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Google's autocomplete reveals Canberra remains an enigma to Australians

Why does Canberra get so cold? And why is it called "the bush capital"?

More than 100 years after its creation, the city remains a mystery to Australians and other internet users plugging questions into Google. 

As people begin typing a phrase at the search engine, a go-to for anyone looking for quick answers, it suggests searches for them based on other common ones.

When curious web users begin asking about Canberra, Google's suggestions reveal what people wonder most about the place.

A quick test at the website shows the questions it suggests don't stray far from some simple but little-known facts. However, all are easily answered with a glance at history. 

Most wonder about the capital's location, climate, and very existence. For a start, the search engine shows web users are likely to ask: "Why is Canberra the capital of Australia?"

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Historian at ANU Nick Brown said the city had been an enigma for Australians. Who lived there, and what they did, was unclear for many people packed into the major cities or spread across the regions.

"It's often said that federal capitals are rarely popular cities," he said. 

International observers have said Canberra is among the world capitals most reviled by their own nations. 

"It's not too easy to find Australians who have a kind word to say about Canberra."

Type "Canberra is..." into Google, and it predicts you'll probably go on and call it "...a hole".

In short answer to the common Google question about Canberra, Professor Brown said: "It's a city that exists only because of the federation of the colonies."

Sydney and Melbourne wouldn't stand the other being the capital. The other colonies didn't want either to be the seat of government, and Canberra was born.

This goes some way to answering other popular questions: "Why is Canberra located where it is?" and "Why is Canberra so cold?"

Canberra's whereabouts was itself a compromise, the result of a long and complicated process, Professor Brown said.

It could be no closer than 100 miles from Sydney. Canberra's founders, guided by a notion that cold climates prevented laziness and would avoid the leisure of the warmer harbour city, chose a site far inland and susceptible to sub zero cold in winter.

One of the federation's earliest politicians, King O'Malley, wanted a place cold enough "where men could dream".

In Aboriginal history, the site had been a place of gathering. It was not heavily populated. Walter Burley Griffin admired the landscape that surrounded the site, and those planting the capital believed it should be bound by natural beauty.

These historical points might be an answer to a common Google query: how the capital got its nickname.

"'The bush capital' began in a way as an expression of the relative isolation of the city," Professor Brown said.

Another suggestion when typing "Canberra is...", which Google completed as "Canberra Islamic School", even reflected the latest chapter of a long history of migration that had shaped the city.

Despite hostility to Australia's capital, and jibes it was "boring", or "a hole", the nation's attitudes had changed recently, Professor Brown said.

Decades of self-government and a growing private sector assured outsiders that the city wasn't living on the national purse.

With the challenges of its greater independence, grass in Canberra's public areas was less carefully manicured, and more relaxed planning rules meant the capital was beginning to resemble other Australian cities. 

"When people see the city now, they see a place that looks much more like the rest of Australia, compared to 10 or 20 years ago, when it looked more like a place that really was more a public service town," Professor Brown said.