Early Canberra


Left: Men of No 1 Labourers Camp, Capitol Hill, Westlake 1924.  Single men were housed in tent camps placed near worksites, but out of sight of permanent Canberra. Canberra & District Historical Society collection.

 The name of the author of the following article is not known.  This story gives an overview by a local of the early construction years of the city of Canberra.  Much of the infrastructure was commenced in 1912-13 and put on hold during World War 1914-18.  Even as late as 1919 the continued construction of the federal city was in doubt.  In 1920 the Federal Capital Advisory Committee was formed and work restarted.  This group was responsible for some housing for married construction workers - 88 brick cottages; converted the ex-internment at Mologlo in 120 cottages consisting of three or six rooms and 51 small portable timber cottages at Westlake.  The FCAC was taken over by the Federal Capital Commission (FCC) with John Butters at its head on 1st January 1925.  John Butters, First Commissioner, later Sir John, was responsible for another 10 cottages at Westlake and 120 at Causeway.  He then allowed men to build humpies for their families at Riverbourne (three miles from Queanbeyan Post Office on south side of Molonglo River - 1925-1927) and Russell Hill - 120 sites 1926 - 1950s).

Work on permanent cottages for the incoming public servants began in1926 and the first shopping centre at Eastlake (Kingston) was built in 1925 and followed by Manuka and Civic Centre.)

Work on the city slowed following the opening of Parliament in May 1927.  The Great Depression which officially began in Australia in 1929 following the Wall Street Crash in the US began in Canberra in 1927.  The following years were ones of great hardship as work dried up and many men left to search for work.  The Great Depression continued into the years of World War 2 (1939-1945).  In Canberra, the Unemployment Relief Committee was formed and men who lived in the Territory were in the case of married men, given work one week in three or four and single men supporting families one week or a few days within a longer period.  This is the background to the following story.

 Canberra Times Wednesday 13 December 1933 page 7


A RETROSPECT - 1923-1932

Could the last ten years have wrought such changes anywhere in the world as in Canberra?  The whole character of the place, its people and their interests and institutions have changed.  The change from beginning to end has been amazing, and even step by step, the differences were great enough each year for the ordinary community.

Ten years, a brief enough span even in Australian history, is yet sufficient to cover the essential years of Canberra's rise from a 'city of foundation stones' to Australian National Capital.

Let us look back over the Christmases of the last ten years and see how changes to the daily life of Canberra has been.


We see first a Canberra that had differed little from the landscape paintings of the original site.  Here and there are roads and features implanted upon the landscape by Mr Burley Griffin to ensure that his plans should endure.  Not very long ago, the first work had been commenced on Parliament House.  Far on the northern side lies a cluster of cottages put there by Mr Burley Griffin.  They now form part of Braddon.  Acton exists in the form of offices, weatherboard cottages the early buildings of the Hospital and Canberra House.  The landscape is dotted with groups of camps.

The scene on Christmas Day is a very quiet one.  The resident community is small and many of the workmen have homes elsewhere.  Canberra is as deserted this Christmas as Sydney and Melbourne newspapers will represent it in 1933 if their usual practice holds.


 But let us leaf forward another year. Canberra is about to start in earnest.  The first land sales have just been held. Hotel Canberra has been opened.  The camps have increased in size and number.  Threading its way from Westridge (now Yarralumla) is a small gauge railway over which millions of bricks were taken to Eastlake (now Kingston), Ainslie or Capitol Hill.  Over at Acton there is an expectant air. The Federal Capital Commission has just been appointed and with the New Year Mr JH Butters will be in charge.  There is an exodus of workmen this Christmas and in Queanbeyan the shops are beginning to feel the effects of the rising activity in Canberra.

A new Canberra community is springing up and the first steps are being taken in friendly societies and kindred institutions.  A Christmas tree or two are organised for the children and there are great hopes for the next succeeding years.


The scene has changed rapidly.  It has been a year of change indeed. The Federal Capital Commission has taken up its great construction task with a will.  It has drawn its staff from many parts of Australia and its workmen represent every state.  Work is being pushed ahead in every direction.  Private enterprise has started too.  Canberra has its own shops this Christmas, for the Eastlake (Kingston) shopping area is being developed and JB Young Ltd has opened its large store on the first business site purchased in Canberra and one or two other shops are open both at Eastlake and at Manuka.  There is as yet no sign of activity at Civic Centre, but in the industrial area are two bakery buildings are being built and the offices of 'The Canberra Times' are being erected.

But the most notable event affecting Christmas has been the creation of a new organisation in Canberra called the Canberra Social Service Association.  It has much to do with ideals close to those of the Christmas season itself.  It is concerned primarily with the welfare of the people in their leisure, but it offers the helping hand to every society in the growing settlement.  There are more Christmas trees, more Christmas jollity this year than before. Queanbeyan is busier than ever before.  The railways carry many away for Christmas, but there are many who spend their first Christmas in Canberra.  It was very quiet - peace on earth indeed.


What a year it has been. More employment still and in every direction the fabric of a city is branding the once peaceful valley.  Whole suburbs have sprouted since last Christmas.  Blandfordia is a group of houses with red and green roofs.  Barton and Griffith are marked by 150 houses in varying stages of construction.  The first house at Red Hill will shortly be completed for Mr WG Woodger.  Away to the North, the Canberra Avenue subdivision has sprung into existence.  A pile of four million bricks that had been carried by miniature trains to just outside the 'Time's' buildings at Ainslie has been removed and is now forming the first houses in the new suburb of South Ainslie (Reid).  Ainslie itself is beginning to fill out.  Shop buildings are beginning to rise at Civic Centre.  The industrial row looks businesslike (Mort St area).  Two bakeries are in production. 'The Canberra Times' has been published for the last four months.

Christmas is as many-sided as the fast growing Canberra community.  The Canberra Social Service Association has done good work.  There are associations and societies of every kind, each having some little contribution to make to the growing Canberra spirit.

On the other side, there are reminders of the unsatisfactory conditions under which a large section of Canberra's population dwells - in tents, hutments, wooden tenements and community camps.  Life there is rough.  Christmas was marred by a fatal stabbing affray at No 1 Camp (No 1 Labourers Camp, Capitol Hill, Westlake). Three excursion trains carried an assorted cargo of humanity away to Christmas celebrations of varying degrees.

The Canberra Community felt more like a happy family at an At Home given by Mr and Mrs JH Butters at Hotel Kurrajong which had been opened shortly before.

A prophetic note is struck by the leading article of 'The Canberra Times' of December 23: 'The interest that Australia will display in Canberra will not wane.  As the years pass 'Home for Christmas' will be synonymous with 'Home to Canberra' - and it will be a merry Christmas indeed.'


Canberra is now the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth. This has been a year of great events.  The first transfers of Departments from Melbourne (Printers were moved in 1926) have taken place, and Christmas is being celebrated in many new homes.  But many are deserted, for Christmas has accentuated nostalgia that only time can cure, and many family ties are renewed in Melbourne.

The city of Canberra is now defined in suburbs, homes, streets, shops, and offices, but it also exists more than even in the Canberra community.  The officers of the Commonwealth have been welcomed to Canberra by its citizens under the auspices of the Social Service Association. Life does not run quite so smoothly in the capital as in later years. Many amenities are still lacking and there is a good deal of grumbling, but that does not really amount to anything serious yet. There is a feeling that the Commission should give more attention to governing now that the major construction work is over.

The major construction programme is over.  Christmas comes for many under a cloud.  The peak of employment has passed.  The Government has reduced the vote for Canberra by 250,000 pounds for the next six months. Many leave Canberra never to return.  No less than 400 dismissal notices have been served.  The total employment is 2,700 and there is a pessimistic forecast that 1,000 men will eventually be put off.  This estimate five years later was fated to be merely optimism.

Christmas was marred by a motor fatality on the Yass Road at Ainslie when a car containing a party of tourists from Young, overturned and one man was killed.

Everything in Canberra is changing. Even the names originally set upon the city plan by Mr Burley Griffin are being erased in part.  Suburbs and districts were given new nomenclature as Christmas approached, and streets, parks and gardens have been named.  Canberra people now know where they live, even if five years later their visitors cannot find the streets. 

Just before Christmas 'The Canberra Times' announced that early in the New Year, it would be published as a morning daily newspaper.


More departments have been brought up from Melbourne and there is promise that Canberra is going on to assume it’s true role in Australian affairs.  The year witnessed unaccustomed events in Canberra, all of which leave their impress on the Christmas celebration.

The failure of the Federal Capital Commission to respond to public needs has become very pronounced, and there has been demand for its abolition.  Representation has been a live issue, and legislation has been passed to enable the people to elect one member of 'the commission'.  Early in the New Year an election will be held. In September some of the residents in the Territory exercised the right to vote the first time in 20 years.  The occasion was liquor pole which decided that the sale of liquor under private license should be introduced in the Territory.  Characteristically the Commission applied its own idea of what should be, and introduced a sale of liquor under public control.  The first liquor bars were opened on Christmas Eve.

It rained on Christmas Day, but it had been a good year for farmers all through.  Indeed, it was the last good year that farmers and graziers were to enjoy for a long time.


Canberra has been merely one centre in a world of change.  The golden age of past-war prosperity has ended even while the peoples of the world knew not that they had been in it.  In Australia the Government has fallen. In Canberra, the Federal Capital Commission is tottering to its doom.  Sir John Butters has gone.  His work in building the city will stand.  In his place as an administrator others are found who will enhance civic peace and good order in the capital. 

But there are much bigger things than the people of Canberra or the Australian people can control.  The first blasts of terrible economic storm have already swept Australia.  To those who ponder on public affairs the prospect after Christmas is not pleasing.  It has some terrifying prospects.

Nevertheless, hope overcomes fears for the time being.


Even the joy of Christmas has lost some of its appeal this year.  Australia has passed through days of travail. There is not even a light in our darkness this Christmas.  Drift and uncertainty have brought national peril.  Overseas, the Imperial Conference has failed; at home, the public is prepared for sacrifice.

The full force of national misfortunes are nowhere more keenly felt than in Canberra.  Nevertheless, there are still many who have not experienced to the full sufferings and troubles of depression.

Hopes of 1928 and 1929 for Canberra's future have been dashed.  The capital was practically the first thing to suffer the call for economy.  Yet, there has been some progress. Christmas Eve for instance, is marked by the opening of the new baths. 

Many more people spend Christmas in Canberra than before, but in return for the fewer who leave the city over the holidays, there are fewer tourists coming in.

Christmas hopes are centred on an early solution to the depression.


Depression has intensified its grip on everything.  Canberra is obsessed with twenty two and half percent, reduction is everything.  Things have been very bad in every walk of life.  The national fabric has stood severe strains and compulsory readjustments have been made in all forms of everyday affairs.

Towards the end of the year, there has been an election and a new Government is about to come to Canberra.  On Christmas Eve, Mr Lyons is engaged in choosing his Ministry.  Great hopes are entertained for what the new Government will do, but there is recognition that our life are largely beyond the cure of Australia alone.  We must do what we can, and wait.

The year has been marked by serious unemployment in Canberra.  The Christmas season is marked by organised effort to provide Christmas cheer.


Last Christmas was only 12 months ago, yet how short and how long the year has been.  At last Canberra has taken an upwards turn.  The Government has decided to resume transfers of Departments.  The Taxation and Patents staffs will be here within a few months.

There is prospect of more employment and a turn in the general outlook encourages the belief that ere another year will have sped, ' things will be better.'

The depression has taught us many lessons.  Goodwill means more now than ever before.  It implies first understanding the other fellow's troubles.

Meanwhile, there has been an awakening concerning Canberra.  While the material expansion of the city has been checked for three years, Nature has been busy adding touches of charm and beauty in her inimitable way.  The people of Australia are coming to remember that Christmas is their own capital. The people of Canberra are now completely absorbed in it as their home. So, Christmas sees many visitors to the Capital and both visitor and resident find many compensations in a Canberra Christmas.

After all, in the present and the future, it is from here that authority sends out its Christmas message to the people, and it is here that the practise of the Christmas message must be infused into the national life and affairs of a virile people.

The Residency - Canberra House & couple new houses Acton

The Canberra Times 10 March 1927



Reply to Criticism

Melbourne, Thursday

The Minister for Home and Territories (Sir William Glasgow) referred to the recent press criticism of terms under which Canberra House was being occupied by Mr JH Butters, Chief Commissioner of the Federal Capital Commission at Canberra.

He stated that the house once was known as the Residency and latterly as Canberra House. It was originally constructed and occupied as a residence for the Administrator of  the Territory, and at the time of the appointment of the Commission it was used for the purpose of accommodating visiting officials.  Upon the appointment of the Commission, the Chief Commissioner became the chief Government representative at Canberra and Canberra House was obviously suitable as the official residence.

The Minister stated that while it is true that the rental paid by Mr Butters at present is 200 pounds per annum, it will be increased as from July 1st next year to 300 pounds per annum. The rental fixed also covers the supply of electric current. In fixing the rate up to and inclusive of June 30 1927 at 200 pounds per annum, the Government took into consideration that fact that during the period prior to the transfer of the seat of Government to Canberra the burden of entertaining had necessarily fallen principally upon the Chief Commissioner, and that no allowance had been granted to him in respect thereof.  The rental payable by Mr Butters after July 1, 1927 represents 10 percent of his salary, and in this respect corresponds with the rate which prevailed for many years in the case of Commonwealth public servants, whose duties required them to reside in official premises.

There was a tendency, Sir William contended, to disregard the fact that the Chief Commissioner is de facto administrator of the Federal Territory. The ordinances of the Territory are administered by the Federal Capital Commission, of which he is not only the chief executive member, but also the only resident and full time Commissioner. All other administrators of Commonwealth territories are either provided with furnished quarters free of rental or are granted allowances in lieu of quarters.  Mr Butters is the only administrator who is required to pay rental for his quarters and receives no compensation allowance.

In referring to the suggestion that some officers of the Commission are receiving special consideration in regard to housing, the Minister stated that he had been advised by the Commission that four heads of departments had been provided with houses on sites in proximity to the Commission’s offices and the Chief Commissioner’s residence. These locations were chosen as a convenience in view of the fact that the officers concerned are constantly engaged in night work, either at their offices or in confidence with the Chief Commissioner at his residence. The house construction on these four sites were designed as far as possible to meet the requirements of the officers concerned. The rentals vary from 130 pounds per annum to 190 pounds per annum.

The Minister also referred to the fact that all public servants resident in Canberra are charged a rental based upon the capital cost of their homes less 25 percent. This arrangement is in accord with the approval given by the Government some years ago. [Not mentioned is that those transferred to Canberra received an annual allowance that ranged from around 19 pounds to 40 pounds per annum – to compensate for the higher cost of living in Canberra compared to Sydney and Melbourne.  Construction workers did not receive this allowance.]


The Canberra Times 18 November 1927


Construction at Acton


The new weatherboard residences are under construction at Acton. One is being built by DR Tate, builder for Major HE Jones (Director of Investigation Bureau of the Attorney-General’s Department and the other by Messrs Johnson and Bracker, builders for Mr Mohahan (Clerk of the Senate).

One of the new residences fronts upon a new road deviation which is under construction. The deviation leaves Acton Road and follows a course around the front of the hospital [timber hospital built 1914]and the recently constructed cottages occupied by departmental heads of the Commission and rejoins Acton Road in Hospital Corner. A further deviation leaves the new road before it rejoins Acton Road and following a line below Acton House, will intersect Acton Road near Acton Hall.

The new deviations are being constructed in accordance with the city plan. Eventually that section of the existing Acton Road between Acton Hall and the Hospital Corner will be converted into a plantation. Bachelors’ Quarters and the adjoining residences will front upon the new section which will be constructed between Acton Hall and the point in the vicinity of Hotel Acton.


The Canberra Times 30 March 1930


Decides Not To Tender


To amend the constitution and also to discuss the matter of a club house with a view to obtaining Canberra House, a special general meeting of the Canberra Golf club was held in the Acton Hall last night. About 60 members and 30 associates [women] were present. Mr HJ Sheehan presided.

Amendments were made to the constitution to provide for a patron and vice patron and the appointment by the club of any annual or special general meeting of life members and life associate members; and the appointment by the club at any general meeting of honorary members.

A resolution was carried that the committee ask His Excellency the Governor-General for the time being to accept the position of Vice-Patron.

Resolution that Sir John Buttes and Lady Butters be made life-members and that the Governor-General and State Governors and their respective staffs; and the Prime Minister be made honorary members of the club were also carried.

This was followed by a lengthy discussion dealing with Canberra House, as a possible club house, for the lease of which the committee sought power to tender.

Mr Sheehan thought that it would be very advantageous for the members to have Canberra House as a golf house, provided of course, that they could get it at the figure at which they were prepared to tender.  To meet the expenditure of the Club House it would be necessary for members to pay an extra 2 pounds 2 shillings a year and associates and extra 1 pounds 1 shilling.

With the removal of the present bar to those not resident in the Federal Territory becoming members he considered that the Club would be the means of attracting many more desirable members to the Club. He did not consider Canberra House ideal, but considering that the Club had not the funds for a new Club House nor, as far as he could see, any likelihood of obtaining any for sometime the opportunity of leasing Canberra House was one not to be lightly passed over.

‘If you turn down Canberra House,’ he said, ‘ you must reconcile yourselves to the fact that you are not going to have a club house for a considerable time. As a club we will considerably strengthened if we have a golf house,’ he concluded.

Major Jones asked if the Committee had taken into consideration the matter of furnishing the House.

Mr Sheehan replied that the committee had given every consideration and with carpets and blinds already provided they would do the furnishing by degrees.

Mr Romans suggested that the Associates might assist by organising dances and parties. He contended that the conditions of finances of members would be different now to what it would be in a few years’ time and that if they could not afford a golf house now they never would be able to do so.

Mr Howse asked how much each member would be expected to spend at the club house. The president said the committee hoped to make a profit of the bar trade of 1/- per week from each member.

Mr WJ Clements contended that the taking over of 140 acres by one section of the community would later give rise to questions and that section of the community would be expected to pay for it.

Mr Yandell said that he considered that by the general attitude of the members they did not think that the club house was worth the extra 2 pounds 2 shillings and it was a question of whether members really wanted it.

That any spare money should be spent in the improvement of the links was voiced by Mr Howse and supported vigorously by Mr Hayley.

Major Officer asked that the matter be adjourned for a few days to give members and opportunity of discussing it.

Mr WG Woodgers supported the motion and told the meeting that it would require 75 per cent majority to justify the proceedings.

Dr Dodds considered that the acquisition of a club house would attract many new members and increase the funds of the Club.

Mr Pocock thought that Canberra House was not in a suitable position and offered little better conditions than the Hotel Canberra did at present.

Mr Gordon Dawkins spoke in favour of leasing the house and Mr Treagear opposed it on the possibility of the Club in the near future to care for the links themselves. He contended that the extra fees would lose many members for the Club and fees for the remaining few would consequently be increase.

The motion was defeated.


The Canberra Times 20 September 1932


Surrounded by an attractive garden, the steep red gabled roof of Canberra House has been a familiar architectural feature of the city since before the war, when it was built for Col Miller, the first administrator of the Territory.

Bearing the name, ‘The Residency’, the building was later used to house senior administrative officers who visited Canberra during the period of early constructional activity.

After remaining vacant for some time, it was renovated by the Federal Capital Commission for the first Chief Commissioner (Sir John Butters) and re-named ‘Canberra House’.

Following the departure from Canberra of Sir John Butters, ‘Canberra House’ was offered for tender by the Government.

The FCT Branch of the RS&SILA tendered, intending to use the premises as a club house, but the offer was refused.


The Canberra Times 20 September `1932



Mr Crutchley’s Residence

Workmen are at present carrying out renovations to Canberra House, the former seat of the Territorial Administrator and later the residence of the Chief Commissioner of the Federal Capital Commission.

After having been idle for three years it is shortly to be occupied by Mr ET Crutchley, the representative of the British Government in Australia.

It was officially learned yesterday that Canberra House, which is surrounded by well laid out grounds, has been taken over by the British Government in Australia on a yearly rental basis.

The building has been unoccupied for a number of years, and considerable work is necessary before it can be made ready as the official residency of the British Government in Canberra.

The Canberra Times 30 June 1937



The grounds at Canberra House are now being renovated and a large number of wattle and other trees are being removed in order to permit the laying down of flower beds. During the past few years the wattles had outlived their usefulness and had prevented a comprehensive gardening scheme being put in hand. It is expected that when the flower plots have been established and other improvements completed Canberra House, which is the residence of the High commissioner for the United Kingdom (Sir Geoffrey Whiskard) and Lady Whiskard, will become one of the show places of Canberra.




Building Canberra Initial difficulties

Canberra Times 7 February 1928 page 1 


Initial Difficulties



The Chairman of the Canberra Division of the Institution and the Deputy Chairman of the Development Committee, Colonel PT Owen addressed the meeting on the engineering difficulties that had been overcome in the initial stages of construction at Canberra.


'The creation of a Federal Capital City,' said Colonel Owen, 'was a definite objective calling for action in many essential directions, but the first steps in its devolved on Engineers.  No better example of the importance of our profession in providing for the needs of civilized man can be found than the building of a modern town.  The Engineers must work in co-ordination with many professions, arts and crafts, thus besides him there are the surveyor, architect, the builder, the doctor, the chemist, the physicist, the geologist, lawyer, clerk and accountant.


The engineer with his cousins of meteorology and geology were called on to advise.  Other considerations were the economics in relation to this development of New South Wales.


For water supply and sewerage the engineer was an important man, and so with electric supply including the possibilities of hydroelectric development.  All the time the engineer was to use the wealth of knowledge built up by his own profession and by his friends in most sciences and the antecedents in arts and crafts. 



The scheme for the construction of the Federal City was arbitrarily divided into three initial stages of enabling works of which the most important were:-

* Access, Water Supply, Sewerage, and Surveys, Electric Supply, Railway and Road Development, and Materials for some construction in advance.


These stages were not necessarily successive, but overlapped or interlaced.  Carrying out the stages involved subsidiary works for instance preliminary water supply, steam power, temporary sewerage disposal, camps and accommodation for workmen, supplies or plant for the works in view, transport and so on.


Water supply almost failed in the period between 1912 and 1914.  It is unnecessary to enlarge on these difficulties which were real to the Engineer at the time.  Because many here tonight will have encountered them.


The base for construction was first at Queanbeyan as a rail head in which town the first plant, tool and material depot was founded.  The construction of the railway to Canberra came at a later stage as an enabling work.



One of the enabling works was water supply.


Prior to the selection of Canberra the Department of Public Works of New South Wales and with its associated names of the late LAH Wade, Mr EM Deburgh, and Mr Pridham remain particularly in his mind. 


There were three sources from which supply might be taken:-

The Queanbeyan River Catchment Area.

The Gudgenby-Naas Catchment Area and

The Cotter Catchment Area.


Each presented advantages and disadvantages.  The Cotter area was found to be the source of purest water supply, the best catchment area for conservation and was a tract practically unalienated by the Crown. 


The behaviour of the Gudgenby-Naas  Catchment area in comparison with the Cotter Catchment Area after prolonged drought was quite remarkable and in favour of the Cotter Area.  On the other hand the Cotter presented difficulties for service to Canberra as it involved a pumping scheme, unless three times the capital outlay was to be spent for gravitation scheme.


Weighing all the pros and cons the Cotter Catchment was accepted as the source of water supply.


The construction of the dam presented no great engineering difficulty beyond dealing with water during river floods.  One of the floods carried away part of the construction plant which had been occupying the river bank, as there was no space for it on the steep slopes of the gorge. The dam was designed and

construction began with a gravity section with crest about 40 ft higher than the present crest level.  it would as designed have impounded about three times the volume of the water at present impounded and have improved the safe draft from seven millions of gallons per day to eleven millions of gallons per day.  The alteration in height of the dam was against my advice.


The dam if raised 40ft higher would have warranted the construction of a Power House and installation of turbines to develop 1000 kilowatts using the surplus

discharge of the Cotter River.  Such a hydro-electric development could not have been relied upon for the city electric supply, but would have been a useful auxiliary for pumping and to augment power generated at the City Power House.


The main question whether water supply to the city should be by gravity instead of pumping was considered, but pumping was decided upon. It has been suggested that when the population of Canberra should reach 100,000 people a gravity scheme might be warranted, but again contemplating the large sum involved to construct the dam nay miles by river above the present dam, the pipe line and other works and regarding some certain future hydro-electric development in this part of New South Wales, and presumably low cost of current for pumping it may be that pumping will always hold its own.



In the early stages before an electric generating station could be equipped, portable steam engines were used. for instance, Cotter River water supply works for stone crushing for road making for pipe making and in other directions.  It was known however, that power would soon be required for larger works, for instance - sewer construction, brick making and for pumping water: thus the question of electric supply for the future city was considered at a very early stage. Naturally as the generating station had in the future to supply the city, the Molonglo River flowing through the city site, was accepted for condensing water.  In due course electric supply was established for brickmaking, pipe making, quarrying, joinery work and all other sources of demand.




Another enabling work referred to earlier in this address was the disposal of sewerage.  The region presented difficulties in topography, because the general slope from Canberra to the only area which could be used for sewerage treatment was roughly three foot to the mile.  Another difficulty was the necessity for safe guarding the purity of the Molonglo River, so far as sewerage disposal was concerned, having in mind that the Molonglo River discharges into the Burrinjuck Dam.  Although at the present time and for years to come the amount of effluent can be easily dealt with but the long view into the future had to be taken in regard to the effluent discharged from a city of larger population say a century hence.


The only area which could be used was that of Western Creek beyond which the country against rises to the west, precluding a discharge from the Outfall Sewer near the surface.  The country along the course of the Molonglo River towards the Murrumbidgee through which the gradient of two foot to the mile could have been continued did not afford any possibil8ity of sewerage treatment combined with final disposal of effluent over the land.


Even at Western Creek area below the invert of the Outfall Sewer, the space was too limited for land treatment of effluent to gravitation and thus the early scheme for treatment was to either pump crude sewerage to the treatment tanks on a higher level or to sink the treatment tank and pump the effluent.  The only possible gravitation scheme having been ...(?) upon the method of treatment was left open having in view the world wide developments of treatment and knowing that some years might be allowed before a scheme should be definitely determined.



It was known that bricks would be required for construction - investigations were made primarily to find out where suitable clay or shale could be obtained.


The first bricks made at Canberra were in Scotch kilns and the shale was ground by steam operated plant.  Sufficient bricks were thus made by dry process to build the Staffordshire Kiln now operating.  Naturally the plant for processing bricks was the soft-plastic process was more expensive to install and operate and further as it was known that it would be necessary to make tiles as well as bricks the Staffordshire Kiln was decided upon.  It afforded means for either down draft or ordinary draft.



A team match between visiting members of the Institution of Engineers and members of the Canberra Golf Club will be played on the Canberra Links on Friday next commencing at 10 am.  Members of the Canberra Club who desire to take part are asked to inform the hon secretary as soon as possible.  A mixed tournament will be played on Thursday afternoon.



Following World War 1 and the resumption of construction work on the city the Federal Capital Advisory Committee (FCAC) decided to build a few brick cottages for construction workers in the areas of the Power House (opposite the Power House – Barton near Wentworth Avenue), Brickyards (Westridge – now Yarralumla) and Civic Centre (later Ainslie, now Braddon).  The construction of these cottages began in 1921 and were occupied from 1922. The initial completed houses in the Power House and Civic suburbs were around 20 and 9 at the Brickyard.  In 1923 a further 16 brick cottages were erected at Forrest in the area of Ducane and Franklin Streets.  The design of the cottages were based on Lithgow Cottages and they were built by day labourer employed by the Works & Railways Dept.


Brick and concrete were the chosen materials used in the permanent suburbs and the few permanent cottages for construction workers built of these materials were not sufficient for the numbers requiring them.  In the post war years, the authorities decided that some accommodation for married couples had to be provided above the standard of a build it yourself humphies in the early years.  The majority of humpies had Hessian walls and iron roofs.


The FCAC (Federal Capital Advisory Committee) was unable to provide brick cottages for all with the result that they had the ex-internment camp at Molonglo (present day Fyshwick) converted into cottages  (1921-1922).  A number of these cottages were moved to sites at Eastlake, Westridge, Civic and other sites for married and single men. HM Rolland (government architect) designed a temporary portable unlined timber cottage that were first erected at Westlake (present day Stirling Park) in 1924, then Acton (1924) and finally at Causeway (1925). 

The Federal Capital Commission that took over from the FCAC in January 1925 decided to allow two areas for men to again built their own houses/humpies – Riverbourne (opposite Harman Naval Base)  and Russell Hill (near the site of the present day Campbell Shops).


In 1926 a decision was made to construct a number of permanent timber dwellings at the Brickyards – then known as Westridge – and in North Ainslie (now Ainslie) in the vicinity of Corroboree Park.  Both sites were well away from the permanent suburbs areas being built for the public servants and others being transferred to the territory in 1927.



The beginning of the erection of the cottages is referred to in the Minutes of the Fourth Meeting of the FCAC held in Customs House on 17 January 1921 that stated that the cost for 3 cottages at the Power House, 10 at Civic Centre and 7 at the Brickyards would be 3,500 pounds.[1]  These brick cottages were referred to as the Works and Railways Cottages.


9 March 1921


Second Interim Report dealing with erection of cottages at Canberra


The Hon. The Minister for Works and Railways


The Chairman, Federal Capital Advisory Committee has signed and forwarded second interim report which deals with the erection of cottages at Canberra.


I regret that I was unable to be present at the meeting at which the second interim report was adopted, but I understand that the members present who constituted a majority were in favour of it.  The report has been sent to me to deliver to the Minister, which I accordingly do, but submit with it m minority report that I do not concur in the proposals made by the Committee.


On broad grounds my reason for disagreeing is that I consider the erection at the Power House of 20 cottages, a school for 200 pupils [Telopea Park School, opened in 1923] and a store for co-operative supplies would, as a first step mitigate against initial development at the Civic Centre – a dominating intention of the approved layout.  My opinion is that to carry out the instructions of the Government all cottage construction should be in No 1 Neighbourhood of the Civic Centre, excepting a few cottages required for the regular employees of the Power House.  I see no reason for erecting 20 cottages for that purpose at the present time.


I do not concur with the view that it is necessary to erect permanent cottages in the Power House location for occupation by a foreman and other employees engaged upon construction in the Government Center.


Another matter in which I disagree with the Committee’s report as illustrated by the accompanying plan is that the tree planting north of the Molonglo River, which was agreed to at the last meeting of the Committee which I attended, has to a great extent been omitted from the scheme of planting submitted with the Second Interim Report.


I consider that tree planting on the northern side of the Molonglo as extensively as practicable, should be undertaken during this season, coupled with such tree planting as may be necessary at the Governmental and Power House groups.


                                                                                    Director General of Works

                                                                                    9th March 1921


A letter with a heading Federal Capital Advisory Committee, dated Melbourne, 1st December 1921 – Memorandum to the Secretary Department Works & Railways, Melbourne states the following:



At the last meeting at Canberra the Advisory Committee considering the question of whether the whole of the cottages to be erected should be finished in white similar to three which were so treated as an experiment near the Power House.


It was agreed to recommend that the remainder of the cottages at the Power House be finished in white, but that for the present, those at the Brick Works and at the Civic Centre be finished in brick colour in the ordinary manner; that any concrete houses to be erected in future be finished white.


It was considered that, in the case of privately constructed buildings, reasonable permission would have to be given to the owners to build in what ever material and colour of finish they might desire as long as they were of durable description…[2]



There were initially seven cottages erected in the area now known as Section 64 and in March 1923 two more were added.  They were in red brick with a small entrance.  The majority of the cottages were two bedroom and had in the living area and the main bedroom a fire place.  The kitchen, although small had built in cupboards and a full length pantry.  The stove was fuel and the copper in the attached laundry was heated by a wood fire.

The first tenants of the Brickyards Cottages erected in Section 64 were:

            3. S Oldfield occupied 13.3.1921.  He left 21.6.1922 and was replaced by CS Taylor

            4. W Newbold  occupied 8.12.1921 and on 7.11.1923  Newbold was replaced by RC Turbott.

            8. E Quigg occupied 6.3.1922.

            11. MJ Ware occupied 6.3.1922

            12. T Culley – name crossed out and replaced by Jeremiah Dillon  on 13.3.1922.  Jeremiah Dillon was the sewer foreman.  He died in 1929.

            16. R Boag occupied 6.3.1922.

            15. WK Newbold occupied 28.11.1921.  He was the manager of the brickworks and left the area in July 1926.




In the 1920s the cottages initially known as Civic Centre cottages were part of the suburb of Ainslie which was later renamed Braddon.[3]  These cottages were referred to as No 1 Division, No 1 Neighbourhood and are situated near Gorman House. [4]  The area is bounded by the streets, Currong, Donaldson, Elimatta, Batman Streets and is divided down the middle by Doonkuna Street.  The rental for the smaller cottages was 22 shillings per week and the larger houses, 28 shillings per week.  The cottages, unlike the ones at the Power House which were white, remained red brick. 


One of the early references to these cottages is found in a note from John Sulman dated 4th March 1921 which states:

With regard to the Ainslie section both Mr DeBurgh and myself feel that it is very desirable to reconsider this as a whole, making provision for stormwater and also endeavouring to get the roads in better relation to the present condition of Ainslie Avenue than it is apparent at first glance. I am going to take the matter up at once and see if I can devise a scheme as attractive as the Power House block, which both Mr Groom and Mr DeBurgh highly approve. It is very desirable for Mr Griffin’s sake as well as our own that the first definite starting of the chief scheme should be made as attractive as possible.  Mr Groom admitted that Mr Griffin himself intimated that he would have to make variations in detail in carrying out his plan… Now that Ainslie is definitely decided upon I will try to get it pushed forward at the utmost speed.


11 November 1921 the Secretary of Works and Railways from the Secretary of FCAC documented the following guidelines for the cottages:


·         That there should be no fences on the alignment in front of the cottages.

·         That government hedge be provided that fences dividing allotments should not be carried through the parkway

·         That a gravel path 6ft wide should be provided through the parkway near the cottage alignments.

·         That there should be provided next to the road and that there should be grass planted between the path and the water table.


The first residents were:


            25. SG Nish

            29. J Chapman 4.5.1922

            33. J Cole

            37. AW Lucas (corner house)


            On corner  38 FM Johnstone and then on 12.2.1922 Arthur Richards

            39(?) E Smith

            39. F Dowthwaite

            41. P Annand


            On corner into Doonkuna St  42. R Maguire 9.2.1922

            34. Thos Hope (foreman)

            30. vacated by the widow of the late WT Jamieson on 27.5.1922 and taken over by W Cottingham

            26. J Force 11.2.1922

On the opposite side of Doonkuna St

            On the corner 43. HR Waterman

BATMAN ST  44. FE Priddle

            45. Herbert Daniels (Mess Caterer No 1 Labourers Camp, Capitol Hill Westlake – moved  on 19.6.1923 to be close to his men at No 1 Labourers Camp. He was the mess caterer.  His cottage was taken over by ED Gilchrist.

            46. G Guy

            47. corner house T Reeve 6.12.1922


            Corner house 48. N McKee who vacated 23.2.1922 and followed by GW Paul. 

            36. I Arneson who left 28.2.1922 – followed by F Edwards 12.4.1922

            32. J Kennedy 3.8.1922


By the 18 May 1925 there were 32 brick cottages erected with approximately 128 people living in them.


There were a number of problems associated with the new cottages and the grounds.  A letter to the District Surveyor dated 19 July 1922 signed by 16 of the residents notes some of their concerns. [5]  It reads:

            We the undersigned tenants of you Department at Civic Centre request the favor of your personal inspection of conditions underfoot in the vicinity of the Cottages at the Centre during the present wet spell, and subsequent urgent provision to remedy the trouble before the next rains.  The rain has resulted in a quagmire round every house and those of us who are absent from the cottages daily leave and approach the premises through inches of slush, while our families are practically housebound.  The effect of the mud upon floor coverings and the general domestic discomfort will be obvious to you.  Thanking you in anticipation, Yours faithfully, [signed] E Smith, Allan W Lucas, H Cole, JL Chapman, H Daniels, G Guy (?), Jas Kennedy,  HR Waterman, JM Force, FE Priddle, F Edwards,  RC(?) Maguire, PK Annand, T Hope, WL Cottingham, F Dowthwaite.


Another letter dated 27 September 1922 from the Commonwealth Surveyor General sent to each of the above states:


It is noticed that damage is being done to the gardens at Civic Centre by straying stock getting in owing to gates being left open.  To encourage gardening and preserve efforts taken in that direction it is essential that all gates leading from roads to the cottages be kept closed.  All residents are particularly requested to assist in seeing that these gages are kept closed…[6]



The first three cottages were constructed in Gosse Street for the Shift Engineers at the Power House.  These were soon followed by another seven and by the 29 March 1923 another eleven were added.  The cottages were finished in a white stucco and the cost for a three bedroom dwelling was 1,000 pounds and 800 pounds for a two bedroom house.  All the houses at the Power House and the other areas were connected to electricity and water.  However, until the main intercepting sewer was ready for use around 1927 all these areas were connected to a central septic tank or tanks.


There were a number of complaints by the residents particularly about the poor finish to dwellings and a request in one case for a concrete floor in the garage as the sand floor made it difficult to get the car in and out of the garage.  The residents were also annoyed that they were not included in a conference relating to Amusements.  A deputation on behalf of the residents was requested to speak on their behalf on the matter. The deputation consisted of Messrs J McRae Dunn and PC Douglas (fire chief).  The petition was signed by Messrs J Pand, JH Hays, Wm J Mitchell, AK Murray, A Alder, P Jolly, WJ Traynor, A Templeton, E Gipps, CCD Fitzpatrick, Donald F Fraser, JF Kingston, D McCorkindale (his daughter later became the postmistress – he was a foreman of the Joiners’ Shop and played bagpipes at the Burns Club), Geo Ross, WJ Fraser, J Field, W McNamee, HH Martin, P Murdon,  PL Corkhill, JA Cameron, T Hulley, Clyde Finlay (first doctor to take up residence and practice at Kingston(), J Robbins, C May, J McRae Dunn, PC Douglas, Trevillian, RS Shannon, W Adamson, George L Daniel, Stanley K Peak, Pitcher.


The ladies were also annoyed about the thoughtless design of the laundry facilities.  In a letter dated 16 June 1924 they stated:

            We wish to draw your attention to the way in which the wash houses are exposed to the weather and we think that something ought to be done in closing them in on the wet day the rain beats right into the tubs… [signed] Mesdames Field, Boyd, Douglas, C Fitzpatrick, A Murray, E Pticher, Lucas, Gerrard, Crowe, Brown, Traynor, Corkindale, Grandfield, LE Shannon.[7]


This suburb of Barton was near the Power House and site of the 1921/22 brick cottages usually referred to as Power House cottages.  On the reserve in front of the Power House was the first St Paul's Church of England Church.  Laurie Fitzharding in his book St

John's Canberra.  Commemorating 100 Years of Church Life in Canberra has the following to say about the church - In August 1914 a galvanised iron mission hall, St Paul's Kingston [later Barton – see photograph left] was erected by parish subscriptions to serve the workmen

camped by the power-house.  For some years this hall was used also by other denominations.  Later when the Commission erected the Causeway Hall, St Paul's was used mainly for Sunday School purposes.  Regular evening services were commenced in

1929, and a regular 9 am celebration in the following year.  In 1933 was commenced the 10 am children; service, which became a happy feature of Kingston worship...


Memorandum to The District Surveyor, Canberra – COTTAGES AT CIVIC CENTRE, POWER HOUSE AND BRICKWORKS AREAS[9]

With reference to your memorandum of 8th February 1922 relative to the above the following statement shows rentals charged for these cottages:-

Civic Centre

Bl No   Type    Allotted To                  Date of occupation                 Rental pw

26        C6        JM Force                     Not yet occupied                     28/-

29        B7        J Chapman                   10/1/1922                               22/-

30        B5        WT Jamieson               1/11/1921                               22/-

33        B7        H Cole                          19/12/1921                             22/-

34        B5        T Hope                         8/1/1922                                 22/-

39        B6        E Smith                        8/1/1922                                 22/-

40        B6        F Dowthwaite              8/1/1922                                 22/-

41        C8        F Annand                     23/1/1922                               28/-

42        C8        R Maguire                   not yet occupied                     28/-

32        B7        K Kennedy                                                             22/-

36        B7        F Edwards                                                               22/-

46        B6        G Guy                          20/1/1922                               22/-

45        B6        H Daniels                     10/1/1922                               22/-


Power House 


Bl No   Type    Allotted To                  Date of Occupation     Rental pw

1          C8        R Snadden                   20/7/1921                   28/-

2          C6        J Lillico                                    23/1/1922                   28/-

3          C6        JF O’Malley                 14/1/1922                   28/-

4          C8        TH Trevillian               26/1/1922                   28/-

5          B7        AE Thornton                14/1/1922                   22/-

6          B6        WF McNamee             12/1/1922                   22/-

7          C2        A Cameron                  21/1/1922                   28/-

8          B7        W Webb                      16/1/1922                   22/-

9          B7        AA Gibbons                  Not yet occupied         22/-

10        B7        F Northam                   23/1/1922                   22/-




Bl No   Type    Allotted to                   Rent pw

Occupies 8/12/21

3          C8        S Oldfield                    28/-

4          B5        H Newbould                22/-

8          B7        E Quigg                       22/-

11        B5        MJ Ware                     22/-

12        B5        T Cully                         22/-

Occupied 28/11/1921

15        C2        WK Newbould             28/-

16        C8        R Boag                         28/-                



The first permanent brick cottages were constructed in Blandfordia in 1922 and 1923.  They were erected in Sections 20 and 21 by Works & Railways employees – day labour.  The styles were F1 and F2 and these houses were larger than those erected at the Brickworks, Civic Centre and the Power House.  The majority of cottages were finished in white stucco and when one of the houses was pulled down a number of years ago it was found that the stretcher bonds (bricks) were placed vertically to from the wall. Walls were tied together with other bricks. 


A report written in 1923 had the following to say about the accommodation for public servants at Blandfordia:


The cottages at Blandfordia were to form the nucleus of a settlement on the Government side of the river. In this first stage of housing the Advisory Committee decided that accommodation was required for 5,655 persons (First stage – ready for the opening of Parliament) for which the Advisory Committee decided that accommodation would require 706 residences in addition to the Hostels who would take 1500 people.  Of the 706 residences the Committee proposed that 310 be erected on the South side by the Government; 366 on the North side by private enterprise. As at 29th March 1923 the Government had in course of erection 30 cottages (this was exclusive of 20 cottages at Ainslie [Civic Centre] decided upon before the Committee was appointed and 7 at the Brickworks).  So that time there remained 28 cottages to be erected by the Government and 376 by private enterprise. Architects in private practice when consulted re the building of accommodation by private enterprise were skeptical because not enough housing was being built by private enterprise in large centres such as Sydney and Melbourne where there was a demand for such housing. They thought it unlikely that private enterprise would provide accommodation in Canberra.


A report to the Chairman of the Public Service Committee dated 25 September 1925 discussed accommodation available for Public Servants that mentioned the earlier cottages and their sites. The main building for the transfers of government departments did not commence until 1926.  The document in part reads:

Officers resident at Canberra for a reasonable period agree that the climate is healthy and bracing, despite the winter weather, which for several months is appreciably colder than Melbourne…


There are at present four main residential suburbs, viz Blandfordia (Forrest, Acton, Ainslie and Eastlake (Kingston), their respective distances from Parliament House and the Secretariat ranging from one and a half miles to three or four miles. Blandfordia is the nearest suburb, the best building location, and contains the best class of house.


With the desirable object of causing the city as a whole to develop symmetrically these four suburbs could have been established nearer the administrative centres without jeopardizing symmetry in the future and this avoiding the present huge areas of unoccupied land which will probably remain unsettled for many years to come. Residents of Ainslie for example will require to travel five or six miles to visit friends living in some of the suburbs.


At present time the transport officers to the Commissioner’s Offices at Acton is arranged by the Commissioner by motor free of cost, but those who wish to have mid-day lunch at home are supplied with conveyance at 1/6d (one shilling and six pence = 15 cents) per week.


As regards to the actual houses those being erected at Blandfordia comprise five or six rooms. These houses, like all officer’s residences in Canberra are very well built of brick.  Practically the only complaint as the materials used was that the tiles (made at the Commission’s Brick Works in Canberra) are very porous, due either to some inherent fault in the raw materials or the absence of the best type of tile making ovens.


Blandfordia houses have short passages from which most of the rooms are reached.  In other suburbs I did not see one house containing a passage, the front door usually opening directly into the living room.  All the houses have good bathroom accommodation, one fire cooking stove, sewerage, electric light, and provision I think for an electric cooker.


I should imagine the large majority of public servants would require houses of the Blandfordia type in order to maintain their present standard of accommodation of Melbourne.


The houses at Ainslie are mainly four roomed places but include about a dozen three roomed houses. All these rooms appear smaller than average sized rooms in Melbourne houses, particularly so in Ainslie.  This is no doubt to some extent due to the Commonwealth’s endeavours to reduce the cost of construction and hence the rent. [10]


It is difficult to conceive however, that any self respecting public servant, even one possessing no family would be agreeable to reside in nay of the three roomed houses. In fact I know of exceedingly few officers who would look with pleasure even upon the four roomed houses at Ainslie, which possess one moderately sized bedroom and one very small bedroom, also a living room about 15ft x 12 ft, and a kitchen about 12ft x 10ft.


Reverting to Blandfordia houses, which represent in size and details of accommodation the average house occupied by public servants in Melbourne, the probable rental cost will be from 55/- to 70/- per week if the rent and rules etc are ultimately based on the general figures of 9% of the actual cost of the land.[11]


Thus is will be seen that on the rent basis alone officers are very likely to be one pound worse off in Canberra than they are in Melbourne or Sydney…It seemed to me somewhat regrettable that certain smaller types of houses are being built in suburb and the larger and better typed exclusively built in another suburb.  This will naturally lead to social and other class distinctions.  The same applied to some extent to the provisions of Hotel Canberra whereby officers receiving over 550 pounds per annum nay secure rebate on their weekly bill thus of course forcing practically every officer receiving less that 550 pounds per annum to reside in the cheaper hotels. [12]


The people who moved into the first brick cottages at Blandfordia were:

Name                                      Block/Section

SC McFarlane                          3/18

J O’Sullivan                              10/20

D Worrall                                3/20

EH Pratt                                   11/20

T Keefe                                    5/20

JT Walker                               

TK Burns                                  13/37

E Eichler                                  2/21 (15 Ducane St)

WR Smith                                2/22

M Richardson                          7/12

WS Brownless                         1/21 (13 Ducane St)

B Shaw                                             54

L Marriott                               1/20 (Franklin St)

Metford                                   21/4

Robertson                                ¾


Many of the early Blandfordia cottages have been pulled down, but to date (2009) Brownless’s cottage on the corner of Ducane and Franklin Streets remains.  In contrast to cottages built in the other suburbs this house has good sized well placed windows to allow the light into the building. 


These early brick cottages erected for construction workers and a few officials were the only brick cottages built for those who came to build the city.  Some construction workers still lived in cottages erected by themselves that consisted of hessian walls and iron roof with no water, electricity or sewerage connected.  In 1921-1922 the FCAC converted the barracks of the ex-internment camp at Molonglo into cottages.  These buildings were unlined and wind came through the cracks that formed as the timber walls dried out.  People had to share bathrooms that had tin baths that required hot water to be carried up steps from the coppers where it was heated.  They also shared lavatories and laundries.  Heating was inadequate (wood fired) and until electricity was connected lighting such as candles and kerosene lamps had to be used.  In 1924 the temporary portable timber cottages designed by HM Rolland were erected at Westlake (now Stirling Park, Yarralumla), then Acton and later Causeway.  This accommodation was not enough and in 1925 the FCC allowed men to again erect their own dwellings at Riverbourne (opposite Harman Naval Base)and in 1926 at Russell Hill (in the modern suburb of Campbell).   The above photograph was taken around 1927 at Molonglo Tenements prior to the houses in the barracks being separated.  Photograph loaned by Jack Jenkins.  Following is an inspection document 1930.

The comments made about the cottages belies some of the stories that I have been told by people who lived at Molonglo Settlement particularly in the early years before the cottages were separated.  One particularly worry was bed bugs and I was informed by one lady that the sheets were ironed to make sure that any that could have survived boiling in the copper were killed. 


The buildings were unlined and in an attempt to stop wind from whistling through the gaps in the boards many pasted newspaper on the walls.


The sizes referred to in the following document is in feet and inches.  As a rough guide 3 feet is around 1 metre.  By the time the cottages were separated the documented dated 1930 suggests that the exterior walls were doubled – ie lined.

[1]  Page 88 The Builders of Canberra 1909-1929 Gugler AR  - NAA - A192/FCL 20/12

[2] NAA A414/ 56

[3] The first suburbs on the North side were named North Ainslie, Ainslie and South Ainslie.  They were later renamed – Ainslie, Braddon and Reid.

[4] Gorman House built in 1925 for single ladies working for the Commonwealth and a few married couples was originally named Hotel Ainslie. The name was changed to Gorman House in 1927 following the opening of the new hotel named Hotel Ainslie – now Olems Hotel.

[5] NAA  A361/1 DSG 24/85

[6]  NAA A361/DSG24/85

[7] NAA A361/ DSG25/433

[8] Cecily Hinchcliffe, whose mother, Mrs Stanley, was in 1919 Mess Caterer at the Engineers’ Mess recalled that the family’s pet cockatoo used to pull out the then newly planted trees and it was Cecily’s job to sneak over and replant each.

[9] NAA A361/1 DSG24/85

[10] Rent was based on a percentage of the cost of construction.

[11] Public servants and those transferred to the FCT were given an allowance. Those who came to build the city were not.

[12]  NAA A361/1 DSG24/47

FCAC Minutes of Fourth Meeting 17.2.1921

National Australian Archives A411/1 Box 1



Minutes of Fourth Meeting

The fourth meeting was held at noon on Thursday 17th February 1921 at the Committee’s Room, 4th Floor Customs House, Sydney.


PRESENT -       Mr John Sulman (Chairman):

                        Mr DeBurgh:

                        Col. Owen  and

                        Mr Goodwin


CONFIRMATION OF MINUTES – Minutes of 1st, 2nd and 3rd meetings were confirmed.


PROGRESS REPORT COL. OWEN – Col Owen reported that –

a.      He had been instructed by the Minister for Works and Railways on the 10th February 1921 to take over Federal Capital construction, and had been placed in charge of the Federal Capital Works Office.  He had not yet had an interview with Mr Griffith but hoped to do so during the forthcoming week.

b.      Data and schemes prepared by Mr Griffin’s Office. Under his instructions officers had collected a certain amount of information but there had not been yet been time to go fully into the matter.  He had seen detailed drawings dealing particularly with the Sewerage Scheme for the Civic Centre and had brought some drawings with him for consideration at Canberra.  He had also seen drawings of the Water Supply, ie the Mains.  Mr Griffin had prepared a large number of drawings in relation to Sewerage.  Mr Daley had been instructed to take to Canberra Mr Oliver’s report regarding Water Supply and Sewerage.

c.       Brickworks. A Manager had been appointed, had taken up duty and hoped to start fires in the kiln during the forthcoming week.  A proposal had been put forward that the Commonwealth should install a tile-making plant, but the type to be adopted had not yet been decided.  He proposed to discuss the matter with Mr Sulman on the way to Lithgow that night.  (The Committee resolved that a report on the subject be deferred.)

d.      Workmen’s Cottages. He thought it advisable for the Chief Architect to see the cottages at Lithgow before advising as to the particular type to be adopted for Canberra.  Mr Cockrell, of the Federal Capital Office, would accompany him to Lithgow.  A Clerk of Works had been appointed and was gaining information in regard to materials available and taking preliminary steps to employ men.  He hoped that construction would be started during the forthcoming week, but the erection of the cottages could not be commenced until the type had been finally adopted.  He understood that the Minister had approved of the recommendations in the…


The report continued on with discussion about the sewerage system and the site for the cottages which were the only brick cottages erected in the early 1920s for construction workers.  They were built at Westridge (7), Power House (20), Civic Centre (20) in 1921-1922 and a further 16 at Blandfordia (Forrest) in 1923.


The decision was made at this meeting to erect the first lot of cottages for The Power House staff…and it was finally resolved that they be situated on the Eastern side of Waratah Avenue on the second section from the Power House with frontages of 75 feet by a depth of 125 feet…



1933 City Progress

The Canberra Times 10 January 1934



Revival of Definite Progress


A review of constructional activities in Canberra for the year ended December 21 shown that there has been a partial return to the progress witnessed in the city prior to the depression period.

During the year 1933 an amount of 325,290 pounds was expended on works in the Federal Capital Territory. Additions and new works cost 157,573 pounds; unemployment relief 9,413 pounds and repairs and maintenance 158,304 pounds.

Provision has been made for even a greater expenditure on new buildings and roads for the current year.

Last year the buildings programme included 15 (or 16 – hard to read) cottages in addition to many alterations and improvements to existing building and the construction of a reservoir at Black Mountain. The putting into operation of the new brick kiln, as well as a considerable amount of road work.

Included in the new works for the year 1933 were the erection of seven brick cottages at Griffith; six pairs of semi-detached cottages at Manuka; two brick cottages at Forrest and the erection of a wooden cottage at the Cotter River.

In addition to the above the following new buildings were erected:- A tennis pavilion at Manuka; the conversion of the cadet block into flats at Duntroon; additions to the Government Printing Office; a pavilion for croquet players at the Hotel Canberra, construction of fireplaces in all the cottages at Westlake [tin not brick]; and the provision of fly screens for Brassey House, Gorman House, Beauchamp House and the Hotel Kurrajong. Contracts have also been let for the erection of four brick cottages at Forrest, 11 semi-detached cottages at Manuka and alterations and additions to the Hotel Ainslie.

Preliminary arrangements are in hand for the erection of a further 80 cottages. Forty of these will be erected on the North side of the river and the other 40 will be erected on  the south side of the river. Tenders will shortly be called for the erection of a group of semi-detached cottages at Kingston.

In connection with the Australian National War Museum, tenders for the first portion will close on January 25.

To enable an immediate restoration of electric supply in the event of a breakdown on either north or south sides of the river, switch houses have been erected at Ainslie Avenue and Commonwealth Avenues.

External painting was carried out on the Bachelors Quarters, the Printers Quarters, all the cottages at Westlake, the buildings at Stromlo Observatory, and several groups of houses at Ainslie, Reid, Braddon and Barton.

The new reservoir at Black Mountain is expected to be completed in about three weeks time. A contract has been let to the Australian Iron and Steel Company in Sydney for the supply of 17,055 feet of 18 inch cement lined cast iron pipes and it is expected that the whole of the work in connection with the reservoir will be completed by the end of the financial year.

During the year the large Staffordshire Kiln at the Brickworks was put into operation and 100,000 bricks per week are now being produced.  The opening of the kiln has resulted in increased employment and a reduction in the price of bricks which has been passed on to the public.

The transport service has been reorganised and seven new buses have been added to the fleet. They are thoroughly up to date and have been the subject of much favourable comment. A feature of the service is that there has been a reduction in operating costs of approximately 2,000 pound a year.

Repairs and maintenance services also received attention throughout the year and of the 80 miles of city streets approximately two miles were improved for heavy traffic by ballasting and approximately five mile improved by bituminous surfacing.

The State Circle was made safe for traffic by the erection of a safety fence. The paths of the city also received attention. About three-quarters of a mile of new gravel paths were constructed and two miles of paths were asphalled.

Recreation facilities also received considerable attention for five new tennis courts were constructed at City,  Westridge (Yarralumla) and Reid, and five reconditioned at Canberra House, Parliament House and the Causeway. The Northbourne Oval was regraded and improved.

A steady improvement policy was observed in connection with the country roads. The Cooma and Sutton Roads were widened and culvers erected throughout.

On the Cotter Road, additional culverts were erected, and many of the dangerous curves widened and banked and a large deviation provided at Western Creek to improve the alignment and the grading.

Dangerous cuttings on the Uriarra Road were widened in order to improve the visibility and on the Brindabella road all the decayed culverts have been replaced.

Considerable gravelling and forming was carried out on the Cooma, Cotter, Sutton, Yass, Fairlight, Old and New Uriarra and Charnwood roads; also the Red Hill and Mount Ainslie tourists roads were improved.

Point Hut crossing was regraded and is suitable for heavy traffic.

The Ainslie stock route is now negotiable by road vehicles and provides exceptional views of the city area for drivers.

Apart from improving the country roads a policy was adopted for the erection and improvement of bridges and new bridges were constructed at Paddy’s River and Gudgenby River near Tharwa.

At the present time two bridges are in the course of construction on the Cotter Deviation and another is being built at Yarralumla Creek to improve a dangerous curve in the road. The grade will also be reduced.


1946 - 1947 shortage building materials Canberra

The Canberra Times 14 September 1946


Minister Defends Housing Policy

Private housing construction in Canberra is being brought to a standstill by an order issued by the Government that radiata pine is not to be sold for private buildings in Canberra.

Continuance of the ban will prevent the completion according to specification of all homes now being erected for private persons and will result in no additional homes being built.

Radiata pine supplies are being cornered by the Government for its own housing programme and alternative supplies of this timber are unobtainable. Builders are endeavouring to secure substitute timber but if obtainable this will increase costs.

Supplies of radiata pine on hand in Canberra cannot cope with the strain of Government contracts and increasing private housing demands.

It was stated yesterday that no consideration would be shown cases of half completed buildings of those for which building permits had been granted. Radiata pine, from local forests, is being used for flooring and panels in Canberra homes.

A large portion of stocks in reserve are expected to be used for flooring for hutments from Narellan camp yet to be transported to Canberra to house British immigrants.

Builders engaged in private contracts are being forced to seek supplies from centres already overburdened  with orders, and are not hopeful of a rapid response to their requests.

Replying to the joint statement by Dr LW Nott and Mr AT Shakespeare on Canberra housing the Minister for Works and Housing (Mr HP Lazzarini) said yesterday that insofar as his Department was concerned the statements were on the whole were gross misstatement of the facts made by armchair critics who had wasted much ink, but had contributed nothing constructive towards the solution of the problem facing his Department.

‘The article states that the statement by his colleague, the Minister for the Interior, and myself on March 9, 1946, regarding the erection of 300 demountable houses, [Narrabundah] had no basis in fact,’ said Mr Lazzarini.  ‘The truth is that tenders were called in both Sydney and Melbourne for 100 demountable and fabricated houses from each Capital. Two tenders only at prohibitive prices were received. Since then a number of types of pre-fabricated houses have been investigated. A tender has just been received for 75 houses and is under consideration with a possibility of early acceptance.

The statement regarding tenders for 40 dwellings in six two-storeyed blocks is not in accordance with the facts.  Actually tenders have been called twice for these flats and on each occasion the prices have been unjustifiably high.

It is true that tenders have not been called for the Braddon and Barton Hostels. It has been necessary for my Department to concentrate all available technical staff on other high priority works such as the close review of the design and construction of houses with a view to reducing costs and expediting construction. This has necessitated some delay in the finalisation of the Braddon and Barton proposals.  The critics are silent on what his Department has achieved towards the realisation of the 1000 house project announced by his colleague and him in March last.  Since the end of the war in August 1945 some 59 houses have been built in Canberra.  At the present time 168 are under construction and there is every possibility of twelve of these being taken over in a month.

Constant attention is being given to the completion of the final details of the houses under construction, and in order to meet the convenience of respective tenants, advance information is being given to the Housing Officer so that they may complete their arrangements for moving in immediately the houses are ready for them.

Further groups of houses totalling 107 dwellings are also projected and will commenced in the near future at Turner and Narrabundah.  The Department has also turned its attention to the investigation of methods of construction other than brick in an endeavour to step up the building of houses to be erected at Turner and O’Connor.’

Mr Lazzarini went on to say that it was confidently expected that by the end of this year there would be over 549 houses completed or placed under construction since the end of the war.   This shows that considerable headway has been made towards achieving a programme of 1000 houses but the progress  made is in accordance with what his Department had in view and is comparable with what the Housing Commissions have achieved in the other Capital Cities in relation  to their quotas for housing.

He stressed the fact that the ultimate completion of the houses is dependent upon the labour and material resources available. As an indication of the shortage of labour he mentioned that a the present time there are approximately 176 tradesmen of all types engaged in house construction, thus giving a labour equivalent of 1.05 men per house under construction. This represents a real difficulty to the department in carrying out the larger programme, and despite every effort to secure tradesmen, particularly bricklayers and brickmakers from other centres, the position regarding labour remained acute.  However, his Department is doing all in its power to increase the labour force by building further accommodation for married tradesmen whom it hopes to attract to Canberra.

In addition it is actively procuring materials and fittings wherever possible including the increased reduction of bricks and the milling of local Pinus Radiata to assist in the erection and completion of houses, and to that end measures were now in hand for dismantling and removing materials from surplus defence camps for re-erection in Canberra as married and single workmen’s accommodation.

Mr lazzarini felt that the strenuous efforts which were now being made by the Department of Works and Housing to step up the housing programme were a complete answer to the criticisms that had been made and be anticipated that even more satisfactory progress would be made over the remainder of the year.


The Canberra Times 6 January 1947


Although the greater part of 1946 witnessed chaos, lost opportunities and failure to reach more than 30 per cent of the housing target, a happier outlook for 1947 has been provided by the completion of 78 homes in the last six months of 1946, the impending arrival of British tradesmen, and the release of a number of trainees from the Canberra Technical College.

One of the gathering clouds, however, is the failure so far of the Commonwealth to make provision in the State allocation of building materials for the needs of ACT housing.

The most common excuse heard in the past months for failure to complete projects, Departmental or private, has been ‘insufficient materials and labour.’

Despite these deficiencies the Department of Works and Housing has accelerated its building programme so rapidly that 22 houses were completed in December alone, and some of the 226 under construction are almost complete.

Bricks and timber have been reserved for the minor flood of workmen expected in Canberra. Residents have been warned that there is no guarantee that the workmen will be solely reserved for ACT building but in official circles programmes have been quietly mapped out for the most part dependent on using the majority of the tradesmen from Britain.


Figures released by the Department of Works and Housing revealed that 78 houses had been completed and handed over to the Department of the Interior for occupation  during the 12 months ended December 31, 1946.

Approximately 70 of this number had been completed by day labour, 75 demountable houses at Narrabundah and 12 rebuilt from Tocumwal material.

Contracts have been let for all house construction for which tenders were called in 1946, the last batch for 48 houses in Turner being let a fortnight ago.

In addition tenders have been received for the new Barton Hostel. Plans are being prepared for a block of 40 flats at Narrabundah, in the vicinity of the present housing programme in Jerrabomberra Av. They will be two and three bedroom units.

Additional subdivisions, including Griffith, are expected to be advertised for lease early this year.


The number of leases for which applications were made by the public in 1946 was 81, which is almost double those for the previous year.

Relinquishments, however, are smaller, although many new leases were compelled to secure extensions of time because of high building costs and lack of materials prevented building being commenced.

A total of 137 blocks was available at the end of 1946, comprising; Ainslie 5, Braddon 20, Deakin 38, Forrest 26, Red Hill 24, Reid 4, and Turner 20.

To date 1100 applicants are waiting for homes through the Department of which 690 applications were lodged in 1946.

Applicants are still signing papers and making requests at the rate of 60 to 70 a month, even though it will be 18 or 19 months before their opportunity of securing a home eventuates.

Despite a December allocation of homes to 13 fortunate occupiers in Turner and nine others in Braddon many applicants have been passed over because the rental of available houses is beyond what they could afford to pay.


Many of the houses under construction are being held up because of the lack of essential commodities. Twelve electric stoves are shortly to be installed in homes which originally were designed for fuel ranges because fuel ranges were not available.

Applicants for electrical fittings as far back as 1942 have not yet received electrical fittings for their homes through the Department.

Tiles have always been in short and at a premium. Bricks were rationed to private contractors so that quantities could be stored for the coming of the English labourers.  The same process is being observed with soft and hard woods. Sufficient material is seeping through for work on Government projects.  A shortage of skilled men is slowing down the rate of building.

The greatest deterrent to attracting skilled labour to the ACT is the lack of housing for the men and their families.  Similarly a number of craftsmen have left the employ of contractors on private enterprise construction to work on Government jobs in the hope their change over might assist them in securing a home more rapidly.

There were minor rumbles of unrest during 1946 among the building trades including a demand for day labour to replace contracts. Accusations were made of ‘slowing down’ on Government projects.

Employers have complained that men have been working at week-ends on other jobs and not working satisfactorily during the week.

...(part missing) statute negotiation for arbitration procedure, the inability of the Courts to take adequate measure to protect its authority, reluctance of Governments to enforce disciplinary clauses of industrial law, high taxation, high cost of living, shortages in houses, and in the production of consumer goods.

Mr Obserg said in the face of strong well organised attempt to destroy arbitration, it was obvious that the dignity and effectiveness of arbitration courts and judges must deteriorate rapidly if they were not endowed with the power by imposition of sanctions to enforce their decisions.

All plumbing trainees under the Rehabilitation Training Scheme were unable to start work on completion of their courses because materials were lacking, with the result that some trainees were lost to the ACT.


The keystone of departmental endeavour was the joint pronouncement on March 9 of the Ministers for Works and Housing and the Interior.

It included plans for 200 demountable houses for workers, the erection of flats in the Reid district, the establishment of two additional hostels at Braddon and Barton, and the building of 1,000 homes for residents in Canberra.

Against this, 75 steel-framed fibro walled demountable homes are being erected at Narrabundah. Tenders have been called for the hostel at Barton and the plans for the Braddon establishment are reported to be in an advanced stage of preparation.

Bids received for the Reid flats were claimed to be unjustly high. A further plan made public in August is for the erection of 100 concrete homes in the Turner area, but tenders received from New South Wales contractors are still being considered.

The latest development is the transfer from Tocumwal of RAAF hutments for redesign and re-erection in Ainslie.

Apart from an unsatisfactory start with weatherboard and broken timbers and delays in laying the foundations these homes may prove early relief for large families requiring three or more bedrooms.


There is grave concern at the discouragement during the year of private enterprise contracting. Contractors who started 1946 hopeful of additional labour from returning servicemen, and additional production of materials, quickly discovered they were being hamstrung by State and Commonwealth priority demands.

Some contractors complained their craftsmen were leaving the Territory because supplies were insufficient to keep their men fully employed. This adversely affected tender prices and builders were paying higher rates to skilled men to retain their services even though their work was restricted by material shortages.

There must have been two major clashes during the year involving building materials, effects of which are still being felt. Both resulted directly from tightening up of departmental controls.

The first involved a drastic curtailment of brick supplies, which affected not only building within the ACT but in Queanbeyan.

The second was the stoppage of radiate pine supplies to private enterprise projects.

The immediate effect was to discourage private building and pr..(?) the choice of the remaining contractors and workmen between Government projects in the ACT and going out into the State.

Builders found they were unable to obtain bricks between Canberra and Sydney. They also discovered timber supplies had been requisitioned for Commonwealth projects from all dealers miles from Canberra.

The air was cleared to some extent by a conference between officers of the Department of Works and Housing and the Interior and a deputation of builders.

The reason brought forward for the curtailment of supplies was the need for a reserve of materials in light of the approaching arrival of the English tradesmen.


One of the most anxious concerns for 1947 will be the continuity of building supplies for private housing.  During the war allocation of supplies was made under National Security Regulations. These Commonwealth-made laws delegated the war time control of building materials to the States, but no stipulation was made to reserve supplies for the ACT needs. With the expiry of the National Security Act, allocation of building supplies becomes a purely State matter and unless the Commonwealth authorities reach agreement with the State in reserving some allocation to the ACT the exact position of Canberra housing will be indefinite.


Private enterprise has endeavoured to assist the Government during 1946 in making materials go as far as possible, and is also endeavouring to provide a basis to assure adequate requirements of materials in 1947.

One proposal is to establish a pool for materials designed not only to give private enterprise a representative bargaining body in Canberra, but also to assist in distribution of available materials.

On their availability and efficiency depends much of the immediate success of home building in Canberra.

Architects are endeavouring to induce clients to combine in erecting houses in zones so that one contractor may erect a group of homes, thereby securing as much economy in labour and materials as possible.

To achieve the best results, amendments to the present building regulations are favoured. The Departments of Works and Housing and the Interior are now reviewing local regulations in the light of findings of the Commonwealth experimental housing station at Ryde NSW.

With uniformity of standards it is believed that substantial economies can be achieved both in manpower and materials.


1920s Accidents

Accidents in the Territory

A number of documents in Australian Archives in Canberra contain lists of men who had accidents at work.  Following are examples –


R BLINKSELL, Miner – 16.8.1922.  He had an inflamed eye because of dirt entering it.  He was a sewer worker and earned an average of 4 pounds 11/- per week. JJ Dillon, foreman, reported the accident.


MOORE, Labourer 2.4.1922. His average weekly earnings were 4 pounds 4/9


L CLAKSON, Leading Hand, 31.5.1922.  He had a wound to his eyelid and was employed at the time at Tharwa working on the Williamsdale Road.  Ganger JS Rustin.  His average weekly earnings were 4 pounds 8/10d


JOSEPH ARMSTRONG, Labourer, sprained back 23.6.1922. Average weekly earnings 3 pounds 19/11.  He was employed in Moore’s gang.


CHARLES DOLAN, Civic Centre, Mt Ainslie.  He was turning a drill for Jas O’Neill when his hand slipped.  Foreman Thos Hope (1922).



H BLUNDELL, Labourer, 13.1.1922 splinter entered his knee from truck when loading for crusher.  Reported by G Moore.  His average weekly earnings 4 pounds 11/-.


J H OSBOURNE, Ganger, 11.7.1922 – his average weekly earnings 5 pounds 9d.


GEORGE MOORE, Carpenter’s Labourer.  He was employed at Ainslie road making.  He was carrying timber up a bank for the new road for formation of culverts when he slipped and fell against adze causing incision in the ankle.  Fred Young foreman.


O OWEN, Labourer, 31.7.1922.  Injured on bridge work during the floods.  He was moving logs.  S Winter put in report.  Average weekly earnings 3 pounds 14/11d


F FARLOW, Horse & Dray Driver.  Average weekly earnings 5 pounds 9/3.  He was working at the Red Hill Reservoir when a dray crushed his foot on 5.7.1922.  T Hope was the foreman.


MURDOCK McGREGOR, He was employed by GM Hayes as an Electrical Mechanic.  The accident occurred 4.9.1922.  He was returning to No 3 Hostel from work when his cycle touched on one ridden by F McPherson.  The latter received only minor injuries.  McGregor received injuries to head and shoulders.  F Hayes was the foreman.  Average weekly earnings 4 pounds 16/5d.


JOHN FELIX WALL, Strained his side whilst working on Crusher Feeder on 22.9.1924 at Mugga Quarry.  Reported by Foreman Ryan.  Average weekly earnings 5 pounds 3/-.


THOMAS KAVANAGH, Labourer, Cut his right foot on 8.9.1924.  No 3 Hostel, Sewer.  Thos Hope reported the accident.  Average weekly earnings 4 pounds 17/-. [This camp was in the Gap Westlake ]


H H NICHOLLS, Tractor Engine Steerer, Accident 14.11.1921 contusion of the chest.  He was sent to Melbourne.  His hourly earnings were 2 shillings, one penny & one eighth of a penny.  He was caught between two trucks when the engine was shunting.  He was at Civic Centre when the accident occurred.  It was reported by Wroe.  His average weekly earnings were 5 pounds 6d.


EDWARD JOHN SMEDLEY, Labourer earning 15/9d per day with an average weekly earnings of 4 pounds 14/4.  When filling a drive on 12.11.1921 his hand struck the drive knocking the skin off the back of the hand.  He was a member of the sewer gang working at Civic Centre – Ainslie Sewer.  Reported by Thos Hope.



STANLEY EDWARDS, Labourer, 2.11.1921 employed and two days later on 23rd had an accident – dropped hardwood on his toe whilst unloading timber in Stores Yard.


GE GIFFORD, Linesman, employed at Power House.  He received an electrical shock 28.3.1922.  He lived at the Power House Camp and earnt an average of 5 pounds 10/- per week.  His hand also developed blood poisoning.  J H Hayes reported the accident.




Death of a friend

WJ Ogilvie was an ex-serviceman working in Canberra. He lived at No 1 Labourers Camp and died one evening.  His mates put in for his burial expenses and he is buried in St John the Baptist Church Yard in Reid in Canberra.  Following is a thankyou published in the Canberra Times.

The Canberra Times 4 November 1927

The relatives and friends of the late lamented WJ Ogilvie (Billy Campbell) wish to sincerely thank his mates of Canberra for their sympathy and respect in their late bereavement, also the undermentioned who so thoughtfully sent wreaths and other floral tributes: No 1 Mess (4 wreaths) and other floral tributes; N Pearse, E Love and T Reeves (1), Mr and Mrs Richardson Royal Hotel Queanbeyan, Mr and Mrs WT Mitchell and family, AWU Canberra Section, Red Hill Camp Catering Staff, No 1 Mess, JP Casey, Annie and Terry Victoria, Hotel Queanbeyan, His Mates on the Area, Mr and Mrs Williams, Tom Williams, one each. Great praise is due to the doctors, matron, and nursing staff of Canberra Hospital who worked so unceasingly and did everything possible to avert the fatal end. Inserted by his made Pat Casey on behalf of his mother, father and brothers.


Russell Hill 1927

The Canberra Times 18 October 1927


At Russell Hill


The comment upon establishment of Russell Hill settlement contained in the leading article in the ‘Canberra times’ on October 11 had a sequel in the House of Representatives on Friday when Mr Coleman questioned the Minister for Home and Territories upon the subject.

The Minister (Mr Marr) replied: The statements in the ‘Canberra Times’ evidently refers to thee Russell Hill Camp.  This camp came into existence as a result of a number of workmen with their wives and children and with nothing but camping effects arriving at Canberra in search of employment , and with no means of  subsistence. [NB this is not quite accurate – the Commission made available 120 sites when the site at Riverbourne where 80 sites became available in 1925 were no longer considered satisfactory – problem flooding. The people from this came were moved in 1926 to Russell Hill and other sites.]

‘It is a fact,’ continued the Minister, ‘that there are roughly 280 workmen who desire to obtain cottages in Canberra.  The Commission has been engaged upon a very big housing programme  for the Public Service, which is now approaching completion, and it has already commenced to build a number of houses to satisfy this demand.  The Government’s housing scheme, which is now before the House, will help this situation.’

The leading article in question, in the course of comment on the proposal to erect a more palatial residence for the Prime Minister, contained the following statement:-

‘There are, however, other matters of equal importance at present to the provision of a second Prime Minister’s residence which may, in turn be considered unsuitable. It may be conceded that were slum conditions to exist in Canberra it would be a reproach to the dignity of the Commonwealth yet within view of Parliament House itself people are living under slum conditions, and worse.  The conditions under which the people live at Russell Hill are surely a reproach to the seat of Government and the amelleration(?) of these conditions in the interest of heath and humanity is surely a prior charge on the development of the city.  Nor is Russell Hill a unique example, for the conditions of living and Molonglo, Causeway and Westlake, as well as some of the workmen’s camps leave much to be desired.  There are at the present moment  281 unsatisfied applicants to the Federal Capital Commission for homes for employees and besides  a large number of workmen are forces to reside outside the Federal Territory owing to the inadequacy of proper housing accommodation.  This is not the fault of the Commission itself, which obviously could not provide housing without the money but is due to the anti-Canberra faction which has permeated Federal politics in the past.  These factions have attacked year after year the vote for Canberra and have done everything possible to keep it back.’


Molongo never meant to be permanent

The Canberra Times 1 November 1935



Minister’s Statement

‘It was never intended that the houses at Molonglo should remain as permanent homes for residents,’ said the Minister for the Interior (Mr Paterson) in a statement to the House of Representatives yesterday.

Mr Paterson said that the settlement was originally established as a Concentration Camp during the war, and the existing buildings were subsequently remodelled to provide temporary accommodation for workmen.  About 80 per cent of the tenants were in arrears in rent varying in amounts up to 155 pounds, the total arrears approximating 2,800 pounds. The approximate cost to the Commonwealth of the dwellings was 40,000 pounds. There were at present 89 tenancies (50 three rooms and 39 five rooms) and the rentals charges were 5/6 and 9/- per week respectively including sewerage and water rates. Electricity was connected and individual tenants are expected to pay for current consumed.  Educational facilities were also provided. All services were maintained at the expense of the Government and considerable expenditure had been incurred in other necessary items of maintenance including repairs to doors, windows, roofs etc. The total rental payable in respect of the dwellings was about 1,628 pounds per annum but no separate record was kept of the total rentals collected from tenants at Molonglo as distinct from those in other localities.

In 1931 when an opportunity arose for the demolition of some of the buildings this work had been commenced, the then Minister for Home Affairs had directed that the work be not proceeded with in order t o allow temporary shelter being made available for non-permanent residents in necessitous circumstances.

‘Adverse comment has been made in the press concerning ‘slum conditions’, continued Mr Paterson. ‘But these references have been, and in fact, still are resented by a number of the residents.

‘From time to time, applications have been received from tenants at Molonglo desirous of transferring to the Causeway and elsewhere but a number of these have subsequently intimated that they do not desire to move.  This is no doubt actuated by reason of the fact that their present rents are reasonable, and they have made themselves comfortable in their homes, due mainly to the assistance afforded by the Department in way of maintenance.

‘Early in 1935, several tenants at Molonglo who had been offered superior accommodation at the Causeway refused to leave.


Mr Paterson announced that some of the new houses to be built to meet the situation would be located at Kingston and others at Ainslie.  The Kingston house would be for occupations by tenants the nature of whose employment warranted their allocation of houses in that locality.

It is proposed,’ said Mr Paterson, ‘ to give some of the Molonglo tenants who are regularly employed and whose rental position is satisfactory the opportunity of transferring to the new houses, while those who are in arrears will be housed elsewhere as the opportunity offers.  The Government intends demolishing the buildings at Molonglo as they become vacant, and it is hoped that the demolition will have been completed within about 18 months.

[The cottages remained until the 1940s and 1950s.]


Obituaries Westlake people

 Above is a photograph of Clarrie Robinson taken at Russell Hill Settlement where the family lived prior to their move to Westlake.  (Courtesy of Robinson family) He died in 1930 only a few months after Noel Leech.

There were a number of sad deaths of young people at Westlake - two are mentioned here - that of Clarence Robinson and Noel Leech.  The latter young man dived into the water in the Acton Swimming Pool which was, according to others who swam there - bottomless - and broke his neck. 

The Canberra Times 17 March 1930




Diving off a sandy ridge at the Acton swimming pool [in Molonglo River] on Saturday Noel Leach [sic Leech] 14 of Westlake, struck his head on the bed of the river and dislocated his neck. He died shortly afterwards.

His two companions, James Brinkman and Tom Wylie, 15, both of Westlake, noticed that Leach was in difficulties and pulled him out. They then ran to the police station and within ten minutes efforts at resuscitation were begun by Sergeant Shepherd and Constable Hughes and continued for an hour and ten minutes. In the meantime Dr Nott arrived and everything possible was done for the boy who was conveyed to the Canberra Hospital.

[The Leech family lived in 20 Westlake].


The Canberra Times 16 July 1930



Youth Killed Instantly


Clarence Robinson, a publishing hand aged 18 years was killed instantly at 6.15 am yesterday morning when the delivery van which he was driving left the road in Canberra Avenue after a collision with another car.

The accident occurred about three quarter of a mile from the Eastlake Service Station [Brodie’s Garage in Wentworth Avenue – now derelict] . Robinson who was an employee of ‘The Canberra Times’ was accompanied by his cousin, Harry Chapman, was on his way home from Queanbeyan to Westlake where he resided with his parents when a dense fog was encountered. Suddenly another car loomed out of the fog and although the two vehicles only struck a glancing blow in passing, the impact apparently caught the hub of one of the front wheels of the ‘Time’s’ van, locking the steering gear.

The vehicle swung across the road and plunged over an embankment about eight feet in height where it was overturned with both occupants pinned beneath it.  The occupants of the other car which was driven by Edgar Arthur Gardiner of ...(?) Street Queanbeyan came to the assistance and Dr Finlay was summonsed. It was found that Robinson was beyond medical aid, death having been apparently instantaneous ...(?) Chapman although stunned by the impact escaped injury.

The late Clarence Robinson was a very popular member of the publishing staff of the newspaper and had onl returned to duty after a holiday in Sydney on the eve of the fatality.


The Canberra Times 17 July 1930



The funeral of the late Clarence Robinson of Westlake, who was killed in a motor accident early on Tuesday morning was held yesterday afternoon and was attended by a large number of relatives and friends.

The remains were interred in St John’s graveyard after a service had been conducted in the church by Canon Robertson, who in the course of a fine address made reference to the sterling character of the deceased. He said that the deceased had possessed a remarkable aptitude for his work, always willing and cheerful and a close friend to everyone of his fellow workmen and employees.

The pall-bearers were Messrs R Pummer, CA Burns, CJ Shakespeare, EL McColl, F Dooley and C Claney, members of the staff of the ‘Canberra Times’.

The chief mourners were: Mr H Chapman senr (grandfather), Mr and Mrs A Robinson (mother and father), Jack, Ray, Frances, Phyllis, Daphne, Vivian, Leo and Katherine Robinson and Mrs G Sercombe (brothers and sisters), Messrs G and J Chapman (Bega), Miss EM Chapman (Bega) and Mrs C Reynolds (Westlake).

Wreaths were sent from Mr and Mrs Davis (Russell Hill), Miss Daphne Davis (Russell Hill), Mrs Clancy and son, Mrs Bateson, Mrs Thompson, Mr and Mrs Miles, Mr and Mrs Corey, Mr and Mrs Brinkman, Mr and Mrs Phillips, the management of the ‘Canberra Times’, the staff of the ‘Canberra Times’, members of the Westlake Tennis Club and residents of Westlake.


The Canberra Times 31 October 1934



The death occurred in Canberra Hospital on Monday night of Mr Colin White, a well known resident of Westlake and a prominent district figure in union circles for many years.  The late Mr White was one of the oldest members of the Australian Workers’ Union in the district and was secretary of the Federal Capital Territory branch of the Australian labour Party at the time of his death.  It is stated that Mr White had been engaged in flood work last week when he contracted pneumonia. He leaves a widow and one son.


The Canberra Times 18 July 1935



The death occurred yesterday of Mr JJ Byrne of Westlake at the age of 77 years.  Born at Dalgety, the late Mr Byrne followed several rural pursuits and for several years was a teamster in the days when the cartage of supplies to the outlying stations was done by bullock waggon. He was closely associated with the development of the district, and worked on the Kosciusko road. After living in the South Coast districts of New South Wales for some years, he came to Canberra in 1927, since when he had been living in retirement.

The late Mr Byrne leaves a widow, four sons (Ray, Jack, William and Dick) and three daughters, Nora (Mrs Ryce), Mary (Mrs Thompson) and Vera (Mrs Symonds).


The Canberra Times 9 January 1939



The death occurred at Canberra Hospital on Saturday of Mr Henry Chapman 86 of Westlake, a native of Bega.  The late Mr Chapman who had been an inmate of the hospital for the past six months, leaves a large family; his wife predeceased him 10 years ago.  The funeral was conducted yesterday afternoon at St John’s Canberra.


The Canberra Times 21 September 1939

Mrs H Johnson

The death occurred at the Canberra Hospital on Tuesday evening of Mrs H Johnson, late of 55 Westlake, who with her husband and family had been residents of this city for 17 years.

The late Mrs Johnson (nee Pickering) was born at Gulgong (near Mudgee NSW) in 1880 and was married at Sydney 40 years ago.  She had been in indifferent health for a number of years and was admitted to hospital last week.  She is survived by her husband, three sons and two daughters. The sons are Henry Herbert, Frederick (Canberra), and Wilfred (Sydney). The daughters are Mary (Mrs AJ Duffus) and Lucy (Mrs N Rogan) of Canberra. The funeral will leave 55 Westlake at 2.30 this afternoon for St John’s Church where a service will be held after which the internment will take place at the St John’s Churchyard. [Mrs Duffus also lived at Westlake.]


The Canberra Times 5 November 1946



The death occurred in Hobart Tasmania of Mr Samuel Champ aged 74 who for many years a resident of Canberra.  The late Mr Champ came to Canberra in 1925 to work on parliament House and was for 20 years a resident of Westlake. He was the first President of the Progress League of Westlake and also played a prominent part in political and industrial affairs in both Tasmania and Canberra. The deceased was an admirer of Henry Lawson and won many elocution prises reciting his works.  He was predeceased by his wife about three years ago.

The Canberra Times 8 September 1950


Private transport was required to take a baby to hospital after efforts to secure a doctor or other transport had failed, said Beryl Lorraine Box of 25 Westlake, giving evidence yesterday before the Coroner (Mr FCP Keane) who was inquiring into the death of Robyn Lynette Jackson, 12 months, of Westlake on August 22.

She said that the ambulance station had been notified but it had been stated that the vehicle could only go out on a doctor’s orders.

The witness said she had been asked by Westlake residents to drive the child to hospital as she was seriously ill.

Immediately on arrival, the baby was examined by the assistant superintendent (Dr W Hillier) but was found to be dead.  Dr Hillier said the child showed no signs of violence, and appeared to have died two hours earlier.  The inquest was adjourned until October 12, after Sergeant Grangel told the coroner that the mother of the deceased was seriously ill.

The Canberra Times 16 April 1953


Private Tom Maxwell of Westlake arrived home after 19 months in Korea. His wife travelled from Perth to meet him in Canberra.  Private Maxwell’s parents live at Westlake.  He will leave Canberra next week for Perth where he will spend the remainder of his leave.  [Tom’s parents were Norman (Crow) Maxwell and Peggy (Margaret).  Norman was a son of PT Maxwell auctioneer of Queanbeyan.




Deaths by Drowing & Electrocution

Following are a number of articles in the Canberra Times that tell of the sad deaths of many in the Molonglo and Murrumbigee Rivers and the death of one small boy electrocuted at Causeway when he climbed on the roof of his house to retrieve a quince. 


The Canberra Times 22 December 1927




While crossing the Molonglo River near the Eastlake Power House yesterday afternoon Samuel (?) Edwin Turner of Molonglo was drowned. The body was recovered by the police last night from 10 feet of water.

Turner had been employed by the Federal Capital Commission in thistle clearing on the Duntroon side of the Molonglo River.  At about 1.20pm yesterday he was observed to enter the river on horseback opposite the pipe works near the power house.  A few minutes later a riderless horse appeared on the opposite bank and in mid-stream a hat was moving slowly with the current.

Volunteers immediately endeavoured to locate Turner with a view to rescue but no sign of the body could be seen.

The Canberra police decided to drag the river and grappling irons were secured. After dragging for sometime the body was recovered from about 10 feet of water at 8.15pm by Constable Broadribb.

The deceased is a married man and has been residing with his wife and one child at Molonglo. He is well known in the Cooma district, his parents residing there.  He is known to have been subject to fits and was not able to swim. It is considered probable that he felt a fit coming on and was taking a short cut home when the tragedy occurred.


The Canberra Times 11 June 1931





In returning a verdict of accidental death from electrocution at the conclusion of the inquiry yesterday into the death of Leo William Jeanette 9, of Causeway, the deputy-Coroner )Mr FP Woodward) commented on the absence of adequate insulation on the phase wire connected with the deceased’s home, contact with which caused death.

He said that it seemed extraordinary that the installations should be allowed to remain for so long in their present uninsulated state. It was an invitation for small boys to climb on the roof of a house and play with the wires. The Works Department should take steps for a proper overhaul of the whole system of house connections, especially at Causeway.

Constable Weiss gave evidence that he viewed the body at 115 Causeway at about 6pm on Friday and saw a mark like a burn on Jeanette’s neck stretching across the throat almost from ear to ear.

Cyril Patrick Hiland and electrical ...man of Causeway described how at about 1.20pmm he cut the phase wire which at the point where Jeanette was suspended by the chin was not more than two inches from the iron roof of the cottage in order to release him. Jeanette had then rolled to the edge of the roof and fallen about 10 or 12 feet to the ground. He said he applied artificial respiration until the arrival of medical assistance.

In reply to questions he stated that he had assisted in the installation of the service wires at Causeway. With one or two exceptions they were no insulated. The current conveyed by the connection on which Jeanette had met his death was 210 volts. In his opinion this was sufficient to cause death.

The Coroner: Is it usual for these wires not to be insulate.

The Witness: No. Since the construction of the permanent cottages it had been the practice to insulate six or seven feet from where the wire is clear of the house. At temporary cottages such as those at Causeway there is no insulation.

The witness said he considered the non-insulation of the wires dangerous and had orally drawn attention of the Works Department and Minister for works to the absence of insulation. He had always stressed the danger to residents at the Causeway of allowing their children to climb on to the roofs of the cottages.

Asked by the father of the deceased whether he had ever heard of a similar accident at Causeway, the witness replied that about 12 months ago a boy had been knocked off the roof by a shock, sustaining a broken arm.

Mr Jeanette: Have no steps been taken since then to make the wiring foolproof?

The witness: No

Charles Joseph Jeanette said that his brother had thrown a quince into the air and it appeared to have lodged on the roof. While the deceased climbed on to the roof to recover it he walked away. Shortly afterwards his sister ran to him and said their brother was hurt.   He ran to the place and climbed to the roof.

When he touched his brother’s hand he received a shock which threw him back about a yard. He then tried to pull him from the wire on which his throat was resting but failed to shift him.

Dr Mollison gave evidence that in the company of Dr Finlay he unsuccessfully attempted to restore life by artificial respiration. In his opinion death had been almost instantaneous.

Henry Percival Moss, Chief Electrical Engineer of the Works Department gave evidence that until three or four years ago it had been impossible to obtain insulation which would defy the weather. Under such circumstances it was considered that insulation wire was much more dangerous than on-insulation because it gave people a false sense of security. A wire had recently come on to the marked, however, which appeared to have weather-resisting qualities. This wire was now being used wherever necessary and had been used in Canberra for two years.

The witness said that it was his opinion that the wiring at Causeway was reasonably safe except when approached from the roof.

The Coroner: The only reason why the wires are not insulated is because of the expense?

The witness: Very little expense is incurred in the insulation.

Then why have these wires not been insulated? It would mean a replacement of the whole of the services.

There is no doubt that if insulation were on the wires they would be much safer?- Only if the insulation had been in good repair. Old insulation is never safe.

Well, it requires inspection – Inspection would not reveal faults.

In reply to the father of the deceased the witness said that it was not considered necessary that notices should be displayed warning people of the danger of such connections. When the danger was obvious notices were not necessary.

John Hubert Hayes, electrical mains superintendent, denied that he had ever made a report of the danger associated with the Causeway wiring. In his opinion there was no danger.

The coroner returned a verdict of death due to shock sustained by accidentally coming in contact with electrical wire.

Leo William Jeannette (spelling Burial Register) died 5th June 1931 aged 9 years and in the same grave is Baby Jeannette died 12 January 1931 – RC Section of Queanbeyan Cemetery.


The Canberra Times 20 April 1933


The Search for Mrs McKinnon


The search for Mrs Betty Hardie McKinnon aged 41, of La Perouse Street Griffith (also Howie’s Cottages and Westlake), ended yesterday when her body was found in five feet of water at the foot of the Cotter Dam. The discovery was made at about 11am by Mr AF Davis, Superintendent at the Canberra Baths, who investigated what proved to be the woman’s body.

Mrs McKinnon was last seen at her home shortly after 11 o’clock on Saturday morning but the police believe that the drowning occurred sometime on Monday.

The deputy-coroner (Lt Col JT Goodwin) viewed the remains at the Canberra Hospital mortuary yesterday afternoon and gave an order for burial, which will take place at St John’s Churchyard at 3pm today.

Although the police believe the affair to have been accidental, an inquest will be held this week.

Mrs McKinnon was the wife of Mr James McKinnon, a plumbing inspector and the mother of Allan McKinnon aged 11 years of age, whom it is believed the deceased went to the Cotter River on Monday to drive home from the boy scout’s camp.

Her disappearance from her home was reported to Sergeant Cook early on Tuesday morning when Mr McKinnon was advised by telephone that his car had been left unattended near the dam. Search parties worked in the vicinity throughout Tuesday and again after midnight. An intensified search was made early yesterday but it was not until the sun was high enough in the sky to shed light on the dark and foaming water at the foot of the wall of the dam that Constable Hughes, Mr Davis and another man discerned from the platform of the dam an object floating amid the weeds.

They immediately hastened to the side of the lower pool and Mr Davis shed some of his clothes and swam to the spot.  The body was later brought to the bank.

The police surmise that Mrs McKinnon, who was a strong swimmer, either slipped or overbalanced at the edge of the pool and struck her head on a rock, stunning her.


The Canberra Times 13 November 1936



Entered Water After Meal

A verdict of accidental death by drowning was recorded by the Coroner (Col JTH Goodwin) at the conclusion of the inquiry concerning the death of Cyril James Febey, who was drowned while bathing in the Molonglo River near Kingston on Sunday last.

James Girvan, plumber, Kingston stated that he knew the deceased very well. In company with Febey and W Lever, said witness, he went to the Molonglo River on Sunday afternoon, and after swimming about for some time deceased suggested that they have another swim across the river and back as he would have to return to the Causeway Mess where he was employed to assist in getting the tea ready.  After recrossing the river, Girven stated that he was the first to step out of the water.  He walked up the bank to where his clothes were and started to dry himself. He looked round and saw Lever leave the water.  Lever was some yards from the water when he saw Febey standing in the water which was about chest deep.  Deceased appeared to sit down and splash water over his head. Witness did not see deceased reappear and called out to Lever, “Grab hold of Jimmy. I think there is something wrong with him.’  Witness indicated the spot where Febey had disappeared and Lever dived in but could not locate deceased. Witness said the he marked the spot with a stick and then dived in again with Lever. Both men dived again and again for half an hour, but could find no trace of their friend.  A man came to the river bank and was sent to notify the police. Witness and Lever continued diving until the police arrived. The water was fairly warm on the surface but was icy cold deeper down.

Replying to Constable Bailey witness stated that deceased was not a good swimmer. The accident happened a few minutes after 3pm. Witness stated that deceased had dinner between 1.30 and 2pm.  There was a deep channel immediately behind the spot where Febey disappeared. The three men were swimming together and there was no one about at the time.

John Ferrel’s Muir blacksmith assistant, Kingston, said that he assisted in the grappling operations from the police boat and was present when the body was recovered from about 10 feet of water.

Dr O Mater, superintendent of Canberra Hospital said that he saw the body of deceased at the hospital and had arrived at the conclusion that death was due to asphyxia caused by drowning.  Death had probably taken place about six hours previously.  There were no marks of violence on the body except a post mortem one on the back of the head.  If a person had a large meal an hour before going into the water it might lead to collapse.  If deceased was in normal health it was probable that this happened.  If the water was cold it would be increase the probability.

Constable Bailey stated that in company with other police officers he commenced grappling operations at the Molonglo River on Sunday afternoon with the assistance of local residents. At about 11pm the body was recovered.


The Canberra Times 28 December 1937



Point Hut Tragedy

A family Christmas dinner party on the banks of the Murrumbidgee river at Point Hut crossing 14 miles from Canberra, ended in tragedy on Saturday when Ann Clarice Blake (16) of Tuggeranong siding was drowned while attempting to assist her father and small brother who had got into difficulties in the water.  Shortly after 1pm the Blake family, father, mother, three sons and daughter, decided upon an after dinner swim. One son, aged 13, got into difficulties in shallow water and the father, fully dressed went to his aid.  The father was not a strong swimmer, and hampered by his clothes had great difficulty in dragging the boy back to safety.

The daughter, Clarice, swam towards the struggling pair to assist them.  She disappeared while the father and son were clambering out of the water.  Her body was recovered three hours later by the Canberra police in a 14ft hole, which fell away suddenly in the shallows.

A funeral took place at Queanbeyan cemetery on Sunday. The inquest will be held tomorrow.


The Canberra Times 6 November 1939


Son of Canberra Pioneer

The new commander of the Australian navy (Rear-Admiral Crace) was born five miles from Canberra and his family has been represented in the Australian Capital Territory since the ‘70s’. His father, Edward Kendall Crace, was one of the pioneers of the Southern Monaro Tablelands and was drowned in Ginninderra Creek near Canberra during the floods in 1892.  Altar rails of brass and cedar at St John’s Church Canberra, were gifts from the rear-admiral’s mother to commemorate her husband.

The Canberra Times 29 January 1940


Disappearance No Noticed

At the Cotter River Swimming Pool yesterday afternoon Wallace Ford (also known as ‘Bunty’ Dunn), who had been living with his guardian, Mr Bert Dunn, of ‘Fernside’ Queanbeyan, was drowned when he went for a swim shortly after having a meal.

The lad was 16 last week and was a member of a party which visited the Cotter for the Trades and Labour Picnic.  After lunch he went to the pool, which was about a mile from the picnic grounds. He could not swim, but was seen to walk in up to his arm pits.

Approximately 100 people were bathing at the time, and when Ford disappeared under the water his plight was not noticed for about two minutes.

Don Boag, of 77 Causeway, saw the lad under the water, and quickly brought him to the bank.  With the assistance of Constable W Sullivan (Queanbeyan), the honorary inspector of the pool (Mr Horrie Thorpe) and Sergeant IC Perriman, Boag attempted artificial respiration. However their efforts were not successful, and on the arrival of a doctor, life was pronounced extinct.

Ford had been a pupil of St Christopher’s School (Manuka) and also the Ainslie Public School. An inquest will be held at Canberra next Saturday at 10.30am


Although the Cotter River Pool is less than 20 yards wide at its broadest point, and not more than nine feet deep in any spot, one drowning fatality occurred there yesterday, while 14 other bathers got into difficulties and had to be assisted from the water.

In the morning 11 children and two adults were assisted from the pool.

A woman who feared that her child was in difficulties jumped fully clothed into deep water. She sank immediately, but was quickly rescued.  Meanwhile the child swam to safety. The woman responded to first aid treatment.  Experienced swimmers believe that most of the people got into difficulties through going into the water too soon after a meal.


The Canberra Times 31 January 1941


Cotter Fatality


The Rev Father John McCusker, Parish Priest of Bungendore was drowned in the Cotter River, yesterday in attempting to save the lives of two boys.

Clifford lee 13 of Bungendore was also drowned but Fergus Campbell, 10, also of Bungendore, was rescued by Mrs NA Fisk of Bungendore.

Father McCusker, with seven altar boys left Bungendore for a picnic at the cotter River yesterday morning.  After lunch two of the boys, Lee and Campbell, were paddling about 400 yards below the dam when they stepped into a hole about seven feet deep. Neither boy could swim.

Although himself unable to swim, Father McCusker plunged to their assistance. He grasped the two boys, hoisting one on to his shoulders, though his own head was below water.

Hearing the cries of other boys, Mrs Fist ran to the scene and swam to their rescue. She brought Campbell to the shore, but meantime Father McCusker and Lee had disappeared.

Mr Harold Cabban, proprietor of the Cotter kiosk continued diving for almost an hour before he located the body of Father McCusker.

Meanwhile, Senior Constables Grove and Egan had been summoned and Constable Grove recovered the body of Lee in almost the same spot.  The bodies were conveyed to the morgue by the Canberra Ambulance. 

The Coroner (Lieut Colonel JTH Goodwin) stated last night that the inquest would be held at the Court-house at 10.30am on Monday.


The Rev Father McCusker, who was 40 years of age, had been Parish Priest of Bungendore for the last four years. He was a well-known figure throughout southern New South Wales, having been Inspector of Catholic schools for t he Diocese of Goulburn in 1932-33.

Father McCusker was born in County Fermanagh, Eire, and was ordained to the Priesthood on June 15, 1924,  He arrived in Australia on November 20, 1924. He was attached to Goulburn until 1926 when he went to Crookwell, where he remained for two years. From 1928 he was stationed at Cootamundra until 1932 when he became Diocesan Inspector of Schools. At the end of 1933 he was transferred to Murrumburrah-Harden, and for the past four years has been Parish Priest of Bungendore.

Father McCusker, who was a scholar of note, was a Bachelor of Arts, and held the higher Diploma of Education.  His quiet and genial personality won him friends from all walks of life. It is as an orator that he will be best remembered. Possessed of a clear insight into current problems, a striking delivery enhanced his eloquence.


The Superintendent of the First Canberra Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade (Mr FEP Strickland) stated last night that members of the brigade would give a demonstration on Saturday on the working of a small respirator which has been installed at the Cotter. In the past the use of the respirator at the Cotter has not been publicised and as a consequence people at the Cotter did not know of its whereabouts yesterday.

Mr Strickland stated that members of the division would give the demonstration at 3.30pm on Saturday, and the public is invited.

Members of the Division are in attendance at the Cotter Swimming Pool on Sundays.


The Canberra Times 28 December 1942



Boxing Day picnics to the Murrumbidgee River were attended with tragic incidents when three persons lost their lives on Saturday in the worst series of river fatalities that Canberra has experienced.

The victims were:

Paule Nicholas 34, tailor of Civic Centre

Charles Henry Button, 11 of Campbell Street Ainslie; and

Pamela Kerridge, 7 of Sydney


In each case the victim was caught unawares in deep holes in the river bed which was obscured by the muddy water of the swollen stream.


The first fatality occurred about 2.30pm at Pine Island where Paul Nicholas with his wife was a member of a picnic party which included many of his Greek compatriots.


Nicholas was wading out in shallow water when he suddenly threw up his hands and called for help as he disappeared. He did not reappear and others who went to his assistance were unable to locate him.


The message was sent to the Canberra Police and Senior Constable Broadribb, Constable Groves and Dr Lane rushed to the scene and at 4.30 recovered the body in a deep hole below the spot where Nicholas had last been seen.


About half an hour later, another tragedy occurred a few miles down stream at the Kambah swimming hole. Four children, Charles Henry Sutton, Pamela Kerridge, Primrose Kerridge and John Kerridge were walking hand in hand in shallow water when they suddenly found themselves in deep water. Primrose and John Kerridge were dragged out but Charles Sutton and Pamela Kerridge had disappeared.


Two Queanbeyan boys named Cretas and Johnston attempted to rescue Sutton and Pamela Kerridge but were unable to find them although eventually the body of Pamela Kerridge was located at about 6.30pm. Meanwhile, Senior Constable Broadribb, Constables Groves and Egan, with Dr Nott arrived on the scene and artificial respiration was applied unsuccessfully to the child.


The search of the body of Sutton was continued until dark and resumed on Sunday morning when it was found at noon.


The Murrumbidgee River had been swollen in recent rains and was in a very muddy condition in which it is impossible to see the bottom and recent scourings had created deep holes near the banks.


Pamela Kerridge, who lived in Sydney, was staying for a holiday with her grandmother at Ainslie. Her father is at present serving with the AIF in the Middle East.


Paul Nicholas is a well-known member of the Canberra community where he had been in business for more than ten years.  He took a prominent part in the Greek Day held in 1940 for the Greek Relief Funds.


It is recalled that as a young man he was responsible for the saving of his mother’s life from drowning in the Aegean Sea.  The family was being transported across the sea which they had seen for the first time, when the breaking of a gang plant precipitated a number of passengers into the water.  Although unable to swim, he seized his mother’s dress and seizing a rope, held her safely until both were rescued. Many of the other passengers were drowned.


An inquest will be opened on the three victims at 11 o’clock this morning. The remains of Paul Nicholas are being taken to Sydney for internment and the funerals of the other victims will take place at Canberra Cemetery this afternoon.


The Canberra Times 25 January 1952



A ten year old boy was drowned when he got out of his depth while bathing in the Molonglo River near the Canberra Power House yesterday afternoon.  He was Michael Constantine of Tench St Kingston.


He was in the river with other children when he stepped into a deep hole and got into difficulties. His companions ran to get help from the Power House, and Mr Pat Hammond and Mr Joe Newman rushed to the scene where they took the boy from seven feet of water.


Constantine was rushed by ambulance to the Canberra Community Hospital where he failed to respond after some time in an iron lunch. This was the first bathing fatality in the ACT this summer.


The Canberra Times 23 February 1952



The Canberra Coroner, Mr FCP Keane found yesterday that the death of William Stokes, 26, brickmaker of Bentham Street Yarrralumla, was due to accidental drowning.


Mr Keane found that Stokes had stumbled while walking along the railway line leading to the Government stores at Kingston on Saturday February 1.  He had then knocked his head on a concrete pillar supporting the rails and fallen unconscious into the storm water channel.


Thomas Haird of Kingston Guest House, Canberra, said that he saw the body lying in the channel about 5.10am on Sunday February 3, lying in about a foot of water.  Dr Brian Monohan said that the injuries could have been received by a person knocking his head on a hard object.  The blow could have rendered the deceased unconscious.


Brighter note - Fire Brigade Weddings

 Harold Stephenson, third from left - photograph of the fire brigade men taken at the Power House site. (courtsy Stephenson family)

The Canberra Times 2 January 1931


Many friends of Mr Harold Stephenson, of the Canberra Fire Brigade and Miss Ethel Ensor, of the Canberra Hospital nursing staff gathered at St John the Baptist Church on Monday last to witness their marriage by the Rev Canon Robertson.

The bride, who was given away by Mr Frank Miller, wore an ankle-length gown of beautifully hand-embroidered white georgette with a veil held in place by a coronet of orange blossom. The bridesmaid, Miss Woodward of the Canberra Hospital nursing staff, wore an ankle length blue crepe de chine. Both the bride and bridesmaid carried shower bouquets.

The best man was Mr A Dunn.  After the ceremony Mr and Mrs Miller received guests at the Friendly Societies Hall, Kingston. The Rev Canon Robertson was at his best as Chairman. Chief Fire Officer, PF Douglas gave the toast of, ‘The Bride and Bridegroom,’ in a witty speech. Upwards of sixty guests sat down to the breakfast which was catered for by Mr Studman while the music was ably rendered by Mrs Brown and Mr W Charlton.

The bride and groom left amid a shower of confetti and good wishes for a honeymoon on the South Coast.


The Canberra Times 7 December 1938

Wedding Bells

A wedding of interest to Canberra people was celebrated at St John’s Church on Saturday when Dorothy Jean Saunders daughter of Mr and Mrs JH Saunders of Canberra and John George Baker, also of Canberra, were married.

The bride who was given away by her father, wore a gown of white satin with a long court train. Her veil of tulle was held in place by a lovely coronet of orange blossom. On her arm she carried a bouquet of white carnations, watsonias and water lilies. The bride was attended by her sister, Miss Sheila Saunders who chose a gown of powder blue and carried a bouquet of blue delphiniums and pink carnations. The best man was William T Baker, brother of the bridegroom.

The ceremony was performed by the Ven Archdeacon CS Robertson assisted by Rev J Whiting. At the conclusion of the ceremony Archdeacon Robertson presented the bride with a prayer book bound in white cloth.

Mrs Saunders, mother of the bride wore a gown of aqua marine whilst Mrs Baker, mother of the groom, chose black georgette with black lace. The former carried a bouquet of pink and red roses whilst the latter’s bouquet comprised white roses.

St John’s Church was beautifully decorated for the occasion by Mrs Hunt and Mrs Welsh, pink being the predominating colour. Mr Baker is a popular officer of the Canberra Fire Brigade and before his marriage was presented with  a handsome chiming clock by his fellow officers.

The reception was held in the home of Mr and Mrs Saunders and more than sixty guests were present. Among those who attended were: Archdeacon CS Robertson and Mrs Robertson, Mrs ML Baker (Aberdeen NSW), Mr TW Baker (Aberdeen), Mr and Mrs R Smith (Sydney), Mr and Mrs PF Douglas, Mr and Mrs Malone, Mr and Mrs Hopkins, Mr and Mrs Lomax, Mrs and Mrs Hynes, Mr and Mrs Bennett, Mr and Mrs Bailey, Mr and Mrs Hamilton, Mr and Mrs Mauger, Mr and Mrs Stephenson, Mr and Mrs Munce, Mr and Mrs W Byrnes, Mr and Mrs Thurbon, Mr and Mrs Normin, Mr and Mrs Cowell, Mr and Mrs Welsh, Mr and Mrs ..fieney, Mrs C May and E May, Mrs C Harris, Miss Una Harris, Miss Loraine Douglas, Miss Brodie, Mrs H Wood (Camden), Mrs A Morgan, Mrs Willis, Mrs Nicholas, Miss R Smith (Sydney)


1928 Canberra Housing Report

 The Canberra Times 22 June 1928


I submit that the Commission and everything which was humanly possible to secure the best results under the conditions as they existed and in the time available.

‘Looking backwards and adopting the easy procedure of playing a game backwards I do not see anything which the Commission could have done under all the circumstances which would have improved the situation’

For the first 11 months of its existence the Commission proceeded with a programme designed to establish the seat of Government under what has been known as the Secretariat Scheme.  This scheme involved very few permanent residents at Canberra, but intended the Public Servants other than those of Parliament to move up and down between Melbourne and Canberra in conformity with the movement of the Ministry.

In January 1925, it became necessary to provide for greatly increased staff of workmen and officials to enable the programme to be got through in time.

There was not a single vacant house in Canberra and one of the things the Commission had to do was to build a number of cottages to house its own increasing staff.

For the first eleven months the Commission was building up its organization, therefore, to cope with the Secretariat …(word illegible) and had about reached a satisfactory position in this regard when on November 28, 1925, eleven months after its appointment, it was notified by the Government that it had been decided to scrap the Secretariat Scheme and to proceed with a very much bigger scheme and the Commission was invited to develop the programme, when would enable the transfer to be completed by October or November 1927.


Officials were sent to inspect and report upon the Thousand Homes scheme in Adelaide, the Concrete Cottages in Melbourne, the War Service Homes in other places and a series of designs were finally developed known as the FCC Types.  The greatest difficulty was experienced in gathering the necessary staff, but by working at intense pressure, day and night and with the whole-hearted and concentrated effort of the whole the staff concerned, the designs, working drawings and specifications were produced in the months of January, February, and march and tenders were called on March 20 for cottages in numbers from 1 up to 500.

The Commission hoped on its own estimates, to be able to build cottages for a shade under £90 per square.

The tenders for the cottages referred to were retuned on the 15th April and the result of that tendering have been made available to the committee, so that I need not enlarge upon them except to say that three contracts were placed with three separate contractors for 100 cottages each which were signed on May 4, 5 and 6.

A start was made within one week of the date of signing the contract. Definite contract prices lower than their own actual cost and distinctly favourable from the point of view of comparison with costs and distinctly favourable from the point of view of comparison with costs elsewhere, in spite of all that has been said, were now available in a booklet to the Public Servants, together with full information as to land, rentals and hire purchase payments.

To have invited the Public Servants to have submitted their own designs or employ their own architects to design their cottages would have involved us in at least six months delay.  In our designs we had provided for standardisation wherever possible for buying in bulk all the fittings required, and for the economies in time and money resulting from repetition work; and in spite of all this and in spite of the fact that we started to build cottages even before the contracts were let, we were only just able to provide houses at the rate which the transfer required. Had there been even as little as a month’s delay we should have been that month behind as a minimum and many more months behind as the result of the loss of standards.

The 330-400 houses which the Commission has built for public servants are only the merest fraction of what must be built during the next few years, and that, as a matter of fact, the very next wave of public servants would probably involve twice as many cottages as we have already built whilst there will always be a demand from private people.

Later it became evident that the administration of the cottage programme …in addition to the tremendous amount of other work which was then in hand – was more than the Commission architects could cope with effectively and the Commission thereupon arranged to establish a new Housing Construction Department, and to secure a special officer for this work.

After exhaustive enquiry as to the most suitable man, it obtained the loan for a period of twelve month of the Commission’s present executive architect, Mr TR Casboulte. He was subsequently appointed as the Commission’s executive architect.  The Commission feels that its action in this matter was sound, in that, after obtaining advice as to the best man available, it secured him and placed him in charge of this work and gave him a reasonably free hand.

With regard to the Oakley and Parkes’ cottages the Commission accepts no responsibility for costs as they were built under a contract settled before the Commission’s appointment. The FCC types, however, were quoted to the public servants at a rate based upon a contract rate, viz. £90 per square plus certain extras.

The wages of all the building trades were increased by no less that 11 per cent in February 1926 and again in December 1926, and the increase of the first 11 per cent and soon after another 6 per cent was responsible for a considerable proportion of their troubles.

Pursuant to the policy which the Commission determined upon when it embarked upon the housing programme as soon as the programme was completed it commenced a review of costs with a view to determining by what amount building construction cost were lower at the end of the programme than was anticipated, it always being intended to write off any difference if any. That examination is now complete, the Commission has obtained the Minister’s approval of the writing off the difference and the result is that the Oakley and Parkes’ cottages have been considerably reduced from a figure of 25 per square to £102 per square, and the FCC types have been reduced from about £92 per square to £90 per square.

He quoted the cost of a private builder in Canberra at 00 per square.

No reliable estimate for any work whether engineering or architectural can be developed unless drawings, specifications and quantities are available when the estimate is made. During the peak period of the Commission’s programme it was impossible to produce fully detailed specifications and take out detailed quantities before it was necessary to start the work.


Some feeling against the Commission has been engendered by difficulty which we have experienced in furnishing information as to certain costs as rapidly as the framers of the questions anticipated and the Commission has even been condemned because it has not yet produced a complete stamen of accounts and balance sheet covering its operations.

The Commission was compelled by law to assume the liability for all expenditure in the Federal Capital Territory which was incurred prior to its appointment, except expenditure on Parliament House and it was laid down in the Commission’s Act that the figure of liability was to be determined and certified to by the Auditor-General and then debited against the Commission. It was known that the liability which the Commission would have to take over was approximately 3½ millions sterling, but the exact figure was not fixed until a few months ago; in fact the certificate of the Auditor-General was only given on February 21 of this year, and even then the certificate was only a provisional one.

It was quite impossible to open up a set of books until this certificate was obtained. An immediate start was made in March, and there is, I can assure the committee at least six months very hard work between the opening of this set of books and the establishment of a balance sheet.

The net liability of that initial expenditure came out to a little under a million sterling with an added interest bill of near ½ million sterling; of that 3 million 1 ] represents land and the balance of 2¼ [?] million no less that 1 [?]  of a million is included in the certificate as covering what is termed ‘Miscellaneous’ expenditure; that is to say one third of the assets created prior to the Commission’s appointment are not specified, but have to be determined as a result of close examination.

Expenditure has been proceeding at Canberra since the year 1901, considerable works were carried out in the years 1912, 1913 and 1914 and on all this expenditure, interest has accrued.

An examination of all assets created has to be made to determine the real value as distinct from a book debt representing original expenditure plus interest over a number of years and this is by no means a simple task. When completed the Commission’s statements of accounts will show clearly what is deemed to be the real value of every asset possessed by the Commission and it will also show the working account for all the Commission’s many activities.

Probably nowhere else in the world does such an unfortunate state of affairs exist as that of the whole of the hotels and boarding houses in a city being owned by one authority, which is open to parliamentary criticism and fair game for anyone.

So far as we are able to ascertain, there is no hotel in Australia without a license, which has been built for many years and which pays expenses.  Apart from all other considerations the conditions at Canberra are worse than anywhere else in Australia.

The trading position of these hotels has always been a source of anxiety to the Commission, and in order to check up the position with regard to the economics of the establishments the Commission engaged probably the leading hotel business experts in Australia to visit Canberra, thoroughly explore the whole problem and report. The report summarized, was to the general effect that the hotels were being run in a very satisfactory manner, that no appreciable economics could be suggested but that the tariffs should undoubtedly be increased very considerably.

            We have endeavoured to encourage private enterprise to establish residential hotels and over three years ago an attempt was made to lease Hotel Canberra without success. It is proposed to offer some or all of these establishments for leasing as soon as the liquor question is settled, and the Commission sincerely hopes that the result this time will be that it is relieved from the anxiety and troubles associated with the running of these establishments.

The Commission feels that the whole situation in regard its hotel business is still abnormal, and is likely to continue so for some little while.


When the Commission took up duty its instructions were, that Canberra was to be fit for occupation on the secretariat basis in approximately two years.  The permanent Canberra Government House must be a monumental structure worthy of its purpose and this could not possibly be produced in that time. It had been the intention of the previous administration to remodel Yarralumla for the temporary purpose of a Government House, and when the Commission was faced with the general scheme and decided further that it would endeavour so to remodel it that the establishment could be used subsequently as a nucleus for a large boarding school.

Arrangements were made with the Department of Works and Railways to consult with the then Governor-General’s staff and evolve a scheme.  Sketch plans were produced by that Department after consultation with Lord Forster’s staff and a preliminary estimate for a building prepared from which the Commission felt convinced that the necessary alterations and additions could be made at  a cost of approximately £20,000.

The work was immediately placed in hand, and was well under way when the present Governor-General arrived, and it was thought expedient to consult Lord Stonehaven’s staff and review the whole proposition.  This consultation indicated clearly that the accommodation provided in the original scheme was quite inadequate; and considerable extensions to the original proposal were then added one by one as the requirements could be ascertained.

By the time it had become evident that all idea of making this place merely a temporary Government House must go by the board, and the reconstruction and alterations were therefore made suitable for the Governor-General’s establishment for an infinite period.

The work involved in the alterations to, and reconditioning of the old reestablishment  [resident or establishment?] was very much more than was ever contemplated. As soon as the walls were stripped, troubles developed in all directions, but the work had to be finished once it was started.

Government House, Canberra, as it appears in our books, and as it has been referred to, is really a small settlement of its own, for which complete services had to be provided – roads, pathways, sewerage, water supply and stormwater drainage. Much of the work had to be done in the demolition of outbuildings and in the formation of grounds consistent with its purpose. The cost of remodeling of two cottages and the construction of two new ones, had been included in the general cost, although they are only a portion of Canberra housing requirements and not a part of Government House itself.

The whole of this work was carried out at a time when approximately 3,000 [figure hard to read – may be more]were engaged carrying out works from one end of the city to the other, when everyone was working at intense pressure and when the demand for efficient labour hopelessly exceeded the supply. Between the date of starting this work and its completion an increase in the wages awards of 16 per cent occurred and on top of this the Government House settlement was outside the city zone, and the Commission was compelled to pay a zone allowance of 3/- per day to every workman engaged.

A question as to the cost of the Government House Settlement was asked in Parliament as the work was approaching completion. Questions of fact such as this do not normally receive the detailed consideration of the Commissioners. The figures are normally extracted from the books and a review by the Commission should not be necessary. In this case the question came to my notice and I gave a direction that the answer to the question was to be given in the form in which approval had been sought that is to say each separate work was to be quoted separately in order that the answer be intelligible to the member seeking information.

The assessment when completed was forwarded as the reply to the question, without further examination by the Commission.

As work was approaching completion the Commission itself was seriously concerned by the way in which the expenditure on the settlement was mounting and I asked Commissioner Sir John Harrison to make a close analytical review of the whole of the work which had been done, with a view to determining whether of determining whether any laxity had occurred.  On the receipt of Sir John Harrison’s report on this subject the Commission considered the broad issue and came to the conclusion that fair value had been received for the work done. It became evident that the assessment made by the architect’s department in answer to the parliamentary question was a bad one, but unfortunately the officers concerned had left the employ of the Commission and further enquiry was impossible.

Sir John the traversed the evidence of the previous witnesses.

Questioned by Mr Riley as to the striking rates, witness said that the services were estimated to cost £30,000 a year, and the rates would bring in only £19,000 per year.

Can you give any reason to support your statement that the people are not being called upon to pay more than their share? – When we do levy the rate we will explain very clearly the basis of the levying and will give Parliament an opportunity of saying whether we are right or wrong. We will explain the matter fully to the Government. Probably we will  time it that the rate is levied just before Parliament meets.

Mr Abbott: Then a lot of the trouble of the public servants are apprehensions rather than realities? – I don’t think they have been given an allowance commensurate with the increasing cost of living.  Naturally they are bringing all the pressure to bear they can to have the costs reduced: that applied to rents, valuations etc. they are living in hope that very soon someone is going to reduce the costs of living.

Do you think the residents of Canberra are worse off than they would be in any other town of a similar size? I think they are a little. We must maintain an average that is better than an average country town.  If salaries are not adequate they should be increased.

Regarding the proposal Land Appeal Board, Sir John said that the Commission would try to get a magistrate and two expert valuers to get on it.

Concerning houses generally, Sir John declared that the average Canberra home was better than elsewhere. There were no jerry built houses at Canberra.

Sir John denied emphatically that …[?] threats of victimization had been made by officers of the Commission.

BELOW: Page from Notes for Public Servant March 1926