22 August 2023

Community groups call for Canberra to be heritage listed

| Lizzie Waymouth
Join the conversation
Lake Burley Griffin

The Lake Burley Griffin Guardians say the lake and shore landscape should be heritage listed. Photo: The Little Burley Market.

Two ACT community groups have criticised the territory and federal governments for failing to uphold the heritage values of the national capital, the Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories heard on Monday (21 August).

The inquiry into fostering and promoting the significance of Australia’s bush capital heard from the Lake Burley Griffin Guardians and the Walter Burley Griffin Society, both of which called for Canberra to be placed on the National Heritage List (NHL) in order to raise the city’s profile and ensure its heritage is taken into account, among other recommendations.

Both groups criticised the territory government for its role in the failed nomination of ‘Canberra the Planned National Capital’ for national heritage status, which was rejected by then-Minister for the Environment Tanya Plibersek in 2022 due to the ACT Government’s lack of a clear decision on the matter.

They also called for greater respect for the Griffins’ original formally adopted plan for Canberra.

READ ALSO Call for specialist court to give sexual violence victim-survivors ‘choice and control’ in justice system

Lake Burley Griffin Guardians vice convener Richard Morrison told the inquiry that national listing would ensure heritage values were taken into account for new developments in the national capital.

“It offers certain protections against actions that might adversely affect or minimise the values that are recognised in the listing,” he said, though he added that “it doesn’t mandate absolute protection, it doesn’t set up an open-air museum for instance”.

Committee chair Alicia Payne MP asked Mr Morrison about how this should, in his view, impact developments such as the Ngurra (The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural) precinct, the light rail and a potential new stadium.

Mr Morrison said: “My own assessment of such proposals … the Ngurra proposal for instance, if that was in a five-storey building in the location that’s proposed [which I don’t think it will be] … then that might be seen to affect a view line to Parliament House across the lake from north to south and that view line is seen to be quite important because it’s part of Walter Burley Griffin’s design for Canberra, and so that would be something that would be taken into account.

“Again, that might not stop the proposal but it’s just a question of having heritage considered in any development proposal like that.”

Mr Morrison also said that national heritage listing would pave the way for Canberra to be placed on the World Heritage List, which would be a significant drawcard for both domestic and international tourism.

“It has been said that Canberra has clear World Heritage values over other international ‘planned cities’,” he said.

READ ALSO ACT proposes reforms to rapid alcohol delivery amid underage, harm concerns

In his submission, Walter Burley Griffin Society Canberra chair Peter Graves noted “the ACT Government and Chief Ministers have persistently opposed National Heritage Listing of Canberra”, and said the listing would “enhance Canberra’s potential and prospects domestically and internationally”.

He told the inquiry that the federal government had failed to exert influence over the national capital, particularly financially, while the territory government’s planning “neglects the principles of Canberra’s origin”.

“Frankly, the federal government does not seem interested in the national capital,” he said.

Mr Graves drew on Washington, DC, as an example of a national capital that has greater recognition and respect for its heritage and architectural history.

“Americans are far prouder of their national capital and preserving it,” he said.

When asked by Ms Payne how Canberra could use this example to have more affection for their capital, Mr Graves responded: “legislated height limits”.

“When you go to Washington, you get this sense that there is uniformity across DC with the federal buildings all having a relationship with each other,” he said.

“This, unfortunately, contrasts with our Chief Minister saying in November 2010 ‘Walter Burley Griffin is dead’.”

Mr Graves said the Griffins “remain relevant” and called for better commemoration for Canberra’s “architectural parents” through a virtual Griffin Institute and greater artistic recognition, including statues of the Griffins.

“To ensure this character and aesthetic of Canberra is retained for future generations, it should not be eroded away by poor decision-making. Untrammelled sympathetic development should not be permitted nor encouraged,” he wrote in his submission.

“The national government, the National Capital Authority and the ACT Government need to respect and care for this unique inheritance of the Australian people and Canberra residents and only allow sympathetic development to maintain the Griffins’ vision and maximise Canberra’s potential.”

*Amended to correct quote.

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments

An idea straight out of the Greens muddled minds

Peter Graves11:50 am 22 Aug 23

CORRECTION TO “Mr Graves said the Griffins “remain irrelevant”

I actually said “they remain relevant”. A significant difference, to keeping awareness and interest in both Marion Mahony Griffin and Walter Burley Griffin.

I also noted that the architect of Washington DC – Pierre L’Enfant – is buried in the national Arlington Cemetery. and that (by contrast) the US National Capital Planning Commission has responsibility for the National Capital Region.

This Region extends outside DC into Virginia and Maryland – indicating that the national US government has much greater interest and responsibilities for the national capital – than the Australian Government has for the Australian national capital.

Canberra is both a successful regional city – and the national capital in the national interest.

Peter Graves
Chair, Canberra Chapter
Walter Burley Griffin Society

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.