Old Canberra House has been an integral part of Canberra for more than 100 years. Photo: supplied.

Old Canberra House has been an integral part of Canberra for more than 100 years. Photo: supplied.

A belated birthday for a distinguished gentleman

Amongst all the celebrations and excitement of Canberra's centenary celebrations in 2013, ANU missed its chance to celebrate the 100th birthday of one of our most iconic buildings - Old Canberra House. AMY JARVIS tells the story of this charming gentleman.

Standing watch as a century of Canberra passed by, Old Canberra House has quietly observed a capital city growing from humble beginnings to a spanning metropolis. But this stately old gentleman has his own unique past. A past that was full of colourful house guests, unusual events and political scandals.

Between his walls and under his roof decisions of national importance were made and a cast of Canberra's best known characters went about their private lives.

Old Canberra House was designed by eminent Commonwealth Architect John Smith Murdoch.

Murdoch was also responsible for the design of some of Canberra's most recognisable buildings, including Old Parliament House, the Hotel Canberra, Gorman House and the Kingston Powerhouse.

The house was Canberra's first two-storey masonry structure and when first built sat alone against a backdrop of cleared sheep paddocks and gum trees.

The house was revered by its visitors and fortunate residents alike who enjoyed uninterrupted views of the Molonglo River and Canberra's first racecourse (now submerged under Lake Burley Griffin).

The gardens, which were designed by Thomas Charles Weston, Officer in Charge of Afforestation, included plantings by Earl and Lady Grey, the Prince of Wales, the Duke and Duchess of York and Lady Denman.

Weston also designed the tennis court and pavilion that exist today.

The Canberra parklands near Government House in Yarralumla, Weston Park, were later named after him.

Perched at the top of the ridge on Lennox Crossing, the location of Old Canberra House tells us much about the social hierarchy of Canberra's early days.

The house on the hill, home to the Administrator, was built at the highest point looking down over the single men residing in the bachelor's quarters, now Lennox House.

Further away were the government workers in the cottages that gradually popped up along Liversidge Street and Balmain Crescent.