Monumental end to Centenary

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CANBERRA’S Centenary Column, which features a time capsule that is to be opened in 100 years, was unveiled this morning on the last official day of the anniversary year.

Photos by Stephen Easton
The 8.5m high steel obelisk sits on the side of City Hill, overlooking the Canberra Theatre, and features a stone base inlaid with glass bricks made by local glassmaker Elizabeth Kelly and topped with a flat steel skirt, which is digitally printed with geometric patterns inspired by the early designs for Canberra by Walter and Marion Griffin.

The ceremony began with a speech from Emmanuel “Manny” Notaras, chairman of Canberra CBD Limited, to a gathering that included some of the artists, tradespeople, public servants and business people involved in the project, as well as opposition leader Jeremy Hanson, Greens minister Shane Rattenbury, Labor MLA Dr Chris Bourke, Liberal MLA Brendan Smyth and the Ambassador of the Argentine Republic Pedro Delgado, as dean of the diplomatic community.

The Centenary Column before two metal plaques were unveiled.
The Centenary Column before two metal plaques were unveiled.
“I’m immensely proud … to inform this gathering that this column, sculpted by Canberra artist Geoff Farquhar-Still, is a gift to the people of Canberra by the property owners of the city [centre], Braddon and Turner,” Mr Notaras said.

The shape of the column is based on a 27-foot “Commencement Column” that was planned to be built on top of Canberra’s foundation stones in 1913, but was not completed due to a combination of time constraints, costs, and lack of Cabinet support.

Images of Canberra on the Centenary Column
Images of Canberra on the Centenary Column
“[The column] is reminiscent of the imperial symbolism intended for the Canberra Commencement Column, yet reflects contemporary Canberra, with images of the city’s historic buildings merged with those of the natural landscape etched on each of its stainless steel facets,” Mr Notaras explained.

The Centenary’s history and heritage adviser Dr David Headon said Farquhar-Still was “determined to connect meaningfully to the history” of the never-built Commencement Column, which was strongly favoured by “the legendary King O’Malley”, who was Home Affairs Minister in the first Australian Government.

According to Dr Headon, O’Malley was also a “one-time dubious seller of real estate and insurance in America… and later, colourful Australian colonial politician, controversial Commonwealth politician, orator, tall-tale-teller, finance guru [and] shaman”, whose key role in the city’s founding meant that a small bust of his head was put inside the time capsule.

L-R: Canberra CBD Ltd CEO Jane Easthope speaks to Chief Minister Katy Gallagher.
Chief Minister Katy Gallagher speaks to Canberra CBD Ltd CEO Jane Easthope.
The capsule includes hundreds of other items, from a shiny Centenary Medallion to more mundane objects like a number plate, parking ticket, MyWay card, car registration sticker, a piece of fabric we’re assured is in fact a ‘Skywhale’s toe’, as well as messages from politicians, including a letter from Prime Minister Tony Abbott that was read aloud by Mr Notaras.

“Writing in early 2014, I’m confident that our best days as a nation are still ahead of us,” Mr Abbott wrote to “the Australians of the future”, whom he assures: “My government is working to secure your Australia by placing the initiative and enterprise of citizens at the centre of our national life.”

Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson talks to a journalist.
Opposition leader Jeremy Hanson talks to a journalist.
Mr Abbott pledged to future Australians that his government would soon contribute “an ammendment to the constitution that acknloweldges the first Australians” and explained the Liberal Party’s ideology that “freer trade and smaller government will strengthen prosperity and that empowered citizens can do more for themselves than government will ever do”.

Chief Minister Katy Gallagher had the last word, placing the new monument within a broader story of Canberrans finishing off the incomplete and undeveloped parts of their city, as the interest of federal politicians waxed and waned over the years.

Ms Gallagher said she hoped the new monument would bring more people into the park on City Hill, making a joke about its location on an island surrounded by busy roads, with the safest path from the intersection of Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit crossing two of Vernon Circle’s little-used turning lanes.

“It is a lovely, lovely park and one of the wishes I hope comes true from having the Centenary Column and the time capsule here is that more people take their life in their hands and cross the road and come and enjoy this park,” she said.

“In the future there will be much better pedestrian access to City Hill,” the Chief Minister added, so that the road would be less “frightening” to cross.

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