Behind the landscape of Lake Burley Griffin : landscape, water, politics and the national capital 1899-1964

  • Dianne Firth

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    The Australian Constitution of 1901 required Parliament to establish its seat of Government in territory in New South Wales, but distant from Sydney. Interpreted as cause for building a new city it was, from the earliest deliberations, conceived as a city beautified by a landscape enhanced by water. Despite Australia’s variable climate, particularly its unreliable rainfall, the Canberra site on the Molonglo River provided an opportunity for storing a large body of ornamental water in a picturesque landscape setting, provided storage reservoirs were built to maintain water levels. Walter Burley Griffin’s design gave the Lake form as a chain of ornamental lakes and parklands through the centre of the city. However, developing the Lake was complex and costly and although Parliament met at Canberra from 1927 it was not until the early 1960s that work began on implementing the Lake. Lake Burley Griffin was inaugurated in 1964. Inquiring into the significance of landscape setting and ornamental water for Australia’s National capital the thesis reviews designed landscapes in cities that Australia aspired to emulate and the organisational and professional structures that enabled landscape projects to be implemented. Using Canberra’s lake as a focus this thesis examines the national and international context of landscape ideas, analyses the processes of landscape implementation in the public domain and evaluates the design outcome. The importance of national aspiration, national control of resources, Federal and State government rivalries, the power of government bureaucracy, the contribution of the design professions and the influence of Modernism as a design force in the built environment are addressed. The thesis establishes that over the sixty-five-year period Australian perceptions and expectations of landscape underwent a fundamental change. From the idea of landscape as a part of the aesthetic and moral high ground of national consciousness and international discourse, landscape, particularly landscape with water, became a device to consolidate power, bolster national pride, garner international recognition and enhance recreational opportunity. The thesis establishes the fundamental importance of Lake Burley Griffin and its parklands in creating a distinctive image of a visually unified National capital as well as a focus of public activity. As an empirical thematic history the thesis articulates landscape ideas and practice with the creation of a place of national significance. Through links with cultural context, the history of cities, and the history of design the research and its findings extend the knowledge base of the profession and practice of landscape architecture in Australia.
    Date of Award2000
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorGraeme Osborne (Supervisor) & Ken Taylor (Supervisor)

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