The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) is the smallest, and youngest of Australia's states and territories. Surrounded by the state of New South Wales, the bulk of the territory lies about 300 km from Sydney to the north-east, and 650 km from Melbourne to the south-west. About 2,395 km2 in size, the ACT is around 80 km long, and 30km wide. The northern part of the ACT is the home of Australia's capital city, Canberra.
The Seat of Government Acceptance Act, of 1908, stated that the seat of government should have access to the sea. In order to fulfill this requirement, the government acquired 7,360 hectares of land at Jervis Bay in New South Wales, that land also becoming part of the ACT.
The ACT was born out of Australia's Federation in 1901. Australia was required to select a site for the seat of government, with the following conditions:
'The Seat of Government of the Commonwealth shall be determined by the Parliament and shall be within territory granted to, or acquired by the Commonwealth. It shall be within the State of New South Wales and be distant not less than one hundred miles from Sydney.
Such territory shall contain an area of not less than one hundred square miles granted to the Commonwealth without any payment.'
Between 1902 and 1908, a search for a suitable site was conducted, with the Yass - Canberra area finally winning out. The city of Canberra was to be constructed on the broad flood plains of the Molonglo River. The ACT was established in 1911, with the handover of land from New South Wales, the construction of Canberra commencing in 1913.
Around 40% of the ACT is made up of the Namadgi National Park, to the south. A beautiful area, Namadgi National Park is made up of agricultural land, and steep alpine mountains, rising up to 1,800 metres in height. These mountains are often capped in snow during the winter months, and are a popular recreation area. Criss crossed by walking trails and bush tracks, the park is a great destination for activities such as bush walking, camping and 4WDing. Namadgi National Park has a rich Aboriginal heritage, and was once the meeting area for the 'Urayarra', an annual meeting of Aboriginal people to feast on the Bogong Moth. The Bogong migrates to the cooler mountain areas each summer, clumping together in thick groups in areas such as the cracks between rocks. The Aboriginal people would collect the moths, and often many different tribes would congregate to feast on them.
The ACT is also rich in animal life, particularly in its bush areas, where native animals are abundant. Even in the urban bushland areas, it's quite common to find Kangaroos, and a rich variety of bird life. In the areas outside of Canberra, many of the less common natives such as the Platypus and Koala can be found. Just outside of Canberra, the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve is a great place to see many of these native animals, living in their natural environment. Over 5000 hectares has been dedicated to the preservation of native flora and fauna. Walking trails wind through the area, and for the most part none of the animals are fenced off from these trails. The only fences you will see are designed to keep predators out, particularly in areas containing animals such as Koalas.
The ACT is an area with a distinct four seasons, and the weather changes dramatically depending on the season. Summer is generally hot and dry, with temperatures up to 42oC (107oF) recorded. Winter is cold, the lowest temperature recorded -10oC (14oF). Autumn and Spring are beautiful times in the ACT, many days opening with cold, clear skies, before warming to sunny days. The lower areas of the ACT, including the area where Canberra is situated, are often shrouded in fog during the winter months, filling the valleys below the mountain areas. The mountain areas themselves are often covered in cloud during the cooler times of the year, it's not unusual for the mountains to be practically invisible for days at a time. Once the cloud has cleared, snow may cap the mountains. It's rare for snow to fall in the lower parts, but it does happen at times. On the 28th of May, 2000, snow fell in Canberra and the ACT for hours, as the daytime maximum temperature struggled to reach 4oC. The first Rugby League game in the league's 92 year history was played on a ground covered in snow. This isn't a regular occurrence in the ACT's lower areas however, normally snow turning to sleet before it reaches the ground.
Apart from the urban area of Canberra, much of the ACT retains its natural beauty and landscape. Even in Canberra, large areas of natural bush and grassland have been retained, giving rise to Canberra's description as The Bush Capital. Outside of Canberra, many of the lower areas are used for farming, the higher mountain areas are virtually untouched. With such a large area of the Territory being National Park, it's guaranteed that the ACT will retain its pristine beauty. It's possible to drive a matter of minutes from the outskirts of the city, and be in an untouched bushland environment. Fresh, clean air is never hard to find, surrounded by towering gum trees. In the minds of many people, Canberra and the ACT are one and the same. Nothing could be further from the truth - the ACT is far more than the city it gave birth to.
At the moment, the ACT is a very different place to what I have described above. The devastation of the Canberra Bushfires, January 2003 have blackened the earth, destroyed trees, and killed countless native animals. The Tidbinbella Nature Reserve spoken of above above...well, there is virtually nothing left, either infrastructure, or wildlife. The Namadji National Park resembles the aftermarth of a napalm strike. It will take decades for the ACT to return to the image I had originally described above. Rain has fallen, and green grass now grows in ash richened soil, but the land has a long way to go.