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Friday, 28 March 2014

From flood plain to planned lake

I grew up in Canberra,which was planned and designed in 1913 as the capital city of Australia, and is located  in the Australian Capital Territory, between Sydney and Melbourne. Canberra was built around a flood plain, at the centre of which was the Molonglo River. The winner of the world-wide competition for the design of the city was an American architect called Walter Burley Griffin, and one central feature of his plan was to turn that flood plain into a lake, around which various significant institutional buildings would eventually be constructed, such as the National Parliament, the High Court, the National Library, the National Art Gallery and the National Museum of Australia.
In consequence of disagreements with Walter Burley Griffin, departures from his original plans and the intervention of two world wars, the Molonglo River continued to divide north and south Canberra for fifty years  before it was eventually dammed to form a lake, to be known as Lake Burley Griffin. Originally the only convenient way to get from one side to the other was to use a bridge called Lennox Crossing, which was regularly submerged when floods occurred and that this caused considerable disruption and  inconvenience for Canberrans. Below is one photograph showing the crossing in flood in.1926, from the collection of the National Archives of Australia, and another showing the bridge in 1927.


                        The following items snipped from the Canberra Times of 26 February 1934 and of 2 March 1961 respectively provide examples of the sorts of problems caused by floodwaters from the Molonglo River. Such flooding had been a regular occurrence ever since the very early days of the Capital.

Canberra Times, 26 July 1961
 In 1960 tenders were called and accepted and in 1961 work began on the excavation and construction of Scrivener Dam and Lake Burley Griffin. On Friday 20 September 1963, the Honourable Mr Gordon Freeth, then Minister for the Interior, officially closed the valve on the Scrivener Dam which would cause the lake to fill. The advertisement below from the Canberra Times invited the members of the public to attend, and I was part of a busload of other students from my school and others who were chosen to go along and witness the occasion. You can see from the advertisement that the duty was intended to be performed by the Prime Minister, but apparently he was indisposed on the day. I wonder if Mr Freeth's substitution mean that the commemorative plaque to be erected at the spot had to be completely remade.  As the notice says, the next day, September 21, was declared an open day for the public to inspect the dam and a related display. Special buses were arranged if you weren't driving, for a return fare of 2/6 for adults.



 I like the fact that the enterprising Girl Guides took advantage of the opportunity to attract more customers to their fete in the grounds of the Prime Minister's Lodge, which some visitors would pass en route to or from the Dam.

'Canberrans flock to see Scrivener Dam from which Lake Burley Griffin was created'. Photo: National Capital Authority,
I can't recognise myself in this photograph, but I'm sure there were more people there than are shown, and I was definitely there somewhere!

This photograph from the National library of Australia shows Mr Freeth speaking in 1961 at the opening of Kings Avenue Bridge. one of two substantial bridges built to cross the future lake.  It looks like Mr Menzies is seated behind him. He would get his chance at a ceremony on 19 October 1964 to commemorate the filling of the lake. If you have a few spare minutes, you might like to click here and watch this short film about the construction of Lake Burley Griffin. Apart from giving an interesting history of the lake's conception and creation, it gives quite a good insight into life in Canberra in the 1960s!

The headline for the remainder of this article published in the Canberra Times of 24 September 1963 was "Dam Visitors Locked Out", and the article proceeded to detail the chaos that resulted when thousands of people tried to visit the dam on the Sunday, when it was no longer open for viewing.

Despite the optimism of those determined sailors, there was a seven month delay in the natural filling of the dam following the valve closure, due to Canberra experiencing drought conditions, but finally the rain came in April 1964 and filling progressed rapidly from then onwards. The lake was officially considered full in September of that year.                 
 I don't have any photographs of the valve closing ceremony, maybe because as an eleven year old it didn't strike me as the most exciting event ever, but I took these two snaps the following year in 1964, when the lake was semi-full. The first is a view from the elevated vantage point of Black Mountain, and the photograph below taken from the opposite side of the lake shows the now demolished old Canberra Hospital on the left, where our first daughter Claire was born, Mount Ainslie reflecting in the lake, Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and the domed Australian National War Memorial building in the far distance on the right. The former Canberra Hospital site is now home to the National Museum of Australia.  Canberra is notable for its numerous national institutions.


As Prime Minster Menzies says in his speech on film, the lake has certainly become a focus for Canberrans and visitors to gather around for relaxation and to participate in many sporting activities.  Below are a few photos from the 1970s and 1980s showing family members spending time around the lake.

Grace Dawn Featherston, aka Aunty Dawn to her many nieces, nephews and their families, visiting the Lake with the Water Fountain shooting 147 metres up behind her, c. 1975.

Yours truly posing lakeside in the early 1970s. The Grecian influenced building on the other side of the lake is the National Library, which had only been completed a few years earlier, and what was then Parliament House  can be seen on the far left. It's since been replaced by a much more imposing structure built on and into a hill in the near vicinity called Capital |Hill.

Our eldest daughter enjoying  a ride on her uncle's wind surfer, c. 1982

Cousins Ben and Claire at the lake, perhaps on a family picnic, c. 1984
Photo from my mother's collection taken of the crowds at the opening of the Carillion on Aspen Island by HM Queen Elizabeth in April 1970.  Can't see the Queen here, but everyone looks to be eagerly awaiting her arrival.
  We left Canberra in 1980, but still return occasionally to visit family there. In  fact we were there just last weekend for our niece's wedding, and after the ceremony everyone enjoyed champagne and wedding cake beside the National Carillion, opened in 1970 as per the previous photograph. A very enjoyable event in a very pleasant location!

For more Sepian  tales on this week's photo prompt, just click here to go to 
Sepia Saturday 221.