The naming of Canberra, 1913

Digital restoration of 1913 film
 Jennifer Coombes
The audience gathered around the commencement stone, 12 March 1913.

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 is available to watch in full on the NFSA YouTube channel.