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Part 3 - A New Seat of Government

It had been established by section 125 of the Constitution that the federal capital site would be in New South Wales but not within a hundred miles of Sydney. At the time of the first session of the Commonwealth Parliament a site was still to be selected.

The Commonwealth Parliament would meet in Melbourne until a capital was provided. A Royal Commission was set up in 1899 by the NSW Government to investigate possible sites. Many towns in New South Wales were nominated by their residents for the honour and were required to submit details as to climatic conditions, transport accessibility, physical conditions, land ownership and value, plus information on other conditions including food supply, minerals, ability to support a considerable population and conditions for commercial and industrial development. The Commissioner visited many sites and presented the report on 26 October 1900 which favoured the following areas: Orange (or Canobolas), Yass and Bombala-Eden.

The choice was not New South Wales' to make. It was the constitutional prerogative of the Federal Parliament which appointed its own Royal Commission on 14 January 1903 to report on sites at Albury, Armidale, Bathurst, Bombala, Lake George, Lyndhurst, Orange and Tumut. Dalgety was assessed in a supplement to the final report. Alexander Oliver, who had been Commissioner of the New South Wales Royal Commission, criticised the Commonwealth report in a short review. Lobbying for various sites continued by federal capital leagues and politicians eager to claim the prize for their electorates.

The Seat of Government Act 1904 named the area around Dalgety as the site of the federal capital and said it should contain 900 square miles and access to the sea. The New South Wales Government would not agree to this and would set several conditions before entering into negotiations.1 Dalgety was not a popular choice due to its distance from Sydney and proximity to the Victorian boarder. Joseph Carruthers, New South Wales Premier, sought to find a site closer to Sydney and by April 1906 the focus was on the triangular area between Yass, Goulburn and Queanbeyan.2 Charles Wade succeeded Carruthers as Premier in 1907 and wanted the matter settled in the hope of improving relations between the Commonwealth and the State. Canberra was gaining supporters and impressed politicians who visited the area.3

In October and November 1908 the House of Representatives and the Senate held a final ballot between Dalgety and Yass-Canberra, the latter winning the ballot. When the Seat of Government Act 1908 was passed on 14 December, it was said that

Sydney was happy with its Christmas present.4

Surveyor Charles Scrivener was borrowed from New South Wales by the Commonwealth to survey the area selected. Premier Wade offered the Commonwealth 912 square miles in the area and 2 square miles at Jervis Bay which was later increased to 28 square miles and the use of the Snowy River for electricity. Over forty years later in 1949 the Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electric Scheme started construction to solve power and irrigation problems in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

An Agreement of Surrender was signed by Wade and the Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin on 18 October 1909. The Agreement was ratified by the New South Wales Seat of Government Surrender Act 1909 and the Commonwealth Seat of Government Acceptance Act 1909. As the Bill for the latter was laid before the Senate there was one final attempt to substitute Dalgety for Yass-Canberra.5 The land we know as the Australian Capital Territory was transferred to the Commonwealth Government on 1 January 1911. In 1911 an international competition to design the nation's capital was announced and on 23 May 1912 it was won by Walter Burley Griffin. On 12 March 1913 Lady Denman, wife of the Governor General, announced the name of Australia's capital as Canberra at an official ceremony. The name had been the subject of much speculation prior to its announcement including newspaper discussion of proposed names for the capital.6 It would not be until 9 May 1927 when the Duke of York officially opened the Commonwealth Parliament in Canberra that 'Section 125 of the Constitution was satisfied'.7

Records of the Colonial Secretary, the Government Printing Office and the Governor described in the 1901-14 section of this Guide should also be consulted.

Department of Attorney General and Justice

NRS 333, Special bundles
    * Federal Capital Site Reports, 1900-05 [5/7744.2]
Printed Parliamentary Papers of the New South Wales and Commonwealth of Australia parliaments reporting on the federal capital site.

Department of Lands

NRS 8293, Drawings and tracing for Federal Capital site, 1910 [X687]
Includes plans for a general design showing roads, public buildings, commercial and recreational areas. While some are based on Charles Scrivener's contour survey, others were 'drawn on stone by Messrs O Fischer and A G von Stach under the direction of E S Vautin' and 'drawn on stone and printed by the Department of Lands, Sydney NSW from original plan by F J Broinowski by the authority of the Hon. The Minister for Lands, September, 1910'.

Royal Commission on sites for the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth

NRS 1460, Correspondence and Minutes of Evidence and proceedings of the Royal Commission on Sites for the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth, 1899-1902 [2/882-885.5]
Minutes of evidence and correspondence supporting submissions from various sites applying to be the site of the federal capital are listed below:
Locality Item
Albury  [2/882.1]
Armidale   [2/882.2]
Barbers Creek (near Marlan)  [2/882.3] 
Bathurst  [2/882.4] 
Bemboka  [2/882.5] 
Bombala-Eden District  [2/882.6] 
Bowna  [2/882.7] 
Braidwood  [2/883.1] 
Buckleys Crossing (near Cooma)  [2/883.2] 
Carcoar-Garland  [2/883.3] 
Cootamundra  [2/883.4] 
Corowa  [2/883.5] 
Dalgety  [2/883.6] 
Delegate  [2/883.7] 
Forest Reefs and Calvert (Milthorpe)  [2/883.8] 
Glen Innes  [2/883.9] 
Goulburn  [2/883.10] 
Hay  [2/883.11] 
Howlong  [2/883.12] 
Inverell  [2/883.13] 
Junee  [2/883.14] 
Mahkoolona (near Yass)  [2/883.15] 
Molong  [2/883.16] 
Moss Vale  [2/884.1] 
Mt Clarence (near Lithgow) (expressed interest only)  [2/884.2] 
Murrumburrah  [2/884.3] 
Orange  [2/884.4] 
Port Stephens  [2/884.5] 
Queanbeyan  [2/884.6] 
Rylstone  [2/884.7] 
Sassafras  [2/885.4] 
Tenterfield  [2/884.8] 
Towrang [2/884.9]
Tumbarumba [2/884.10]
Tumut ('Gadara' site) [2/884.11] 
Wagga Wagga [2/884.12]
Wellington [2/884.13]
Wentworth [2/885.1]
Yass [2/885.2]
Young  [2/885.3]

NRS 1460 and NRS 1461, Additional papers [2/885.4]
This bundle contains additional information and miscellaneous correspondence supporting or proposing various sites together with papers concerning the preparation of the report.

NRS 1460 and NRS 1461, Parliamentary Papers [2/885.5]
This bundle contains printed parliamentary papers on the Federal Capital Site; The Commonwealth (1903) and State Royal Commissions on the matter.
It also includes a Short Review of the contents of the report of the Commonwealth Commissioners on sites for the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth, 1903 by Alexander Oliver, notes on the water supply of various sites and maps of the Monaro, Dalgety and Tumut sites.

NRS 1462, Report of the Commissioner on Sites for the seat of Government of the Commonwealth, 1900 [2/885.6]
This report, printed 26 October 1900, provides case statements on each of the sites inspected and concludes 'any one of the three sites (1) Orange (or Canobolas), (2) Yass; (3) Bombala-Eden (Southern Monaro), will be suitable for the establishment there of the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth'.

NRS 1463, Map showing proposed Federal Territory and Federal Capital Site at Orange, Mar 1900 [Map No. 777]
This map is annotated: 'Exhibit B Federal Capital Site Inquiry Commission, Orange 24 March 1900'.

Mines Department

NRS 10189, Geological survey of the site of the Federal Capital of Australia, 1910 [Map No. 32258]
This map was compiled by Edward Pittman, Government Geologist and Under Secretary for Mines. It shows sedimentary and igneous deposits.

Premier's Department

NRS 12061, Special bundles
    * Federal Capital Site Papers, 1901-15 [7/5911-12, 4/6257-58]
[7/5911] includes reports on water supplies of various sites, compensation to New South Wales for cession of territory to Commonwealth, and the Report of the Commissioner on the sites for the Seat of Government.
[7/5912] includes the Agreement of Surrender of Territory to Commonwealth 1909, Seat of Government Surrender Bill, papers and maps concerning the proposed railway Yass-Canberra to Jervis Bay.
[4/6257] includes correspondence concerning arrangements for the Commonwealth Government to borrow New South Wales surveyor Charles Scrivener to conduct a topographical investigation of the Yass-Canberra Federal Capital area in 1908 and a copy of Scrivener's report, June 1910. Papers concerning agricultural stock statistics, land tenures, and values of land and maps are included for the proposed federal territory, 1909. Papers concerning arrangements for the visit by senators to the Yass-Canberra federal territory in 1910 are also included.
[4/6258] includes papers concerning electricity, water supply and sewerage for the federal capital site; Bill for an act to provide for the Provisional Government of the Territory; copies of the proclamation declaring the Seat of Government Surrender Act 1915; list of police buildings, lock-ups and court houses on crown lands suggested for surrender; maps of an ornamental lake and contour survey by Charles Scrivener.


NRS 14194, Special bundles
    * Site of Federal Capital, 1904 [10/4156 part]
Printed Papers of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia giving reports on proposed sites in Tooma, Lyndhurst, Tumut and Southern Monaro Districts. It is accompanied by many large plans of the Tumut and Southern Monaro sites.


[1] Roger Pegrum, The Bush Capital, Hale and Iremonger, Sydney 1983, p.122.

[2] ibid., p.127.

[3] ibid., p.132.

[4] ibid., p.144.

[5] ibid., p.148.

[6] ibid., pp.169-175.

[7] ibid., p.181.

State Records Authority of New South Wales
Sydney,  Australia
May, 2001
© Copyright reserved by the Government of NSW, 2001. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced by any method without the prior written consent of the State Records Authority of NSW.
ISBN 0-7310-1759-5