Reflections on My Method

Discussion on The Twitter a couple of weeks ago between historians about our research methods led to the sharing of this LRB article by historian Keith Thomas. Just read it. Love it!

Reflecting on his words about my own Plodding Historian-ingness: I’m a product/beneficiary of both The Old and The New. Aided by technology and digitisation, I can find and gather materials easily and curate my own archive of goodies – Raider of the Archives, I dub my researcher self, all very Indiana Jones, without the boulders, Nazis and, ARGH!!!, snakes, thank the gods. I can type up my notes, store and easily access vaguely remembered quotes via a quick keyword search on the laptop. One source per Word document, bibliographical details atop, page numbers meticulously recorded in brackets after each bullet pointed or indented quote/extract/Lisa-pontification-on-a-point.


I think better with a pencil / favoured-pen in hand and paper to jot the great thoughts and record the notes. (And fortunately, no matter how frantically I pen my notes, my writing always remains legible, unlike poor Keith.) All my VIP notes or photographed/digitised sources are printed – one-sided. There are also copious notebooks, not one-sided, because VIP info & quotes are extracted onto paper, one-sided, for literal cutting and pasting. (I am never without a dinky pair of scissors and sticky tape.) My apologies to Mother Nature for all the paper-usage, but if it helps, once a project is complete, the paper notes are digitised and the piles of paper sent to recycling.

And thanks to my lovely friend, Shirley-now-Ariel, after a disaster that was my first history essay, an incoherent mess of scattered thoughts and bad research method that led to an unprecedented Footnote Disaster, I have in my Historian’s Methodology Arsenal, The Shirley Plan from which the above developed. When Keith Thomas wrote about his pooling of research into a plan that enabled writing his histories, it reminded me of The Shirley Plan for my dissertation. This was the apotheosis of Shirley Planning! Five weeks to collate and organise 15 months of research and brilliant ideas, if I do say so myself, into a coherent and very detailed Shirley Plan that enabled the writing of the dissertation in just two weeks. (Maybe if I had taken an extra week, I would have scored those three marks I needed for a First. But we historians don’t dwell on what ifs.) It may be old school, it could be done another more 21st-century-techno way, but it worked, and still works, for me. Whenever I don’t take time to Shirley Plan my writing, madness and tantrums ensure. Every time I pull the DSP from the shelf it is to remind myself that taking the time to collate my research and organise my thoughts into a Shirley Plan is a vital and invaluable part of my method. Besides, look at it. The printed version of my DSP is a thing of beauty, if I do say so myself.

Just a little Sunday Morning Reflection I felt compelled to share as I get ready for a busy week of research and writing. Possibly on the thesis, but given my recent declarations of Thesis Recommencement have led to disaster – abdications, a spectacularly broken ankle, unemployment, fires, plague and, brothers and camels falling off cliffs – I declare no such hope or intention for the safety of not just the self, but the world!

Remember that tomorrow is Towel Day. Grab your towel, stay safe at home, wash your hands, settle down with your research and note-taking tools and, under no circumstances, no matter how trying, DON’T PANIC!

On this day: Protest at Parliament House Opening – 9 May 1927

Photos and Names Warning for Blog Posts

When working at one of Canberra’s cultural institutions, I came across this marvellous photograph of a chap named Jimmy Clements on the steps of Parliament House, (the Old one).

1927may09 Jimmy Clements on steps of PH NAA 3050026 - 2

NAA: A3560, 3108. Jimmy Clements photographed by official Commonwealth photographer for Canberra, Jack Mildenhall, on the steps of Parliament House on the day it opened, 9 May 1927.

This chance encounter with the ‘chap with the cheeky smile’, as I think of him, got me researching how this photograph came to be taken. Being a historian, one can’t just leave historical mystery alone, particularly when one has a thesis to avoid. What I found would make Jimmy and his mate, John Noble, the main characters in my favourite story from Parliament House’s opening day, which was on this day – 9 May – 93 years ago today.

As regular readers of my little blog will know from other posts, Canberra became the capital of the new Commonwealth of Australia in 1908, got it’s name on 12 March 1913 and finally became the home of our Federal Parliament on 9 May 1927 with the opening of its brand new home, Parliament House by the Queen’s Mum and Dad, aka the Duke and Duchess of York.


The Duke and Duchess of York on the steps of Parliament House with other dignitaries for a right-royal opening ceremony, 9 May 1927. NLA: 6342124. That’s Dame Nellie Melba on the far left. She popped along to sing the National Anthem, then God Save the King. Apparently there was a battle-royale between the Dame and the sound man. He kept placing the microphone directly in front of her and she would move it further away proclaiming that she had song in the biggest and best Opera Houses around the world and had no need of a microphone to be heard.

Jimmy ‘King Billy’ Clements and John ‘Marvellous’ Noble were Wiradjuri men who lived on an Aboriginal mission near Gundagai in New South Wales, which is about 160km from Canberra. John in particular, and his ever-present canine companion, had been visiting regularly since work began on the Federal Capital and was especially familiar to those whom he gave boomerang lessons. In 1921, during one of his visits, he was snapped by official Commonwealth photographer for Canberra, Jack Mildenhall; John and his dog resting under a tree observing the goings-on of all this city building was a familiar sight and a now iconic image of Canberra’s early history.

1920s John Noble & Marvellous Acton NAA 3109683 - 2

John ‘Marvellous’ Noble and his dog having a little rest under the shade of a tree in Acton, 1921. NAA: A3560, 419.

So with the imminent opening of the new Parliament House, whose construction they had been watching with interest, John and Jimmy, and dog, set out from their mission in early April arriving in time for opening day on May 9th. Donning their best suits, they made their way to Parliament House and stood with the crowds on the east side of the building (left in photo below).


Opening Day in Canberra for our gorgeous new Parliament House, Theo E. Cooper. NLA: 14256a

As police moved through the crowds of on-lookers dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ they spotted John and Jimmy among them. The constabulary approached and attempted to move the men, and dog, on, but as reported in Albury Banner and Wodonga Express on 13 May, these onlookers, to whom John and Jimmy were well-known, rallied in their defence.

“Immediately and distinctively the crowd on the stands rallied to his side. There were choruses of advice and encouragement to do as he pleased. A well-known clergyman stood up and called out that the aborigine had a better right than any man present to a place on the steps of the House of Parliament.”

As suggested by Jimmy’s smile in the first photograph, he must have been quite a character and was happy to take up the clergyman’s suggestion; Mildenhall took his photograph on the steps of Parliament House after the opening ceremony. John was a more quiet, reserved man and didn’t want his photograph taken, so there aren’t many of him at the opening apart from the a few candid shots appearing in the newspapers and this one he agreed to pose for with Jimmy after the ceremony.

1927may09 John & Jimmy at Parliament House NLA 137325062

Jimmy and John photographed on the east-side of Parliament House, 9 May 1927. NLA: PIC/6121

John and Jimmy’s attendance at the opening for the new Parliament House of the Commonwealth of Australia was an important moment in Australia’s history, particularly for Australia’s Indigenous peoples. The was a purpose for their attendance and it was to stage a peaceful protest to remind the Australian Parliament that their new home was on Aboriginal land.

On 9 May 1927, John ‘Marvellous’ Noble and Jimmy ‘King Billy’ Clements staged the first land rights protest to Parliament in Canberra. Sixty-one years later, when our Parliament got its bigger house on the hill, although both long gone, the spirits of John and Jimmy were unmistakable.

1988may09 Land Rights Protest at opening PH NLA 143213220

Aboriginal protestors at the opening of Parliament House, 9 May 1988. NLA: PIC P1733/1-26

Further Reading and Viewing on John and Jimmy:

Whispers in the Corridor, short documentary on Jimmy and John from Museum of Australian Democracy, 2017.

National Archives of Australia VRROOM education resources on John and Jimmy.

2019 article from South Coast Register on John ‘Marvellous’ Noble by Nicolette Pickard.

The Plodding Historian’s favourite stories about Old Parliament House:

Read my guest blog post published today (9 May 2020) on the National Library of Australia’s website.

As well as the battle with the sound man, my other favourite stories about Parliament House’s opening day on 9 May 1927, apart from John and Jimmy’s protest, involve Dame Nellie Melba. This blog post on the Museum of Australian Democracy website cracks me up every time I read it. I love this woman!

Happy 50th National Carillon

On Sunday it will be the National Carillon’s official 50th Birthday! On 26 April 1970, Her Majesty, on a grand tour of Australia to commemorate the 200th Anniversary of Captain Cook’s “discovery” of Australia, was in Canberra to open, amongst other things, the National Carillon. This little blog post is all about the National Carillon via the treasures of the NLA’s Trove.

Aspen Island Carillon Canberra 1977 NLA 143754348

National Carillon, 1977. National Library of Australia

On 12 March 1963, aka Canberra Day, the British Government gifted Canberra $500,000 for a monument to commemorate its 50th Birthday. Talk of a carillon was revived after a failed project for a War Memorial Carillon began by Prime Minister Ben Chifley in 1950. As a Boy from Bathurst, which boasts the second of Australia’s [now] 3 Carillons, Chifley thought this a fitting memorial for our WWII troops.

Discussion got underway among the Hoi Polloi about how to use our “gift”, especially in the Letters to the Editor section of the Canberra Times. “Development, Braddon” wrote in 19 May 1966 that while “we could have lived without Lake Burley Griffin” et al, if we are going to “decorate” Canberra: “Let us… insist on an element of beauty and welcome it.”

Pamela Willoughby-Thomas of Ainslie suggested a better use of the gift would be to build “a non-Sectarian Community Centre” for the youth of Canberra, pointing out that they made up one-third of the population and yet there was little in the way of entertainment for them. Mrs Willoughby-Thomas was not wrong. According to the Year Book of the Commonwealth of Australia 1968, the ACT boasted a population of 96,013, with 61,706 of those being between the ages of 0-24. (With that much youth about, Canberra’s lucky it wasn’t part of the Year of Revolutions. Canberran youth: Too listless with the boredom of having nothing to do?)


1968: The Year That Changed the World, ABC News Documentary, 2018 via YouTube.

Alas, how we could use our gift was not up to us. Britain’s gift was specifically for a new national monument, a symbol of the strong connection between Australia and the Mother Country; as we were reminded when the decision was announced in February 1967 that the monument would be a carillon.

A competition was launched to find the best design from among six architectural firms (three each from the UK and Australia) for the chosen site of Aspen Island (preparations of already underway by 1963 in anticipation). The judges were Lord Holford, former president of the Royal Institute of British Architects and adviser to Canberra on town planning matters; Sir John Overall, the director of the National Capital Development Commission; and Eric Bedford (no honorific), Chief Architect for the British Ministry of Public Buildings and Works.

Aspen Island in development 1963 NLA 150590628

Preparations underway to create Aspen Island upon Lake Burley Griffin for the, as yet, unknown monument, 1963. National Library of Australia

On 24 April 1968, the Canberra Times reported the winners as Perth team Cameron Chisholm Nicol. (This Sandgroper always says, “West is Best”. FYI: They also designed the best place to procrastinate on the UWA Campus – the Reid Library.)


The University of Western Australia, Reid Library.

On a tour of the National Carillon a few months ago, the guide revealed that the design of the towers was inspired by a Toblerone box. She lied not! I discovered in the National Capital Authority draft Heritage Management Report 2011, the design of the building was inspired by the Toblerone box.

“We thought that looks a pretty cute way of getting light to pass through the shafts of the tower to get backlighting off the alternate face and to get a sort of tension into the building.” (Ross Chisholm, page 34)

Construction got underway immediately, the largest bell was cast and inscribed for the Jubilee ’63 and on 14 April 1970 the bells pealed from the Carillon for the first time, to make sure all was working soundly before Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II popped along to Canberra for the official opening on the 26th.

Jubilee Bell 1969 ACT Heritage Library 005387

Jubilee Bell, 1969. ACT Heritage Library, #005387

At the beginning of the month, the Minister of the Interior released the official itinerary for the Queen’s visit to Canberra and announced the official opening of the National Carillon for 3pm on Sunday 26 April.

Minister of Interior announcement 1970

7 April 1970, Royal itinerary for Canberra. Parliamentary Library, Canberra

“25,000 watched as the VIPs shivered” proclaimed the page 10 headline in the Canberra Times as the weather put on a rather blustery show. The wind caused a little havoc for the grand plaque unveiling, but Prime Minister Gorton, in the spirit of Sir Walter Reilly and his cloak, gallantly stepped in to aide Her Majesty officiate with her usual aplomb.

1970apr27 Canberra Times Royal Visit Page 10 NLA 11677931 SNIP

Canberra Times double-page spread ‘Royal Visit’, page 10, 27 April 1970.

Of the music recital for the occasion, journalist and Canberra resident, W.L. Hoffman asked in his article, ‘Flats in the Belfry’, (doesn’t bode well);

“Is it best heard as a quaint and distant sound over the water… [given] its sound is aurally unpleasant”.

It was a sentiment expressed by Brian Hoad in The Bulletin (page 74) a few years later. [Emphasis added]

“[F]rom the brutal towers of the Carillon… trying to play a medley of God Save the Queen, Easter Bonnet, Advance Australia Fair and Westminster Chimes. But bus parties do not have time to linger over such strange delights.”

But we don’t care what these jaded creatures think of our National Carillon. It’s one of the most photographed of Canberra’s monuments on Instagram, it celebrates Star Wars Day with May the Fourth Be With You concerts and has been a high-priority site for all discerning visitors since its official birthday fifty years ago this Sunday 26 April. Justin Trudeau’s Pa, who was PM of Canada before his handsome son, popped along for a visit in May 1970 and by the 80s, it was on all good school groups’ itinerary.

After conservation work and the addition of two new bells, including the magnificent 6-tonne Ngunnawal bell, the National Carillon is set to peal again. Unfortunately not on its 50th birthday this Sunday because of these crazy times, but when it finally does, all 57 bells are going to peal loudly in a grand double celebration. Watch this space. Happy Birthday Carillon!


Postscript: The National Capital Authority released a short film via their YouTube channel on Sunday all about the arrival and installation of the two new Carillon bells. You can find it here via their website.

Happy 50th Captain Cook Memorial Jet

With Canberra’s Captain Cook Memorial Jet set to celebrate its 50th Birthday on Saturday 25 April, I have been trawling Trove and the libraries and archives of the ACT to find little titbits about its story.

In the lead up to the 200th anniversary of Captain James Cook’s “discovery” of Australia, the country was in a mad flurry constructing new national monuments for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to open during her five-week tour. In Canberra, a big water jet and globe were designed to adorn the banks of Lake Burley Griffin.

First details and artist’s impression of Canberra’s Cook bicentenary project appeared in the Canberra Times on Friday 2 May 1969.


Canberra Times, Friday 2 May 1969, front page. Via Trove

On Tuesday 13 May, the Canberra Times was reporting public concerns about the $100,000 annual operating cost for the Captain Cook Memorial Jet (CCMJ), which a spokesperson for the National Capital Development Commission allayed, correcting the rumours with the more accurate $73,000 figure, (if the CCMJ jetted 10 hours daily at full spout, which it wouldn’t).

There were also concerns strong winds would cause cars to be swept off Commonwealth Avenue Bridge. Layman’s details were given in the aforementioned 2 May article of its mechanics and readers were assured that the CCMJ was programmed to shutdown automatically when 20km+/hour winds were detected, so there was no danger of vehicles becoming airborne and swept into Lake BG by the big spout.

Saturday 24 May 1969 the feel-good, territory-pride campaign began with a Canberra Times feature about the great man-made spouts of the world, including the Jetee des Eaux-Vives in Geneva, the mechanics of which our own CCMJ was modelled upon. Excitement began to build as construction began. A rather fabulous photograph appearing in a September 1969 Canberra Times of the 40-foot hole excavated at Regatta Point for the underground pumping station.


Massive 40-foot hole dug through solid rock to house the pumping station for the CCMJ. Canberra Times, 5 September 1969.

Sighs of relief were heard from the new pump station 40-foot below Regatta Point on 15 April 1970 when the CCMJ spouted successfully during the Big Test ahead of its Grand Opening with Her Majesty on the 25th. Here, the first CCMJ ‘thar she blows’ photo.

1970apr24 CCMJ Tested ahead of opening ACT Heritage Lib 000173

Captain Cook Memorial Jet, with nervous NCDC onlooker, being tested on 15 April 1970. ACT Heritage Library #000173

At the beginning of April, the Minister of the Interior published the official royal itinerary for Canberra, announcing the official spouting of the CCMJ for 3:30pm on Saturday 25 April 1970. In addition to pressing the button and releasing 500 litres of water per second into a 6-tonne, 152-metre spout for the first time, the Queen also unveiled a plague at the globe, which charts Cook’s voyages to Australia.

Minister of Interior announcement 1970

7 April 1970, Royal itinerary for Canberra. Parliamentary Library, Canberra

The Big Day arrived. The Queen & Prince Philip sailed via royal barge from the Governor-General’s digs at Yarraluma to Regatta Point. Shortly after 3:30pm, Her Maj pressed the ‘On’ button and our love affair with our iconic ‘blowhole’ began. Happy 50th Birthday to the Big Spout!

2020apr16 NCA Image of CCMJ

CCMJ looking absolutely gorgeous, with its fellow 50 year old, the National Carillon, in the background: National Capital Authority, @nca_media on Twitter, April 2020.

Designing Canberra: 513 Days of Conflict. The Departmental Board Plan

Despite the cancellation of this year’s Heritage Festival, I’m still putting together my presentation, because I figured, maybe one day; but in the mean time it will make an amusing series of little blog posts. It’s title; not so great for a non-presentation where there isn’t a PDF animated by The Nephew #2 – From This to That. The Griffin Plans for Canberra, 1911-1913: 513 Days of Conflict. The idea was, as I said “From this”, I would click the pointer and this image would appear…

1911 Original Griffin Plan
Walter Burley Griffin Design for Canberra 1911, National Library of Australia.

Then I would say “to That”, click the pointer and this image, like magic!, would appear…

1913 Griffin Design NLA 230041959-1
Take 2: Walter Burley Griffin Plan for Canberra, 1913 revised plan, NLA.

So, colour you all intrigued, right! To wet your whistles; Designing Canberra Part 1.

On 23 May 1912 (Day 1), Home Affairs Minister, King O’Malley gathered with VIPs and Gentlemen of the Press to announce the winners of the international design competition. First prize went to Design 29 by Walter Burley Griffin of Chicago. (And, SSH!, his wife Marion Mahony Griffin – read about her invaluable contribution here.) Never one to miss an opportunity to preserve himself for the history books, this photograph, ‘The Birth of a Continent’s Capitol’ was taken.

1912may23 The Birth of a Continent's Capitol NLA 136801567-1
23 May 1912 in the meeting room at the Department of Home Affairs, Melbourne, to announce the winners of the International Design Competition for the Federal Capital City of the Commonwealth of Australia. Standing 3rd from left is Keith Murdoch, Rupert’s Dad. And looking dapper and resplendent in the front, Texas-born, though he said he was from Canada, thus eligible to sit in our Commonwealth Parliament, King O’Malley.

Four days later, Mr Whyte of the Sydney Morning Herald, (back row, 4th from left next to Rupert’s dad) published his piece, ‘The City Beautiful’, on the announcement.

“The opportunity of building the city from the beginning upon a preconceived plan is one that is given to few countries, and as the opportunity has been given to us we must take care that our representatives do not betray their trust. And the Minister for Home Affairs is the first who would be a betrayer. Already he believes that the plans [WBG’s] could be improved by selections from other designs. [KO’M]… will make in truth a hotchpotch plan, a source of derision for all the ages.”

Ooh! How prophetic. On 27 June 1912, Betrayer KO’M convened a Departmental Board of six chaps, including my favourite Magnificently-Moustached surveyor, Charles Scrivener, “to investigate and report as to the suitability” of the winning designs.

Charles R Scivener NLA 137239705-1
The Magnificently Moustached Charles Robert Scrivener, Chief Surveyor for the Commonwealth of Australia and leader of the Surveyor team for the new Federal Capital Territory – NLA.

As regular readers will have ascertained, I like my history to come with visuals and giggles. The next 478 days, until the appointment of Walter as Director of Federal Capital Construction and Design on 18 October 1913, served up more v. and g. than this old Plodding Historian’s heart can stand.

The DB reported they were “unable to recommend the adoption of any of the designs”, but came up with their own design. Let the mirth ensue. The plan was critiqued and caricatured by many, but my favourite critique was from the team at the Town Planning Review in January 1913. The caricature features such scathing labels as: “An unapproachable Capitol. The Canberra Maze”; “A piece of really ingenious planning.”

1913 TPR Caricature DB Plan 1912 NLA 150144593
Caricature of the Departmental Board’s 1912 Cherry-Picked Plan of Canberra featured in the Town Planning Review, January 1913. NLA Maps Collection via Trove.

The summation of the DB Plan 1912 is the best putdown of anything I have ever read. (And you know you are in trouble when they start using Latin!)

“The new plan is evidently the product of a Department whose personnel is utterly untrained in the elements of architectural composition, whose mind in a turmoil of confusion as regards the simple logic of street planning have resulted in a road scheme which is simply a reductio ad absurdum. Indeed the whole layout is so entirely outside the pale of serious criticism, that we feel that it cannot be put into execution. …When compared with Mr Griffin’s plan, the defects of which are, after all, aesthetic rather than functional and technical, it is obvious at once that the ‘final plan’ is the work of an amateur who has yet to learn the elementary principles of laying-out a town.”

And on the road scheme, it was surmised to be “largely the result of an office boy’s amusing himself with a pair of bow-compasses”.

I’m feeling the burn. You?

Further reading

Departmental Board Plan, 1912 – the Plan & Report via the NLA and images of their plan.

For those, like me, who like informative history laced with visuals and giggles, I highly recommend John W. Reps, Canberra 1912: Plans and Planners of the Australian Capital Competition.

Civics and Citizenship: Bringing Your Canberra School Trip to the Classroom

Today my workday was all about processing cancelling school visits because of the Corona Virus; the teachers and tour operators apologising for cancelling their visit to us. As I said, there is absolutely no need to apologise for making a sensible decision for the health and well-being of your students!

As you can’t get here to see us for a while, I have put together a little collection of resources for teachers to help bring Canberra to the classroom.

CBR from Arborteum

Beautiful photograph of Canberra from the National Arboretum by Grant O’Loughlan, discovered on Visit Canberra’s Twitter Feed.

Federation, our Constitution and the history of the Federal Government of the Commonwealth of Australia

The first port of call for all things Constitution is the marvellous website curated by the Museum of Australian Democracy and the National Archives of Australia – Documenting a Democracy. Download your own copy of the 1900 assent copy of the Constitution – click on the ACT for all acts relating to the Commonwealth. Number 1 is, of course, the Constitution.

The National Archives of Australia is updating their website, so unfortunately all their fabulous resources have gone, but you can find useful documents relating to Federation and the Constitution’s development via their online classroom, VRROOM. The paper I wrote for Ethos magazine, volume 26, no. 1, 2018, will help you navigate VRROOM successfully.

I have to put in a plug for my post last 9 July 2019, aka Constitution Day, about the creation of our Constitution. Via my favourite anecdotes of the ten-year journey of our Constitution, I have shared links to heaps of primary sources that will aid your creation of a great lesson.

The Parliamentary Education Office have fabulous resources available to help you teach Federation, the Constitution and our Federal Parliament. Look at these treasures; Civics Teachers – bookmark this page! I have “tested” the ‘Create a New Federation’ resources on myself, you know, for fun, and there are some great activities.


And if you haven’t already purchased your own Pocket Constitution or Get Parliament: How Your Federal Parliament Works booklets – each only $2 including postage! – do that first of all. Add some free educational posters and teaching resources to your order too.


Visit the PEO Shop to order your Pocket Constitution and other great, and free, classroom resources to create exciting Civics and Citizenship lessons.

The National Library of Australia’s Digital Classroom has great resources. And if you wanted to delve into the catalogue for primary sources in the form of photographs and audio visuals, but feel a little apprehensive, my blog posts for the NLA on finding primary sources and secondary sources will turn you into an expert NLA catalogue navigator in no time!

And last, but certainly not least, is the Museum of Australian Democracy at the wonderful building that is our Old Parliament House. Great learning resources here – – and teachers, sign up for the Teacher Newsletter. MoAD even offer Digital Excursions in real time, so if you can’t come to Canberra, they can bring a little of Canberra to you. You must check out the MoAD blog, because the wonderful stories you will discover help add colour and humour to your lessons. And meet our Prime Ministers via their page filled with stories and primary sources for all 30 of the chaps and Julia, who have lead our Federal Parliament since the first sitting on 9 May 1901.


The treats awaiting you on the MoAD Prime Ministers page –

Canberra: The Creation of a Federal Capital

The following cultural institutions and online resources, including my blog J, will help you put together the story of the creation of the Commonwealth of Australia’s Federal Capital City, Canberra; which celebrated its naming day on 12 March. On that topic, check out my post on the NLA blog on Canberra Day and about the naming of Canberra via my blog. Those posts will link you to resources about the search and design for the Federal Capital site.

In 1911, the Australian government launched an international design competition for our new Federal Capital City. The National Archives of Australia has digitised images of the winning designs in series A710 to illustrate the story. Find these via Record Search – Advanced Search – Series – A710. This will lead you to 60 drawings. You will want to focus on the following entries:

  1. Winner – Walter Burley Griffin, design 29
  2. 2nd Place – Eliel Saarinen, design 18
  3. 3rd Place – Donat Alfred Agache, design 4

Don’t forget to let your students know that the winner was Walter and his wife, Marion Mahony Griffin. You can guess why Walter and Marion left her name off the entry form; concern that the judges would not look favourably on a design co-created by a woman.

The competition guidelines, including prize money for the winners, can be found on the NAA website too. Do a barcode search for #139722 via Record Search to download the complete PDF version of the original document. It is also downloadable via the NLA website.


Information for competitors entering the international design competition for
Australia’s new Federal Capital City, NLA 440112.

You will find other great curriculum-linked resources via the other National cultural institutions to help you bring Canberra to the classroom. You will also find links to other places I haven’t mentioned via the National Capital Education Tourism Project site and Book Canberra Excursions (BCE). If you aren’t already registered on the BCE, it is free!

I cannot conclude this post without referring you to the wonderful YouTube channel of the National Film and Sound Archive – Wonderful films to introduce our Commonwealth history.

I know this is rather long, but hopefully it will help you create some “compensatory” learning experiences in the classroom. I am happy to answer questions via the comments section, or feel free to find me on Twitter – @lke73_historian.

Stay safe and we hope to see you all in Canberra when this horribleness is over.


Downloadable version of this postThe Plodding Historian – Bringing Your Canberra School Trip to the Classroom 2020
VRROOM article from Ethos magazine – Ethos T1 2018 – LK Elliott on NAA VRROOM

Canberra Day: You’re a handsome devil. What’s your name?

On this day, 12 March 1913, the new Federal Capital City of the Commonwealth of Australia got a name – Canberra. As I alluded to in my Canberra Day blog post for the National Library of Australia, “many names” were suggested before, luckily, Canberra was settled upon.

But before Lady Gertrude Mary Denman, wife of our Governor-General and absolutely fabulous #GirlPower gal, stood upon the base of the Federation column that was never realised and announced, “I name the capital of Australia, Canberra”, we Aussies got very excited about naming the new capital. There was no competition, but just a general interest and desire to be involved.

The suggestions of the people were collated into one 136-page document, which is now in the National Archives of Australia. One young scally-wag challenged me to count how many suggestions lie therein. I started to because, as you know, I have a thesis to avoid. So far I have counted just over 2,000 names across 87 pages.

NAA Suggested Names Federal Capital Barcode 55825 - image
Department of Home Affairs file, ‘Suggested names for Federal Capital. NAA: A110, FC1913/388. Barcode: 55825

But the purpose of this post is not to tell you how many suggestions there were, but to curate a few of my favourites. As I advise my students; if your teacher ever sets you an assignment to find proof that Australians are weird, nuts and a bit rude (WNBR), this is the only primary source you will need to show that indeed we are, and proud of it we should be!

As you read this, and to get some perspective on just how WNBR our suggestions were, imagine you are watching the evening news and the newsreader says,

“And now the news from …[insert FCC name suggestion here]”.

Let’s get the ‘rude’ bit over with first. We Aussies like toilet humour; bottoms and farts are funny – fact! A pattern I noticed emerging among the suggestions; several containing ‘loo’ and ‘moo’. The Plodding Historian’s theory: Suggestions made to enable ‘the Federal Capital is a cow’s dunny’ jokes. Most amusing, but not really historically correct given the long-running joke about Canberra being a good sheep paddock ruined, because the place had more sheep than people for just over a hundred years. But let’s not get pedantic. My favourite of the LooMoos is ‘Australoomoo; it’s got a nice flow.

Naturally, the politicians wanted to immortalise themselves, or their predecessors, so we have lots of Bartonville, Bartonia, Barton City, Quickbarton, Parkesville, Deakinburg, Andrewton, Parkesmead, Malleyking City. (I wonder if ‘Quickbarton’ is a reference to our first PM’s love of the dance; the quick step? Apparently he and Mrs B liked to trip the light fantastic and cut a real mean rug.)

And our native flora and fauna got a look in as well, particularly the wattle, kangaroo and emu – Wattleroo, Wattleton, Kangemuburra, Kangarooemu, Kookemuroo. And let’s not forget the Opossum? (We had a Texan Home Affairs Minister – King O’Malley – and a Chilean PM – Chris Watson, so why not!)

Opossums from San Diego Zoo

Although we federated on 1 January 1901 and were now grown up members of the British Commonwealth, we still felt the pull of the Mother Country.

George V
Imperialia Edenia
Victoria Defender
Victoria Referenda Defender

And so many suggestions featuring plays upon ‘Australia’:


Others, while possibly accurate when thinking about government, there is a saying about ‘not being wise to advertise’ – Gonebroke, Swindleville, Thirstyville, Caput. (Someone heard the Federal Capital had prohibition going on, obviously. I’ll blog about that another time.)

And to conclude, a curation of my favourite WNBR: silly, lacking in gravitas and proving that ideas concocted over too many beers in the pub are never good. (And yes, seriously, these were suggestions.)

Oh! Eh!
Ledcocckpacific City
Great Scott
Golden Fleece

You can see now how we almost ended up with a ‘Boaty McBoatface’ farce here, can’t you?

Fortunately, 107 years ago today, Lady Denman announced that ‘Canberra’ would be the name for Australia’s new Federal Capital City.1

1913mar12 Naming Day - Foundation Stone images 2 nla.obj-715367748-1
Canberra Day: Lord Denman, PM Andrew Fisher, Lady Denman and King O’Malley in a candid moment atop the base of the never-realised Federation column. NLA: 715367748

The area chosen to be our new Federal Capital Territory had been known as Kamberry/Canberra by the Indigenous peoples who have lived here for over 25,000 years and the sheep farmers who settled here from the 1820s. It means ‘meeting place’, which is a jolly good name for a city that was designed not for politicians, but for the Australian people and all our visitors.

So today, with much relief, because it could have been soooo much worse, I bid you;

“Happy Canberra Day!”


^ States of Australia c.1901 – Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Adelaide, Brisbane and Hobart – get it!

1 – Yes, it is true that it was decided that however Lady Denman’s pronounced ‘Canberra’ on 12 March 1913 was to the solution to the hotly debated question of how to pronounce it. It’s Can-bra, by the way.

P.S. Re the title – I’ve been watching Grosse Pointe Blanklot lately, hence the reference to a line therein in my title.

Curation of Early Canberra Gorgeousness from the National Library of Australia

This post is not about words. It’s just about sharing some absolutely gorgeous digital images of glass lantern slides held in the collection of the National Library of Australia. The series, ‘Coloured Lantern Slides of early Canberra’, dates from 12 March 1913, aka Canberra Day, to the early 1930s, post the opening of Parliament House on 9 May 1927. You can explore and revel in the gorgeousness of all 86 slides via Trove if the following curated ‘Lisa’s Favourites’ whet your appetite and you crave more.

Canberra Day, 12 March 1913 – Watch this space next week for my blog post about this. For now, enjoy seeing Lord and Lady Denman, PM Andrew Fisher and Home Affairs Minister King O’Malley in all their glass-coloured glory.

1913mar12 Naming Day - Foundation Stone images 1 nla.obj-715367720-1

Lord Denman, Fisher, Lady Denman and O’Malley, NLA 715367720.

1913mar12 Naming Day - Foundation Stone images 2 nla.obj-715367748-1

An unguarded moment, NLA 715367748

1913mar12 Naming Day - Foundation Stone images 3 nla.obj-715367761-1

Crowds gather to watch the naming ceremony, NLA 715367761


Parliament House Opening, 9 May 1927

1927may09 Crowds at PH for Opening nla.obj-715366587-1

Crowds flock to receive royal visitors at [Old] Parliament House, 9 May 1927 nla.obj-715366587/view

1927may09 Parliament Opening Royal Visitors nla.obj-715367367-1

Parliamentary reception for King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, 9 May 1927. Far left is Dame Nellie Melba singing the national anthem, PM Stanley Melbourne Bruce and Mrs Bruce, and in the middle are the Queen’s folks, who were not actually the King and Queen yet, just the Duke and Duchess of York, flanked by Governor-General Baron Stonehaven and his wife.

Street scenes and buildings, c. 1927-early 1930s

Capitol Theatre Manuka nla.obj-715366808-1

Capitol Theatre, Manuka – designed by Walter Burley Griffin, demolished in 1980. Read more about in Patricia M. Frei’s book, in the NLA collection.

Cotter Dam Spillway nla.obj-715366468-1

Cotter Dam Spillway looking majestic in glass lantern colour.

Hotel Kurrajong nla.obj-715366688-1

Hotel Kurrajong, or Hostel No. 2 – As regular readers will know, I’m rather fond of the Hotel Kurrajong.

View over parliamentary buildings I nla.obj-715367405-1

Arial view of Parliament House, with West Block (first home of the National Library) in the background, early 1930s I’m guessing, from the landscaping.

East Block labelled Street Scene nla.obj-715366766-1

Labelled ‘Street scene‘, this is the East Block building, once the GPO, ASIO HQ and now the National Archives of Australia.

To conclude this little curation of gorgeousness, this glass lantern slide labelled ‘Indigenous man and dog‘, is actually John Noble, a Wiradjuri man, and his dog, Marvellous. It was taken by William ‘Jack’ Mildenhall at Acton in 1921. John and Marvellous would wander over to Canberra from Gundagai to check out what was happening with all this Federal Capital development. On 9 May 1927, he and his buddy, Jimmy Clements, joined the crowds on the east side of Parliament House to watch the opening festivities. Check this space on May 9th for more about John and Jimmy.

John Noble - labelled Indigenous man and dog nla.obj-715366301-1

I do hope you have enjoyed this little curation of gorgeousness. I expect to hear from the National Library of Australia that there have been so many people popping onto Trove to view all 86 of these beautiful glass lantern slides that the site crashed for a bit! Maybe I better warn them?



Tips from The Plodding Historian on How Not To Go About a PhD

A colleague is commencing her doctorate next week and while enjoying a gin, or two, at The Tipsy Bull the other week, we were talking about the first year, nerves etc. It got me thinking about my PhD Path, which is now, at time of writing, exactly 14 years and 1 month long.

A few years ago, The Thesis Whisperer tweeted from a conference about a presentation on PhD completion times and I remember thinking, “Ooh! 40-something percent take 10 years!” I had just reached the ten-year mark and wryly proclaimed myself ‘above average’.

My PhD Path has not been easy and I made it this way thanks to a couple of rash decisions early on. So I share some tips with you in the hope that if you find yourself about to make your own rash decision, a bell will clang and remind you, “Stop! Remember, remember; The Plodding Historian!”

6 January 2006: I came to my PhD by default. It was something I had been toying with since completing my Honours Dissertation back in 2001. However, following my BA.Hons, I took off to London for a few years instead. Then I made a rash decision and came back to Australia. (Clanging bell)

I ended up with lots of lovely casual jobs at my old alma mater, including research assisting for a Dr, now Prof, who said, “Why not come work with me and do a PhD?”

So I applied to do a PhD with, as she is now known, the Long-Suffering Supervisor.

I wasn’t 100% onboard with this as I was so homesick and yearn-y for London Lisa. (Clanging bell)

My PhD application was approved. And bonus, I was awarded a scholarship as well. And I had the pleasure of being part of my supervisor’s big project on poverty, charity and the poor in France, so research trips abroad for us! No, I didn’t speak French, but I’ve learned enough over the years to read sixteenth-century records pretty well.*

After a year involving lots of paperwork (be warned!), research to write my lit review and prepare a proposal for presentation at the Postgrad Roundtable (that experience will require a post all of its own!), I had a research plan and a big list of beautiful primary sources to gather during a three-month trip to Paris. The trip included two weeks in London over Christmas. (Clanging bell)

Before I continue: My tips…

1. Be 110% sure you want and are ready to PhD.

2. Treat your PhD like a job – Don’t put unrealistic expectations on yourself in terms of daily commitment. Approach your PhD as a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job. If you do more than this, brilliant! But with a 9 to 5 routine; you can’t go wrong. Especially if you are fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship, so you don’t have to work to live / keep yourself in chocolate and gin / pay the mortgage/rent.

3. On that: If you are fortunate enough to be awarded a scholarship; don’t give it up!

Defer it, don’t ditch it!

4. The Black Dog: Being a PhDian can trigger one’s melancholic traits. Things I found useful:

  • Register with the university’s counselling services, or go see your GP about a counselling plan;
  • Lunching at the Uni Club with fellow PhDians for de-briefs and CFDing;**
  • Sundays are ALWAYS ‘Me Time’. Read for pleasure. Do outdoor exercise-y things (if you are one of those strange people who like that kind of thing). Do something social with lovely people. Remember: You are allowed a day off!
  • You are not useless, hopeless, alone! You are awesome and your fellow PhDians will tell you so. You may not want to talk or work, but if you can get yourself out of your PJs to the library or a café to sit in companionable silence with a fellow PhDian and/or a lovely friend, it does help. (Thank you, Ariel!)

5. Tips 1 to 4 and my lack of adherence to them all led to my doing what I will advise you not to here in tip #5.

Don’t have a breakdown / tanty, give up your scholarship and run away to England!

After seeing everyone again during my research trip at the end of 2006 and with the promise of a job back in London, I returned home, contemplated, prevaricated, then lost the plot and… (see above).

Always heed Dr Johnson: “The true culprit is the mind which can never run away from itself.”

Samuel Johnson 1787 John Hall NPG D11044

Caption: Samuel Johnson, 1787. National Portrait Gallery, London

A couple of years later, the Global Financial Crisis hit and things were really bad in the UK. It was my catalyst to return to Oz and resume the PhD.

Alas, I had ditched the scholarship, rather than deferred it. (Clanging bell) So I have spent the past 11 years working on my thesis sporadically due to having to work to pay the bills. Those initial rash decisions made my PhD Path more difficult than it need be.

I have plodded with bouts of productivity and achievement. I presented at conferences and seminars (nerve-wracking, but such fun!) and published four papers in edited collections. I particularly love my, what I call, #rampagingnuns paper. And I have kept going through all my lovely primary sources, completed several research trips for myself and my supervisor. I had a job that required a lot of research and development of public tours and education programs on modern Australian history, leaving me no time to head back to sixteenth-century Paris. So I haven’t been idle. Just…

I was listening to an episode of Just a Minute a few years ago (it was an obsession during my Lost Years) and Kenneth Williams has a tanty: “I’ve got no flow!”

That’s what has happened; Life, the universe and everythingǂ interrupted my flow. Besides:


Now, 14 years and 1 month along the PhD Path, L.U.Eǂ converges favourably for 2020 to be my Thesis Completion year. Finally! I will be underemployed from 20 March, but financially okay, so I can focus and ‘get my flow on!’ and FINISH the #blastedthesis / #MagnificentOctopus. In the words of Misters Sellar and Yeatman; this is a “good thing”.

1066 and All That

Best history book EVER!

Also, I think my long path to being Dr The Plodding Historian has been for a reason. Two years ago, during a Study Buddy session with The Nephew #2 at the National Library of Australia, I came across a line in a primary source that had found its way to the Internet Archive (great resource!) and proves the argument I was formulating. (There was Celebratory Cake!) This was not the first useful discovery I have had thanks to my plodding beyond the recommended PhD in 3-4 years.

So to all of you out there starting your doctorates this year – Remember:

  • You are awesome!
  • You are not alone!
  • Don’t do as The Plodding Historian did!
  • Don’t forget ‘Me Time’!
  • Cake, chocolate and gin! (Insert with your preferred #yummyinmytummy vices.)
  • Get yourself a Study Buddy! (You can’t have my nephew tho’; he’s mine.)
  • 9 to 5 it!
  • And it takes as long as it takes!

Much productivity to you all!


* If you want to amuse yourself; stick some sixteenth-century French in Google translate. My nephew and I still have a giggle about the “chocolate éclairs tend to the sick in their beds”. Religieuse translates as nun and in the late sixteenth century, a new pastry was created for Catherine de Medici, which was named religieuse, and is now used more commonly for chocolate éclairs.


** Calming the F-word Down.


The Plodding Historian, aka Lisa Keane Elliott, Academic Published Papers:

‘Jean Martin, Governor of the Grand Bureau des Pauvres, on Charity and the Civic Duty of Governing Men in Paris, circa 1580’ – here.

‘Charitable ‘Intent’ in Late Sixteenth-Century France: The Nevers Foundation and Single Poor Catholic Girls’ – here.

‘In Pursuit of Charity: Nicolas Houel and his Maison de la Charité chrétienne in Late Sixteenth-Century Paris’ – here. Oh my gosh, I developed a big crush on the lovely Nicolas.


‘“Big belly, big mouth, fat pig!”: Tantrums and tumults in the sixteenth-century Hôtel-Dieu de Paris’ – here. Aka my #rampagingnuns paper.


Helpful posts that I have found useful and comforting from The Thesis Whisper blog:

The Plodding Historian’s link to Canberra’s Disher Cup

Every year since 1839, international rowing crews have met at Henley-upon-Thames in Oxfordshire to spend five days competing in the Henley Royal Regatta. I will not be writing about this world-famous event, however. I’m bringing the story closer to home.

On 11 November 1918, the First World War came to an end. The Leander Club, the oldest rowing club in England, were contemplating the resumption of the regatta, but decided that with the aftermath of four years of war, plus the calamity of the Spanish Flu, which was taking 1 in 18 people worldwide, it was maybe a little too soon. Instead, it was decided to hold a 1919 Royal Henley Peace Regatta, with many events restricted to members of the Allied armed forces.


Programme for the Royal Henley Peace Regatta, 1919

The main prize for the Eights (VIII – in rowing speak) was a King’s Cup presented by His Majesty King George V.


This cup was won by a crew made up of the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) who beat the Oxford University team. (Yeah! I’m a Cambridge girl.) The No. 1 AIF VIII was captained by Harold Clive Disher of the Australian Army Medical Corps.


No. 1 AIF Crew – Captain Disher, Gunner G.W. Mettam, Gunner A.V. Scott, unknown, Major S.A. Middleton, Lt. T. McGill, Lt. H. Hausenstein. Seated: Sgt. A.R. Robb, Sgt. A.E. Smedley, Lt. F.A. House.

Medallion 1919 King's Cup.PNG

Winners medallion presented to each of the No. 1 AIF crew members, 1919

Two years later, after many of negative responses to their request to the Australian War Memorial Council, permission was finally granted by HM George V, via his PM Winston Churchill, for the Peace Regatta Cup to be used as the top prize for the Men’s Eight-Oared Championship in Australia’s own Interstate Championships. It was thanks to ‘the king’s petition’ signed and endorsed by our Captain Disher that clinched it. (See the Australian Rowing website for more information.)

1921may13 King's Cup Permission.jpg

Letter from Prime Minister Winston Churchill to Australia’s Governor-General confirming His Majesty’s permission for the 1919 Royal Henley Peace Regatta King’s Cup to be used as the prize for the Men’s VIII in Australia’s Interstate Rowing Championship. Letter from the Australian Rowing website.

Before I continue with the Disher Cup story, I pause momentarily for bragging purposes, to focus on the Australian Interstate Championship where the King’s Cup is the big prize.

1973-Mens Interstate Champion programme

The King’s Cup 1973 Programme

When talking about the Disher Cup recently with a colleague, I learned about the Peace Regatta and the King’s Cup. I know all about the latter as my Dad was a member of the winning Western Australian team in 1973. He and his rowing buddy, Paul Duckett were also third in the Men’s Coxless Pairs! *

1973may05 King's Cup Winners Arthur Elliott Framed Photos 1

Framed commemorative photographs of the 1973 King’s Cup Winners from Western Australia featuring my Dad, Arthur Elliott. This has hung on the wall in my Dad’s bar or study since he brought it home in late 1973.

1973 Arthur Elliott King's Cup Rowing Team Coxless Pair - detail

That’s my Dad on the left.

Back to Captain Disher…

All the above was discovered as a result of a conversation with a colleague who, amongst many other physical pursuits, is a rower! She mentioned her attendance at the upcoming Disher Cup day and the story behind it’s creation.

The inaugural Disher Cup was held in October 1971. Named after our famous Peace Regatta-winning Captain; the winning Men’s VIII, the Australian National University, were presented the Cup by the man himself.

Disher Challenge Cup a

The ACT Disher Cup – Doesn’t it look magnificent!

Initially undertaken by crews from ANU and the Royal Military College Duntroon, the Disher Cup Regatta is now a 4,250 metre course on Lake Burley Griffin beginning at Aspen Island (home of the National Carillon) and finishing at Yarralumla. ANU and RMC were joined in the great races by the Australian Defence Force Academy sometime after its establishment in 1985, winning their first Disher in 1989. (Read more about it on the Rowing ACT website.)

I’m absolutely chuffed that a little conversation with a colleague led to discovering my Dad’s appearance in a story that began with eight oar-some blokes on the Thames in 1919. Don’t you just love the way history works!


* Postscript 1: The 1973 Interstate Championship marked my Dad’s last hurrah in terms of his rowing career. I turned up two months before, and on a training day. (So inconsiderate.) Mum was left at the hospital while Dad popped off to training. A few hours later, the Mother was tearily calling out for her husband, of who there was no sign. The nurse found him at his team mate’s house having dinner around 10pm. In typical nurse-like fashion, she advised him to get to the hospital ‘spit-spot’! His glowing rep with my great grandparents and grandparents was tarnished for about three hours, but then the first grandchild / great-grandchild turned up and saved him!

Postscript 2: Thanks to David B, Disher Cup rower c. 1975-1980s, for reading my post! He has provided some further information that you can discover yourself via the Rowing ACT website (which I linked above as well), but I provide David’s “insider” summary of the Disher Cup’s history, particularly the course changes over the years. Thanks David! (I’ve added links for more information on places, people and events mentioned.) Over to you, David…

“You are probably not aware that the course of the Disher Cup has varied many times over the years.

The inaugural Disher Cup course was set out by agreement to run from the mouth of Sullivan’s Creek to the mouth of the Molonglo (presumably close to the Boathouse).

This initial course was set out in the document that established the event, and represented travelling from Australian National University to Royal Military College. The RMC shed was on the Duntroon campus and cadets walked their boats across Moreshead Drive to boat in the area near Burley Griffin Canoe Club.  The traffic was less than it is today.

That course was challenging in that crews on the northern lane close to ANU had an advantage right up to Hospital Point (now Museum Point).

When I rowed the event in 1975 though to the mid-1980s, the course went from off near Spinnaker Island to the Boathouse Restaurant.  These races were still ANU versus RMC.

ADFA commenced in 1986.

The event evolved to become three institutions and multiple events after that, (women’s eights and various small boats).

The traditional courses finishing at the Boathouse were abandoned to accomodate three crews and occasionally four crews, (including University of Canberra, although not in the eights).

The course from the National Carillon to the Water Police has been popular, although last year they ran the event over 1,800m on Yarramundi Reach, and there have been several other start and finish lines.  This year saw a return to finishing at the boathouse with the Governor-General awarding the winners.”

(The Plodding Historian adds: The winners in 2019 – Congratulations to the ADFA team!)