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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, see all tags


The Founding of Canberra

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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


Historical knowledge and understanding
At Level 6, students analyse events which contributed to Australia’s social, political and cultural development.

Historical reasoning and interpretation
At Level 6, students frame research questions and locate relevant resources, including contemporary media and online resources. They identify, comprehend and evaluate a range of primary and secondary sources, including visual sources and use historical conventions such as footnotes and bibliographies to document sources. They critically evaluate sources of evidence for context, information, reliability, completeness, objectivity and bias.

This video clip is also relevant for Civics and Citizenship (Level 6)
Civic knowledge and understanding
At Level 6 students describe the origins and nature of Australia’s federal political system.

This material is an extract. Teachers and Students should consult the Victoria Curriculum and Assessment Authority 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. The video clip:
    1. What does the video clip show?
    2. Look at the images of leaders. Who has power in this society?
    3. Who was “King O’Malley”?
    4. Why do you think the clip begins with the image of Melbourne?
  2. The selection of Canberra as the national capital represented a compromise between Melbourne and Sydney, and symbolises the compromises inherent in the whole federal system. Draw up a table with two columns, one headed ‘State powers’, the other ‘Commonwealth powers’. Use your knowledge of Federation and the Constitution of 1901 to add elements to each column. You may need to carry out some extra research. At the end prepare a short statement that reflects your conclusions about the nature of the Australian federal system of power. Who won out, and why?

Tuppance: two pennies
Arbitration: the settlement of a dispute between two parties (in this case an employer and employee) by the government
Folly: a foolish decision /act
Mummery: acting, ‘not real’

Further Resources


Go to An Ideal City?