Canberra is a city founded to solve a quarrel. When Australian heavyweights Sydney and Melbourne fought over which would become the new nation’s capital in 1908, officials compromised by choosing a place somewhere in the middle.
Now, Canberra is the site of more day-to-day arguments as the seat of the national government. On September 7, Australia’s national elections will end a hard-fought battle over which candidate will occupy the prime minister’s office there.
Although the area had long been occupied by Indigenous Australians and then rural settlers, Canberra — on a river plain amid rolling hills about 90 miles from Australia’s west coast — was a blank slate compared to the bustle of the coastal cities. That allowed planners to create a series of lush gardens, water features and geometric plazas that define the city’s look today. One of its most striking aspects is Lake Burley Griffin, named for the Chicago architects who designed the city.
Canberra shares a few similarities with Washington, DC. Not only was it purposely designed as a legislative capital; it is in its own version of the District of Columbia (the ACT), separate from surrounding states. As in Washington, its main streets radiate out from the city’s most important government buildings. And like DC, it has plenty of monuments and museums to distract from political arguments of the day.