The 30th anniversary of Australia’s Parliament House

Dr Joy McCann, Anna Hough
Politics and Public Administration Section

with Dr Dianne Heriot, Parliamentary Librarian

Australian Parliament House during the Enlighten Festival

Indigenous country and European settlement, pre 1788‒1900

>20,000 years ago | 1825‒61826‒1900 | 1890s | 1899


>20,000 years ago

Indigenous country



For more than 20,000 years Indigenous people have been the traditional custodians of the region known as the Australian Capital Territory, including the hill on which Parliament House now sits. This is reflected in the fact that, since 2010, the Presiding Officer in the Senate and House of Representatives[1] respectively begins each sitting day with prayers and an acknowledgement of the traditional Indigenous custodians of the Canberra area, the Ngunnawal and Ngambri peoples.[2] Indigenous people have continued to live in the region and maintain a strong sense of identity and connection with the land.

Watch: Acknowledgement of country, House of Representatives, 12 March 2013

Video courtesy of DPS Broadcasting, Parliament House

Watch: Acknowledgement of country, Senate, 12 March 2013

Video courtesy of DPS Broadcasting, Parliament House



European occupation



European settlers begin settling the area known as the 'Limestone Plains' following the first recorded visit to the area by Charles Throsby Smith, Joseph Wild and James Vaughan in 1820.

Joshua John Moore is recorded as the first European landowner in the area known as the Limestone Plains. On 21 October 1824 he takes out a ticket-of-occupation for 2000 acres on what is to become the site of Canberra. In 1825 he obtains permission to purchase 1000 acres of unoccupied land, but does not exercise his option to purchase until 16 December 1826 when he writes:

The land I wish to purchase is situate at Canbery on the E. bank of the river which waters Limestone Plains, above its junction with the Murrumbeeja [sic], adjoining the grant of Mr Robert Campbell snr. [3]



From Limestone Plains to Canberra


Settlers establish large pastoral properties, small farming enterprises and villages on the Limestone Plains and, by the mid-nineteenth century, the district is being referred to as Canberra. European occupation, here as elsewhere in south-eastern Australia, has a major impact on the Indigenous people of the Canberra region.


Australasian Federal Conventions



During the 1890s, a series of conventions develop the basis for the federation of Australia.

In 1890, leading politicians from the six Australian colonies and New Zealand attend the Australasian Federation Conference in Melbourne and agree to 'an early union under the crown'. In 1891 members of the National Australasian Convention meet in Sydney to debate how the colonies should federate and to develop a draft constitution. The Australasian Federal Convention meets in three sessions in 1897 and early 1898 to modify the 1891 draft. The Constitution contained in the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Bill is subsequently endorsed by voters of each Australian colony at referendums held in 1898, 1899 and 1900, and is passed by the British Parliament and given Royal Assent on 9 July 1900. [4]

The Australasian Federation Conference delegates

The Australasian Federation Conference delegates, Melbourne, February 1890. Photographer: Johnstone, O’Shannessy & Co

Image courtesy of National Archives of Australia

The first Royal Commission to determine a site


The NSW Government appoints a royal commission to inquire into suitable sites for the federal capital.  Commissioner Alexander Oliver presents his report in October 1990 recommending Bombala-Eden, Orange and Yass.[5]

Report of the Commissioner on Sites for the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth, NSW Government, 30 October 1900

Report of the Commissioner on Sites for the Seat of Government of the Commonwealth, NSW Government, 30 October 1900

Image courtesy of National Archives of Australia


  1. Prayer and acknowledgement of country, in R Laing, ed, Annotated standing orders of the Australian Senate, Chapter 8, section 50, Department of the Senate, accessed 12 March 2013; BC Wright, ed, Acknowledgement of country and prayers, House of Representatives Standing and Sessional Orders, Chapter 6, section 38, Department of the House of Representatives, Canberra, 20 October 2010, accessed 12 March 2013.
  2. The spelling of the names varies. Authoritative sources of the Indigenous history of the Canberra region include D Horton, ed, The encyclopaedia of Aboriginal Australia: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, society and culture, Aboriginal Studies Press for the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, 1994, Vol. 2, pp. 789‒90, 1008‒10; A Jackson-Nakano, The Kamberri: a history from the records of Aboriginal families in the Canberra-Queanbeyan district and surrounds 1820‒1927, and historical overview 1928‒2001, Weereewaa History Series, Vol. 1, Aboriginal History Monograph 8, Ann Jackson-Nakano and Aboriginal History Inc., 2001; NB Tindale, Aboriginal tribes of Australia: their terrain, environmental controls, distribution, limits, and proper names, Australian National University Press, Canberra, 1974, p. 198; J Flood, The moth hunters: Aboriginal prehistory of the Australian Alps, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, Canberra, 1980.
  3. LF Fitzhardinge, 'Moore, Joshua John (1790‒1864)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, viewed 15 February 2013,
  4. Senate, Records of the Australasian Federal Conventions of the 1890s, viewed 1 February 2013,
  5. ‘Selecting the federal capital site’, Design 29: creating a capital, National Archives of Australia, viewed 13 June 2013

National Archives of Australia
National Film and Sound Archive National Library of Australia National Portrait Gallery