Civic, Australian Capital Territory

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CanberraAustralian Capital Territory
Civic viewed from Mount Ainslie June 2014.jpg
Civic viewed from Mount Ainslie with Lake Burley Griffin and Mount Stromlo in the background.
City is located in Australian Capital Territory
Coordinates35°16′55″S 149°07′43″E / 35.282°S 149.1286°E / -35.282; 149.1286Coordinates: 35°16′55″S 149°07′43″E / 35.282°S 149.1286°E / -35.282; 149.1286
Population4,276 (2016 census)[1]
 • Density2,850/km2 (7,380/sq mi)
Gazetted20 September 1928
Elevation577 m (1,893 ft)
Area1.5 km2 (0.6 sq mi)
DistrictCanberra Central (North Canberra)
Territory electorate(s)Kurrajong
Federal division(s)Canberra
Suburbs around City:
Turner Braddon Braddon
Acton City Reid
Yarralumla Lake Burley Griffin Parkes

Civic is the city centre or central business district of Canberra. "Civic" is a common name for the district, but it is also called Civic Centre, City Centre, Canberra City and Canberra, and its official division name is City.[2]

Canberra's City was established in 1927, although the division name City was not gazetted until 20 September 1928. Walter Burley Griffin's design for Canberra included a "Civic Centre" with a separate "Market Centre" located at what is now Russell. However then Prime Minister Stanley Bruce vetoed this idea and only the Civic Centre was developed; the idea of the Market Centre was abandoned.


Some of the earliest buildings constructed in Canberra were the Sydney and Melbourne buildings which flank Northbourne Avenue. The buildings house many shops, bars and restaurants.

The Canberra Centre, a three-storey shopping complex is Civic's main shopping precinct with a retail presence from the national chains David Jones, Myer, Big W and Target department stores, as well as a Coles supermarket. Nearby is Glebe Park, a picturesque park near the centre of the city with elm trees and oaks from early European settlement before the city was founded. It has a children's play park. It is popular with people on their lunch breaks and younger children from the surrounding areas. Civic also is home to the Canberra Theatre, Casino Canberra, Canberra Museum and Gallery and the National Convention Centre.

Garema Place and City Walk are open areas of Civic for pedestrian traffic with many outdoor cafes. One of the longest running cafes in Civic is Gus's Cafe on Bunda Street.

A local bus station predominantly used by ACTION, the ACT government-operated bus service, is located on East Row, Alinga Street, Mort Street and Northbourne Avenue. A light rail line terminates on Northbourne Avenue north of Alinga Street. On the western side of Northbourne Avenue (north of Alinga Street) is the Jolimont Centre, which is the bus terminal for Greyhound Australia and Murrays.

Canberra City has relatively low height limits on buildings for the centre of a major city: the maximum height of buildings in Civic is 617 metres above sea level,[3] which is derived from the altitude of Parliament House. This height limit is equivalent to approximately 12 storeys for an office building or about 15 storeys for a residential building.


1929 picture of the Sydney Building looking across Northbourne Avenue from the Melbourne Building.
Blue Moon Cafe in 1953

Before the development of the City of Canberra, there was no clear commercial centre for the area, other than nearby Queanbeyan. Murray's store, considered the area's first retail store, operated from a house built in 1874 on the glebe of St John the Baptist Church, within the present boundaries of Commonwealth Park, to the east of what is now Nerang Pool. It burnt down in 1923.

Griffin's plan separated the national centre, the administrative centre of the city, now the Parliamentary Triangle, from the Civic Centre, the principal commercial area. The commercial centre was planned to be on what Griffin described as the Municipal Axis which was projected to run north-west from Mount Pleasant. Variations from Griffin's plan that affect City include the abandonment of a city railway and a reduction in the widths of some streets, including of London Circuit which was planned to be 200 feet (61 m) and was reduced to 100 feet (30 m). Griffin's civic focus on Vernon Knoll, now known as City Hill, has not materialised mainly because of the way city building has progressed.[4]

The first major buildings planned for the commercial centre were the Melbourne and Sydney Buildings, which were designed in the "Inter-War Mediterranean style".[5] Construction began in 1926[6] and they were finally completed in 1946. Immediately after World War II, the Melbourne and Sydney buildings still comprised the main part of Civic and the Blue Moon Cafe was the only place to go for a meal apart from the Hotel Canberra and the Hotel Civic.[7]

Up until the 1960s, Canberra shoppers found the retail environment frustrating. Many did their weekly shopping in Queanbeyan, where the central business district was more compact.[4] Major purchases were made in Sydney.[7] In 1963, the Monaro Mall (now Canberra Centre) opened. It included a branch of the David Jones department store.

Notable buildings and urban spaces[edit]

Sydney and Melbourne Buildings[edit]

City Walk, a pedestrian mall in Civic is a focus of retail activity and outdoor dining.

The Melbourne and Sydney buildings were based on design principles set by John Sulman in sketch form.[8] The design work was finalised by John Hunter Kirkpatrick. The buildings were the model which establish the colonnade principle, an important design element throughout Civic.[9] From 1921 to 1924 Sulman was chairman of the Federal Capital Advisory Committee, and in that role was involved in the planning of Canberra and refining Griffin's plan.

Sulman's concept of arcaded loggias was derived from Brunelleschi's Ospedale degli Innocenti (Foundling Hospital) and the cloisters of the 15th century Basilica di San Lorenzo di Firenze. The Mediterranean influence was maintained by Kirkpatrick with Roman roof tiles and cast embellishments such as roundels. The buildings were originally constructed with open first floor verandahs which have since largely been glazed in.

Glebe Park in Spring

The Melbourne Building was sold sequentially as independent parcels from 1927 until 1946. The corner of West Row and London Circuit was built specifically for the Bank of New South Wales. The manager lived above the bank. Much of the Melbourne Building facing West Row was completed by the Commonwealth Government in 1946 and used as the location of the Commonwealth Employment Service. From 1944 to 1953, the Canberra University College was housed in the Melbourne building. On 11 April 1953 the Melbourne Building was severely damaged by fire,[10] and the college relocated (it eventually became the Australian National University).

In 2002 a fire extensively damaged Mooseheads bar,[11] resulting in a partial roof collapse. On 17 February 2014, the Sydney Building was significantly damaged by a fire which began with an explosion in a ground floor Japanese restaurant adjacent to East Row around 9.45 am.[12] The fire was quickly brought under control, but was not extinguished until 2 am, more than 14 hours later. During the blaze, a section of the heritage listed building's roof collapsed. The fire saw the evacuation of 40 businesses as well as closures of several roads and the City Bus Station, causing bus route diversions and major disruption to ACTION public transport services.[13]

Hotel Civic[edit]

Hotel Civic Canberra

The Hotel Civic opened in 1935. It was constructed in an Art Deco style from Canberra Cream bricks. It was demolished in late 1984 through early 1985.[14] The hotel was on the corner of Alinga Street and the eastern side of Northbourne Avenue.

In 1965, the Hotel Civic was the scene of a protest about the segregation of women in the hotel:

... a protest where a number of us [including the interviewee Helen Jarvis] chained ourselves to the bar in the Hotel Civic. Women weren't allowed to be served in the public bar -- that was the law in both NSW and the ACT. We had to use the saloon bar or the ladies' bar, where prices were higher, or to huddle out the back around the old kegs. They were also morose places, at least at the Civic, which was the only pub near the university. The public bar had all the spirit. We chained ourselves to the public bar. The bartender wouldn't serve us, but there were some sympathetic men who bought drinks for us. The newspapers trivialized it, of course: they wrote it up with the headline, "Women breast the bar".[15]

Civic Square[edit]

Civic Square

Civic Square houses the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly, Canberra Museum and Gallery, Civic Library and Canberra Theatre as well as many local cultural organizations, including the Canberra division of the National Trust of Australia.

Civic Square was designed by Yuncken Freeman architects and completed in 1961. Civic Square is sited within a primary axis of Griffin's design for Canberra which links City Hill and Mount Ainslie. Griffin intended that the square be the 'heart of the city'. Civic Square was listed on the register of the former National Estate.[16]

The Canberra Theatre was opened in June 1965 with the Australian Ballet's production of Swan Lake. The old Playhouse, also from 1965, was demolished and rebuilt in 1998. The link between the Theatre and Playhouse buildings has been redeveloped to include the Civic Library and the theatre's bar and administration area.

A sculpture of Ethos by Tom Bass was commissioned by the National Capital Development Commission in 1959 and unveiled in 1961. "The NCDC intended that the work would emphasize that Canberra is the non-political centre, the locale of commerce and of private enterprise in its best sense." The sculpture was designed to represent the spirit of the community. Bass interpreted this in the figure which he intended "the love which Canberra people have for their city to be identified with her...I want them to be conscious of her first as an image from a distance...then comes the moment when they become personally involved with her... they feel her looking at them, reflecting their love for the place".

Canberra City at night

The form of the work is highly symbolic. The figure is robed in a fabric richly embossed with emblems and figures representing the Community. The shallow saucer on which the figure stands represents Canberra's nick-name "Frosty Hollow". The saucer is 6 sided because the plan for Civic square is itself hexagonal. The surface of the saucer bears a relief map of Canberra and the rolling countryside around it. At the feet of Ethos are indentations that represent the lake that was later to fill the space between the Civic Centre and the administrative part of the city. The bursting sun she holds aloft is symbolic of culture and enlightenment which the presence of Canberra's University, its research organisations and the Diplomatic Corps and so on give to the city.

Bass regarded the work as his most important civic work. During the 1960s and 70s, pictures of the sculpture were frequently used in Canberra tourism images.[17]

Canberra Centre[edit]

Height restrictions have limited the amount of tall buildings constructed in Civic.

Civic's major shopping mall is the Canberra Centre. Opened as the Monaro Mall in 1963, it was the first Australian three-storey, fully enclosed and air conditioned shopping centre. It was opened by the Prime Minister Robert Menzies.[18] In 1989 it was substantially redeveloped and renamed the Canberra Centre. A further redevelopment was completed by late 2007, substantially adding to the diversity of retailers and services within it including a Dendy Cinema complex.

Heritage listings[edit]

Civic has a number of heritage-listed buildings including:


Canberra City is Canberra's largest nightclub district and experiences high levels of alcohol-related violence.[20] More than 600 assaults occurred in the city between December 2010 and December 2013, four times more than the next worst suburb in Canberra of Belconnen.[20]


Metropolitan apartments

At the 2016 census, the population of Canberra City was 4,276, including 31 (0.7%) Indigenous persons and 1,745 (41.0%) Australian-born persons. 99.3% of dwellings were flats, units or apartments (Australian average: 13.1%), while none were semi-detached, row or terrace houses (Australian average: 12.7%) and 0.7% were separate houses (compared to the Australian average of 72.9%).[1]

In 2016, 41.1% of the population were professionals, compared to the Australian average of 22.2%. Notably 20.4% worked in central government administration, compared to the Australian average of 1.2%, although the ACT-wide average is a similar 18.4%. 52.0% of the population had no religion (compared to the ACT average of 36.2% and the Australian average of 29.6%) and 14.1% did not state their religion. 21.6% of the population was born in China, 2.5% in Malaysia, 2.3% in England, 2.3% in India and 2.2% in Hong Kong. 46.8% of people spoke only English at home. Other languages spoken at home included Mandarin 23.1%, and Cantonese 4.2%.[1] In 2011, 56.4% of the population was foreign born, the highest for any Canberra suburb, except for Acton. 63.8% of its population were attending education, of which 2,178 (79.8%) were enrolled in university or tertiary study.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Australian Bureau of Statistics (27 June 2017). "City (SSC)". 2016 Census QuickStats. Retrieved 27 June 2017. Edit this at Wikidata
  2. ^ "Search for street and suburb names: City". Environment and Planning Directorate. ACT Government. Archived from the original on 23 November 2015. Retrieved 23 November 2015.
  3. ^ "City Precinct Map and Code" (PDF). ACT Environment and Sustainable Development. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
  4. ^ a b King, H. W (1954). "Factors of Site and Plan". In White, H. L. (ed.). Canberra: A Nation's Capital. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. pp. 209–220.
  5. ^ Philip Leeson Architects Pty Ltd (15 August 2017). "Northbourne Plaza Project: Statement of Heritage Effects" (PDF). p. 3. Archived from the original (PDF) on 21 August 2017. Retrieved 21 August 2017.
  6. ^ "Building of Civic Centre". The Canberra Times. 10 September 1926. Retrieved 24 August 2008.
  7. ^ a b Green, Stephanie. "Gorman House history". Gorman House Arts Centre. Archived from the original on 19 August 2006. Retrieved 16 May 2006.
  8. ^ Warden, Ian (17 February 2014). "History of the Sydney Building". The Canberra Times. Archived from the original on 18 February 2014.
  9. ^ "20032. Melbourne and Sydney Buildings" (PDF). Entry to the ACT Heritage Register; Heritage Act 2004. ACT Heritage Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 19 August 2006. Retrieved 16 May 2006.
  10. ^ Warden, Ian (19 February 2014). "No shortage of help in fighting the great fire of 1953". The Canberra Times. Archived from the original on 18 February 2014.
  11. ^ Jean, David (12 April 2011). "Best to steer clear of 'out-of-control' ADFA boys". The Advertiser. Adelaide.
  12. ^ Rickard, Lucy; Westcott, Ben; Raggatt, Matthew (17 February 2014). "Fire at Sydney Building in Civic". The Canberra Times. Archived from the original on 17 February 2014. Retrieved 20 February 2014.
  13. ^ McIlroy, Tom (18 February 2014). "Civic chaos continues as Sydney Building fire investigated". The Canberra Times.
  14. ^ "60 tonne capacity excavator demolishes the Hotel Civic; photograph taken 30 January 1985". Image Library. ACT Heritage Library. Archived from the original on 8 October 2007. Retrieved 16 May 2006.
  15. ^ Cheng, Eva. "Vietnam and the women's liberation movement". Green Left Weekly. Archived from the original on 30 August 2006. Retrieved 16 May 2006.
  16. ^ "Civic Square Complex, London Cct, Canberra, ACT, Australia". Department of the Environment. Retrieved 19 February 2014.
  17. ^ "10007. Ethos statue" (PDF). Entry to the ACT Heritage Register; Heritage Act 2004. ACT Heritage Council. Archived from the original (PDF) on 20 August 2006. Retrieved 16 May 2006.
  18. ^ Menzies, Robert (5 March 1963). Opening of the Monaro Shopping Mall (Speech). Canberra. Archived from the original on 30 January 2014.
  19. ^ "Reserve Bank of Australia (Place ID 105396)". Australian Heritage Database. Australian Government. Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  20. ^ a b Knaus, Christopher (2 December 2013). "Special series - Punch Drunk, part one: Civic remains a hotbed of alcohol-fuelled violence". The Canberra Times. Archived from the original on 12 December 2013.
  21. ^ "Where do migrants live? (4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 2014)". Australian Bureau of Statistics. 17 March 2014. Retrieved 19 March 2014.

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