Monday, May 24, 2010


The present site of the Australian Capital Territory and it's city of Canberra was decided after an extensive search.  The site was chosen in 1908 as a result of survey work done by the Government Surveyor Charles Scrivener.

Charles Scrivener (1859-1923)(bio here)

He surveyed numerous sites for the construction of Australia's new capital, finally settling on Canberra.  John Gale, the publisher of The Queanbeyan Age (1831-1929)(bio here) and Federal politician King O'Malley (post here) campaigned strongly for the Canberra area.

In December 1908 Scrivener was chosen to determine the best city site and water-catchment territory for the new capital. Scrivener forced his small team 16 hours a day completing  the survey in two months, an amazing feat when one looks at the outlying topography of the Australian Capital Territory. (there is a good read (here pdf) about the original survey showing detailed maps.

Canberra Contour map
NLA image (here)

He suggested a boomerang-shaped territory of 1015 sq. miles (2630 km²) enclosed by the Cotter River, Queanbeyan and Molonglo river catchments. The competition for the design of Canberra that was won by Walter Burley Griffin was based on Scrivener's survey. Scrivener was described as 'a long, lean man with a kindly hairy countenance... a taciturn man' (temperamentally disinclined to talk).

In 1910 Scrivener was appointed first director of Commonwealth lands and surveys and he worked closely with Walter Burley Griffin in Canberra's design (though he often disagreed with him). Scrivener retired in 1915. The first Surveyor's Camp of Scriveners' comprised of 16 tents, a small timber slab skillion roofed building (kitchen) and a small surveyor's hut constructed from concrete with a curved corrugated iron roof. The small surveyors building now sits undisturbed below New Parliament House.

Scrivener reading maps in 1911 (in white coat).
Australian National Archives source (here)

The preserved building dates from 1909 and housed e original survey documents of the ACT. The 'hut' has the honour of being the first permanent Commonwealth building in the ACT. Scrivener Dam that holds back the Molonglo River and forms Lake Burley Griffin is named after Scrivener, and if you read his bio (here) I think naming Lake Burley Griffin's Dam after him is somehow quite apt.

There is a brief history of the border survey from (here)
Scrivener's  May 1909 report at the Canberra History Group (here)

 First view

ACT Heritage plaque at the door.

The Surveyors Hut is located at the base of Capital Hill.
View Larger Map