Women in the making of Canberra - Planning

Marion Mahony Griffin

Marion Mahony Griffin
By permission of the National Library of Australia

Marion Mahony Griffin's watercolour rendering of Walter Burley Griffin's Canberra plan
National Archives of Australia

Women have been part of Canberra's planning since the Commonwealth Government issued an invitation in 1911 to architects and town planners throughout the world to design a new capital city for Australia.

The winning design, by Walter Burley Griffin of Chicago, USA, also embodied the ideas and planning skills of his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin. The beautiful renderings of Griffin's Canberra plan are her work.

Marion Mahony Griffin's watercolour rendering of Walter Burley Griffin's Canberra plan - click for enlargement

The Griffins plan for Canberra was substantially altered over the period of Canberra's development, but Marion's watercolours of the proposed Australian capital, kept in the National Archives of Australia, still convey their vision of an ideal city whose physical form would express the principles of democracy.

While Canberra's physical development in the early years was mostly carried out by men, women had significant input. The National Council of Women carried out housing surveys, identifying shortcomings in the housing stock provided for the city's residents.

Canberra's development languished throughout the Great Depression and World War II, until Prime Minister Robert Menzies created the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) in 1957. His action has been attributed in part to his wife, Dame Pattie, and daughter Heather Henderson, who had come to live in Canberra with her new baby.

At the beginning of the 21st century, Canberra's planning body, the National Capital Authority, is headed by architect and town planner Annabelle Pegrum.

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Published by the National Foundation for Australian Women, March 2004