Canberra's act of homage to the House of Windsor

Canberra's act of homage to the House of Windsor

As yet another Queen's Birthday long weekend rolls around it is timely to reflect on the strange fate that has befallen a separate - and uniquely Canberran - act of homage paid to the House of Windsor.

Street atlases of inner Canberra used to feature a pair of broken parallel lines stretching from Kings Avenue to Canberra Avenue. This, the cartographers indicated, was Windsor Walk. The broken lines meant that it was planned but had yet to be laid out.

Canberra's York Park was named in honour of the royal family.

Canberra's York Park was named in honour of the royal family.Credit:Jamila Toderas

The name dates back to 1927 when the Queen's parents, then known as the Duke and Duchess of York, visited Canberra for the ceremony to mark the transfer of federal parliament from Melbourne.

To honour the Yorks the powers that be declared that grassland not too far from the new legislative building would henceforth be known as York Park.


The eastern boundary of the park, as part of the 1927 initiative, was to be known as Windsor Walk. This name paid homage to the Long Walk at Windsor which is the grand avenue sweeping up to the royal family's castle in Berkshire.

But, typically for Canberra, this decision made on high in 1927 was not followed through on the ground. Nothing much transpired for decades. Windsor Walk remained a set of dotted lines on a map. The site was not developed.

A blow came in the 1990s when the present Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade offices were constructed midway along the Windsor Walk site. This name could no longer grace the locale. It would be laughable for Australia's diplomats and trade representatives to be operating out of Windsor Walk. It would look as if they were still in thrall to the British Foreign Office.

DFAT needed a good post-colonial street address. The name chosen was John McEwen Crescent.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade building was constructed along the proposed Windsor Walk.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade building was constructed along the proposed Windsor Walk.Credit:Andrew Meares

John McEwen deserved to be honoured. He was a force to be reckoned with in his day, serving as Leader of the Country Party, as the National Party was then known, from 1958 till he retired in 1971. He was Australia's first Deputy Prime Minister.

A man of "aloof dignity" (to quote the famed journalist Alan Reid), McEwen embodied rustic stoicism in a way that Barnaby Joyce, a latter day successor of McEwen as Deputy Prime Minister, can never hope to match.

What remains then of Windsor Walk given its partial replacement by John McEwen Crescent?

The site nearest to Canberra Avenue has been completely buried under modern office buildings.

The outside area in the adjoining DFAT precinct, between Sydney and Brisbane Avenues, is very much a promenade as originally intended. I visited it at lunchtime when it was replete with strolling public servants. But this is not Windsor Walk. It is John McEwen Crescent.

That leaves the streetscape between Brisbane Avenue and Kings Avenue.

On maps this stretch of land still has its monarchical moniker but on the ground there is no clear indication of the name whatsoever. The area serves principally as an unadorned car park.

The sole written evidence of the concealed nomenclature is a billboard outside the Barton Telstra Exchange building which informs pedestrians that they are at the corner of Blackall Street and Windsor Walk.

Across from the exchange is a van selling takeaway food. Its hospitable operator provided me with the sole oral confirmation that Windsor Walk still does notionally exist and that we were standing on it.

This invisibility is telling. Windsor Walk is smothered by embarrassed silence because it reminds us of colonial dependence.

If John McEwen Crescent is good enough a name for DFAT, hardly a disrespectful outfit, why cannot all of Windsor Walk be so rebadged?

The slight addition to the homage paid to McEwen would kill off an obviously cringeworthy name. It would also remind people that, in contrast to the fast receding Barnaby Joyce era, the National Party was once led by a person of grit and substance.

Two good things for the price of one, in short.

Stephen James Holt is a Canberra writer.