Sharing Canberra's early years

Media release: Monday, 12 November 2012

Canberra in the 1920s was a stark place. Paddocks separated government offices from the town centre and prohibition meant a trip to Queanbeyan if you wanted a beer.

More than 7,000 fragile glass plate negatives, taken by William James Mildenhall at the time, provide glimpses of a sometimes hard life in the early capital.

'For people who love modern-day Canberra, the Mildenhall collection really opens your eyes to where we've come from and the commitment that went into creating the city,' said Zoe D'Arcy, Director of Digital and Online Access at the National Archives.

To ensure the images are available for all Australians, including future generations, the National Archives has preserved the glass negatives and, in conjunction with the Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House, has shared them with the nation online.

The National Archives is also now displaying a small selection of the photographs in its Canberra heritage building, together with contemporary photographs of the same sites, highlighting the changes that have occurred.

'The website Discovering Mildenhall's Canberra invites people to share their own photographs of Canberra today,' said Zoe D'Arcy. 'We've displayed some of the images in our building to help spread the word. We hope to encourage more people to post contemporary photographs of the Mildenhall locations when they see our “then and now” comparisons.'

For his first few years in Canberra Mildenhall took photographs in his own time but was appointed the official photographer of the Federal Capital Commission in 1926. Images include far more than the expected government buildings, royal visit and eminent figures.

'The collection also pays tribute to the lives of ordinary men and women whose sweat and tears created the capital,' said Zoe D'Arcy. 'Mildenhall captured roadworkers, horse-drawn ploughs, early policemen, Mothercraft Society women, a kindergarten class at Telopea Park School, children at the Capitol Theatre, delivery vans, and very much more.

'The Mildenhall collection is close to my heart and I'm hoping more people will discover and enjoy his talents.'

Discovering Mildenhall's Canberra can be found at

Contact information

  • Elizabeth Masters (Media Officer)
    t (02) 6212 3957 m 0427 853 664 e
  • Shaun Rohrlach (Director, Communications and Programs)
    t (02) 6212 3990 m 0434 664 621 e
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