The Australian Capital Territory is a small area of land (by Australian standards) down at the bottom of NSW, slightly inland from the coast. It is the smallest self-governing territory in Australia. Once inhabited by three different tribes of indigenous Australians, it now holds Canberra, Australia’s capital city and a national park amongst other things. It came about because over one hundred years ago, none of the governing bodies could agree as to whether Sydney or Melbourne should be Australia’s capital city. Building a new capital city on a neutral block of ground, now the ACT, solved the argument.
Although too small to have much variation in climate or environment like the other states, the ACT does have its own floral emblem, which is the Royal Bluebell or Wahlenbergia gloriosa, which has its natural habitat in high-rainfall mountains such as Mount Hotham. The faunal emblem is the Gang-gang Cockatoo, a grey bird, the male species of which has a red head. It is found only in southeastern Australia and Tasmania. The call of the gang-gang is said to sound like a creaky gate.
While the ACT is small, it is still big enough to contain a large national park along with some agricultural land that is used for growing vineyards, dairy farms, cattle and sheep and a few crops. There are other smaller townships and localities such as Williamsdale and Thawa in the ACT. The USA operates a deep space network at Tidbinbilla in the southeast where there is also a nature reserve.
The national park, Namadji, is only 40kms from Canberra and contains forested mountains of snow gums, grassy plains and alpine meadows. In fact, 46% of the land area of the ACT is taken up by this national park, where many of Australia’s unique animal species abound. The park is of special importance to Canberra as it supplies a large percentage of the city’s water supply. It holds a plentiful supply of rivers such as the Murrumbidgee and other smaller rivers and creeks.
Because the area of the ACT is not too close to the coast, it experiences four distinct seasons, something that many coastal towns and cities miss. Summer is hot and dry, while winter is cold with snow on the mountains and occasionally closer to Canberra. Fog and frost are frequent visitors. Spring and autumn are the milder seasons. The climate of the ACT is also partly due to its elevation, which is 650 m.
With 340,000 residents, Canberra is the biggest inland city of Australia. It has been built on the north end of the ACT and is only 280 km from Sydney. Canberra is unique in that it didn’t just grow up from a goldfield or near a busy port, but was planned for a distinct and important purpose right from the start. This planning means that the streets are all located in a specific way, rather than just growing higgledy-piggledy as the town grew.
In fact the design for Canberra was chosen from a Chicago architectural company who were winners of a contest run for that purpose. They incorporated many areas of natural bushland into the city itself, and this has earned the capital of Australia the affectionate title of ‘Bush City’.