Walter Burley Griffin and Canberra’s early history
Dr David Headon has put together a revealing document entitled ‘Those Other Americans’ to celebrate Canberra’s early history and their upcoming 2013 centennial. This is a superb introductory document to Georgism (and Australia’s early history), with many references to the influence of Henry George throughout.
Griffin’s New Nationalism
As early as September 1912, in a crafted letter to Minister O’Malley, Walter Burley Griffin registered a personal interest in the vexed land question every bit as committed as those leading the public debate on the issue in Australia.
The Australian Government’s decision to make the land of the new Federal Capital Territory leasehold, not freehold, drew unabashed praise from the American well before he set foot on Australian shores: ‘…I cannot refrain from extending congratulations to your Government on the stand it has taken to maintain in perpetuity the rental value of the capital site [of Canberra]. Failure to do this everywhere is largely responsible for distortion and prevention of natural city growth, nowhere better exemplified than in our own capital, Washington, where speculative holdings perverted the development …’6
As a whole category of literature galvanised, at the turn-of-the-century, around the individual’s struggle again ‘robber barons’ determined to accumulate as much land (and wealth) for themselves as possible, Griffin steadily developed his own radical polemic opposed to‘private monopoly … exploitation…’7
The city planner in him knew that land ownership was arguably the linchpin of the new ‘science’ (of town planning), and he refused to compromise on the issue, convinced that whoever owned the land in effect controlled a nation state’s decision-making capacity.
‘Real estate dealers’ standards’, with their emphasis on ‘speculative self interest’, were anathema to the ‘public spirit’ that Griffin felt a community must have to establish what he called, with typical flourish, ‘the great democratic civic ideal’.8