What's in a name – Canberra or Frazer Roo?

Media release: Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Australia's capital city may have been known as Gamelyn, Nardoo, Aurora or Frazer Roo if some of the nation's early politicians had their way.

'These were some of the names chosen by parliamentarians in January 1913 as suitable for the new nation's capital,' said researcher Jane Ellis from the National Archives of Australia.

In a circular addressing his fellow members of parliament as  'Brother', King O'Malley, the minister for home affairs at the time, asked for suggestions of names for the new city on 15 January. He advised that the federal capital would be formally named at the 'founding of the city' celebrations on 12 March 1913.

The National Archives of Australia has chosen documents and photographs from the ceremony as its Find of the Month for March, to coincide with the 95th anniversary of the occasion.

'The 75 members of parliament suggested 39 different names for the new capital.  Canberra was the clear winner with 18 votes, while Austral with eight votes and Myola with six were the next most popular,' said Ms Ellis.

'The name Canberra is derived from the name given to the area by the local Ngunnawal people meaning 'meeting place', a term that was already used by white settlers.'

Until the ceremony the name was kept a close secret and revealed only when Lady Denman, wife of the Governor-General Sir Thomas Denman, read it aloud.

Lady Denman officially named the city during a ceremony to lay foundation stones of a commencement column to mark the beginning of the city's construction. The ceremony was a grand occasion with dignitaries including the governor-general, prime minister Andrew Fisher, 2000 mounted troops, 500 invited guests and 3000 spectators.

When World War I interrupted the development of Canberra, the commencement column was never built. The foundation stones remained in place on Capital Hill until they were moved to the lawns in front of the new Parliament House in 1988.

See the documents and photographs at the March Find of the Month.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2018