Orange’s Bold Bid

Competing to be the Capital

This 1902 booklet shows that the Central West town of Orange was once in contention to become the site of the nation’s capital. This honour eventually went to Canberra. The cover proclaims ‘Canobolas’ as the ‘Ideal Site for the Federal Capital’. An English / Anglicised version of a Wiradjuri word Gnoo Blas and meaning ‘two shoulders’,  Canobolas refers to the two most visible peaks on Mount Canobolas. Orange was located in the Canobolas Shire at the time.

At Federation on the first of January 1901 the separately-administered colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania joined together to become one nation, the Commonwealth of Australia. The new nation needed a new capital territory where the Federal Parliament would permanently reside, replacing its home in Melbourne.

Sydney-Melbourne rivalry saw a compromise that the new site would be at least one hundred miles (160 km) from Sydney. Competition among towns in New South Wales was intense. Dalgety, in the NSW Snowy Mountains region, was initially favoured but the NSW government pushed for sites closer to Sydney: Orange, Bathurst and Yass-Canberra.

In mid-1902 Members of Parliament travelled up from Melbourne to inspect the nominated sites. This booklet was published by the Orange-based Federal Capital League to showcase the virtues of the Canobolas district to the MPs. The League was formed and led by James Dalton, a revered local landowner and businessman.

Dalton and his committee declared that ‘No other proposed site can compare with Canobolas.’ Designed and printed locally, the booklet outlines the region’s desirable features, including the magnificent views of Mount Canobolas and the rich volcanic soils that supported the array of food grown throughout the region. It also boasts of the collective health, happiness and longevity of the area’s residents. The ladies of Orange and district played an important role in the bid, working behind the scenes to organise a concert and dance held for the visiting politicians.

In October 1908, Orange’s hopes for the bid were finally dashed when Canberra, not Canobolos, was passed into law as the country’s future capital.