Women in the making of Canberra - Introduction

This region has a long history as home to the local Aboriginal people, and we acknowledge their connection to this land.

The region was first visited by European explorers in 1820, and the first land grant on the Limestone Plains was taken up in 1824. The Federal Capital Territory site was chosen in 1908 and formally came into existence in 1911. The city of Canberra was proclaimed on 12 March 1913 by Lady Gertrude Denman, the Governor-General's wife, at a ceremony on Capital Hill.

Creating a new capital city was an enormous challenge. People came from other places to the Limestone Plains. There was no elected municipal structure to represent the interests of residents and to provide social services to support family life in the growing city. Women, and the organisations they created, filled the gaps created by this absence of a system of local government. Some of them had access to bureaucrats and politicians, and were able to lobby them for improved conditions.

When a local legislature was created in the ACT, women again came to prominence as representatives and legislators. In 1989 Rosemary Follett became the Chief Minister of the ACT, the first woman to head a state or territory government. Then in 1996 Kate Carnell was elected Chief Minister and vigorously promoted Canberra.

Lady Denman announcing the name of Canberra on 12 March 1913

Lady Denman announcing the name of Canberra on 12 March 1913
By permission of the National Library of Australia

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Published by the National Foundation for Australian Women, March 2004