Canberra is the seat of federal government, the Parliament House. It has headquarters of various government departments and the Australian Defence Force, and official residences of the Prime Minister and Governor-General.
Canberra is a planned city that was originally designed by Walter Burley Griffin, a major 20th century American architect. The city centre is laid out on two perpendicular axes: a water axis stretching along Lake Burley Griffin, and a ceremonial land axis stretching from Parliament House on Capital Hill north-eastward along ANZAC Avenue to the Australian War Memorial at the foot of Mount Ainslie. The area known as the Parliamentary Triangle is formed by three of Burley Griffin's axes, stretching from Capital Hill along Commonwealth Avenue to the Civic Centre around City Hill, along Constitution Avenue to the Defence precinct on Russell Hill, and along Kings Avenue back to Capital Hill.
The urban areas of Canberra are organised into a hierarchy of districts, town centres, group centres, local suburbs as well as other industrial areas and villages. There are seven districts, each of which is divided into smaller suburbs, and most of which have a town centre which is the focus of commercial and social activities. The districts were settled in the following chronological order:
- North Canberra, mostly settled in the 1920s and '30s, with expansion up to the 1960s, now 15 suburbs
- South Canberra, settled from the 1920s to '60s, 12 suburbs
- Woden Valley, first settled in 1963, 13 suburbs
- Belconnen, first settled in 1967, 25 suburbs
- Weston Creek, settled in 1969, 8 suburbs
- Tuggeranong, settled in 1974, 19 suburbs
- Gungahlin, settled in the early 1990s, 7 suburbs to date
The Mayfield House was a country house of Elizabethan style built in 1874 for Sir Edmund Barton. The southern draper whose store ultimately became part of Debenhams bought the house in 1887. Governor Joseph Femers built a small house for himself on the hill of The Crescent. In 1899 this was replaced by a larger residence which, substantially improved by Governor Lachlan Macquarie has survived to the present day, used as a retreat by Governors until the 1850s with the governor making it his principal residence for a temporary period in the 1920s.
Canberra sits on an area of plains and low hills within a broad loop of the Murrumbidgee River, a major tributary of the Murray River which is itself part of Australia's major inland Murray-Darling river system. To the west and south is the Australian Alps; to the east is the Great Dividing Range; to the north is the Southern Highlands of the surrounding state, New South Wales.
Because of its elevation (650 m) and distance from the coast, the Canberra experiences four distinct seasons, unlike the state capitals and coastal cities whose climates are moderated by the sea. Canberra is notorious for hot, dry summers, and cold winters with occasional fog and frequent frosts. Many of the higher mountains in the territory's south-east are snow-covered for at least part of the winter. Thunderstorms can occur between October and March, and the long-term annual rainfall is 623 millimetres (24.5 in), with rainfall highest in spring and summer, and lowest in winter. Drought is common.
Aside from Canberra, the Australian Capital Territory has no settlements larger than a village. The Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly performs the roles of both a city council and territory (effectively state) government. The Assembly consists of 17 members, elected from three districts using proportional representation. The three districts are Molongolo, Gininderra and Brindabella, which elect seven, five and five members, respectively. The Chief Minister is elected by the Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) and selects another four MLAs to serve as Ministers to form, with the Chief Minister, an Executive (known informally as the cabinet.)
The city's main industry is government administration and defence, which accounted for 26.1% of Gross Territory Product in 2003–04 and employed over 40% of Canberra's workforce. The major public-sector employers in Canberra include the parliament, government departments such as Department of Defence, Finance, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and Treasury.
A number of Australian Defence Force establishments are located in or near Canberra, most notably the Australian Defence Force headquarters and HMAS Harman, which is a naval communications centre that is being converted into a tri-service, multiuser depot. The former Royal Australian Air Force base 'Fairbairn', adjacent to the Canberra International Airport, was sold to the operators of the Airport; yet, the base continues to be used for RAAF VIP flights.
Property and business services, construction, health and community services, and education are other significant contributors to the economy of Canberra.
A large amount of Australian and international visitors make tourism a significant contributor to the economy. The most popular seasons are spring and autumn; the annual Floriade spring flower display in September is a major attraction.
Most suburbs are planned to include a primary school and a nearby preschool, and schools are usually located near open areas for play and sports. Preschool is not a compulsory year, but many children attend for the ACT Government-funded 12 hours a week. Primary school consists of seven grades: kindergarten and years 1 to 6. From years 7 to 10 children attend high school and in years 11 to 12 attend a secondary college. The ACT has the highest retention rate in Australia with 89% of students who were enrolled in year 7 in 1999 being enrolled full-time in year 12 in 2004. This retention rate has declined from a peak in 1994 when the rate was nearly 5% more.
In February 2004 there were 140 public and non-governmental schools in Canberra; 96 were operated by the ACT Government and 44 are non-Government. During 2006 the ACT Government announced closures of up to 39 schools, to take effect from the end of the school year and after a series of consultations the Government announced its "Towards 2020: Renewing Our Schools" plan that closed some schools at the end of 2006 with more in 2007 and 2008, while consolidating school campuses and opening 'superschools' (large public schools for kindergarten through to year 12) through to 2020.
The two main tertiary institutions are the Australian National University (ANU) and the University of Canberra (UC). The ANU was established as a research university in 1946; it continues to have a strong research focus and is ranked among the best universities in the world in The Times Higher Education Supplement and the Shanghai Jiao Tong World University Rankings. Both ANU and UC also have campuses interstate and overseas. There are also two religious university campuses in Canberra: Signadou is a campus of the Australian Catholic University; St Mark's Theological College is a campus of Charles Sturt University. Tertiary level vocational education is also available through the multi-campus Canberra Institute of Technology.
The Australian Defence Force Academy (ADFA) and the Royal Military College, Duntroon are near the Defence headquarters in Canberra's inner north-east. ADFA teaches military undergraduates and postgraduates and is officially a campus of the University of New South Wales; Duntroon provides Australian Army Officer training.
Arts and entertainment
Canberra is home to many national monuments and institutions such as the Australian War Memorial, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Portrait Gallery currently housed at Old Parliament House, the National Library of Australia, the National Archives of Australia, and the National Museum of Australia established in 2001 that records Australia's social history and is one of Canberra's more architecturally daring buildings. Many Commonwealth government buildings in Canberra are open to the public, including Parliament House, the High Court and the Royal Australian Mint. Lake Burley Griffin is the site of the Captain Cook Memorial and the National Carillon. Other sites of interest include Telstra Tower and the Australian National Botanic Gardens, the National Zoo and Aquarium, and Questacon – the National Science and Technology Centre.