ACT News


Albury overdid day in the sun

Why was the federal capital city built at Canberra and not at Albury? After all, in the summer of 1902 an expedition of federal politicians (the press called them ''picnickers'' and sometimes ''pilgrims'') descended on Albury to have a forensic squiz at some recommended Albury sites.

Last Tuesday this newspaper published a bustling, opinionated, intellectually astute letter on this subject (why Canberra was chosen and Albury wasn't) from a Bruce Pennay of Albury. Here is a filleted version of it.

''In spruiking Canberra's claim to become the federal capital, King O'Malley asserted that cold climates produce the greatest geniuses. He went on to slur the hotter climates of rival claimants Tumut and Albury. … In rebuttal [at the time] our Albury Banner pointed out that Albury was a place 'where blankets are useful every night of the year'. All the same the Banner knew that once the compromise was made to site the capital within NSW, but not less than 100 miles from Sydney, Albury's hopes were dashed. We were too close to Melbourne. …

''While we begrudgingly acknowledge the greater genius that has obviously flowed from Canberra's cool weather, Albury folk remain convinced that the federal capital story was one of inter-capital rivalry - simply a tale of two cities [Sydney and Melbourne], neither of which was Canberra or Albury.''

Pennay is half right about some of this but I always like to compare and contrast the federal picnickers' visit to the Albury site in the summer of 1902 with the visit of an even larger bunch of them to the Canberra site in August 1906.

Alas for the Albury site's chances, its day in the sun, February 12, 1902, was far too sunny. It was hellishly hot and the picnickers who inspected sweltering Albury's dusty environs suffered terribly, not helped by the fact that as you can see they wore formal, winter clothing, including in one case a top hat. They hated Albury and, first impressions being important, probably forever associated it with blazing heat when their and others' searches were always for a site with a healthful ''bracing climate''; which meant some bracing chilliness in winter.

From my trawlings of ''battle of the sites'' material methinks Albury never gets back into contention after that February 1902 visit of what Melbourne's Punch chortled were the ''Shrivelled Senators'' shrivelled up by Albury's hellish heat and imagining themselves in hell (and in the Punch cartoon being greeted by hell's feared landlord).

By contrast, the Canberra site's first important day in the sun, in mid-August 1906 and with 35 federal pollies coming to look at the spot, was blessed with sparkling, perfect, clear, cool, bracingly frosty weather. From up on Mount Ainslie everyone, including cynical journalists, rhapsodised about the heavenly place they were visiting. From that day the Canberra site was always a serious contender, leaving us to try to imagine what might have happened if the weather on the day had been ghastly (it was winter and things might so easily have been foggy) and the pilgrims had gone away jaundiced and sneering and thinking kinder thoughts about Canberra's great rival, the ''Siberian'' site at Dalgety.