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I

MR. J. D. EDGAR, one-time Speaker of the Canadian House of Commons, writes:

“National capitals are seldom the result of deliberate choice. For the most part they grow with the race, as in the case of Rome, Paris and London. Alexandria waxed great and rich on the banks of the Nile; so did St. Petersburg on the Neva; and Washington on the Potomac bids fair to excel them both in stately splendour. When a country is young and its history is not yet told in monuments, nor trophied in ancient architecture, its capital should be adorned in other ways. The Tower of London and the memories that cluster round Westminster Hall must help to inspire even prosaic members of the British Parliament with a dominant consciousness of the continuity of the Government in which they are taking part, and of the enduring nature of the laws they are helping to frame. Wise then were the advisers of Queen Victoria when, to compensate for the


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monuments of the past, they gave to Canada for her capital a site of surpassing beauty. Equally to be commended were those who conceived and carried out the glorious national buildings with which the rocky heights of Ottawa are crowned. The patriotism of the Athenian was kindled at the sight of the Acropolis, and every Scottish heart beats high when he sees the ancient castle on Edin's Hill. To fill a Canadian with pride in his country and confidence in its future, show him the noble pile of the national buildings, as they tower and glitter in the setting sun, far above the foaming river. It may not be a logical ground for his patriotism, but it is a sentimental one, and it will influence his feelings and his actions when he goes back to his distant home, whether it be on the western prairie, on the shores of the Atlantic, or on the far-off Pacific slopes.”

Beautiful as these ideas are, the motives that prompted the founders of Australian Federation to insist on the establishment of a federal capital for the Commonwealth were practical rather than sentimental. The main motive was to remove the Commonwealth Parliament and central administrative offices to federal territory remote from the parochial influences of any of the largely populated state capitals. It was also in a practical spirit that it was arranged that members of Parliament should make a tour of the proposed capital sites. In the federations most akin to the Commonwealth—namely, the Dominion of Canada and the United States—the capitals were chosen after much care and deliberation.


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As mentioned in the quotation given above, it was Queen Victoria, through her advisers, who selected Ottawa. In the United States, Congress gave President Washington extraordinary latitude in the choice of a site. He was permitted to plant the city anywhere within an area about eighty miles in length.

“The father of his country,” like Romulus of old, is described by Adams as pacing off in person the metes and bounds of the city to which his name is given.

The greater part of the site he chose proved to be in the rainy season a morass wellnigh impassable. When the machinery of government was moved there it was merely “a backwoods settlement in the wilderness.” In 1814, during the second war with Great Britain, it was captured by British troops, and the public buildings burned. In 1839 it was “a large straggling village reared in a drained swamp.” In 1871 its condition was described as deplorable, and one writer says: “The public buildings and grounds are neglected. The streets are deep in mud or clouded with dust, the unbuilt portions are morasses, and the sewerage is worse than useless.” All this has been since changed into the wonderful capital of to-day!

The Commonwealth Constitution provided that the seat of government should be in New South Wales, not less than one hundred miles from Sydney and in federal territory containing an area of not less than one hundred square miles.

Almost every small centre outside the one hundred miles radius put in a claim for the honour, but the


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number of sites were reduced by a commission to about a dozen. I accepted an invitation to join the members of the House of Representatives who made a tour of the sites early in 1902. It was a large party.

In those days motor-cars were unknown, and the tour occupied more than a fortnight. In the course of our wanderings we covered over two thousand miles by rail, more than four hundred by coach and a hundred and seventy-six by sea.

Amongst the hundred and one points we had to consider in making a selection were water supply, climate, facilities for drainage, proximity of building material, picturesqueness, accessibility, nature of soil and cost of resumption of land.

At Orange we climbed to the top of Old Man Canoblas, a mountain peak that rises 4,600 feet above sea level. It was a bright clear day. There was a picturesque drive along a tree-sheltered road that climbed upwards, skirting awe-inspiring precipices. We were driven to a few hundred feet of the top. The remainder of the journey to the summit was done on foot. Sixty miles distant many towns were discernible.Round the foot of the mountain the country was dotted with smiling homesteads. In the foreground were the forest-clad mountain slopes.

We also visited Lyndhurst or Carcoa Garland, Bathurst, Armidale, Jervis Bay, Twofold Bay, Bombala, Dalgety, Queanbeyan, Bungendore, Lake George, Goulburn, Yass, Tumut, Wagga Wagga and Albury.

At each centre the local residents tried to impress on us that their town was the most suitable to be the federal capital. By a peculiar process of reasoning they argued that it was the real geographical centre of the


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Commonwealth. Finally, we thought Australia's real geographical centre moved round with us.

It was not clear that one site visited, Bathurst, was within the one hundred mile limit of Sydney. Local residents answered the objection by pointing out that a New South Wales statute directs that distances in all cases should be determined by the nearest practical road, and that by such measurement Bathurst is one hundred and twenty-four miles from Sydney. Another point advanced was that if the measurement were taken from the usual starting-place—the obelisk in Macquarie Place—instead of from the west boundary of the city of Sydney, Bathurst would be found to be outside the one hundred miles radius “in a straight line on a horizontal plane,” to quote the Interpretation Act of the Imperial Parliament.

From Jervis Bay we went by steamer to Twofold Bay, which we reached early in the morning. The port of Eden, perched on a green patch on the side of the hills overhanging the water, looked as though it were indeed well named. The water was gloriously blue, the air fresh and bracing and the whole scene brightened by a cloudless sun. Here was the harbour of what was one of the most favoured of the proposed federal capital sites. Some thought we were at the entrance to the promised land!

The drive to Bombala disclosed valleys on each side that in wealth of ferns and beautiful foliage are almost unrivalled. Running streams abounded, also bird life; the note of the bell bird was constant. The road climbs the Big Jack Mountain amidst magnificent scenery.




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There are towering hills and immense gorges and green covered banks along the creeks. One enthusiastic writer put it thus:

“The first views of the new district showed wild flowers bursting out from the tracks left by some tumbling mountain torrent, the cress growing profusely in the streams, the halting-place where water babbling over the pebbles, and rattling round the corners, where the willows bent to kiss them as they passed, gave a new and beautiful sensation. The immense gullies, with the timber-clad hills rising on either side to great heights, and almost excluding the sunlight, and the mountains towering away out in the distance, and spiking the clouds which endeavoured to pass over them, added to the elementary wonderment, and supplied the sensations of grandeur and immensity that were wanting to make the contrast with the rest of the tour complete. It was a sensation, indeed, of haunting trout streams, of soft hours spent in the blissful shade of overhanging boughs, of the peace and sweetness and luxuriousness of a country where the fall of rain is regular, and where the tired citizen can find perpetual recreation. At the top was the tableland, which spread as far as the eye could reach, and which, if not rich with the experience of recent abundant rains, was still covered with green fields and prosperous-looking homesteads, and intersected by a running river.”

Bombala is about forty miles from Eden. It is nearly equidistant in a direct line from Sydney and


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Melbourne. It is on a tableland averaging 2,400 feet above sea level. The thermometer ranges from an average of 66 deg. in summer to 43 deg. in winter and the rainfall is 29 inches.

About forty miles to the north-west is Dalgety, or Buckley's Crossing, where the Snowy river flows in a great volume along its winding course. Its water had not the brown muddy appearance of most Australian rivers. It was as clear as crystal; it ran over a stony bed, and, being snow-fed, it was icy cold. We were told it had more water in summer than in winter. In the distance there was the monarch of Australian mountains, Kosciusko, its top clothed in a white mantle of snow.

In Dalgety there was certainly no lack of building stone. As one of the Press reporters said:

“Boulders were everywhere. Wherever you went off the road you tumbled over boulders. You sat upon them. If exhausted nature asserted a claim for rest you leant against them; in climbing a hill you fell against them if you turned your eyes for a moment aside; you clutched hold of them to steady yourself in descending the river banks. They stood out on the top of every hill, half a dozen together, some seven or eight feet high. They were as thick as trees in the mallee, as conspicuous as cloves in a ham at Christmas, as plentiful as mosquitoes in a swamp.”

As the party came in sight of the Snowy river there was a lone fisherman sitting on a rock in the stream with a rod and line. Someone quoted Dr. Johnson's definition of an angler, “A rod, a line and a hook all


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joined together, with a worm at one end and a fool at the other.” He was wrong in this case. The man was certainly no fool. As we drew nearer the rotund form looked familiar. It was George Reid, the leader of the Opposition. Whilst waiting at Dalgety to join our party he was fishing for trout.

At one of the centres visited there was a huge gathering at which, whilst he was speaking, he was asked by interjections if he would vote for that place as the site for the federal capital. He immediately answered, “Most certainly I will,” whereupon he was interrupted by rounds and rounds of tremendous applause. When silence was restored he repeated the remark, “Most certainly I will vote for this site.” There was further prolonged applause, and he then added, “provided I think it is the most suitable site.”

I remember that at Goulburn the party had a novel experience. On our arrival a dense mist prevailed in which it was impossible to see for more than a few yards. “What rotten luck!” said local enthusiasts. They insisted on taking us to view the site. In order to be agreeable most of us complied. We felt it was the big joke of the tour. I was one of those induced to climb a hill, not knowing the height. We painfully toiled higher and higher through the mist. After half an hour's exertion, the top seemed no nearer and the fog no thinner. Urged on by our guides, I was one of those who persevered. We found that the mountain rose above the mist and that at the summit the atmosphere was quite clear. That did not help us to view the site. Nothing could be seen but a great sea of clouds all around with the tops of hills standing out here and there like islands.




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A favourable impression was created by Tumut. Many of the party strongly supported its claims. When we saw it, there was much to admire in the beauties of its scenery, its rich lands, and its plantations of healthy well-matured trees. It seemed almost intended to be a good site, not for the crowded haunt of busy people, but for a spacious and beautiful garden—perhaps a quiet old-fashioned garden city something like what several members hoped the federal capital would become. What seemed an ample water supply was provided by the Tumut river, a strong stream that runs (so we were told) all the year round between banks picturesquely clothed with luxuriant vegetation.

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