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It is believed that Aboriginal people used the area which is now the ACT as a meeting place, possibly for corroborees held to mark the migration of the bogong moth, which was hunted and eaten. Canberra was first settled by Europeans in 1824, when Joshua Moore bought the first land grant in the area, at the foot of Black Mountain. By 1845 a town had grown up in the shadow of the mountain, with the newly built St John's Church and the nearby school at its centre. The establishing of a national capital and surrounding Australian Capital Territory (ACT) was one of the tenets of the constitution created when the colonies were federated into Australian states in 1901. The site was selected in 1908 - diplomatically situated between arch rivals Sydney and Melbourne. Canberra was named in 1913, from an Aboriginal term believed to mean 'meeting place', and an international competition to design the city was won by the American architect Walter Burley Griffin. Development of the site was slow and although parliament was first convened in the capital in 1927, it was not until after WWII that the dream of a national capital began to reach fruition. In 1957 the Menzies Government created the National Capital Development Commission, to establish Canberra as the seat of government and generally spruce the place up a bit. Over the next 20 years it was full steam ahead - bridges were built over a hypothetical lake, then a year later the lake followed; the Mint, the National Library, the Botanic Gardens and the Carillon sprang up; the civic centre was packed full of offices, shops and theatres. Throughout the 60s the public service became Canberra's major industry, with departments shifting to the capital from all over the country, bringing with them hordes of happy families in search of a quarter-acre block to call their own. In line with its reputation as a planned city, Canberra's growth was less than organic - rather than filling in the city centre and letting suburbs sprawl around it, the NCDC oversaw the setting up of 'satellite towns' to the north and south. Woden, to the south, was set up first, then Belconnen to the north. In the 70s they were followed by Tuggeranong, and in the 80s Gunghalin. Since Federation the ACT had been under the jurisdiction of the Federal Government, with no local government of its own. In a 1978 referendum Canberrans had voted no to self-government, but despite this in 1988 the Federal Government passed four bills to make the Territory self-governing and in 1989 the first Legislative Assembly was elected. For the first few years of self-government, power changed hands between the ALP and Liberal Party fairly regularly, with cameo performances by representatives of the paradoxical No Self Government Party, the Residents Rally and the ACT Greens. In 1995 the electoral system was changed, and the Liberal Party has remained firmly entrenched ever since. Despite self-government, Canberra's fortunes are still tied to the big boys on the hill. The national public service is the city's engine room, and when the Howard Government made severe cutbacks to its numbers in the mid-90s, Canberra really felt the pinch, with businesses throughout the city suffering as public servants stopped spending money. Canberra remains optimistic and daring, though - the Legislative Assembly keeps coming up with ideas no other state government would touch with a barge pole, the Canberra Raiders rugby team continues to shine, and the city's café, music and art scene just keeps getting better. Orientation The ACT is 80km (50mi) from north to south and is about 30km (19mi) wide. It is landlocked within the mountainous country of southeastern New South Wales, 305km (190mi) from Sydney by road. Canberra and its surrounding suburbs are in the northeast of the territory, while the Namadgi National Park occupies the whole southwestern area. The population grew from 50,000 in 1960 to 100,000 in 1967 and has soared to more than 300,000 today. Canberra is arranged around the artificial Lake Burley Griffin. In Civic, on the northern side of the lake, are the shops, businesses, university and suburbs such as Reid, Braddon, Turner and Acton. Parliamentary and other administrative buildings are located to the south of the lake, surrounded by suburbs such as Parkes, Barton, Forrest, Deakin and Yarralumla (home to the prime minister and governor-general). Canberra is also surrounded by the satellite towns of Woden, Belconnen and Tuggeranong. Canberra's airport is about 7km (4mi) east of the city. Interstate buses arrive at the Jolimont Centre, which is in the centre of Civic. The railway station is in Kingston, on the south side of the lake. Most shops and restaurants are in Civic and Manuka, also just south of the lake, with a few cafes sprinkled through the inner suburbs. Each satellite town has its own charming mall. Civic is also the centre of Canberra's nightlife, which is somewhat more lively than its reputation suggests. Attractions Parliament House As Canberra's raison d'etre, Parliament House is the thing most visitors to the city want to have a gander at. Opened in 1988, new Parliament House (as it's commonly known, to distinguish it from the old Parliament House) is a marble lined monstrosity squatting at the apex of the Parliamentary Triangle. Built into the hill, the roof of the house is lined with grass to make it blend in. In true Australian tradition, the grass is imported lawn mix, which requires gargantuan quantities of water and weedkiller to keep it green and glowing. The interior of the house is rather impressive - each of its major sections is lined with Australian timbers, and it is littered with over 3000 art works bought or commissioned from Australian artists.Visitors can wander around the public areas of the house, including the House of Representatives and the Senate, though you may have to make a booking if something particularly juicy is being debated. There are free guided tours of the building on non-sitting days. Old Parliament House, further down the hill towards the lake, was the seat of government from 1927 until 1988. Far more modest than its succesor, the old house resembles a slightly sprawling wedding cake. You can take a tour of the building or wander its pleasant grounds. The house is also home to the National Portrait Gallery. National Gallery of Australia Canberra's National Gallery, on the south shore of the lake, has probably the best collection of art in the country. The Australian collection ranges from traditional Aboriginal art through to 20th century works by Arthur Boyd, Sidney Nolan and Albert Tucker. Aboriginal works include bark paintings from Arnhem Land, pukumani burial poles from the Tiwi people and printed fabrics from central Australia. There's also plenty of foreign art from all eras, and most travelling exhibitions stop by Canberra on their way around the world. The collection is not confined to paintings: sculptures, prints, drawings, photographs, furniture, ceramics, fashion, textiles and silverware are all on display. There are a couple of pleasant restaurants on the grounds, and free lectures are often given. Questacon This is a 'hands on' science museum which lives in a purpose-built, snappy white building near the National Gallery. There are over 200 devices in the centre's five galleries, including the earthquake experience, the thongaphone, and the 'can you bowl faster than Alan Donald' display. It's designed for kids, but unselfconscious adults won't have any trouble entertaining themselves for an hour or two. It may be educational, but it's also great fun. Australian War Memorial The massive war memorial is more than the usual pointy concrete thing in the middle of town, it's actually a museum of Australia's war history. It was conceived in 1925 and finally opened in 1941. It houses an amazing collection of pictures, dioramas, relics and exhibitions, including a fine collection of old aircraft. For anyone with an interest in toy soldiers, the miniature battle scenes are absorbing.The Hall of Memory is the focus of the memorial. It features a beautiful interior, some superb stained-glass windows and a dome made of six million Italian mosaic pieces. The Unknown Australian Soldier was brought here from a WWI battlefield in 1993. Leading to the hall is the reflecting pool, its surrounding walls inscribed with the names of Australia's war dead. Australian National Botanic Gardens On the lower slopes of Black Mountain, behind the Australian National University, the beautiful 50 hectare (123 acre) botanic gardens are devoted to Australian flora. There are educational walks, including one among plants used by Aborigines. A highlight is the rainforest area, achieved in this dry climate with a misting system, while the eucalypt lawn has 600 species of this ubiquitous Australian tree. Take a guided walk, or take a seat in teh pleasant Kookaburra Cafe.