The unfinished continent’s unfinished capital

Canberra, June–August 1929

Writing about the Australian capital of Canberra, Ross highlights both the nation’s former carefree spending and its “unfinished”, still developing present condition.

The Australian capital of Canberra, under construction midway between Sydney and Melbourne since 1913, strikes Ross as “the appropriate symbol for a nation that is most conspicuously characterized by vastness and emptiness. Australia means boundlessness, it means recklessly, confidently stepping into an uncertain future.” In Canberra, this is reflected in the empty expanses between buildings and quarters. Designed on the drawing board and meant to accommodate rapid growth, Canberra’s size still doesn’t fit its mere 6,000 or so inhabitants, many of them officials who are forced to spend their weeks here.

The version exhibited here is a reprint from March 1931, at the occasion of the Australian governments’ deliberations about how to fight the Depression’s effects. This context casts Ross’ comments about the Australian government’s bad investments in Canberra in an even more negative light. This reading is additionally supported by the use of italics (not found in the book) for passages such as: “There is much opposition in the country against this costly capital”. As Ross wrote about the present political and economic state of the places he visited, but hardly engaged with day-to-day politics, his texts were fit for such re-uses at newsworthy occasions.

Joachim Schätz








Colin Ross. Die seltsamste Hauptstadt der Welt: Canberra, das sechstausend Einwohner zählt. Arbeiter-Zeitung: 1931 Mar 15.


Topic: Volk ohne Raum
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30




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