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Early History of the Australian Capital Territory

Canberra, the capital city of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and Australia, is Ngunnawal country. The Ngunnawal are the indigenous people of this region and its first inhabitants. The neighbouring people are the Gundungurra to the north, the Ngarigo to the south, the Yuin on the coast, and the Wiradjuri inland. It is a harsh climate and difficult country for hunter-gatherer people. To live here required great knowledge of the environment, skilful custodianship of it and close cooperation.

First European Settlement

The first European settlement of the area, later known as the Limestone Plains (or ‘Manarro’, as it was called by local Aboriginal people), occurred when Joshua John Moore established a station at what is now Acton (site of the National Museum of Australia) in 1823. When he sought to purchase the land in December 1826, he referred to the location as ‘Canbery’, a name later used with various spellings for all the surrounding areas.

The local Aboriginal people were referred to by early white writers as the ‘Kamberra’, ‘Kghambury’, ‘Nganbra’ and ‘Gnabra’, all of which share some resemblance to ‘Canberra’ - the name of the capital announced at the Foundation Stone Ceremony by Lady Denman on 12 March 1913. There is little doubt that ‘Canberra’ is an anglicised version of the Aboriginal words, which is said to mean ‘meeting place’.

Siting and Naming of Canberra

In the first day of January 1901, the colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania joined together in a new Commonwealth of Australia. Both before and after Federation, there was much public bickering about what and where a federal territory and Seat of Government should be. The Constitution said that the Parliament must choose a site at least one hundred miles (160km) from Sydney and that the Parliament would sit in Melbourne until a new parliament house was built in the new capital.


 

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