Book Review – Canberra

My love for Canberra (I grew up here) has been accentuated even more by Paul Daley’s book, which outlines the history of the Canberra Limestone Plains from its controversial inception as the nation’s capital to its design by the American architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin. It’s a fascinating read and have learnt a great deal more about this city than I anticipated. I didn’t realise that not all of Walter Griffin’s plan was executed by the Australian authorities who “simply began building to their ideas and ignoring Griffin’s plan”. Griffin’s wife Marion was angry about Walter’s battle with the authorities and later wrote to her friends: “The one word that describes the methods here is inefficiency and the one that describes the ideal is mediocrity”.

Daley also provides his readers plenty of archival histories and stories of the people and characters that made Canberra what it is today. Certainly, politics is the main force behind the creation of this city and you hear of the politicians and the public servants that played a major role in its conception. But as a reader, you also get a glimpse of how the local traditional owners, the rich farmers and the labourers lived. He also describes the environment at the time. It’s interesting to note that Lake George has been dry on and off between 1838 and 1900. When I first arrived in Canberra (in the 1980’s), Lake George was full then it gradually dried up (completely dry between 2002 and 2010). I believe it has now filled up again.

Despite how you feel about Canberra, I think this is a great read about the history of our nation’s capital. A must-read for those would-be Canberra lovers. I am biased of course so I enjoyed this book. I mean if they could build a city in a middle of a dry paddock, they could build a city anywhere!

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