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The Founding of Canberra

Video clip synopsis – In 1913 the Basic Living Wage of 2 pounds 8 shillings a week is introduced. Politicians, including William Morris (Billy) Hughes, lay the Foundation Stone for the new National Capital in Canberra.
Year of production - 1913
Duration - 1min 32sec
Tags - Australian History, federation, see all tags


The Founding of Canberra

How to Download the Video Clip

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download clip icon Premium MP4 canberra_pr.mp4 (11.3MB).

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About the Video Clip


The Founding of Canberra 1901-1951 is an excerpt from the film Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951 (34 mins), produced in 1951.

Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951: Produced by the Australian National Film Board to celebrate the Jubilee of Federation, Cavalcade of Australia 1901-1951 provides an historical review of the development of the nation between 1901 and 1951. The film opens with the visit of the Duke and Duchess of York (later King George V and Queen Mary) to Australia in 1901 to open the first Commonwealth Parliament. Through the use of historical footage, the film not only covers notable events in the Commonwealth story but also social development, fashions and economic growth over the period.

Cavalcade of Australia was produced by the Department of the Interior.

Curriculum Focus


This digital resource can be used to achieve the following outcomes:
H.4 A student describes and analyses the ways that language forms and features, and structures of texts shape meaning and influence responses.
H.5 A student analyses the effect of technology and medium on meaning.
H.6 A student engages with the details of text in order to respond critically and personally.
H.7 A student adapts and synthesises a range of textual features to explore and communicate information, ideas and values for a variety of purposes, audiences and contexts.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


In 1907 Australia became the first nation to develop the concept of a minimum living wage. This was the result of the 'Harvester’ decision of Justice Higgins of the Commonwealth Arbitration Court. Higgins came up with the definition that a fair and reasonable wage was one that met 'the normal needs of the average employee, regarded as a human being living in a civilised community’.

In his judgement Justice Higgins wrote:

If A lets B have the use of his horses, on the terms that he give them fair and reasonable treatment, I have no doubt that it is B’s duty to give them proper food and water, and such shelter and rest as they need; and, in stipulating for fair and reasonable remuneration for the employees, means that the wages shall be sufficient to provide these things, and clothing, and a condition of frugal comfort estimated by current human standards. This, then, is the primary test, the test which I shall apply in ascertaining the minimum wage that can be treated as 'fair and reasonable’ in the case of unskilled labourers.

In 1913 the new Commonwealth Parliament accepted the site of Canberra, a sheep station in New South Wales, as the site of the new national capital. It was chosen because of rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney to be the capital, so it was accepted as a compromise between those two cities.

Classroom Activities

  1. Write a 100-word summary of the video clip. Include the audience and purpose of the video clip in your summary.
    1. Study the images of leaders in the video clip and state which gender (male or female) has power in this society
    2. What do you think is the role of women in this society? Give an example from the video clip to support your answer.
  2. The video clip is of historical importance.
    1. In small groups brainstorm and construct a two-columned chart that lists all the facts presented in the video clip in one column and all the images in the second column.

Literacy Activity: Focus= Viewing / Listening

  1. What was the minimum wage at the time? (1 mark)
  2. What could be purchased for a penny? (1 mark)
  3. Did all the newspapers agree with the new location for the Capital City? How do you know? (1 mark)
  4. What was the position held by the person who laid the foundation stone for the new capital? (1 mark)
  5. Who declared the new capital, “Canberra”? (1 mark)

Further Resources


Go to Australian Government Culture and Recreation Portal