In architect Walter Burley Griffin’s original plan for Canberra, the area to the west of Parliament Hill was set aside as a residential area. Only a few of the suburbs planned by Griffin eventuated in the form he intended, and Yarralumla, one of Canberra’s oldest suburbs, was one of them. Its street layout differs in detail from what Griffin planned, but the ideals of the garden suburb concept, which was at the cutting edge of urban design in the inter-war years, are clearly visible today. Located approximately 3.5 kilometres south-west of the city, Yarralumla extends along the south-west bank of Lake Burley Griffin. (The lake was created after the Second World War through the blocking, with a dam, of the Molonglo River.)
Yarralumla is notable among Canberra suburbs for its large number of landmarks and places of historical interest. The Governor-General’s residence – Government House – which shares the name Yarralumla, is located at the western end of the suburb in 53 hectares of parkland. It sits alongside Lake Burley Griffin, next to the Royal Canberra Golf Club and Scrivener Dam. The house was built in 1891 as the headquarters for the Yarralumla property. Also located alongside Scrivener Dam is the National Zoo & Aquarium. The nearby Yarralumla woolshed is available for event hire, often playing host to parties and bush dances. The land surrounding the woolshed has been developed as an equestrian park, including areas for showjumping, eventing and endurance riding.
Weston Park is situated on a peninsula near the western end of Lake Burley Griffin. The park includes swimming areas, children’s play equipment and wading pools, and a miniature railway, and is a popular barbecue spot on weekends. The English Garden is a small section of Weston Park, planted on the grounds of the old Yarralumla government nursery. The garden is dominated with tall trees, and it’s a nice spot to wander through or set up a picnic. Paths lead through the garden, and it’s a relaxing walk under the canopy of tall trees. The light can’t reach a lot of the path very well, so it’s a cool shady walk.
Weston Park Miniature Railway and Station Stop Cafe has been under new management since December 2014. The complex includes a cafe, miniature golf course and the miniature railway. Train ride lasts for approximately and a small fee applies to dide the train. The train and the ride is simple and basic but is nonetheless a thrilling adventure for little children.
Weston Park forms part of a string of parks that line the southern shore of Lake Burley Griffin; other parks include Yarralumla Bay, Lennox Gardens (incorporating a Japanese garden named Canberra Nara Park) and Stirling Park.
Embassy of the United States of America
Yarralumla has the largest concentration of foreign embassies, consulates and commissions of any Canberra suburb, and it is this that has made Yarralumla one of Canberra’s most visited suburbs by visitors. Recipients of embassy land here were encouraged to design their buildings in the styles of the countries they represent. Consequently, the part of Yarralumlu to the east of Empire Circuit where most of the embassies are is a colourful multicultural mix of architectural styles, gardens and settings with every continent in the world represented in its own unique way.
Examples of regionally styled chanceries include the embassies of Saudi Arabia and Thailand, and the High Commissions of India and Papua New Guinea. The United States embassy was the first embassy built in Canberra, with the foundation stone laid on the Fourth of July, 1942. The embassy is an impressive compound of buildings built in a Georgian style, inspired by several buildings designed by Christopher Wren for Virginia at the beginning of the 18th century. The French embassy includes the French-Australian War Memorial opened in 1961, which has a sculpture by Andre Bizette-Lindet called Winged Victory. Canberra tourist drive six takes tourists on a car-based tour past many of Canberra’s embassies including those located in Yarralumla. It zig-zags through the eastern side of Yarralumla past many of the missions.The embassy area of Yarralumla is located towards the eastern end of the suburb next to Stirling Park. It is the hilliest area of Yarralumla; Parliament House and the Parliamentary Triangle are located nearby.
How to get there: proceed from Canberra City Centre north along Commonwealth Ave., proceeds around State Circuit, past the Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne and Adelaide Ave. exits, leaving the circuit at Perth Ave. Like most of Canberra, Yarralumla’s only scheduled public transport is provided by ACTION buses. On weekdays, route 2 provides a service from Yarralumla to Woden and City Interchanges along Novar Street, Schlich Street and Hopetoun Circuit. Route 2 operates every 30 minutes until 6pm and hourly from 6pm to 11 pm. On weekends and public holidays, route 932 provides an hourly service along the same streets as route 2.
Europeans first settled the area in 1828, and it was named Yarralumla in 1834 from the indigenous Ngunnawal people’s term for the area. (It is also spelt “Yarrowlumla” on some 19th-century maps and other documents.) Frederick Campbell, grandson of Robert Campbell who built nearby “Duntroon”, completed the construction of a large, gabled, brick house on his property in 1891 that now serves as the site of Government House, the official residence of the Governor-General of Australia. Campbell’s house replaced an elegant, Georgian-style homestead, the main portions of which were erected from local stone in the 1830s.
Among the old Yarralumla homestead’s most notable occupants were Sir Terence Aubrey Murray, who owned Yarralumla sheep station from 1837 to 1859, Augustus Onslow Manby Gibbes, who owned the property from 1859 to 1881, and Augustus’ father Colonel John George Nathaniel Gibbes (1787 1873). (Augustus “Gussie” Gibbes was Murray’s brother-in-law; he also advanced money to Frederick Campbell to assist with the construction, in 1890 1891, of Campbell’s grand new family house at Yarralumla.)
With the construction of Australia’s capital city underway, the Yarralumla brickworks were established in 1913 to supply building material. The bricks were used for many of Canberra’s buildings, including the provisional Parliament House. In 1917, Walter Burley Griffin named the area surrounding the brickworks “Westridge”. A narrow gauge goods railway was constructed for the transportation of bricks to some of the major building sites in central Canberra. This linked the brickworks to places such as Parliament House, and the Kingston Power House.
Construction on the Commonwealth nursery and Westbourne Woods arboretum was started in 1914, and a temporary camp was built near the brickworks to accommodate the workers. Thomas Charles Weston was Officer-in-Charge (Afforestation Branch) in the years 1913 to 1926, and later became Director of City Planting and the Superintendent of Parks and Gardens. Weston was responsible for testing and selecting plant species at the arboretum for their suitability to Canberra’s environment; from 1913 through to 1924 Weston oversaw the propagation of more than two million trees which were then planted in the Canberra area. Most of the original Westbourne Woods arboretum is now leased to the Royal Canberra Golf Club, with the remainder forming part of Weston Park. The Yarralumla nursery is still active, albeit on a smaller scale and functioning as a retail nursery selling both wholesale and direct to the public.
The modern suburb of Yarralumla was gazetted by the government in 1928 and as of 2011 was home to approximately 3,000 people and many diplomatic missions. In recent years, it has become one of Canberra’s most desirable and expensive residential suburbs because of its wide leafy streets, attractive lakeside setting and central location.
After the Second World War, the suburb began to expand rapidly with the construction of many private homes. In 1963, Lake Burley Griffin was filled and Yarralumla was expanded to include Westlake, which had up until then been part of Acton. Yarralumla’s image as a lower-class suburb would persist into the 1960s and 1970s. This general perception began to alter once Lake Burley Griffin had been created and its surrounds landscaped into parklands; the area soon gained a reputation for its attractive lakeside location. During the 1980s, house prices began to rise coincident with a rejuvenation of the suburb. Many of the original government-built monocrete, brick, and weatherboard houses have been demolished and replaced by larger dwellings of a variety of more modern styles and materials.
The streets in Yarralumla are named after Australian governors and botanists. Most of the older streets in the suburb are laid out on an approximately rectangular grid with some curved sections, while the more hilly eastern end of the suburb, including the embassy district, is set out with contour-guided roads. Being a dormitory suburb, there are no major through roads.