In 2005, the Kingston storyboards were installed along the Wentworth Avenue and Cunningham Street boundaries of the Kingston Foreshore site.
Stretching more than 500 metres, the storyboards detail the history of the site and the community that grew around it through photos and text.
In telling the story of Kingston and the Foreshore, the storyboards draw on the memories and stories of local people as well as official histories and collections.
Building a city
During the 1920s, the Kingston Foreshore was the industrial heart of Canberra. Construction of the city was in full swing during this time and the Kingston Foreshore was where many of Canberra’s building materials were made. Along with the industrial plants that produced everything from timber and bricks to concrete pipes, Kingston Foreshore was also home to vital services. The Transport Department depot housed buses, Commonwealth cars, an ambulance and the fire brigade. The Printers Office produced the parliamentary and departmental papers essential for running the Federal Government, and from 1927 was connected to Parliament House through an intricate system of tubes and pipes which transported materials for printing, editing and distribution.
Most importantly, Kingston Foreshore was home to the Power House, Canberra’s generator of industrial and domestic power. When it was completed in 1914 the Kingston Power House became a landmark and signalled the beginning of the city to come.
A rural environment
Welcome to sheep country. In the early 20th century the Yass-Canberra district was chosen by the Federal Government as the site for the Australian capital, however images of Canberra in those days would be barely recognisable to today’s residents.
The grasslands below the Brindabella Mountain range had been taken for large pastoral leases in the 1820s but by the turn of the century many small holdings were part of the landscape.
In 1911, soon after the decision was made to locate the new capital there, legislation was passed to enable the resumption of these farmlands. The Power House was built on one of Robert Campbell’s Duntroon paddocks. Not far from the Power House, beside the creek that runs through what is now Telopea Park, was the Rottenberry family’s farmhouse.
Sand and gravel works for the city were situated on Rottenberry Hill, which rises beyond the creek and is now the location of a residential development overlooking Lake Burley Griffin.
Rural skills and resources contributed to the early construction of Canberra, particularly through the supply of horse teams for clearing and levelling the land. The rural work of harvesting, milking and shearing continued next door to the Power House and the suburb that grew around it, playing a memorable part in the beginnings of urban life in Canberra.
By the time the foundation stone for the city of Canberra was laid in 1913, the Indigenous people of the region, the Ngunnawal (north and west) and Ngarigo (south) were maintaining their connections to country through seasonal rural work and by travelling through the region.
Brumby running in the Brindabellas was an enduring form of livelihood, but many families had no alternative but to live on mission stations such as the ones near Yass and Tumut, or to move further afield.
Indigenous people have lived on the Limestone Plains for over 20,000 years. They managed a landscape of open grassland which supplied them with plentiful food while also providing British farmers with wonderful grazing lands.
The Murrumbidgee and Molonglo rivers were also rich food sources. Pialligo was an important fishing location and artefacts found before Lake Burley Griffin was filled show there were Indigenous campsites all along the Molonglo. The site of the Power House and other early industries would have been no exception. Like others in the surrounding rural areas, local Indigenous people came to live in Canberra as work became available and the suburbs grew.
Building a community
With the building of Canberra and the arrival of construction workers, tradespeople, public servants and business people to create the beginnings of the capital, the landscape and way of life on the Limestone Plains changed dramatically once again.
Temporary accommodation and government houses were established near the Power House and formed the centre of the growing suburb of Kingston.
After the first private auction of land, the shops that became Canberra’s first shopping centre were established. Newcomers became neighbours and they developed gardens, started clubs and associations, and celebrated family and local occasions.
This pattern of suburban development was repeated across Canberra throughout successive generations. Early residents will testify, Kingston was where Canberra began.
Making the storyboards
As the revitalisation of Kingston Foreshore got underway in the late 1990s, community consultation identified the importance of the site’s history to Canberra residents and interest groups.
As a result, the Land Development Agency (LDA) commissioned cultural planner Susan Conroy and community historian and writer Mary Hutchison to develop a series of interpretive panels that could be placed around the Kingston Foreshore building site. This project grew into the Kingston Storyboards.
The LDA saw the storyboards as an opportunity to tell Kingston Foreshore’s story, looking at the past and recent history of the site as well as the social history and interests of the surrounding community. Creating the storyboards also provided an opportunity to locate Kingston in the broader landscape and honour the site’s contribution to Canberra throughout its history and into the future.
When viewed together, the storyboards communicate the rich history of a site which has undergone many transformations from the time of Indigenous occupation, to farming land, to an industrial centre with a surrounding suburb, and most recently to a new mixed use residential and commercial precinct with a strong arts and cultural focus.
In total, approximately 500 metres of interpretive panelling were created, incorporating images and text. 231 photos were sourced from public institutions and private collections, and in selecting and developing the content of the boards, Susan Conroy and Mary Hutchison worked closely with community members with personal or professional knowledge of the site.
The Kingston Storyboards were installed in 2005 and they have become a source of interest and pleasure for the residents of Canberra – both old and new – and visitors to Kingston Foreshore.
Authors: Susan Conroy and Mary Hutchison June 2010
Many images on the storyboards are from public collections and are accessible through the relevant collection’s website. Privately held images are not accessible at this stage.
In referring to this website and the Kingston Storyboards, there should be appropriate acknowledgement of the authors.
Copyright ownership for individual images rests with image suppliers as acknowledged on the storyboards.
The photographs of children’s faces have been pixelated as permission has not been granted by Telopea Park School to use the images in reproductions of the storyboards.
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