Naming the Federal Capital of Australia, March 12th 1913

The official guests are seated in the grandstand while public crowds gather near the commencement stone. NFSA title no. 9382

For the Centenary of Canberra, Film curator Jennifer Coombes highlights the significance of Raymond Longford’s footage of the naming of the capital.

On the morning of Wednesday 12 March 1913, 500 invited guests, over 700 mounted and artillery troops and a public crowd of over 3000 locals came to witness the formal naming of Canberra. Foundation stones were laid by Governor-General Lord Thomas Denman, Prime Minister Andrew Fisher and the Minister for Home Affairs, King O’Malley. The national anthem was played and Lady Gertrude Denman announced the chosen name for the new-born federal capital. And so Canberra’s life officially began…

Directed by Raymond Longford and filmed by Ernest Higgins for Spencer Pictures Ltd, the film of the ceremony captures both the formality of the event and the bush character of Australia’s future capital (see stills gallery below). As part of the NFSA’s extensive collection of moving image works, it is among the early film images of Australia and allows us a glimpse into the cultural and social world of our country in 1913.

The recently completed digital restoration of the film highlights beautiful, clear images of finely dressed guests in Model T Fords, wagons, buggies and bicycles coming down from the Molonglo River to watch the ceremony. We see the grandstand erected for the official guests just below Capital Hill, facing north-east across the valley to Mt Ainslie; Lady Denman, elegant in an ostrich-plumed hat and pearls greeting guests; and the troops from the Australian Field Artillery, Light Horse and New South Wales Lancers.

The film ends with a dramatic panoramic sweep from Mt Pleasant taken the day after the ceremony. It starts roughly at Capital Hill, where both Parliament Houses now stand, moves east to west to Black Mountain and Mt Ainslie, before completing the circle with shots of Duntroon.

The restored Naming the Federal Capital of Australia, March 12th 1913 appears on the DVD Imagining Canberra. You can order your copy by completing our online order form or by visiting the NFSA’s online shop.



Wonderful footage! Did Spencer Pictures tour it around the country? has notes on the exhibition of the film.

Tony Martin-Jones on 13 Mar 2013, 3:37 p.m.

Only just saw the Stiff Gins version of this - wonderful footage and sound, including those two dogs!

We've always had an invitation to this ceremony displayed at home. I never quite understood it's significance until now. An historic treasure!

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