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Aims & activities

The Society is dedicated to :
  • encouraging the study of the history of Canberra and district, and of Australia in relation to it
  • promoting the compilation of authentic historical records
  • preserving historical material and places of historic and aesthetic interests, and to
  • fostering the interchange of information through talks, discussions, excursions and exhibitions.
A lively range of activities are arranged for members, with some open also to the public. These include:
  • Entertaining lectures: at the monthly meetings (on the second Tuesday of each month from February to November).
  • Canberra Day Oration to celebrate Canberra’s birthday on 12 March each year
  • Excursions: covering places of historic interest in the ACT and district
  • Publications: the highly regarded Canberra Historical Journal appears twice each year, with the Newsletter sent to members every two months.
  • Resource centre and research services: centrally located in the demographic heart of Canberra at the Curtin Shopping Centre. Resources include books, periodicals, maps, photographs and extensive and unique files of newspaper cuttings.
  • A catalogue of resources is now available online. The centre provides research services at a modest fee; inquiries welcome.
  • Anniversary dinner: commemorating the founding of the Society in December 1953.


Members elect a Council of 12 members to direct and manage the business of the Society. Council includes a president, two vice-presidents, and a treasurer. Committees of Council plan and organise the activities and services offered by the Society.

Members of Council for 2020-219 are:

President: Allen Mawer
Immediate Past President: Nick Swain
Vice President: Esther Davies
Vice President: Richard Reid
Secretary: Nick Swain
Treasurer: Julia Ryan
Councillor: Peter Dowling
Councillor: Marilyn Truscott
Councillor: Don Garden
Councillor: Tony Corp
Councillor: Patricia Clarke
Councillor: Ann Tundern-Smith
Councillor: Frances McGee
Councillor: Kay Walsh

Origins of the Society 1953 - 83
  • Foundations
  • Early activities
  • Canberra Day
  • December Dinner
  • Heritage
  • National links
The Canberra & District Historical Society is one of the oldest community organisations in Canberra, founded on 10 December 1953.

In 1935 a special 175th anniversary issue of the Queanbeyan Age had suggested it was time for a local historical society. Though people like Charles Daley supported the idea, it was 18 years before the idea took shape.

On 7 October 1953 WP Bluett laid down the challenge with his letter 'Why Not an Historical Society for Canberra?’ in the Canberra Times. Bluett argued a local branch of the New South Wales Historical Society could record information about the district’s long established pioneer families of the district and research the ACT’s local history.

On 10 November 1953 Bluett noted that the formation of an historical society 'bids fair to becoming an established fact'. He noted 'Some of the leaders of thought in our National Capital have already offered cordial support'. Among the supporters were Loma Rudduck, Manning Clark and LF Fitzhardinge, who announced they had agreed to form an historical society.

A Canberra Times editorial observed:
While useful fields of endeavour are available for the Canberra Historical Society in relation to past happenings, a continuing society will in due course find that wider opportunities will unfold. It seems that the first thought of the proposed society will be to encourage the study of the history of Canberra and district, and of Australia in relation to Canberra. Probably in the future it may be even more important to consider the history of Canberra in relation to Australia.

A public meeting in the senior common room of Canberra University College on 10 December attracted seventy-three people. Within a few weeks sixty foundation members of the Society had already paid their annual subscription of 10/-. A set of twenty-eight rules was adopted, and a management committee of twelve set up, with LF Fitzhardinge the first President. In 1972 the Society adopted a formal constitution and was incorporated under an ACT Ordinance.

The aims of the Society adopted at that first meeting were to
- encourage the study of the history of Canberra and district and of Australia in relation to it
- promote the compilation of authentic historical records and the preservation of historical material and places of historic and aesthetic interest
- foster the interchange of information through addresses, discussions, excursions and exhibitions.

Early activities
A regular series of lectures began, with topics including A Century of Australian Art 1788-1888; The Teaching of History, a study of the evolution of the syllabus from 1879; Press Opposition to the Site of Canberra; The Riots of Lambing Flat 1860-61; Australian Architecture 1788-1901 and Its Social Background.

The range of papers was always wide, but with a core link to the district and the national capital in topics like Journal of Allan Cunningham’s Visit to the County of Argyle; Royal Military College - Early Years at Duntroon; and Some Teachers and Schools in Old Canberra .

The stories of long-established families -Southwell, De Salis, Shumack, Kaye, MacPherson, Crace have been among the popular subjects, with family members recapturing pioneering days recorded in personal archives. As papers were so often copied and circulated to members, the Society established the regular Canberra and District Historical Society Journal. The Journal is now widely recognised for its scholarship and rich content.

The Newsletter was born on 14 February 1957, a modest two-page publication. From those humble beginnings it has developed into an informative bulletin recording the activities of members and reporting other matters of general interest. The Newsletter was preceded by Current Record, published in 1956-57 to provide a brief account of events in the city and district.

The need for an awareness of historic sites as tangible evidence of the district's history was recognised from the first. Soon after its formation the Society began arranging visits to station properties with deep-rooted associations with the pastoral history of the district. These excursions have always been a popular feature of the Society's activities, continuing to attract large numbers of members and friends who combine the study of history with social enjoyment.

Canberra Day
On 12 March 1957 members of the Society joined with other citizens of Canberra, including members of the ACT Advisory Council, in addressing school children on the significance of the ceremony of laying the commencement stones and the naming of Canberra forty-four years previously. In 1960 those events were commemorated with a successful exhibition, displayed in the offices of the Canberra Tourist Bureau, with photographs and artefacts illustrating local history.

Canberra Day 1963 marked an important milestone in the Society's history when JD Anthony, Minister for the Interior, officially handed over Blundells Farmhouse as the headquarters of the Society. John Whelen was President at that time. On the recommendation of Lord Holford, the farmhouse had been restored by the Australian government and furnished by the Society as a memorial to the pioneers of the Limestone Plain and an example of the type of buildings erected there during the 1850s. The Society has always been mindful of the part played by the pioneers of the district as well as those whose lives had been associated with the beginnings of the national capital. An annual Pioneers' Gathering, held in conjunction with Canberra Day, was greatly appreciated by guests, many of whom travelled long distances to be present.

In 1966, when the Junior Chamber of Commerce was trying to regenerate public interest in the commemoration of 12 March 1913, the Society took a prominent part in a simple, dignified ceremony held on Capital Hill. That ceremony has been recalled each year, often with the support of local service clubs and the former Department of the Interior, but primarily as a task accepted by the Society.

December Dinner
1962 marked another important development when on 10 December, the first Christmas and birthday party was held. The annual birthday dinner became a regular feature of the Society's program of activities, providing a pleasant interlude for members to meet socially.

The Society has also made an important contribution towards the preservation of buildings and marked sites of historic interest in the Territory. It has regularly impressed upon the National Capital Development Commission, the Department of the Interior and, more recently, the Department of Territories and Local Government and the Department of Territories, the need for this important work to be undertaken. As the opportunity arose it has submitted the names of local pioneers considered worthy of commemoration in the names of Canberra’s suburbs and streets.
The Society is actively involved in the work of the ACT Heritage Committee, the ACT Heritage Week Steering Committee, the National Trust of Australia (ACT) and the ACT Council of Cultural Societies. It has also enjoyed a close working relationship with the Heraldry and Genealogical Society.

National links
On a wider scene, the Society has assisted in the formation of regional historical societies. It enjoys a close working relationship with other State and Territory historical societies with whom it exchanges publications and co-operates in attempts to achieve a greater recognition of the work of historical societies. CDHS is a foundation member of the Federation of Australian Historical Societies.

In its first thirty years, the Society made a valuable contribution to the work of recording and the study of regional history. As foreshadowed by the Canberra Times on 9 December 1953, it then decided the time had come to look more closely at the relationship of the history of Canberra to the history of Australia.

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