In November 2019 I enjoyed presenting the paper Big sky Canberra at the Australia ICOMOS Conference, Heritage of the Air: Modernism, Machines, Migration Memories.
The paper explored Canberra’s development as a uniquely twentieth century city through a fresh focus on the contribution of aerial photography and the moving image.
Concepts of the aerial view and ‘a big sky’ are invoked in the earliest descriptions of Canberra and remain central to how the city is perceived in the national imagination, and to its representation across the globe. The exciting advances in aeroplane technology of the early twentieth century transformed the way Australians came to experience distance, landscape and urban life by the century’s end. The use of aerial photography in town planning, in military applications, and in promotional imagery, was particularly influential in Canberra’s development, marking it out as a uniquely twentieth century city. However this image of Canberra, so carefully woven into the uplifting spirit of modernity, is only one of the ways that air technology and the moving image have left their mark. At times a failure to consider the ‘Canberra project’ from-the-ground meant that the technology of the air and the magic of the moving image came together in unscripted, unexpected, and sometimes tragic ways. This paper examined these unanticipated histories and the learnings they hold for a more grounded imagination of Canberra’s future.
Special thanks to the Australian National Film and Sound Archive for permission to screen footage from Australasian Films Canberra The Capital of the Commonwealth of Australia (1927), and the inspired conference team at Australia ICOMOS and the ARC-funded research project team at Heritage of the Air.
The paper will appear in a future edition of Historic Environment.