Doherty Smith & Associates is now Compass Consulting Surveyors

Click here to see this blog and more on our new website

Federal Capital Sites – a case of “What if…”

In 1900, the search began for the site of the new Federal capital city. The newly drawn up Constitution set out rules for the Federal capital site requiring that any such site must be located approximately midway between Sydney and Melbourne and not within 100 square miles from Sydney.

Aside from the more known sites such as Dalgety, which came a close second to the chosen location where Canberra now stands, several other sites were put forward. Among the lesser known sites are Eden (or Twofold Bay), Bombala, Batlow, Lake George, Tumut, Yass, Lyndhurst, Braidwood, Goulburn, Wagga Wagga,  Albury, Carcoar, Forest Reefs, Armidale, Bathurst, Orange and Wellington.

The National Library of Australia has an extensive collection of maps and plans relating to the Federal capital site. It is well worth browsing through these old maps to imagine what could have been had a different site been chosen. The collection can be viewed here.


Federal Capital WTN Federal Capital TFB2 Federal Capital BBA
Federal Capital ORG Federal Capital TMT Federal Capital TFB



The proposed site of Wellington, viewed in the present context, seems almost laughable. Certainly, based on the number of maps prepared for each site, the Wellington location was not taken too seriously and does not meet the location criteria specified in the constitution. The sites at Orange, Bathurst, Carcoar and Lyndhurst appear to have been given more serious consideration, although again these sites do not meet the location criteria.

Of the lesser known proposed sites, several maps catch the eye. The proposal for Twofold Bay (Eden) includes two massive breakwaters extending into the bay, although the area set aside for the rest of the capital does not appear to have been as well thought out.

The proposed site at Bombala was more detailed and included a contour survey, showing the levels of the site, locations of watercourses and the existing roads.

The maps of the proposed site at Tumut include water supply, existing and proposed railway lines, shading for topography and watercourses.

While Australians today take the location of the Federal Capital of Canberra for granted, it is interesting to consider how our country may have been different if a location such as Eden, Orange, Armidale or even Wellington had been selected.

Eric Smith

Registered Surveyor