Francis Vierboom's Blog

A blog about things. Mostly news, ideas, and Sydney

Forster, Australia’s new national capital?

with 4 comments

Canberra at night from Mt Ainslie

Actually it looks rather nice here. CC from Sam Ilic on Flickr

Canberra. It’s not that bad. I was there a few weeks ago. For me there are two obvious things to like about it: it’s a cycling paradise, and it’s home to the two of the safest ALP seats in the country. In other words, it’s home to the kind of lefty public servant/intellecturazzi I one day aspire to eat Saturday morning eggs benedict with.

Of course, this is also one of Canberra’s big problems. To outsiders, it seems like the place is mostly just a bunch of itinerant public servants, perhaps just there for a year or two starting out their career in a government agency. Moreover, there’s a vague sense that it’s somehow ‘artificial’. Because, of course, it is. As we all learned in primary school, Canberra was only conceived because back at the start of the 20th century Sydney and Melbourne couldn’t settle the pissing contest  over which would become the national capital. A design competition was held for a new city, Lake Burley Griffin was excavated, and today the city is one of the world’s great monuments to the traffic roundabout.

The other problem I have with Canberra is that it just isn’t really in a nice spot. All of Australia’s other capital cities are on rivers or harbours. They are all on or near the coast. But Canberra is not on the coast because the design competition specified that the city had to be at least 50 miles from the coast in order to be out of range of battleships and safe from naval artillery. This requirement would have almost been obsolete by the time the parliament opened in 1927, but it had the unfortunate result of removing the capital from the beautiful ocean of the east coast.

Of course maybe I’m just spoiled by Sydney. It really is a stunning city. Of all the cities I’ve been to in the world, only Stockholm seems to me to come close for natural beauty. I perked up a few years ago when Paul Keating suggested that we should just move the capital to Sydney – ‘he wouldn’t care if the capital was in Melbourne, “but if you want to impress the visitors, of course, you come to Sydney”‘ – and put the Parliament on the current naval base at Garden Island looking over the harbour.

This would be nice, and I’m all for it. But seeing as we’re all talking about population these days, and there are multiple calls for new cities to be established in Australia, why not throw in the towel on Canberra, and use the inherent value of the national capital to establish a real nice city, with both something to do (work for the government) and a good reason to live there (a few nice beaches, maybe some lakes, and warm weather).

Sunrise over Forster

Sunrise over Forster, from bass8888 on Flickr

Based on that criteria, and having a quick look at the map, I have picked out Forster-Tuncurry, 4 hours north of Sydney. It’s a nice holiday location, it’s already got some decent road infrastructure, and it’s along a corridor of population where more cities would help make the business case for everyone’s favourite big government project, very fast trains. A Sydney – Newcastle – Forster – Port Mac – Brisbane fast railway line would really liven the place up.

I think it would be a good thing for Australia to create a new city, and an easy way to really get a good one going would be moving the capital there. Of course, Forster being a nice holiday spot already, I’m open to other ideas. Serious studies of where to start a city suggest it should be in the Pilbara or the Kimberleys along the northwest coast of the country in WA, based on rainfall and such, but it’s not going to be practical to have the capital move that far away. Go down the South Coast somewhere towards Melbourne – say just move Canberra east to Jervis Bay – I say it’s too cold. Which is why I am thinking somewhere on the mid-north coast of NSW. But I’m easy. Just move it out of the middle of nowhere.

UPDATE: I know it’s a valuable thing to have some big inland centres, and in some ways it’s good that one of them is the capital. A lot of people like the climate and lifestyle of the inland cities. But probably not most people. Apparently 50% of Australia’s population lives within 7km of the coast. 7km inland still leaves more than half of Sydney.

Written by Francis

April 19, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

4 Responses

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  1. So you’re primary argument to move that nation’s capital from Canberra is basically because there is no beach?

    Canberra isn’t axactly in the middle of nowhere, it’s a 3 hour drive from sydney and an hours drive from the coast. It takes more than an hour to get to the mostly dirty overcrowded beach from most places in Sydney because of the traffic and in some cases terrible roads.

    Some people also appreciate the fact that Canberra has four seasons weather-wise. It may not have your spectacular coastale city lines of scyscrapers and what not, but Canberra is a very livable, and in my opinion has it’s own kind of natural beauty with the rolling hills and views of the snow-topped Brindabellas in winter. Not everyone wants to live near the beach you know, I for one can’t stand the humidity.


    April 20, 2010 at 1:17 pm

  2. Well i don’t really mind canberra, i am a bit harsh on it above. But the point is it still definitely has perception problems – i know some of my friends who have considered careers for agencies like ASIO or ABARE but simply don’t want to move to canberra. This alone doesn’t justify moving it – but the fact that we need a new city does provide a good excuse to move it, and by establishing the capital we could give any such city a massive leg-up in becoming an important centre. It’s a confluence of factors. But honestly i do like canberra.

    And of course it isn’t going to happen. It would be an incredibly expensive waste of a good city.


    April 20, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    • I can’t deny that Canberra has a bad rap, I just really don’t understand why people are so willing to believe what they hear without giving it a go.

      I’m not sure about the whole idea of reestablishing the national capital either. I’m more for the idea of expanding large regional centres that aren’t completely isolated, like Ballarat and Bendigo. That part of the country is lovely and resource wise I think these areas could cope with becoming Canberra-sized cities, as long as they are well planned.


      April 22, 2010 at 12:10 pm

  3. Forster-Tuncurry is smack bang in the vicinity of a chain of coastal and inland National Parks. With the sort of dreary development you generally see on the fringes of our big cities, a heavily developed Forster-Tuncurry would be an environmental disaster.

    What about Taree? Close enough to the coast,mainly surrounded by degraded pastureland and with a lot of infrastructure, including rail.


    April 21, 2010 at 1:00 pm

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