really needed to be made by November 1978.

Subsequent meetings of the Government and Opposition Executives supported, in principle, the construction of the new House and on 22 November 1978, Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser announced that the new House would proceed, at a cost of $151 million (May 1978 prices).

The Government:

“because of the tight time frame for the project and economic conditions at the time”

decided to establish the Parliament House Construction Authority (PHCA) under the chairmanship of Sir Bernard Callinan. PHCA, under the PHCA Act 1979, was to design and construct the new building. It was to work in close liaison with, and use the resources of, NCDC and the then Department of Housing and Construction (DH&C).

The NCDC compiled the comprehensive user requirements and developed documentation for the competition to select the Architect. This was followed by a number of studies including engineering and specialist services. These reports formed part of the ultimate briefing of the selected Architect.


The project Architect was to be selected through a two- stage competition, with PHCA member Sir John Overall (the former Commissioner of NCDC) Chairman of the Panel of Assessors.

On 5 April 1979 Parliament cleared the first-stage competition documents and Australian registered architects were invited to register for the competition. When registrations closed on 31 May 1979, 961 applications had been received.

Stage I documents, requiring an initial concept for the building, were issued and 329 entries were received by the 31 August 1979 closing date. From these entries the Assessors selected ten: five finalists to be engaged for the second stage and five prizewinners whose work was recognised but who would proceed no further in the competition.

The finalists were: Bickerdike Allen Partner (London), Denton Corker Marshall Pty Limited (Melbourne), Edwards Madigan Torzillo Briggs International (North Sydney), Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp (New York) and Christopher Waite (British Columbia).

They were brought to Canberra for two weeks in November 1979 and were briefed on the operations of Parliament, the planning of Canberra and the proposed management of the project.

They then had six months in which to develop a much more detailed submission, including models. These submissions were of necessity still only in the concept stage.

The Assessors reassembled on 9 June 1980 and after a week were firm in their views on the submissions. Over the next week they sought advice from many government specialists and consultants on the workability of the designs. On 26 June 1979 PHCA announced the competition winner was the firm of Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp (MGT), with Richard Thorp the nominated architect.


In parallel with the architectural competition, PHCA considered options for implementing the work. The NCDC, in submissions to the Authority, favoured a project management/construction management approach, rather than lump-sum contracting. PHCA decided to seek the views of industry and through nationwide advertising invited submissions which described procedures the respondent felt would best meet the time and cost targets and which also detailed the respondent’s experience, qualification, organisation and personnel able to be involved in the project.

Sixty-four replies were received. They were from a broad range of individuals, associations and groups in the design and construction industry. They represented an extensive range of backgrounds and experiences.

The submissions were reviewed and analysed by a panel comprising senior officers of NCDC and DH&C. There was almost total agreement in the submissions on the need for a project management type arrangement but there was considerable variation in the advice about the relationship and responsibilities between the Architect, Project Manager and Construction Manager.

The submission of the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia best summed up the theme common to most of the submissions and reflected the earlier advice from NCDC:

“The Association is of the opinion that the public interest will be best served in respect to cost, quality, time and opportunity for participation by the following means:
  1. Project management by either an ‘inhouse’ project management group of personnel employed by or seconded to the Authority or by commissioning an independent professional practice for the purpose.
  2. Design, documentation and technical construction phase services by the competition-winning architect and various specialist architects, engineers, designers and other experts. They would provide services in accordance with briefs by the Project Manager who would also monitor and co-ordinate them.
  3. Construction by various contracts as determined and programmed by the project manager and let by competitive public and selected tendering procedures. Supervision, contract administration, site co-ordination, industrial relations and construction site services by a Construction Management Division of the Project Manager or by a separate independent Construction Manager to be briefed and monitored by the Project Manager.
None of the parties described above, except the contractors, should have any commercial interests which may in any way affect their independence in serving the Authority.”
All respondents accepted that the conventional system of sequential design, documentation and construction through a lump sum tender was inappropriate and impractical for the extent of work to be carried out in the required time frame.


The review panel reported to PHCA in September 1979, opting for a project management system. It recommended that:

  1. PHCA, as a matter of urgency, appoint an Executive Officer and a Project Manager.
  2. Immediately after the appointment of these officers PHCA procure the services of a Construction Manager, Project Planner and Cost Planner.

The report detailed the responsibility of various positions and consultants, as well as suitable firms which could be interviewed for the consultancies. The DH&C and NCDC would provide resources, advice and service as required.

The Authority accepted the recommendations and quickly appointed its Chief Executive (Gordon Peatey) and Project Manager (Rod Dalgleish). Interim agreements were made with a Construction Manager, Project Planner and Cost Planner. This enabled advice to be given to the Assessors on constructability, materials, program and costing of the Stage II competition entries and to quickly establish a realistic budget following announcements of the competition winner. It also allowed preplanning of work to get underway.

Advice from this group was incorporated into the Authority’s July 1980 Report to Government, resulting in Parliament giving the project approval to proceed in August 1980, with a revised budget of $220 million (May 1978 prices). This budget was for building only and did not include fitout and furnishing which is normally undertaken by Government services departments.

Following Government approval, the Architect (and his nominated design consultants), the Construction Manager, Project Planner and Cost Planner, were briefed and engaged for work on the project. Engagement of other specialist consultants was made as required as the work proceeded. At the end of this Chapter there is a full list of these consultants.


PHCA, in undertaking the project management role in- house, was intent on keeping the Authority to a small, efficient, expert but flexible management organisation using agents or consultants for the professional services, with construction being undertaken through publicly tendered contracts.

The project consultants were developed into a closeknit multidisciplinary team. The Project Manager, while providing leadership and direction, worked within the project team at peer-level to maintain a high level of interaction, informal communication and co-operation. Active encouragement was given to the particular abilities and flair of the various parties, to cross-fertilisation of ideas and contribution to the team effort, while working within accepted parameters of performance, time and cost.

To ensure this profitable interaction, the briefs of the major consultants were circulated to the other main team members. This ensured there were no gaps or overlaps and that the various phases of the work were fully integrated. Any concerns raised by the various teams’ members were resolved at this stage so that there was full agreement and acceptance of the requirements by all team members before contractual agreements were formalised.

While above 75 per cent of the project contained a predominantly engineering discipline, the work was essentially of a multidisciplinary nature. It involved a broad range of consultants and required free interaction between all parties, including the user, to ensure a balanced, high quality functional product within the Architect’s design intent.

The Architect (MGT) fulfilled the normal design role through to the tender stage. The Architect engaged his own design consultants and co-ordinated their work within the overall framework of the approved design. Construction services were, however, adjusted to that of ensuring the integrity of the design and to provide professional advice and service to other team members.

The Construction Manager was a joint venture between two leading construction firms, Concrete Constructions and John Holland. Known as Concrete Holland Joint Venture (CHJV) they were engaged as a consultant rather than a builder or contractor. In this role they were better able to function as an equal within the project team, providing building advice and service to the design agents, with responsibility to PHCA. The Construction Manager assembled the tender documentation, assessed and recommended on the tenders and supervised construction as ‘Superintendent’ for the contracts awarded by PHCA. The Construction Manager also provided, on PHCA’s behalf, the necessary establishment and common facilities such as site security and cleaning, workmen’s mess and toilet facilities, hoisting, water supply, access and the like. The items of establishment were provided through tendered contracts but the Construction Manager, although a builder, was not permitted to tender for any of these works.

The Project Planner (McLachlan Group) provided advice and service to PHCA on the development review and reporting on project programs at various levels; to the Architect on design activities; and to the Construction Manager on the detailed construction and integration, with the information supply from the Architect and other agents. Advice was also given on establishing PHCA’s computer system and on cost control services in the latter stages of the project.

The Cost Planner (Rawlinson & Roberts) developed and controlled the cost plan for the project, providing advice and service to the PHCA, Architect, Construction Manager and Project Planner. This was a cost engineering-type role, rather than the separate quantity surveying service provided directly to the architect.

The PHCA required all major consultants to be located and work in Canberra. Endeavour House, in nearby Manuka, was taken over for the design groups while management, planning and construction were located on the site.

A broad range of consultants was used to provide advice and service, and sometimes physical work, on security, building, weather and waterproofing, fire services, wind, sound, vision, communication systems, graphics, furniture and the like. The list of consultants at the end of this chapter shows the range of disciplines used and places the engineering advice received into the context of the whole project.

The diagrams above












Fig. 13.4: The diagrams above, showing the relationship of the building concept to the Land Axis, are from Parliament House Competition Stage 2 entry No 177 by architects Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp. The Land Axis is shown in the picture below, looking across the new Parliament House to Lake Burley Griffin, Anzac Parade and Mount Ainslie.

Artwork and furniture were provided through a similar arrangement by PHCA’s External Relations/Co-ordination Group, using extensions to existing consultancies or under new agreements where that was more appropriate.

DESIGN The Concept

MGT’s design concept incorporated many of the visual objectives of the Griffin Plan for Capital Hill. It was an ingenious solution successfully arranging the planning, architectural and function requirements of a very large building on an extremely difficult site, while in appearance remaining consistent with Griffin’s intent.

The concept was simple in that:

  • the land axis was the key element in the composition
  • the two chambers were located symmetrically on either side of the land axis on a cross axis through the central hall
  • support areas and offices were positioned around each of the chambers
  • ceremonial, public, common areas, committee rooms were located along the land axis.

The plan effectively devolved into three, perhaps four, logical zones:

  1. the Central Zone along the land axis, which
    1. incorporated public areas, restaurants and common facilities to the north of the central hall; and
    2. incorporated Cabinet and Committee rooms, Executive area and Library to the south.
  2. House of Representatives Zone to the east.
  3. Senate Zone to the west.

The planned layout maintained clarity of function and grouping for easy comprehension of the concept’s essential simplicity.

The Central Zone is contained within two large curved walls. It is grass-covered, which gives the effect of retaining the hill and providing an approximation to a people’s building in a garden setting, as envisaged by Griffin.

The office wings are kept to two and three-storey height so that the building is sensitively adjusted to the terrain, rather than imposing upon it.

The two Chambers and associated offices are located on the transverse axis, forming a logical progression from the Representatives and Senate entrances through the Presiding Officer’s suites, vestibules, lobby areas and Chambers to the Members’ Hall of the central zone.

Identification and reinforcement of the apex of the Parliamentary Triangle was essential for the concept to succeed within the city plan. This was achieved with the Flagmast, ethereal in appearance, through fine design and choice of material, surmounted by a continuously flown national flag.

Provision for future growth was identified in the arrangement of the office layouts, while additional space was incorporated in the more rigid central spine, which could not be readily enlarged later.

The building has four front entrances: the main entrance to the north, Executive to the south, House of Representatives to the east and Senate to the west. Without a ‘back door’ the receipt of goods and despatch of waste occurs at basement level through a series of service tunnels to an external loading dock remote from the building complex. Access to the loading dock is independent of the main building.

The winning design, although conventional in technology and materials was different in that it required such a high quality finish to be achieved across a broad range of activities. Particular attention was necessary to raise the normally accepted standards of the building industry to those demanded by the design concept. The achievement of this through the materials used, trades, workmanship and construction techniques was a continuing theme throughout the project.

The PHCA Act required the design to be cleared through Parliament at nominated stages. Aspects of particular interest to Parliamentarians and those with visual impact or affecting the Chambers, were cleared through the JSC.

Detailed design was reviewed at working level by the user departments (and within the project team) and was approved within PHCA before being documented for tender . These reviews were undertaken at concept, pencil and final stage.

Approval within PHCA was by the Project Manager where consistent with earlier approvals or through the Design Subcommittee to the Authority for items of significance, those nominated by the Authority or requiring further submission to the JSC. Professor Len Stevens (Dean of the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Melbourne), although not a PHCA member, was co-opted to this subcommittee to provide independent high level engineering advice.

It is pertinent to note that throughout the extensive review process during the competition assessments, schematic and developed design phases and tender documentation, the concept stood up extremely well. It required minimal, insignificant adaptation.

As an indication of size, scale and diversity, the building provides a working environment for 224 politicians and some 3,000 staff, facilities for visiting Heads of State and VIPs as well as annual access to more than one million members of the public.

There are 19 Committee rooms and a large suite of Cabinet rooms as well as the two Parliamentary Chambers, a major Library complex, Theatre, Post Office and shops. Dining facilities range from silver service to cafeteria, catering for about 8,000 meals per day.

For control of the design process, the building complex was subdivided into 25 zones allowing convenient identification of the various parts. Separate design teams developed documentation for logical grouping of zones, allowing a number of areas to advance concurrently. For consistency in design approach across the project, separate co-ordination groups established design continuity and ensured that this was applied logically by each design team. The zoning was also used in the cost planning, programming, commitment, construction and commissioning of the work.

The Structure

The design brief required the use of conventional tried technology and materials consistent with the capabilities of the local industry.

Reinforced concrete was selected as the main structural material because:

  • Concrete is well suited to architectural solutions, being flexible and adaptable.
  • Attachment of non-structural components, particularly external wall panels, is greatly simplified.
  • here was greater potential for economy and rapid construction with a technology common to the ACT industry and capable of pump placement which would relieve pressures on crane hoisting.
  • It was more adaptable to ‘fast track’ documentation through minimising the need for shop drawings in the fabrication phase which are normally required in large numbers with other methods.
  • It is inherently fire resistant.

Foundations for the building are on sound rock, mainly Black Mountain sandstone. Some bored piling to rock was used on the western side where the building bench was infill.

The majority of the structure is of traditional reinforced concrete footing, column and floor construction. Post tensioning was used to provide additional stiffness in long-span situations and in localised areas to ensure waterproofing in the water retaining elements. Plate web steel girders were used at roof level to provide long clear spans for the Great Hall, the upper floor in this area is suspended from these girders by a series of concrete-encased hangers. Structural steel is also used in the roofing of the Senate and House of Representatives Chambers.

Design was in accordance with the Australian Standard (Loading) Codes with earthquake allowance at Category 1, due to the long life expectancy of the building. The structural design was undertaken by Irwin, Johnston & Partners, which was led and managed at partner level by John Fowler.

A waffle pan system was adopted for the floor construction to provide appropriate effective depth for structural rigidity and to allow greater clear spans between columns. This system minimised slab weight with the effect of a two-way beam system, yet allowed the use of a simple, quickly erected flat slab formwork technique. It also resulted in a more uniform soffit for underfloor servicing runs for the complex mechanical and electrical service system.

Stiffening near the columns to allow for greater shear was achieved by infilling selected waffle pans. Variability in span was achieved by increasing rib widths between the waffle pans, thickening top slabs and local prestressing where spans greatly exceeded the basic grid dimension.

Waffle slab soffit







Fig. 13.5: Waffle slab soffit showing infill at columns. The curved beam is the support for the forecourt pool and fountain.

Waffle pan formwork and steel reinforcement






Fig. 13.6: Waffle pan formwork and steel reinforcement.

Granite-faced curved wall






Fig. 13.7: Granite-faced curved wall with the Members’ office wing to the left and flagmast erection scaffolding in the background.

The waffle system was chosen after detailed evaluation of the structural, building and economic characteristics of a range of fully detailed floor systems. Re-evaluation early in the project development, after feedback from the tendering and construction work on site verified this choice.

The curved walls are constructed with a hollow webbed core containing services, lifts and stairwells. These walls together with the sloping ramps from each corner of the central spine, contained lateral movement and provided long-term stability for the facade and stone cladding.

The unusual horizontal extent of the individual buildings required effective permanent jointing. This jointing on sliding bearings or split column details was provided at 50 to 75 metre centres.

Insitu band beam arrangements, using techniques and layouts common for economic carparking construction, were adopted for the underground carparking structures to the east, south and west of the building. The western carpark, built in a former gully, is subject to substantial unbalanced ground pressures. These are resisted by large prestressed buttresses at close centres, forming a buttress retaining wall on the eastern face.

Cracking of concrete structures had been the bane of building construction in the ACT. This was due to a number of factors previously recognised and to a large extent corrected on buildings such as the High Court of Australia and the Australian National Gallery. With these buildings batching was carried out on site with the full process, including materials, under the supervision of the Design Agent/Superintendent.

Because of the proposed offsite concrete production for the new Parliament House, extensive work was undertaken on concrete technology. Specialist consultants were engaged by the Structural Engineer to report on the status of the materials, concrete batching facilities and practices in the region and to advise on procedures to remedy deficiencies. The design and specifications gave particular attention to:

  1. Infill joints throughout the floor and wall systems at about 25 metre centres, to allow shrinkage movements to be stabilised before they were infilled 90 days later.
  2. Upgrading the performance of the readimixed concrete industry to Standards Association of Australia codes and guidelines.
  3. Careful selection and close monitoring of the aggregate source and handling methods. The majority of aggregate sources within the ACT have, to some extent, minor fracturing and sulphate problems. Performance of aggregates even from the same quarry varied extensively and continual review was essential to ensure materials of quality suitable for a building with a 200-year life.
  4. The formwork preparation, reinforcement location and concrete placement. Here the Structural Engineer’s role included full quality assurance arrangements and advice to the Construction Manager, to ensure standards were met.

The external wall cladding is granite on the curved central spine. Grit blasted, sandblasted or phosphoric acid etched precast concrete is applied on the office wings, Chambers and Executive areas. Stainless steel was used for attachment angles and bolts, to guarantee long life.

The proposed external cladding and window arrangements for all areas were developed and tested under extreme weather and pressure conditions on a specially constructed prototype with the assistance of CSIRO’s technical building service and its specialised equipment.

Stainless steel flagmast and supporting leg






Fig. 13.8: Stainless steel flagmast and supporting legs.

The flagmast structure was intended as a sculpture of symbolic significance, in identifying the cardinal point of Griffin’s Parliamentary Triangle, as well as within the totality of the ingenious building concept of Romaldo Giurgola. It towers 75 metres above Parliament and is constructed entirely of stainless steel plate, with a linished finish, providing a changing appearance in the varying patterns of light and weather. The flagmast structure won the Construction Category Award at the 1989 BHP Steel Awards.

The flagmast is supported by a structural tower joining the four slender triangular shaped legs sloping from the top of the curved walls. The flag is flown permanently with the night-time lighting source located in the top of the four tower legs. Maintenance access is via a hoist running on the south-east supporting leg. The flag was originally flown using a series of lines from winches recessed in the top of the eastern curved wall but it was revised in early operation. Control is now from the lower webb cluster of the supporting structural tower, with access via the maintenance hoist.

Waterproofing, particularly of the roofs, has presented serious problems for some major buildings in the harsh, variable Canberra climate. Normal considerations were compounded on Parliament House where the central spine was to be covered by lawn-watered grass and the building has extensive basement and carpark areas below a wellwatered, landscaped garden setting.

While the central roof of necessity had to be concrete to support the earth covering, PHCA asked the Architect to give consideration to metal roofing as an option for the offices and Chambers. After considerable investigation concrete was chosen and detailed work then concentrated on achieving effective waterproofing, appropriate roof slopes and effective drainage.

Industry responses to the required membrane system varied and, in spite of in-depth work earlier by CSIRO, reflected the uncertain state of this art in Australia. A major concern was the industry’s separation of the supplier from the installer, which compromised guarantees and responsibilities coupled with a low level of expertise and care in installation.

A number of effective modern systems were available; however, most offered an unprotected single membrane type with little history of performance and with long-term durability unproven.

Following protracted investigations and debate, a system using well tried conventional materials with a long proven track record, carefully laid and well protected was proposed. The Authority asked the designers to obtain a second opinion and Mr Robert Moore of ARMM Consultants, New Jersey, provided this service. The CSIRO was also invaluable in its high-level advice and assistance.

An IRMA, or Inverted Roof Membrane Assembly system, was adopted for the project. This consists of a fourlayered (ply) high-shear bituminous felt membrane system, progressively built-up on the roofing slab. The membrane is covered for protection with a durable sheeting (Barrister board) followed by rigid waterproof polystyrene insulation topped with a filter fabric. Washed river gravel was placed as surface cover to hold and protect the system over the office areas whilst 0.7 metres of filter and top soil or paving was placed over the membrance on the central spine.

An advantage of this type of roofing is that it keeps the membrane and structure at about the same relatively constant temperature, minimising differential movement — something not achieved with the more frequently used internal insulation. The four-ply high shear system is much stronger and more reliable than the normally used singleply membrane.

Below ground waterproofing required a continuous welded bituminous membrane beneath the onground slabs to replace the normal vapour barrier, and Barrister-board protected bituminous membrane on the backfilled walls. The membrane is of high penetration bitumen reinforced with a spun-bonded polyester mat providing high tensile strength and puncture resistance.


The provision of engineering services was greatly influenced by the unique configuration of the buildings, necessary to fit the landform yet not impinge upon it and to suit the multifunctional, intermittent peak use of the buildings.

By its very nature, the grouping of two and three-storey buildings, spread over a large area in a landscape garden setting required a vastly different approach to the servicing than is common for normal large office developments of a medium to high-rise type.

  • need for a large number of satellite service facilities with ring interconnections and trunk service runs over vast distances, rather than functionally placed zone service floors
  • long horizontal service runs at basement level on trays in service tunnels, access corridors and below-ground crawl spaces, rather than through a neat dedicated service core with easy vertical installation and access
  • circulation and transportation requiring a large spread of individual isolated lifts and hoists rather than centralised dedicated lift cores
  • hydraulic pressure zoning of individual buildings on a hill site requiring different considerations from the conventional high-rise zoning arrangements
  • broad landscape setting with individual self-contained courtyards which introduced urban development type surface runoff and floodway considerations into the conventional building roof and basement stormwater disposing arrangements
  • fire evacuation requiring a zoning approach not common to Australian practice. International standards were adapted
  • security requirements which were unique and varied considerably over a number of areas, both within and outside the building
  • “no backdoor” approach to the design which required an elaborate loading dock access tunnel and basement circulation facilities to cater for the day-to-day servicing of the building.

The services were supplied and installed to “Good commercial quality”. Technology was the most up-to-date available at the time of design. With technology advancing so quickly, enforcement of cutoff dates for decisions, to ensure commitment and installation to programme, required a tight discipline.

While further advances may have occurred by the time of commissioning, the project is indicative of state-of-the-art at the time of design. Electronic services were the most affected by technology change.

Services/Energy Management

The services system evolved in light of the latest energy conservation techniques and was applied for operations to be within tight energy budget limitations for most areas of the building.

The main component of the Building Energy Management System is the computer-based Building Monitoring System (BMS). This BMS interfaces with the air, refrigeration, heating, lighting and fire safety systems with a multiplicity of operational modes, optimising the energy use related to the internal and external conditions.

Applications available from the system include:

  • lighting remotely controlled to reduce the intensity during unoccupied periods or programmed maintenance and cleaning schedules
  • air-handling equipment programmed for the latest possible start-up time compatible with comfort in the various spaces at nominated occupancy periods. Variations in occupancy times for the Sitting and Non-sitting periods, recess periods, public holidays and the like are also programmed
  • building cooling cycle programmed to select the mix of outdoor and return air to meet the required cooling load, thus minimising refrigeration requirements from the central plant
  • night purging under suitable external conditions to precool the building overnight using cooler outside air. Under ideal conditions the fans may be used on full outside air
  • optimising energy use in production and distribution of chilled water which ensures that condenser and chilled water temperatures and flows are best suited to the load requirements and external ambient conditions
  • electrical demand and load shedding programmed to minimise peak demand tariff charges
  • duty cycling to non-critical equipment items to spread usage on a rotational basis.

Other energy saving modes were considered but could not be justified because of the high capital costs and present or foreseen fuel pricing. They may be reassessed against changing energy conservation and cost considerations. They included:

  • thermal storage tanks of about 8 million litres capacity for hot or cold water. These tanks were to store offpeak production of chilled or hot water and recovered heat from the condensing system for use during peak demand periods. (Space has been allowed in the south-eastern ramp basement for installation at a later date should this become justifiable.)
  • solar collectors which would be capable of contributing low-grade heat to the presently installed system.

Preventive maintenance was deleted from the Building Monitoring System and is carried out using a Building Operation and Maintenance System installed by the user.

Heating/Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

The air conditioning system is low pressure, variable volume with hot water reheating coils on each variable air volume box. Constant volume systems are provided to certain specialised areas (eg computer rooms). High level humidity control is provided to both Chambers, the Great Hall and Members’ Hall but not for individual rooms or offices.

Ventilation only is provided to carparking, loading dock, substations, plantrooms and the like. These areas use either mechanical and/or exhaust supply.

The system provides filtered air supply, heated or cooled to nominated temperature. There are twenty-seven variable air volume systems and eighteen constant volume systems plus more than two hundred ventilation/exhaust systems within the building complex.

Required temperatures are maintained through a pneumatic control system directly from space thermostats. The BMS output is integrated with this pneumatic control system so that it does not obstruct the control system’s ability to stand alone. Manual temperature adjustment is also provided in areas such as the Chambers, Great and Members’ Halls, entry foyer, Prime Minister’s suite and Cabinet/Committee room areas.

Major air handling units are located in nine basement plant rooms. Air distribution from these units is through medium velocity rectangular ducting. Branch ducts are of low velocity to VAV boxes of low pressure (less than 125Pa).

In the event of fire, the system provides smoke control. With a fire alarm, all air conditioning and ventilation equipment servicing the affected area is switched to the appropriate mode for smoke clearance.

The system is heated and cooled from equipment in the central plant room, towards the southern end of the building spine at basement level.

Hot water (at 82°C) is provided by six low temperature boilers with a total capacity of 12,940 kW. These boilers are gas fired and provide domestic hot water as well as that for the building’s heating. Supply and return headers are sized to allow all boilers to operate simultaneously.

Chilled water (at 6.5°C) is supplied by five chiller units with a total capacity of 15,000 kW. Provision has been made for later installation of a further unit of 700 kW. The chiller cooling towers are located in the landscaped bosque outside Parliament Drive and well clear of the building, in order to avoid the winter condensation plume problems of Canberra.

Electrical Services

The power supply system was developed on the basis of four separate 11 kV routes required by the then ACT Electricity Authority. These were located near each corner of the site with the supply to be sourced from Kingston, Lyons and the city. These separated supplies would ensure integrity, flexibility and continuity of supply.

At the time of commissioning and occupation, the permanent supply was from the Kingston substation only, via two of the four nominated routes. Underground conduits have been laid for all four routes, each ultimately with 5/7.5 MVA capacity.

Bulk supply by the ACT Electricity and Water Authority (ACTEW) is via two main high voltage switchboards located in separately fire rated spaces adjacent to the central plant room. Each has the latest type circuit breaking equipment, bus-section isolators and metering.

Internal distribution is initially via three 11 kV ring mains connecting eleven satellite substations and sub-distribution switchboards located near the basement fan and plantrooms. One of these ring mains is for emergency use to provide for essential loads in case of breakdowns and is connected to the emergency generators.

All high voltage equipment in the switchboards, transformers and cabling conforms with that used by ACTEW for interchangeability and ease of maintenance.

Internal low voltage reticulation is at 415 and 240 volts. Reticulation is mainly at basement level in wall and ceiling mounted cable trays with detailed distribution in the ceiling spaces of the building.

Lighting has been provided generally in accordance with AS 1680 “Interior Lighting Code”. Lighting loads are generally 25 watts per square metre, although this was exceeded in areas of high ceilings, prestige areas and those with specific television requirements. Lamp and source types vary over a range of metal halide, tungsten halogen, and incandescent to meet the architectural requirements in the major areas. Office lighting is generally single or double 40 watt fluorescent in light/air fittings for suites and smaller offices or combined with a grid of air-handling linear slot diffusers in larger areas. Mercury vapour lamps are provided in the corridors.

To minimise unnecessary energy use, major lighting subcircuits have controlled switching from the BMS with emergency over-ride in case of failure. Offices, Members’ suites and detailed areas are further controlled by individual wall switches, to meet independent needs.

Emergency power supply for essential services is provided by two 1,000 kVA diesel generators connected to the bulk supply switchboards. Space has been allocated for a further two diesel generators should they be required at a later date.

Ten battery inverter systems are provided for the emergency lighting and the emergency warning and intercom systems, to cover the assessed mains failure period.

Hydraulics and Fire Services


Water is supplied from connections to two independent city mains in State Circle. Supply to the building is via a 250 mm diameter ring main at Parliament Drive.

The ring main feeds into three radial mains servicing potable water, fire hydrant and fire sprinklers. High capacity fire hydrants are located at strategic intervals around the ring main. Potable and irrigation water are metered at the two diagonally opposite points of connection to the ring mains.

Domestic hot and cold water is connected to some 1,600 faucets throughout the complex. Internal loops are supplied from the radial mains with pressure boosting if required. The one hour recovery hot water calorifler system, with separate pumps circulating closed circuit loops, delivers water at 50°C. Main kitchen supply is boosted to 82°C.

The flushometer system with break-tanks and separate pressure pumps services some 1,000 toilet and urinal installations. This system also charges floor wastes automatically to eliminate permeating odours.

Independent treated water reticulation systems servicing a heated swimming pool, spa bath and 18 water features are also supplied from this system.

Garden and lawn irrigation systems are supplied from the ring main through backflow preventer valves with automatic pumping where necessary for rooftop sprinklers. This automatic irrigation system, using soil moisture sensors, is operated from 18 computensed control centres monitored from a central control room.

Fire Service

An integrated fire protection and life safety plan was developed especially for the building configuration, based on ACT, Australian and International Standards and the requirements of the Commonwealth Fire Board. The building construction achieves at least Type 2 as defined by the ACT Building Manual.

Emergency egress uses both fire stair exits to grade and horizontal exits to refuge areas. The horizontal exit areas (adjacent sections of the building complex) have two-hour fire separation and are smoke protected areas with separate access to grade.

Control of the fire protection system effectively divides the building into four separate regions, each with its own valve station and separate sprinkler water supply coming directly from the external hydraulic service ring main. The building is fully sprinklered except for telephone and electrical equipment rooms.

Each control room contains that region’s main fire indicator board, fire fan control panel, control valves and main and standby booster pumps for the various sprinkler systems. Each fire indicator board automatically identifies the source and transmits alarms to the Fire Brigade.

Smoke detection systems of various types are provided in electronic rooms, Members’ Halls, Chambers and Library areas and are wired directly to the indicator boards for the region.

Photo-optical-type smoke detectors are provided within the Air Handling System and these are wired to separate sub-fire indicator boards located adjacent to the main mechanical switchboard in each plant room. The sub-boards are wired back to their respective main fire indicator boards.

Superimposed on the fire considerations are the conflicting requirements for security. The building’s security system monitors all fire alarms which are displayed on its screen. Egress doors for fire affected zones with electromechanical locks are security released and affected zones are alerted for maintenance of security functions. The system has inbuilt fail-safe provisions to ensure life safety.


Lifts and Hoists

While the two/three-storey nature of the project, with generously sized stairways, would normally minimise the need for vertical transportation, extensive use of lifts was necessary. Reasons included:

  • basement delivery and distribution of inwards goods requiring hoisting to individual areas, including library, post office and printing offices
  • centralised basement kitchens with need for accompanied distribution to satellite kitchens and serving areas
  • providing access for disabled and elderly people
  • accessing the basement, parking areas and roof increased travel above the three-storey walk-up situation
  • controlling access to restricted areas.

Document movement system car







Fig. 13.9: Document movement system car.

Though their main use is for goods transportation, all but one of the 42 lifts are classified passenger lifts under the Australian Lift Code. A few lifts are conveniently grouped in pairs for kitchen service to the Great Hall, dining rooms, cafeterias and refreshment rooms. One dedicated goods lift is provided towards the southern end of the central spine where it can service the furniture store, committee rooms, libraries etc.

Lift motor rooms are located in the basement adjacent to the lift shaft to avoid the normal above roof protrusions. The lifts have variable voltage AC drive. Passenger lifts travel at about one metre per second while the goods lift speed is 0.75 metres per second.

Document Movement

Movement of documents around such a dispersed building requires special arrangements. Two types of Document Movement Systems were installed.

  1. The Tracked Container Sysem (TCS) moves documents, mail, books, reports, etc between 32 stations throughout the building. The document containers of 525 mm x 400 mm x 130 mm are mounted on selfpropelled trolleys which run on tracks with automatic switching to required destinations.
    Travel speed varies with track configuration but gives an average transit time of five minutes and maximum of twelve minutes between any two stations. Container loads are up to 10 kg. The system capacity can be increased when necessary by adding passing loops, track duplication and additional container units.
    As well, dedicated systems are provided to move documents to both Chambers and for Library use. To minimise movement of attendants in the Chambers a dedicated document transfer system is provided between the sub-table office station behind the Presiding Officer’s chair and the Attendant’s table at the other end of the Chamber. Quick connection from the second-floor library to the Information and Newspaper Reading Room on the ground floor is essential and this connection, with a travel time of about one minute, is separately tracked in the same shaft and ceiling space as the overall building system.
  2. The Pneumatic Tube System gives high frequency and rapid transfer of small documents for Hansard-type purposes. This system links Hansard, both Chambers, Record and Research and the Executive area. The system, serving eight stations in all, is via an 85 mm diameter PVC tube conduit.
    The original pneumatic tube link between the Old Parliament House and the Government Printing Office in Kingston has been extended to an interchange point with the internal system at Hansard in the new building.

Goods Conveyor

A conveyor belt link is provided for inwards goods from the scanning/despatch point in the Loading Dock to the goods receiving area in the basement below the east wing. This 800 mm wide conveyor carries items up to 25 kg each, moving about 2 metres per second. The belt runs in a tunnel beside a narrow carriageway capable of carrying small vehicles and forklift units.

Waste Disposal

Every week an estimated 25 tonnes of waste leaves the building, with about 16 tonnes of it being paper suitable for recycling.

General office waste is disposed of down five vertical gravity chute units with access from each floor. The chutes terminate in basement waste collection rooms where the material is shredded to uniform size then transported to the loading dock by an automatically operated vacuum tube system. The waste is cyclone separated, compacted and baled at the Loading Dock for despatch.

Classified waste is shredded at source and transferred under security to the Department of Defence’s Russell incinerator.

Kitchen waste from an average 8,000 meals prepared each day comprises:

  • soft food waste (up to 500 kg daily) which is mulched in 37 garbage grinders and disposed of through the sewerage system
  • hard materials (such as bones) which are broken down by compactors and held in refrigerated storage until they are despatched via the Loading Dock.


The user requirements were developed in an environment of escalating international terrorism and followed Australia’s first real experience with terrorism, the Sydney Hilton bombing. Whereas in the early 1950s one could enter any section of the Parliament House uninhibited or checked, by the late 1970s many restrictions were in place.

In this changing environment, the new building had to satisfy the conflicting philosophies of open access and satisfactory levels of physical protection. The fundamental principles taken into account were:

  • There is an undeniable right for people in a democratic society to observe their Parliament at work.
  • It is in the essential interests of all Australians that the democratically elected Members of Parliament are able to meet freely and without fear for their personal safety.
  • The operations of the Parliament and Executive Government are not hindered or jeopardised by the actions of unauthorised people.
  • The safety of local and overseas dignitaries and internationally protected people visiting the Parliament House is maintained.
  • The fabric of the building, classified material, and items of national, historic and Parliamentary significance are protected against theft, vandalism and acts of espionage.

The design of the new Parliament House endeavours to satisfy those principles by differentiating between the levels of security required in various parts of the building and by providing separate circulation patterns within and to these areas.

A prime objective was to achieve the appropriate level of security commensurate with the perceived level of threat, in a cost-effective manner. It was necessary to combine building design with technology in order to contain the high annual operating costs associated with a large manpower component.

The consistent aim was to achieve a range of options based on a low-key, unobtrusive approach with provision for adequate and proper control in areas of special need and provision for a higher level of control at times of increased threat. Security, while being effective, had to give an impression of freedom of movement within the various precincts, particularly in the public areas of the building.

Security Authorities

Responsibility for security in the Parliamentary precincts rests with the Presiding Officers, under the authority delegated by their respective Houses.

In turn the Security Controller is responsible to the Presiding Officers for maintaining security policy, administering security arrangements and co-ordinating protective services. The latter services are provided by the Parliamentary Security Force (PSF) and the Australian Protective Service (APS).

The PSF is responsible for the interior public areas of the Parliament House and for entry to non-public areas of the building. APS is responsible for external security, security of the Executive Government (Ministerial Wing) area and assists, when requested, the PSF with law enforcement within the Parliamentary area.

Security Systems

There are two separate levels of security:

The Public Circulation System covers the Foyer, Great Hall, public facilities, visitors galleries in the Chambers and Members’ Hall Gallery, with tourists and casual visitors entering through security controlled check points. The General Circulation System covers those areas of the building restricted to Parliamentarians and passholders.

A third level, separating the Executive (Ministerial Wing) can be activated readily if required.

Public and general areas security is controlled from an operations room in the northern basement, while that for the Ministerial Wing is controlled from an operations room in the southern basement.

Each control room manages security using a computerbased Central Supervisory System linking four satellite stations, a closed circuit television system, a dedicated intercom system and a two-way radio system. About 2,000 devices are connected to the Parliamentary Security System and 400 devices are connected to the Ministerial Wing system.

Each system can control and monitor doorlocks and door status, receive duress alarm signals, control the closed circuit television system, monitor fire, security and other alarm signals, and advise on action required in response to any alarm. The system can unlock selected locked fire exits.

The security forces also respond to fire alarms. In response to any alarm condition, the security system will display alarm type, location, routes, access details, special precautions, together with detail and overall floor plans on a coloured dynamic graphics display. The operator can quickly assess the situation and initiate action.

The Parliamentary System controls the emergency warning and intercom system, commanding it to issue an alert tone in any one or more of the 49 fire zones, in response to a fire alarm in that zone.

A summary of the overall fire situation is presented on a fire mimic high resolution colour VDU display to keep the building fire warden or Fire Brigade Chief informed of any developments.

The microprocessor-based Closed Circuit Television System has about 180 monochrome cameras, either fixed or pan-tilt-zoom, controllable from either Security Operations Centre, satellite stations, or by the security system. Cameras are solid state or tube type to suit the particular application.

The output of any CCTV camera can be relayed to any screen connected to the system. The security and CCTV systems can be manually operated from any one of the four satellite stations in the event of loss of central control.

Every entrance to the building has a baggage and goods x-ray screening device and walk-through metal detectors.

Great Hall roof beam






Fig. 13.10: Great Hall roof beam being hoisted into position.

Sound and Vision System

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation was the agent responsible to PHCA for designing and installing the sound, vision, paging and public address systems for the House.

The sophisticated PA system incorporates 12,500 speakers throughout the building and is able to carry the Division Bells, emergency warning signals, the paging service and a localised tourist function.

Speech reinforcement systems, electronically controlled to automatically adjust speakers to give the illusion of voice direction to the person whose microphone is switched on are provided for the Chambers and main Committee Rooms.

Time and notification of Divisions in the Chambers is of prime importance. About 3,000 clocks, controlled by a Rubidium Standard Master Clock System, and featuring Division lights have been installed throughout the building. In recognition of the more-spread nature of the new House, Division bells ring for four minutes, instead of the three in the Provisional House. The system is used as a reference for the television system and for timing speeches in Chambers, Committee Rooms, etc.

The design and building fabric provided facilities for television cameras, microphones and associated control systems in both Chambers and the various Committee Rooms, allowing ‘instant’ coverage of proceedings in these areas. The system allows predetermined cameras to home- in on the speaker (and the Opposition counterpart) within one second of a microphone being operated.

Camera pickup points installed at prime locations, eg, the Prime Minister’s and Ministerial offices, forecourt, theatrette, press conference rooms, allow programme recording or “live-to-air” on-the-spot interviews. Signals can be passed to any of the media bureaux within the building.

The final system will allow full-scale television programme production of network quality with facilities more extensive than the majority of television stations. A 100channel cable television and FM radio distribution system already reticulates proceedings to Chambers, Committee Rooms and ceremonial spaces, “on-air” television and radio station programmes, “off-air” pre-recorded programmes to in-house television sets or radio receivers.

To provide for hearing impaired occupants or visitors in major public areas, induction loop and the newly developed induction field FM transmitting systems are installed.

In addition, broadband and baseband coaxial type cable information systems networks have been installed. Provision and connection to information system equipment will be by the user, to meet specific and changing requirements.


The Parliament Buildings are surrounded by a ringroad. Called Parliament Drive, it serves as a collector/distributor road, fed at a number of points from the city network, and provides access to the four main entrances as well as to the carparks to the north, south, east and west of the building.

This ringroad forms part of the servicing bus route.

Access to the site was initially from Kings, Commonwealth and Adelaide Avenues, via the land axis from Queen Victoria Terrace and from State Circle to the east beneath the bridge on Capital Circle.

There was considerable opposition to the landbridge connection along the land axis by the Presiding Officers for the first years of the project. The eventual acceptance of this connection by the JSC followed the more detailed design of the forecourt and formal approach to the building, coupled with updated traffic circulation patterns. This formal broad, treelined landbridge approach was named Federation Mall.

The Adelaide Avenue connection proved to be virtually unworkable for access to the Lodge, Yarralumla and Deakin areas. It would have caused serious conflict with express bus lanes and merging high speed traffic on Canberra’s busiest arterial, particularly during Royal and State visits.

Melbourne Avenue became a far more promising alternative. It resolved these traffic concerns, improved circulation on Parliament Drive and provided more suitable access from the Executive area to the southern suburbs, as well as reinforcing the land axis extension with a symmetrical internal road layout. Again there was stiff opposition within the Parliamentary Committee on the ACT. However, it was overcome in consultation with the JSC, following further development of the original proposal.

The existing eastern connection to the ring road from State Circle was not ideal because of the gradients and sight distances. With the main thoroughfare already accepted, and fully meeting access needs, this then became the “backdoor” access to the loading dock, for which it was ideally suited.

Visitors to Parliament House are encouraged by the road layout to approach the building along the land axis, via Federation Mall. Parking for cars and tourist buses is provided below the forecourt, with easy access to Federation Mall. Stairs lead to the forecourt for an approach across the loosely paved area to the Grand Verandah Entrance.

MGT’s competition submission located much of the parking underground, although this was not required by the competition brief. As well as public carparking beneath the forecourt, the priority parking at the four entrances and the western structure, built in a large gully, were also shown as underground.

The brief required parking for 1,900 vehicles, a number which proved difficult to achieve throughout most of the design development. Early in the design stage the forecourt area parking capacity fell considerably short of predicted capacity. The shortfall was overcome by enlarging the western structure. At this stage, surface parking still remained for the south and east of the building.

The original landscape design had the full quota of eight tennis courts on the western side of the House. However, the JSC decided there should be more equitable placement of the courts and half were shifted to the eastern side. To accommodate these courts the parking spaces were placed underground and enlarged to meet requirements. The need to fully meet the parking requirements was confirmed by updated traffic and parking predictions.

Only the southern parking remained on the surface as this had been constructed as part of the early landscape and screen planting and was then used for contractors’ parking. All the underground parking has been kept clear of Parliamentary buildings for security reasons, as a result of a car bombing incident at the House of Commons in March 1979, and for fire safety reasons.

When the building was commissioned there was parking for 1,940 cars and 12 buses. The bus capacity can readily be doubled, without additional work.



The project commenced at a time when the building industry was in recession. This had a bearing on some early decisions — the low prices tendered for the standard of work required — and on the union/labour situation as the economy improved.

Completion by 1988 was always extremely tight. Following Government approval to proceed there was a need to quickly establish a workforce on site, obtain necessary agreement with the unions, excavate the building bench and prepare the local industry for a project of such size and complexity. With the lead time required from concept to detailed construction drawings, short cuts were necessary in moving the initial work to the field.

While the American-based Architect organised consultants, established offices in Canberra and finalised the agent agreements, a separate local engineering consultant was used to document the site earthworks from the competition drawings. This allowed the 12-months excavation contract to be placed in the field quickly, with adjustments necessary to suit the detailed building design being accommodated through the schedule of rates contract.

The project was undertaken through publicly tendered lump sum contracts, wherever practical, although use was made of schedule of rates and longterm supply contracts where this was appropriate. Rise and fall was included for contracts over 12 months duration.

Concrete production was originally to be undertaken under close supervision on site. However, with the downturn in the building industry in the early 1980s, most local batching plants were idle and longterm supply contracts which spread the work across the industry, were adopted for employment, cost and industrial reasons. This offsite production did, however, require a detailed appraisal of the technology being used within the industry, which from past experience, contained some questionable aspects.

The spread nature of the building prompted various options being considered for method of construction. These ranged from the use of the ramps at each corner of the building for access to the various levels, to the use of cranes. The configuration of the building, with its extensive above and below ground interconnections, limited access and movement around the site which led to a combination of crane and pump placement of the structure with internal and external hoisting for the fitout and finishing. The large floor heights, spread nature, limitation on access and rate of construction, required eight tower cranes supplemented by extensive mobile cranes to maintain programme.

Building construction commenced with the non-critical underground carparking to the north and west. This approach was adopted as:

  • It required minimum distraction of the Architect from the main design task.
  • Structural design was relatively straightforward,requiring minimum User interaction and clearances and was able to be issued to the field quickly.
  • The carparks were an ideal base from which to establish the longer term supply contracts.
  • It allowed a quick buildup of site workforce and facilities, finalisation of union site agreements and a buildup of contractor confidence.
  • Being non-critical, the carparks allowed time to solve difficulties and properly prepare the project organisation before the more complex design critical main building elements reached the construction phase.
  • Resulted in early provision of stable areas of the site suitable for workers’ carparking, offices, messing and ablutions.

Construction of the carpark areas started immediately the foundations were available and proceeded in parallel with the balance of the bulk earthworks.

Documentation for the project encouraged much of the work to be undertaken offsite. Many major components, such as precast facades, structural steel elements, windows, internal joinery and furniture, as well as major plant and electronic items, came from interstate.

Spreading the workload throughout Australia had many advantages for the industry. This was particularly fortunate for the project when the local industry became heavily overcommitted midway through the project. Other work overtaxed the accommodation and resources of the area, causing severe competition for labour, industrial pressures and the inevitable increased allowances and less-than-desirable work practices.

Two decisions on the structure of the building taken after the project was underway had major influence on later construction.

Firstly, in 1981, it was decided to reduce the building height as an architectural and cost saving measure. While significant savings were made through reduced allowances for facades, walls and partitioning, the smaller dimensions between floors created difficulty with installation of services in the restricted ceiling spaces. This quickly absorbed and, indeed, exceeded the initial savings.

Secondly, in 1984, the Parliament decided there should be increased office accommodation for additional Senators and Members. This decision occurred after many contracts had been awarded and much of the work was in an advanced stage of construction. Heavily affected were the services, with the central energy plant well-advanced and many major service runs already installed. Hold orders, redesign, removal or changes to recent and currently installed work with the usual flow-on effects occurred over a wide range of services contracts.

The need to reintroduce the Architect to the office layouts, structure and facades resulted in serious delays as well as some demolition of work and discarding of facade panels. Rescheduling and inconvenient delays to other time critical design works resulted from design teams being redirected to this work.

Deferment of the office enlargement, for later treatment as an extension, rather than to change midstream, was identified as being more cost-effective but was not acceptable to Government.

Throughout the construction policy was to keep a clean, tidy and safe site. The special efforts directed through specification, education and example toward these separate although interrelated objectives were effective and well worthwhile.

Great Hall roof beams






Fig. 13.11: Great Hall roof beams in position prior to roof placement.

Ceiling services in a first-floor corridor











Fig. 13.12: Ceiling services in a first-floor corridor.


Capital Hill in its original state was at elevation RL611.7 metres. The project required the removal of up to 21 metres from the top of hill, to form the building bench at groundfloor level. Basements were excavated a further six metres below most of the building.

The Hill had been subject to extensive investigation work in a number of progressively more detailed stages, from Olik’s work in 1958 to the detailed site investigation by Coffey & Partners in 1979. Geological notes on the excavation were made by the Bureau of Mineral Resources during the course of the works.

Essentially, three rock formations made up the site. These were Black Mountain sandstone, State Circle shale and Camp Hill sandstone. The Black Mountain sandstone occupied most of the central section and the core of the original hill.

Numerous faults, of various types and differing displacements, crossed the site. The faults generally contained fractured material but in some places were clean cut. There was an angular unconformity between the Camp Hill sandstone and the underlying Black Mountain sandstone. Efforts to preserve and expose sections of this older formation where it overlayed the more recent, were not practical because of the location and level, as it related to the building and landscape concept.

The strike and dip of the bedding, coupled with the fractured nature of the hard rock, caused considerable over break on detailed excavation. It was also necessary to remove large volumes of potentially unstable rock by battering on some high vertical excavation faces and to design support for others.

The ability to excavate by mechanical earthmoving equipment proved to be far less extensive than anticipated in the Black Mountain sandstone, with only two-three metres depth being achieved in spite of the extensive fracturing. Much of the excavation required large-scale drilling and blasting, which considerably altered the balance of the contract work.

The level of the building bench was raised 1.5 metres from the original design submission early in the excavation stage, to reduce the quantity of the more costly hard rock excavation and to provide a more even balance of cut to fill.

The hard rock blasting required close control because of the closeness of residential and Embassy areas. Oddly, the main effect from the blasting occurred because of particular atmospheric conditions with low cloud cover rather than by transfer through the ground. Charges and firing took account of these conditions as they became apparent.

An extensive public awareness exercise was undertaken and properties within a substantial radius of the hill were surveyed and photographed prior to and following blasting. This data was used as a basis for compensation claims. There were a number of claims which, except for the isolated extreme, were settled quickly and satisfactorily.

On the positive side, the hard but fractured Black Mountain sandstone was suitable for crushing and reuse as open granular backfill between the structure and the excavation. This resulted in a substantial saving as it had been expected that commercially available porous backfill quarried elsewhere would have to be brought to the site for this purpose.

The excavated material was mainly redistributed around the site. What material was not used on site was used to lift industrial land above the Jerrabomberra floodplain in the Fyshwick area and for the approaches to the Dairy Flat and Canberra Avenue bridges.


With reinforced concrete the main element in the building structure, a substantial amount of effort was applied to improving the concrete practices in Canberra. Detailed specialist reports identified serious shortfalls and for the design to be effectively implemented the appropriate concrete technology had to be followed from design through to construction, and in a consistent manner.

In the construction phase particular attention was directed towards:

  • upgrading the ready mixed industry to code and specification requirements
  • careful selection and strict control of aggregate source, cleanliness and handling
  • specification of cement type and chemical composition and use of nominated air entraining agents to achieve a targeted entrain air content of 4.5 per cent.
  • specification of extensive trial mix procedures,including pumping trials using nominated large capacity pumping equipment and detailed submission of production procedures at all stages of manufacture, delivery and placement
  • nomination of responsible technical representatives and] attendance at fortnightly co-ordination meetings chaired by the Structural Consultant, with approved concrete technology specialists representing the supply consortium
  • production at all times being rigorously restricted to approved computer and test-evaluated mix design. Control of water content with consequences upon workability, ease of pumping and shrinkage was a top priority. Strict control and union supported penalty conditions were applied to all delivery drivers, in respect of delivered water content
  • sound placement, effective curing and protective membranes. Thermal blankets were used to overcome severe frost or winter conditions and hot dry evaporative summer conditions.
  • education, advice to and quality control of the concrete placement contractors.

The office precast cladding, produced offsite and interstate, required low slump concrete with accurately controlled water/cement ratio and air entrainment. Galvanised reinforcement was used to enhance durability.

The Structural Consultant’s engagement included total quality assurance responsibilities. His team was supplemented with a fulltime experienced concrete technologist who had continuous access to all offsite production and testing facilities.

Water stops were used at major joints in the roof slab to minimise free water penetration during the construction phase before the permanent roof, tanking and membrane was placed.

Apart from the tight time frame and the special attention given to the reinforced concrete components to raise performance and ensure required tolerances and finish, construction work was quite conventional.


The low-rise spread nature of the building provided its own challenges in the service reticulation. Experience had shown that dedicated, easily accessible service tunnels were necessary to ensure efficient installation, operation and maintenance of services, as well as to readily accommodate future upgrading, augmentation and change in technology.

The nature of the building dictated that the goods access, waste disposal and basic internal transportation also occur at basement level. Therefore this required a system of interconnecting movement tunnels and corridors.

While the Construction Manager vigorously sought separate dedicated service tunnels, based upon experience at Westmead Hospital and Geelong Animal Health Laboratory, the Service Design Agent, Architect and Cost Planner felt that both the service reticulation and internal basement access requirements should be combined for the most economic solution. This was achievable as the large basement height allowed substantial ceiling space for the corridor service runs. Only minor lengths of dedicated service tunnels seemed to have been needed.

The space available for services in the access corridors at first appeared generous. The decision, however, required a high level of co-ordination for services installation. It necessitated working in confined spaces at ceiling level, requiring tight programming of access to work areas, which resulted in severe conflict at cross-connections in interconnecting corridors and reduced flexibility for future change or augmentation.

As work progressed, inevitably the decision to combine services into the same corridors was questioned. In retrospect a more extensive use of dedicated service tunnels, particularly in the areas of concentrated service, would have been prudent.

Crawl space was provided beneath the building where there were no basements and where future service adjustments or upgrading with new technology was likely.

Packaging, tendering, installation and supervision of services basically followed the zoning used in the design, programming, costing and control of the project. This zoning provided appropriate sized packages of work while allowing flexibility in the grouping of zones containing similar work for tendering purposes. Of necessity, there were also a number of services, stretching across large areas of the project, which in themselves were complete entities requiring treatment on a global basis.

The four basic building services, HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning), power/lighting, hydraulics and fire protection fitted well into the zoning system. The global packaging was used with HV ring mains, document movement systems, waste disposal, communication and audio visual systems, which threaded throughout the kilometres of corridors and required close co-ordination with the basic building services in the limited space available.

Tender documents were prepared by the Construction Manager, based on the formally approved designs and using conditions of contract consistent with Commonwealth Government and PHCA policy. Standardisation of documents was essential, particularly for co-ordination of works with other contractors, for industrial matters and for the site conditions and facilities. The documentation was reviewed for gaps, overlaps, special conditions, form of contract etc before being approved by PHCA for tendering.

Tenders, following assessment by the Construction Manager and Design Agent, were recommended to PHCA for award of contract. The user was involved in the Authority’s review processes on the more important equipment items, to make sure that they met operational and maintenance requirements.

The contract documents were specific in their requirement for services co-ordination, provision of shop drawings, contractors’ responsibility in the joint drafting of co-ordinated service drawings, commissioning and handover of works and the provision of ‘as constructed’ drawings. The HVAC contractor took the lead in the development of the combined building service drawings which were co-ordinated over light tables.

The extent and complexity of the services co-ordination was foreseen at the start of the project and the feasibility of using computer-aided design (CAD) was considered. The Architect had initially favoured the use of CAD for the building design, finishing and fitout but retreated from it because of the cost of equipment, the learning time for staff and the reluctance of the user to accept the documentation in this form. Consideration was also given to using a commercial firm to provide a computer-aided services co-ordination drafting service. A number of contractors were keen to proceed this way but with commercial software for the HVAC (the lead service) unavailable by the cut-off dates and with the expressed wishes of the user for conventionally drafted records, PHCA was forced to proceed using light table co-ordination techniques.

This manual co-ordination, although a lengthy and tedious task, was a well worthwhile effort as service clashes experienced in the field were minimised and where they did occur were readily overcome.

By completion of the work both computer programmes and technology were becoming available in a form which would have eliminated the majority of manual co-ordination and possibly have overcome the many conflicts in the search for scarce services space.

Commissioning and handover of the complex involved considerations not normally encountered in the floor-byfloor occupation of conventional high rise office development.

For Parliament to move from the Provisional House required that all services and support facilities move to the new building at the same time. To achieve this the transfer of staff and backup facilities was arranged during the Winter Parliamentary Recess, so that the complex was up and running for the August 1988 Budget Session.

Much had to be done to ensure the move took place with the building providing an acceptable environment. Major equipment had to be run in, commissioned, adjusted and handed over before the movement date.

The PHCA Act made no provision for the running in, operation and maintenance of the facilities—handover of the individual components was required at practical completion of the contracts. To overcome this omission, arrangements were made at the start of the project for the user to build up an establishment consistent with the programmed progressive handover of the works. The indicative programme for this activity was provided to the user in 1983.

The intention was to have skilled people available to work with the contractors on all major plant items during final installation, testing and commissioning so that they would be completely familiar with equipment and have it properly functioning by the time of occupation.

Major service contracts included the pricing of a separate schedule covering an operation and maintenance service to be provided by the contractor. This schedule was available to be taken up by the user/owner under separate contracts if required.

While the early indicative handover programmes were somewhat optimistic, for a variety of reasons, the user seemed to have underestimated the size and complexity of the operation and maintenance task. This resulted in a slower than necessary buildup of establishment staffing, resulting in many of the contractors being required to operate equipment well past their contract completion dates.

Services, plant rooms, parking areas etc were progressively handed over from 1986, while the building structure handover started in January 1988.


Quality and high standard of finish was a major feature of the design. While established technology and materials were required, these were used to fine tolerances and intricate detail to achieve a consistently high standard on a structure required to last two hundred years.

Achievement of quality and standard of workmanship was the responsibility of each contractor. Although the Superintendent was responsible for ensuring that the contractor met his obligations, quantum and time were an integral part of the contract and even with the best will by all, the ever-present conflict between time, cost and quality continued to emerge.

The rate of progress required close attention by the Superintendent and frequently inhibited standing back and spending time analysing problem areas. Contractors also tended to fall back on what they regarded as an industry or ‘Canberra practice’ which was not what was specified or required by the contract and which did not, in many cases, meet codes or Australian Standards.

With construction occurring concurrently across a number of zones and with considerable off-site work spread through Australia, the maintenance of a consistent overall approach to testing, quality, and quick resolution of problems was imperative. Advance warning of problem areas and the dissemination of solutions to all affected zones of the work was essential, especially where a number of contractors were undertaking similar or inter-related work.

To meet the pressing and foreseen needs in a positive way, the establishment of a Quality Assurance Group (QAG) was examined in late 1982. Although construction was then still in the initial stages, the group was established mid-1983, tobe operational before the more detailed works were committed.

As there were no Australian experience, codes or standards covering such activities, procedures were adapted from the Canadian Standards Association Special Publication Z299.0—1979. Procedures did, however, exclude design aspects because of the special competition base and Parliamentary approval of the design.

The Architect and Design Agents provided advice and service to the QAG, whose role include ensuring prompt technical resolution of problems as well as the overview and analysis of control, testing and inspection.

The group proved to be extremely effective and resulted in a consistently high quality product throughout. Perhaps more importantly, the project resulted in a better trained construction workforce and improved standards of workmanship across a whole range of building activities in Canberra and perhaps Australia.


The cost of the new Parliament House project was, in round figures, 1.1 billion dollars.

Costs for major Government projects had received critical exposure over many years, largely because of the methods used in authorisation and budgeting. These methods were quite different from those used for private developments or general overseas practice.

Public sector finance departments require that all estimates and predictions be in “present day costs” and that no allowances be made for escalation, rise and fall or contingencies, these being covered by adjustments to authorisation and budgets as they occur.

While this presents no problems in comprehension for relatively short-term projects, the media and public’s perception is severely stretched on long-duration projects, particularly when a budget is established prior to concept and additions and changes are made during the course of the work. The new Parliament House project was no exception.

The initial estimate of $151 million was developed in 1977 before the user requirements were fully established and without a design concept. This figure was for building only. It did not include furniture or any of the detailed equipment normally installed by the owner, user or Commonwealth services departments. The competition to select an Architect, launched in 1978, was based on that figure.

During the competition, an indicative costing of the brief was independently undertaken by a leading firm of quantity surveyors. This assumed a hypothetical arrangement for a national building to high standard office quality, applying realistic efficiency factors of usable to gross floor areas consistent with circulation movements. An order of cost slightly above $200 million emerged. This indicative costing could not be given exposure, even within the project team, as the competition had not closed.

The competition entries all, predictably, ranged around the $151 million mark. The winning design (number 177) was for a gross budget of $156,417,000.

Once the competition winner was announced, the full documentation was made available to the project team which undertook a preliminary analysis of the cost and assessed it between $230 million and $240 million. The project Cost Planner believed that the figure should be higher, while the Architect’s Quantity Surveyor maintained that a figure around $185 million was appropriate.

When the Architect arrived in Australia, intense detailed discussions were held over a concentrated period to determine the precise design intent for the various components of the building, the materials used and the quality and finishes to be applied and to place a realistic costing on the project.

The figure reached included allowances for contingencies, industrial action, and miscellaneous adjustments inevitable in the detailing of the design. These allowances were removed from the costing as directed and a project budget of $220 million emerged. This figure was the basis of the Parliamentary Approval for the project and became the Approved Budget.

The costing was based at “May 1978” prices for comparison with the competition budget and all subsequent reporting on the Approved Building Budget was to this base.

Costs were controlled to a comprehensive cost plan, detailing the various items and trades for each of the 25 zones of the building. This control covered all preliminaries and establishment, as well as the building design and included allowances for variations to awarded contracts. Control of contracts was in accordance with the conditions of contract and was exercised by the Superintendent, with the assistance of the Cost Planner and later from the Cost Control Services.

Date building budget (may '78) $M NBI Approved additions (accumulated) $M Escalation (accumulated) $M Industrial insolvencies & Cumulative exchange rate $M Project Budget $M
May 1978 220 - - - - 220
Jun 1980 220 - 8(a) 55 - 275
Jun 1981 220 82 8 82 - 392
Sep 1981 220 82 9(b) 98 - 408
Dec 1981 220 82 9 125 - 436
Mar 1982 220 82 9 152 - 463
Sep 1982 220 82 9 201 - 512
Mar 1983 220 82 13(c) 215 - 526
Sep 1983 220 82 13 233 - 548
Feb 1984 220 82 54(d) 273 - 588
Aug 1984 220 82 54 288 - 644
Feb 1985 220 82 203(e) 328 - 684
Aug 1985 220 82 191(f) 360 29 894
Feb 1986 220 82 191 398 37 928
Aug 1986 220 82 186(g) 438 51 982
May 1987 220 82 203(h) 463 66 1027
Aug 1987 220 82 204(i) 471 72 1048
Nov 1987 220 82 205(j) 476 74 1056
Feb 1988 220 82 205 481 76 1064
May 1988 220 82 205 483 79 1069
Aug 1988 220 82 205 485 81 1074
  1. Additional user requirements to provide, for example, dining facilities and relocate security areas.
  2. Additional user requirements for southern security.
  3. Additional funds to enlarge the capacity of Eastern Car Park and place it underground.
  4. Increase in funds to add extensions to both House of Representatives and Senate wings following increases in the number of Members/Senators.
  5. Increase following overall budget review based on a report by an Interdepartmental Committee, comprising $62M of additional requirements and $87M which would normally come from contingency allowances but which were excluded from the original budgets.
  6. Net reductions of $12 million following assessment of budget and Government budget decision to reduce costs.
  7. Additional $5 million for landscaping.
  8. Increase of $7 million associated with the costs of reinstating some works deleted or deferred in 1986.
  9. Increase of $1 million for two additional Ministers’ suites and further reinstatement of deleted works.
  10. Increase of $1 million for third additional Minister’s suite and cost of decision not to continue using rainforest timber.

Fig. 13.13: Tabulated movements in approved budget.

The main impact on cost increases was escalation with the Building Construction Cost Index escalating from 100 at May 1978 to 354.60 at completion. Increases to the approved budget for uncommitted work were approved in line with increases in the index. Escalation to committed works was in accordance with the Rise and Fall clauses of the particular contracts.

Other major factors influencing cost was additional work, namely:

  1. Additions approved by the Government, such as increased number of members’ suites, enlarging and placing carparking underground, etc.
  2. Non-building items, such as furniture, art-works, security devices, telephones, 11 kV supply and the like. When introduced in 1981, the estimated cost of these non-building items was $82 million.

Industrial action, insolvencies and exchange rate fluctuations also considerably affected the costs.

The detailed break-up of these various costs is shown in the tabulation (Fig. 13.13) and graph (Fig. 13.14).


The building and fitout was progressively handed over to the Joint House Department from January 1988.

Formal opening of the Building by HRH Queen Elizabeth II occurred on the 9 May 1988. Occupation and transfer of facilities from the Provisional Parliament House occurred over the Winter Parliamentary Recess to be avail for the first session of Parliament in the Budget Session of August 1988.


Major consultants who worked on the project were:

Architects—Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects; 
Interior Design—Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects; 
Structural Engineer—Irwin Johnston & Partners; 
Associated Consulting Engineers for the Parliament House (ACEPH)_Joseph R. Loring and Associates, Norman Disney & Young, W.E. Bassett & Partners Pty Ltd, Leadingham Hensby Oxley & Partners;
Landscape Architect— Peter G. Rolland & Associates;
Quantity Surveyor—Donald Cant, Watts, Hawes & Lee Pry Ltd;
Civil Engineers— Maunsell & Partners;
Construction Manager—Concrete Holland Joint Venture; 
Project Planner—McLachlan Group Pty Ltd; 
Cost Planner—Rawlinson Roberts & Associates;
Cost Advice—McLachlan Group Pry Ltd, Rawlinson Roberts & Associates, Cost and Data Support Services Pry Ltd;
Sound and Vision—Australian Broadcasting Corporation;
Security—Department of Housing and Construction/Department of Administrative Services;
Window & facade weather testing—CSIRO (Csironet);
Acoustics and Vibration Engineers—Louis A. Challis and Associates Pry Ltd;
Stonework—A ustralian Mineral Development Laboratories (AMDEL);
Earthworks,—Scott & Furphy Engineers Pty Ltd;
Refreshment Services—Commercial Kitchen Consultants Pry Ltd;
Insurance— Sedgwick Ltd;
Lighting—George Sexton Associates, GEC/Philips Opera House Lighting Co Pry Ltd;
Architectural Hardware— Keeler Hardware Pty Ltd;
Life Safety— Rolf Jensen & Associates mc;
Water Feature—Robert Woodward, Peter Rolland & Associates;
Rooflng_ARMM Consultants Inc, CSIRO, Flag Hoisting— Alan Payne & Partners Pry Ltd;
Flagmast Access—Johns Perry Lifts;
Geotechnical—Coffey & Partners Pry Ltd;
Concrete Technology—Bemac Laboratories Pry Ltd;
Wind—Professor W. Melbourne;
Steel Pre-order—Johns Perry Ltd;
Welding Inspection— Metlab Mapel Pry Ltd;
Flagmast Elastic Stability—Professor P. Grundy, Professor L.C. Schmidt;
Irrigation—Irrigation Design Consultants;
Operations & Maintenance Manuals—Australian Industrial Publications Ply Ltd;
Contractual Consultants—Bill Guy & Partners, Construction Contract Services;
Solicitors—Australian Government Solicitor, Morris Fletcher & Cross.

 Project cost — graph showing movements in approved budget.






Fig. 13.14: Project cost — graph showing movements in approved budget.

HRH Queen Elizabeth II










Fig. 13.15: HRH Queen Elizabeth II and the Prime Minister, Mr. R.J. Hawke, enter the foyer of the new Parliament House after its formal opening on 9 May 1988.


The authors express their appreciation to the Parliament House Construction Authority, for the use of files, reference materials, reports and diagrams, and to the Library of the National Capital Planning Authority.

Special thanks also go to Mr John Fowler, Director of Irwin Johnston & Partners Engineers Pty Ltd for review and technical comment on the text, and to the partners of Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects for their comments and the use of diagrams from their competition winning documentation.


  1. Aust. Parliament. Standing Committee on Public Works Report together with minutes of evidence, appendices and plans relating to proposed erection of Provisional Parliament House, Canberra. Melbourne, Govt. Printer 1923.
  2. New Houses of Parliament: misc material: Parliamentary and Commission reports, Nat. Cap. Planning Committee, appointment of architect etc. NP 1912—1965.
  3. National Capital Development Commission, Holford, William, Lord Gray, Richard W. Putting Parliament on Capital Hill. Canberra, NCDC 1963.
  4. McMullin, Alister, Sir, Aust. Parliament. Observations on the Permanent Parliament House by the President of the Senate Senator The Hon. Sir A. McMullin. Canberra, Cwealth Govt Printer 1965.
  5. National Capital Development Commission. Aust. Parliament. Joint Select Committee on The New and Permanent Parliament House. Parliament House: Material for the consideration of the Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House. Canberra, April 1968.
  6. Aust. Parliament. Joint Select Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House. Report on the alternative sites of Capital I-Jill and the Camp Hill area. Canberra, Govt. Pr 1969.
  7. National Capital Development Commission, Overall,John, Sir. Precis of the submission by NCDC on the New & Permanent Parliament House: Comparative study of Capital Hill & Camp Hill. Canberra, March 1969.
  8. Aust. Parliament. Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House. Report on the proposed New and Permanent Parliament House for the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Aust. Canberra, Govt. Printing Office 1970.
  9. Aust. Parliament. Joint Standing Committee on the New and Permanent Parliament House. New and Permanent Parliament House, Canberra: Third Report of the Joint Standing Committee. Canberra, National Capital Dev Comm. May 1978.
  10. Parliament House Competition — Stage II Report and Attachments, Entry No. 177 by Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp.
  11. Aust. Parliament House Construction Authority, Overall, John, Sir. Two-Stage Design Competition for Parliament House, Canberra: Assessors’ Final Report, June 1980, Canberra. Parl. House Construction Authority 1980.
  12. Parliament House Construction Authority—Parliament House Design Competition—Report by Construction Authority July 1980.
  13. Aust. Parliament House Construction Authority. Australia’s New Parliament House: The Schematic Design Report, Canberra. Parl, House Construction Authority 1981.
  14. Inland Architect, Vol. 25, No. 1. From Chicago to Canberra, from Griffin to Guirgola. Chicago, Inland Architect Press 1981.
  15. Design Development Report, New Parliament House. Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp. April 1982.
  16. Parliament House Construction Authority—Developed Design Report, New Parliament House. May 1983.
  17. Fitzgerald, Alan, Muller, Peter, Quarry, Neville. Canberra and the New Parliament House. Sydney, Landsdowne Press 1983.
  18. Project Managers Forum—Managing Electronics into the Modern Building—Case History of New Parliament House. March 1988.
  19. Parliament House Construction Authority — miscellaneous reports and files.
  20. Bureau of Mineral Resources, Geology and Geophysics. Geological Notes on the Excavations for the New Parliament House, Capital Hill, Canberra, A.C.T. By G.A.M. Henderson. Record 1982/13.
  21. Parliament House Construction Authority, Services Design Summary, New Parliament House, January 1987.


Keith Downey Dip CE, Dip Theol, FIE Aust
John Connal Dip CE, BE, MEngSci,MIE Aust


Keith Downey has spent 30 years engaged in the design and construction of a wide range of civil engineering projects in Victoria, Tasmania and Papua New Guinea. For the past 15 years he has worked for the National Capital Development Commission in various positions involved with the planning and design of major engineering facilities in the ACT. He was the Commission’s Design Manager for the Parliament House access roads project. He is now Director of Capital Works and Services with the National Capital Planning Authority.

John Connal is a graduate of Melbourne University and has spent 16 years in the design of civil engineering works; the past six of these having been in Canberra. He is an Associate of the consulting engineers, Maunsell and Partners, for which he has been involved on major development projects in Canberra, having moved to the National Capital originally to work on the Parliament House access roads project.

THE design and construction of the roads and bridges to the new Parliament House provided a rare opportunity where the blended skills of a wide range of professions was needed, to produce an integral, harmonious and appealing solution.

The success of the blending process is evident by the local and national recognition the work received. It was awarded Engineering Excellence awards, firstly for the bridge elements and later for the project as a whole, from the Canberra Division of the Institution of Engineers, Australia, as well as awards from the Association of Consulting Engineers Australia and from the Concrete Institute of Australia.

Clearly, in such a significant project the influence of key people is visible in the finished product. Primarily, in this instance, it is the touch of Aldo Giurgola, of the project Architects for the new House, Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp (MGT). As far as the roads and bridges are concerned, the other major influences came from the late Richard Gray, formerly of Holford & Partners (United Kingdom), who was design adviser for the project to the then National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) as well as from architectural staff of the Commission.

The NCDC was the client for this work as it was responsible for all works associated with the House outside the 320 metre radius of the actual Capital Hill site.


The job of providing access to the new Parliament House, whatever the design of the House, was always going to be challenging. The Hill was at a node in Canberra’s transport system, with the surrounding roads serving both a wider metropolitan function as well as local access needs. The rotary interchange system of State and Capital Circles accommodated the peak traffic flows between Commonwealth and Adelaide Avenues, with more than 43,000 vehicles using the route daily in 1980.


MGT’s winning design added yet a further dimension to the task.

The access solution not only had to contend with the strengths and weaknesses of the existing transport system, plus provide for the future traffic demand for that part of the transport network, but also had to provide safe and convenient access to the new House.

The access roads converge





Fig. 14.1: The access roads converge on the northern entry to Parliament House (view from the top of the flagmast).Source: NCDC.

With up to 3,000 people working in the House, plus official visitors (including Heads of State) and more than one million tourists annually, the roads to the House had to cater for a diversity of visitors and modes of transport: private vehicles, buses, service delivery vehicles, vehicles in ceremonial processions, people on foot and on bicycles.

The original competition design brief for the new House contained possible access options including the radial avenues and the symbolic access from the Land Axis (the House is at the southern end of Griffin’s land axis from Mt Ainslie, the Australian War Memorial and Anzac Parade). MGT’s design chose to provide functional access from the Adelaide, Commonwealth and Kings Avenues, with service access from Brisbane Avenue. Ceremonial access was directly up the Land Axis. This meant, of course, that with no access from either Capital or State Circles a visitor would have to choose a route to the House some distance from the Hill.

There were concerns that this lack of clarity would be unacceptable. An early task for Maunsell & Partners, who had been selected by NCDC in 1980, as Civil Engineering Consultants for the roads and bridges, was to provide a feasibility study for the proposed road design. The major elements of the MGT design which had to be considered in the study were:

  • a large entrance forecourt on the northern side of the new House
  • an internal, circulatory access system (now known as Parliament Drive)
  • two new roads extending from the medians of Commonwealth and Kings Avenues
  • a road link from the median of Adelaide Avenue. These aspects of the design raised some fundamental issues. Problems of level differences, continuity of the Land Axis and traffic safety all required sensitive consideration to meet the new requirements of the design, along with the existing demands of the traffic system. Some innovative, and even some outlandish solutions were contemplated, such as:
  • lowering the House to reduce the approach grades to it
  • filling in State Circle to provide at-grade entrance to Capital Hill from the Land Axis
  • physically shifting the existing bridges which took Commonwealth Avenue over State Circle, to provide structures at the rear of the House
  • rearranging roads within the Parliamentary Triangle to improve the central access to the site, at the expense of restricting access from the Avenues.

While an over-riding factor was always that of budget, it is hardly surprising that the impact of some of these proposals stirred lengthy debate among the various disciplines involved.

Probably the most difficult compromise to reach involved the question of levels. The topography of the site and all the requirements of the House design were incompatible with simple and unobtrusive connections from the two main access roads — Commonwealth Avenue and Kings Avenue.

The construction of a link to the new House, along an extension of the Commonwealth Avenue median, with a maximum grade of 8 per cent to Parliament Drive from a point south of State Circle, dictated a maximum achievable level of RL583m at Parliament Drive. Maintaining symmetry across the Forecourt of the House, as was implicit in the design for the House, meant that the Kings Avenue extension would have to be at the same level. That would require Kings Avenue being lowered by 3 metres at its intersection with State Circle. This option was clearly unacceptable, as it would require a gross distortion of the Capital Circle profile to meet clearance requirements, and would also require major earthworks, with significant reconstruction costs, on State Circle.

Parliament House Competition








Fig. 14.2: Parliament House Competition Document access opportunities.

Access proposal embodied










Fig. 14.3: Access proposal embodied in the winning MGT

The solution adopted has an 8 percent grade from north of the existing bridges over State Circle which has the effect of vertically separating the extension above the level of the existing structures. While this created a number of complexities and the need for a new bridge in the median of Commonwealth Avenue over State Circle, it allowed the development of the appropriate elevation and entry arrangement onto Capital Hill.

Maunsell & Partners’ feasibility study showed quite clearly that MGT’s original proposal to provide a southern link from Adelaide Avenue would be unworkable because of: a. the anticipated amount of through-traffic on Parliament Drive, caused by the relatively direct nature of the link between Adelaide Avenue and Commonwealth Avenue b. the location of the median offtake on a crest and the need for traffic to cross an express bus lane.

Studies indicated two-way traffic volumes on Parliament Drive would exceed 1,000 vehicles per hour even when the average speed was reduced to 25 km/h, to reflect the likely interference to through traffic of vehicles turning into car- parks around Parliament House. This number of vehicles was considered to be unacceptable for Parliament Drive. This led to the alternative southern access being provided at Melbourne Avenue via a bridge over Capital Circle which, for clearance reasons, required Capital Circle to be lowered about 1.5 metres.

The key to good accessibility to the House was Kings Avenue. Here it was possible to provide an at-grade intersection with State Circle, the prime distributor road to Capital Hill. Direct access is made to Parliament House from both directions on State Circle and from Kings Avenue, the route being grade separated at Capital Circle, with a bridge structure, and involving some regrading and full signalisation of the Kings Avenue-State Circle intersection.

MGT’s original design proposed complex three-way intersections at the junctions of the Avenue extensions with Parliament Drive. When it became clear it would be extremely difficult to provide for comfortable and safe traffic flows, these were modified to simple T-junctions. They allow better resolution of levels on the Forecourt and easier access to the carpark underneath.

By early 1981 a compromise layout had been reached (Figure 14.4). It embodied:

  • preservation of the integrity of the winning design
  • providing a safer, more convenient southern access at Melbourne Avenue.
  • satisfying the need for a high level of accessibility with an at-grade intersection between State Circle and Kings Avenue
  • segregating the high speed inter-town traffic on Capital Circle/Adelaide Avenue from the traffic accessing Capital Hill
  • maximising the future capacity of the total traffic system to deal with general increases in urban traffic
  • preserving the geological feature in the State Circle cutting, which had been retained as a significant feature in earlier engineering works. All this was achievable at an acceptable cost, estimated at $30 million (1988 prices).


The structures are the most dominant visual aspect of the access solution. The major consideration during their design was that they have all the necessary qualities of functional road structures, as well as being compatible with their setting.

The fundamental aesthetic quality desired of the bridges was that they could be viewed as bridges in the landscape of a country estate, inspired by the tradition of fine bridges built in Australia in the 19th century and suggesting the antithesis of high speed, highway structures. They all had to have high aesthetic quality for both the upper roadway and the lower roadway, being both major traffic routes and used occasionally for ceremonial functions. Additionally, they should have a “family” relationship to each other and to the existing bridges in the area, through consistency of basic shapes and details.

To achieve the “family” solution of bridges, many variables had to be melded into a consistent theme. They included variable road widths, different footpath widths, different pier heights, consistency of new details and compatibility of the new details with those of the existing bridges in the precinct.

It was no easy task and required input from a range of architectural consultants, from NCDC and from those advising Maunsell & Partners and the Parliament House Construction Authority (PHCA).

 The compromise solution.









Fig. 14.4: The compromise solution.


From Griffin onwards the Central Area of Canberra has been developed on the basis of strong landscape concepts. Hence, the design concepts for both the new Parliament House and the adjacent Parliamentary Triangle rely heavily on major landscape elements for their integrity.

MGT’s design for the House relied heavily on using tree planting to frame some views, while leaving others open. Trees also would be important as windbreaks.

The Access Roads project, therefore, had to provide a landscape solution that integrated the design concepts on the Hill with those of the surrounding areas. The solution is based on native species planted both formally and informally.

Considerable engineering works were required to establish the ideal planting conditions, drainage and irrigation systems.

The complexity of these issues, as well as judging future growth of the trees resulted in the use of computer graphics techniques to understand the interactions. The computer- based work included generation of perspectives and simulation of movement along the major vehicle routes. These were varied to understand the situation in 1988, as well as next century when the trees will have reached maturity.

Traffic During Construction

Capital and State Circles are focal points for the distribution of central area traffic to the south. The free flowing Capital Circle accommodated the major traffic movements between Commonwealth and Adelaide Avenues, especially during peak periods. Therefore, considerable emphasis had to be placed on packaging and timing of works, so construction could occur, as far as possible, under traffic. Traffic-related considerations in phasing the work included:

  • the total period for construction was to be about four years, from early 1983
  • the need to construct the work in packages, to suit various financial and programming constraints
  • the advantages to be gained from closing sections of the road network during construction of the bridge structures
  • the need to ensure that convenient alternative routes were available when roads were closed.

There had to be access for up to 2,200 workers on the Capital Hill construction site. Additionally, as the work areas on the site changed, access locations had to be modified to match, as near as possible, the changes.

Numerous options were considered in each stage, taking account of the complex inter-relationships between the separate contracts, the physical requirements of each stage of the work and the changing access requirements. Sixty- two traffic staging drawings were produced during this task. The movement of traffic through the site was never seriously impeded during the construction process.

The Solution

The elements which comprised the total access solution to the new House are many and varied. However, all these elements were designed to be complementary, in both principle and detail, to the architecture and landscape of the House, while providing functional access to the House and to integrate the House design into the surrounding precincts.

  • roadworks (including cycle paths and footpaths) at Adelaide Avenue, the Adelaide Avenue-State Circle inter change, Melbourne Avenue, Canberra Avenue, Kings Avenue, Commonwealth Avenue, the Land Axis, State Circle, Capital Circle and in the Parliamentary Triangle
  • bridges carrying Melbourne Avenue over Capital Circle and Kings Avenue over Capital Circle and twin bridges on the Land Axis over State Circle
  • a tunnel carrying Capital Circle under the Land Axis roads
  • a box section viaduct on the Commonwealth Avenue extension, linking the new median bridge over State Circle with the bridge onto Capital Hill
  • retaining walls associated with the bridges and tunnel
  • a pedestrian and cycle underpass on State Circle near Flynn Drive
  • bulk excavation of about 300,000 cubic metres on Camp Hill and filling of the sector of the Land Bridge between State and Capital Circles and the Avenue extensions
  • new drainage and service lines to the Parliament House and diversions of existing services to facilitate construction of the new roads, bridges and tunnel
  • drainage augmentation works, including construction of two new retarding basins
  • soft and hard landscaping
  • protection of a geologically significant cutting on State Circle and construction of a viewing platform on the Land Axis.

Both the architectural and engineering aspirations for the structures were achieved by creating a construction environment compatible with the production of high quality work. Specification of the concrete work involved consultation with concrete manufacturers and with the PHCA and its other consultants. Prototypes were constructed for all major elements of the work, with trials of different types of surface finish to select a finish both economical and appropriate for the location. Formwork stripping times for all exposed concrete surfaces were carefully controlled to ensure good colour control.

While there were exacting requirements for workmanship , and access was difficult to much of the work, the design and construction proved to be economical. Construction techniques were generally conventional and careful planning allowed completion of the structures ahead of schedule.

Commonwealth Avenue extension




Fig. 14.5: Commonwealth Avenue extension from Capital Circle.

Commonwealth Avenue Extension

The highly prominent extension of Commonwealth Avenue onto Capital Hill required the building of a new bridge between the two existing bridges. The new median bridge is raised above the levels of the existing bridges.

With three separate bridges merging in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue from two different vertical and horizontal alignments, the resolution of the converging lines required considerable analysis and thought. Physical models aided the design process, which was further complicated by the fact that the ramps from and to Capital Circle were at slightly differing levels. In the final design the integration of precast parapet units and insitu concrete faces, some with warping geometry, provided a solution that provides a safe driving environment and has smooth, clean lines which are pleasing to the eye.

The bridge over State Circle fills in between the existing bridges, providing the effect of a continuous short tunnel beneath the bridge. This tunnel effect was reduced by recessing the soffit of the new deck above the level of the existing deck soffits. The same bearing ribs as those on the existing bridges are used on the new bridge and up-lighting onto the soffit is used to enhance the lift of the new central soffit area. This emphasises the emergence of the new bridge and lightens the space below the structures.

Between the bridge over State Circle and the bridge onto Capital Hill, is a box viaduct which sits on fill and is fully supported along its length. The walls of the box section provide the visual impression of a road extension, giving a functional symmetry of approach to Capital Hill which parallels that at Kings Avenue.

The project frequently called for innovative solutions. Early in the design process, options for the abutments of the new State Circle bridge were investigated. With the new bridge higher than the existing structures, yet needing to maintain the same foundation levels at the abutments, it required large tall abutments. With a conventional design approach, these abutments would have had massive footings and wall sizes. Instead, the economical solution of using approach spans was adopted. With this method the space is spanned by approach spans of beam and slab construction. In order to maintain the visual continuity of the bridge structure, the approach spans were founded on the rear faces of the cast insitu section of the bridge over State Circle.

The end bridge on the Commonwealth Avenue extension is an asymmetrical structure. It has the appearance of being firmly established in the landscape on the north side, yet “leaping” across onto Capital Hill. The thin deck section where the bridge passes onto the Hill was achieved by counterweighting the bridge with a mass concrete weight hidden behind the side walls of the abutment. This counter- weight reduces the mid-span bending movements to achieve the slender, asymmetrical structure. The support of the bridge at the northern abutment uses a bearing rib arrangement similar to the bridges over State Circle further north on the Avenue extension.

Bridge piers under the Land Axis










Fig. 14.6: Bridge piers under the Land Axis, part of a common theme for all bridges.

The Land Axis

The Land Axis links the new Parliament House to the Provisional House, with a formal approach of constant grade. A design requirement was that the Land Axis provide natural, uncomplicated vehicle access, plus a comfortable pedestrian access. The formality of the approach is achieved by providing a continuity of landscape between the two buildings with irrigated grass and native tree planting which emphasises the linear nature of the Land Axis.

The continuation of irrigated grass over State Circle is achieved by the unusual solution of providing planter boxes on the two bridges carrying the Land Axis roads over State Circle. Grading of the deck surface, waterproofing, drainage and soil were all chosen to encourage a quality grass surface with no apparent difference between the grass in this artificial planting environment and that on the adjacent natural ground.

The bridges are shallow, prestressed girder structures with a banana-shaped underbelly which was specifically chosen to emphasise the slender nature of the bridges. They have a bold and simple fascia created by a precast panel which is angled to catch the light, and for frequent washing by rain.

The design of the bridges meets all NAASRA specified loadings and includes stresses due to temperature differentials through the depth of the deck. Additionally, as the bridges were used to carry construction vehicles during the excavation of Camp Hill, they were designed to support loaded scrapers. The scrapers were restricted to the central strip of the bridge to reduce asymmetrical loadings. A speed restriction was also imposed on construction vehicles to reduce load impacts.

The piers which support the deck comprise three columns of varying height at each location and between the bridges. Thoughtful design was required to ensure the bridges did not create a forest of columns. After architectural consultation, the result was a set of angular columns with carefully chosen horizontal joints relating the columns to each other. The angular cross section was chosen to reduce the visual mass of columns. The columns have been repeated on the Melbourne Avenue bridge in a two-column pier arrangement.

Diagrams of parapet







Fig. 14.7: Diagrams of parapet options considered. The adopted parapet is shown at the lower right.

  Bridge parapet termination details.








Fig. 14.8: Bridge parapet termination details.


A great deal of attention was given to producing the most appropriate design for the bridge balustrades and their terminations. This was necessary because they would be visually the strongest and most easily identifiable “family” components of the bridges, both for users and as elements in the landscape. A wide range of crashrail, handrail and balustrade alternatives was considered.

Standard specifications require that all road overbridges be designed to prevent vehicles from penetrating the edges of the bridges and crashing onto the road below. On conventional highway structures this is achieved by making the bridge handrails strong enough to contain vehicles or by incorporating a vehicular barrier adjacent to the kerb. However, this project called for estate bridges (bridges in the landscape), for which conventional techniques were unsuitable. After much analysis of steel and concrete barrier options, an edge parapet treatment was adopted for both structural and aesthetic reasons. It consists of a solid concrete balustrade surmounted by clean, crisp, precast fascia units. The overall height of the concrete parapet is 1.1 metres and the outer faces are sloped outwards to enhance the ability of the concrete to maintain a uniform colour as it weathers and to minimise buildup of grime.

The strong, clean lines of the solid balustrades, in conjunction with the bridge structures, achieve the desired blending with the landscape and the House.

The termination of a bridge balustrade is as important as the balustrade itself. The estate bridge theme suggested that the parapets should have positive terminations in harmony with the landscape. Various options were examined, and led to the adoption of a detail commonly used on the stone-arch bridges of the last century. The ends of the parapets gently flare away from the roadway and terminate with concrete bollards.

A similar parapet was used on the tops of the Capital Circle tunnel portals, to provide yet another link between the structures leading to the new Parliament House.

Capital Circle Tunnel

Designing the Capital Circle Tunnel presented geometric complexities. It was to be located on a reverse curve where Capital Circle passed through an existing cutting. The structure required greater width than the roadway pavement in order to provide lateral sight distance clearance around the curve.

This led to a barrel-vaulted shape solution, with the footpaths at the springing lines of the arch allowing adequate sight distance. The tunnel pavement rotates to provide super-elevation from three per cent in one direction to three per cent in the other direction. The rotation was achieved by rotating the whole tunnel cross-section, thus allowing a constant roof cross-section to be adopted for ease of construction. The resulting geometry was complex yet the easy-to-build section provides clean-flowing, aesthetically pleasing lines.

The tunnel is 156 metres long between the large reinforced concrete portals. The finish and joint pattern on the portals was selected after lengthy consultation with the Architects and with tunnel lighting designers. The portals have a textured concrete finish in keeping with the rest of the Parliament House complex, yet with an intensity of colour which ensures economical lighting in the tunnel by reducing the contrast between external and internal lighting levels.

The barrel-vault design is effectively a tied arch with the roadway slab forming the tension tie. Options of a pre- stressed and reinforced concrete pavement were considered; however, there was little cost differential and faster construction was possible with a reinforced pavement. The arch of the tunnel is connected to the portal walls via a ring beam which offers stiffness to the portals and the arch, and provides the architectural detail around the tunnel entry and exit.

The tunnel is constructed over two different rock strata. At the three-quarter point of the tunnel, near the western portal, a dipping fault line traverses the tunnel cross- section, skewed to the longitudinal axis of the tunnel. On either side of the fault the rock has different strength and stiffness. East of the fault the rock allowable bearing pres- sure is 270 kPa and stiffness (expressed as a modulus of subgrade reaction) is 50 kPa/mm. West of the fault the rock is the hard Black Mountain sandstone, which was attributed as allowing bearing pressure of 400 kPa and a stiffness of 5,000 to 25,000 kPa/mm.

The variation in rock stiffness presented problems for the tunnel cross-section, with greater stresses being induced by the differential settlement effects. Some thought was given to articulating the tunnel at the fault to cater for the anticipated differential movements. However, this would have created problems with waterproofing the structure and with the internal treatment of the articulation. Therefore, it was decided to strengthen the tunnel cross-section at the fault line, which simplified the solution and enabled the interior of the tunnel to maintain a constant appearance.

The effect of the fault was firstly confined to a right angle crossing by excavating soft rock and backfilling with mass concrete to “square-up” the interface between soft and hard foundations. The tunnel section straddling the fault was then thickened and post-tensioned longitudinally. This provided sufficient strength to resist the anticipated differential settlement effects, which would be magnified by the weight of the filling placed over the tunnel. During construction the thickened section was initially isolated from the standard sections to the east and west and later connected, with a 2 metre closing pour, as the final stage in the tunnel’s construction. The tunnel construction proceeded from the eastern end to allow the casting on soft rock to precede the casting on hard rock, which maximised the amount of differential settlement that occurred prior to the casting of the closing pours.

The effects of differential temperature and different progressive levels of backfilling (the material coming from Camp Hill) during construction were analysed in the design. This led to the specification of a maximum differential in backfilling heights of 2 metres from one side of the tunnel to the other.

The flowing curvilinear lines of the tunnel are accentuated by two lines of lighting, the intensity of which varies through the tunnel. A high intensity of light is provided in the entry portal, reducing along the tunnel as the driver’s eyes adjust to the lower light levels.

The tunnel has automatic sprinklers, fire hydrants, hose reels and warning devices linked to the ACT Fire Brigade network. Axial flow fans, activated by carbon monoxide monitors, operate should there be a buildup in carbon monoxide in the tunnel.

Given the closeness of the tunnel to the new Parliament House, a closed circuit television surveillance system allows constant police monitoring of the tunnel.

All services within the tunnel are concealed within the haunches at the arch springing lines, giving the tunnel a clear flowing appearance which is emphasised by the strip steel lining covering the curved arch. The lining has a red-brick colour between the rows of lighting, and an acoustic backing to minimise traffic noise.

Capital Circle turned western portal.






Fig. 14.9: Capital Circle turned western portal.

Geologically Significant Rock Cutting

State Circle passes under the Land Axis in an existing cutting through Camp Hill sandstone rock. The rock cutting exposes a geologically significant rock profile which had to be retained and protected from deterioration during the construction.

The Land Axis roads are carried over State Circle on bridges which have their northern abutments set back from the face of the cutting and are founded at a level above a berm which provides a top edge termination to the rock face.

The stability of this rock face was investigated and drainage works were designed to prevent surface water flowing over it and to minimise seepage and ground water pressure behind the face. During construction care was taken to protect the face from damage and the extent of remodelling of the land contours during the removal of part of Camp Hill was the subject of discussions with the Geological Society of the ACT, to ensure that the rock face remained intact.

A viewing platform has been constructed on the south side of State Circle between the two Land Axis bridges, to provide for formal viewing of the rock face.

Commencement Column Monument

On the original Capital Hill site a Commencement Column Monument was officially laid, commemorating the naming of Canberra as the Federal Capital.

The column comprised 63 stones with three foundation stones, one each laid by the then Prime Minister, the Hon Andrew Fisher; Sir Thomas Denman, Baron and Governor General and Commander in Chief of the Commonwealth of Australia; and the Hon King O’Malley, Minister of State for Home Affairs at the time.

The naming ceremony took place on 12 March 1913, 75 years to the day prior to the monument’s relocation on the Land Axis, and it was at the original ceremony that Lady Denman named the Federal Capital Canberra.

The ceremony to officially relocate the monument from its original site to its new site near the forecourt of the new Parliament House was attended by the modern day counterparts of the original participants, namely the Hon R.J. Hawke, Sir Ninian Stephen and the Hon Gary Punch,M.P.

The relocation of the monument was one of the finishing tasks in the access roads project, completed several months prior to the opening of the new Parliament House.

the clean lines of Capital Circle tunnel.













Fig. 14.10: the clean lines of Capital Circle tunnel.

Peripheral Works

The construction of the roads and bridges to the new House provided an opportunity to upgrade some adjoining areas, to link them in with the complex. Areas upgraded included:

  • The Lodge retarding basin. The open area adjacent to The Lodge was contoured, regrassed and planted with additional trees. The shaping of the area formed a small retarding basin to contain overland runoff.
  • Modifications to Adelaide Avenue bridge. Minor changes to the Adelaide Avenue alignment required kerb and barrier rail modifications.
  • Scrivener’s Hut. The original hut used by Scrivener during his survey for the National Capital site is located within the annulus formed by State Circle. Landscaping works, including a new cycle path, have upgraded this area, and the hut is now adjacent to a public recreation area.


Construction of the works was carried out in five main contracts, between 1983 and 1989, with all works substantially completed for the official opening in May 1988.

The timing and size of the five packages of work were adjusted to suit the traffic requirements of the site and cash flow constraints. The main packages were, in chronological order:

  • Southern Roadworks Package. These works concentrated on roadworks required at the southern end of the site and involved widening and lowering Capital Circle between Canberra and Adelaide Avenues. Also constructed was the Melbourne Avenue link towards Capital Hill and modifications along Adelaide Avenue.
  • Bridges Package. This was principally a bridgeworks con- tract with the construction of the two Land Axis bridges over State Circle and the construction of the Melbourne Avenue bridge.
  • Commonwealth Avenue North Package. This contract included all works on Commonwealth Avenue north of Coronation Drive. It involved the reconstruction of the Coronation Drive-Commonwealth Avenue intersection and all the other minor road and drainage works in the area.
  • Commonwealth Avenue Extension Package. This was the second largest package of work and involved construction of the new central bridge and ramp structures up the centre of Commonwealth Avenue, onto Capital Hill.
  • Tunnel Package. The Capital Circle tunnel was constructed in this, the largest of the contracts. Under these works, the Land Axis was formed, together with its landscape. The Kings Avenue link was also established in this package, with the construction of the Kings Avenue/State Circle intersection and the building of a new bridge over Capital Circle. This package of work substantially completed the Parliament House access roads works.

State Circle rock cutting prior






Fig. 14.11: State Circle rock cutting prior to removal of Camp Hill, showing abutments set back to preserve the integrity of the exposure.Source: NCDC.

 Ceremony markimg the repositioning






Fig. 14.12: Ceremony markimg the repositioning of the Commencement Column monument on the Land Axix, 12 March 1988.

The construction works involved some complex programming and timing issues; however, the construction of the works themselves involved no new or different construction techniques. The quality of finish was achieved by the application of good control over traditional construction methods. All work was completed to schedule and the initial estimates proved to be accurate, allowing for the effects of inflation in the intervening years.

Aerial view of construction






Fig. 14.13: Aerial view of construction in progress on tunnel, Land Axis bridges and Commonwealth Avenue extension.


This chapter draws heavily on the various reports and documents produced by design agents, Maunsell & Partners, in the process of design development and during their management of its construction.

The project was a major team effort with the authors part of that team which comprised not only NCDC and PHCA staff but also the many other consultants who worked on the project.

References and Sources

  1. Parliament House Construction Authority. Parliament House Canberra—Conditions for a Two-Stage Competition. Volume One—April 1979.
  2. Maunsell and Partners. Parliament House Access and Roadworks, Pre-Design Report. Volume 1—Text, July 1981, Unpublished report to NCDC.
  3. Maunsell and Partners. Parliament House Access and Roadworks, Pre-Design Report. Volume 2—Illustrations, July 1981, Unpublished report to NCDC.
  4. Maunsell and Partners. Parliament House Access Roads, Preliminary Design Report. January 1982, Unpublished report to NCDC.
  5. Department of Main Roads, New South Wales. The Aesthetics of Bridges. January 1987.



The first edition of this book concluded with an AFTERWORD. Written in 1983, its message and information is still relevant for the reader of the early 1990s, so it is reproduced without amendment.

One of the pleasures of working in the “prosperity” years of the nineteen sixties and early seventies was the opportunity to do things well.

Reasonable finance was available and, unlike in established cities, physical constraints were minimal. Indeed, like its predecessor the Federal Capital Commission, NCDC in the new towns started with the great advantage of having all land owned by the Commonwealth and used mostly for grazing. This greatly facilitated the work of planning, developing and constructing the national capital. While this focussed accountability squarely on the NCDC, engineers also recognised a responsibility to explore new and improved methods. Many innovations were included in the development work; Commonwealth Avenue Bridge, for example, incorporated several design features that were new to major bridges in Australia. In particular, the superstructure comprised the first post tensioned concrete multi-webbed torsion box made of jointed precast segments. The one hundred segments were stressed together in one operation over the full length of deck by 320-m long external tendons. The new type hand- rail lighting of Kings and Commonwealth Avenue bridges has proved more appropriate than later designs elsewhere. The very wide range of investigations carried out prior to construction of Lake Burley Griffin were just as comprehensive as the Environmental Impact Statements introduced ten years later.

The Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre is a state-of-the-art plant built to cope with the wastes of a large inland city discharging into the Murrumbidgee River which sometimes ceases to flow and “can only be found with a shovel”. The plant was designed having regard for its location in the world’s driest habitable continent and recognising the high standards being demanded in a new era of emphasis on environmental quality. Many other cases of innovation could be quoted and some have been mentioned in preceding chapters. These new concepts stimulated the work of engineers and contributed to the high quality of the developing National Capital.

Comment should also be made about the nature of the liaison between organisations and between their engineers in particular. Research into the era of Walter Burley Griffin and the interdepartmental Board reveals some unhappy jealousies. When NCDC began operations in 1958, taking over work then being handled by several departments, the situation was conducive to further friction but this proved to be minimal. Indeed, the authors of this book would pay tribute to the various departments and authorities that worked so well as partners contributing to the very high rate of development work.

Another group of engineers must be mentioned the private consultants. In addition to utilising the engineering skills of the Commonwealth Department of Works, (now called Transport & Construction) NCDC operated on the basis of maintaining a relatively small, but skilled staff directing a wide range of consulting engineers who handled the detailed planning, design and supervision of construction by contractors. Throughout the period of very high annual growth rates, NCDC relied heavily on the integrity of private consultants to certify large progress payments and ensure that all requirements of the plans and specifications were observed and that the contractor was paid for the work he did. Consulting engineers maintained the highest level of integrity and fair judgements in all this work, including the administration of many contracts.

The title of this book ‘Canberra’s Engineering Heritage’ may suggest that the record is all embracing. It is not. The authors have attempted to cover as much as possible of the Capital’s engineering heritage but are conscious of other areas not covered. One example is the operation and maintenance of the engineering infrastructure for which the Department of Transport and Construction currently carries the major responsibility. There is also the work of the structural, mechanical and electrical engineers in Canberra’s buildings. There are 1,300 members of the Canberra Division of the Institution of Engineers and clearly all their activities have not been covered in detail but the major works have been recorded.

Just as no single engineer can implement a major project, similarly, engineers need the associated professions. The story of the development of Canberra is very much a story of the integration of professions.

Firstly we must mention the Town Planners who were more often served by engineers than vice versa. Next there were the geologists such as Dr. Keith Carter and his team from the Bureau of Mineral Resources, whose guidance in foundations, excavations and tunnels helped engineers in their eternal quest for the most economical design.

Not only geologists, but scientists from many fields contributed their highly specialised advice to the investigations of engineers.

Acknowledgement, too, needs to be made of the work of architects, like the late Richard Gray of London, who accept that “form follows function” yet can so shade the engineer’s design that it takes on a quality of elegance as well as economy.

Finally, when the structure is built and the land forms are restored, the engineer appreciates the guidance of the landscape architect in the embellishment of the work.

There have been other associated professions such as the Economists and the Politicians. Irrespective of one’s political persuasions, it must be said that from the mid- nineteen fifties until his retirement in 1966, the new surge in building Australia’s National Capital was due to the leadership and support of the late Sir Robert Menzies, Prime Minister of Australia.

All these professions had their contribution to make, and decisions were made that had regard to the skills of each. The extent to which the development of Canberra has been a success, is the extent to which this principle of teamwork of the several professions has been applied.

The approach of the Bicentenary of European Settlement in Australia in 1988 has generated a growing interest in this nation’s past, which is reflected in the activities of amateur and professional historians, genealogists and various historical societies. This expanding awareness of heritage, both natural and man-made, can only heighten the sense of what it is to be Australian and, perhaps, provide some insight into where the next century may lead us. Canberra’s Engineering Heritage will form part of this mosaic, providing engineers and the general reader with some understanding of the evolution of the National Capital upon the almost treeless Limestone Plains in the past seventy years.

This book, of course, goes further than recording the development of the Capital. It reaches back into the pre- Federation period to the early eighteen hundreds. Reflecting on the work that has been done so far to build our National Capital, there is a feeling of satisfaction in most, but not all areas, that the foundations are well established or under way and capable of further development according to need.

The roads associated with the new and permanent Parliament House are being adjusted to suit that special building. There seems good prospect of having by 1988 the Federal and Barton Highways converted to the much safer dual carriageways. The Monaro and Kings Highways should similarly be converted.

The chapter on Roads and Bridges, by Andrews, rightly points out the need to complete the dual carriageway parkway system flanking the urban areas. His similar message on the spinal inter-town public transport system is repeated by the authors of the chapter on Urban Public Transport.

The single worst section of the Sydney to Melbourne railway is that between Goulburn and Junee. As Shellshear points out in his chapter on Railways, a new alignment is available swinging South of that difficult section — an alignment that would allow the full capacity of XPT trains to be properly exploited and at the same time give a shorter and higher standard connection to Canberra.

The final and perhaps most outstanding need is to provide an airport terminal building worthy of a country’s National Capital. Past uncertainties as to the future airfield for regular public transport have understandably delayed a commitment to proper terminal facilities, but those uncertainties now seem past and it should be possible to build an impressive terminal as the front door to the nation together with a splendidly landscaped dual carriageway parkway into Parkes Way, the City and Parliamentary areas.

Looking back on our heritage from the past, we hand over these batons to the current generation. But we also hand over a record of our major engineering heritage that is up-to-date. We trust that succeeding generations will continue to maintain the record.

A.E. Minty,
Heritage Sub-committee,
Canberra Division,
The Institution of Engineers, Australia
January 1983