Braddon: Landmarks and Heritage

The Braddon Collective recognises the Traditional Owners of the land on which Braddon is built: the Ngunnawal People.

The Braddon Collective has compiled a summary of information on some of Braddon’s most recognisable heritage landmarks. The list is not exhaustive, and is intended to provide a brief outline of the history of the sites rather than a full, comprehensive account. Sadly, as is the fate with so many heritage sites, some of the iconic Braddon landmarks listed here no longer exist. These demolished sites have been included in our summary of Braddon’s physical heritage for their community value and iconic appearance. 

Ainslie School and the Ainslie Arts Centre

Ainslie School and the Ainslie Arts Centre predate the gazetting of Braddon as a suburb, and so retain the original suburb name of Ainslie despite their location in present-day Braddon. The opening of the Ainslie Public School in 1927 played a central role in the development of the inner north community of Canberra. It was one of the earliest public schools in Canberra, second only to Telopea Park school (1924). The original building (now the Ainslie Arts Centre) was opened by then Prime Minister, Stanley Bruce, as his first official act in the new national capital. Bruce was the first Australian Prime Minister to reside in the newly-constructed capital, and his opening of the Ainslie Public School marks a momentous occasion in the burgeoning life of the city.

Both the 1927 structure and the 1938 main school building were built in the Art Deco style, an architectural style rarely seen in Canberra. The 1927 building shares many design similarities with Old Parliament House, with both buildings designed by architect John Smith Murdoch, and both opening in the year 1927. This likeness has led to ongoing partnerships and community links between the current Ainslie School and Old Parliament House. The 1938 building was designed by Cuthbert Whitely, who also designed the former Canberra High School premises (now the School of Art at the Australian National University).

The 1927 and 1938 buildings were both considered modern, spacious, and desirable school buildings at the time of their construction. The 1927 building featured steam-heating, modern ventilation systems and furniture, spacious facilities, and playgrounds. The 1938 building is celebrated as the “first school in Australia with a library, needlework room and lecture room with tiered seats.” The large Peter Pan mural, situated in the school library in the 1938 building, is an original feature which delights the pupils of Ainslie School to this day.

The 1938 building, which has been extended and remodelled, functions as the heart of the Ainslie School campus in the present day. The original 1927 school building is currently occupied by the Ainslie Arts Centre as a community arts facility, and has recently undergone major internal refurbishment. The 1927 building also operated as the initial site of Questacon (the National Science and Technology Centre) from 1980-1988, and housed the School Without Walls (a former alternative public school) from 1974-1977.

Allawah Court Flats, Bega Court Flats, and Currong Apartments 

The former Allawah and Bega Court flats* (completed 1956/7) and Currong apartments (completed 1959), were initially built to address the serious lack of accommodation for public servants transferring to Canberra. Colloquially known as the ABC flats, the developments were “the first major housing project in the Federal Capital since the Federal Capital Commission (FCC) type houses and precinct developments of the late 1920s.” In close proximity to the city, the Parliamentary triangle, the Monaro Mall (opened 1963, now the Canberra Centre), and Gorman House, the new accommodation was modern, well-appointed, and well-located. 

Architecturally, the buildings were designed in the Post-War International style, described by the ACT Heritage Council as “similar to post-war housing in Europe, particularly in English new towns.” The ABC flats all featured cubiform overall shape, overhang for shade, plain and smooth wall surfaces, cantilevered balconies, and contrasting texture between brick and rendered facades (Graham Brooks and Associates, 2014 p.66). Of an unusual stylistic form and iconic in appearance, the buildings put forward to the ACT Heritage Register but were not approved to be heritage listed. Despite some local protestations, the buildings were demolished in 2017 to make way for more modern and dense housing projects.

*Note: the Bega Court flats were located across the suburb division of Ainslie Avenue from Braddon in the suburb of Reid.

Braddon Bakery 

Standing at odds to the modern apartment blocks which now fill Lonsdale and Mort streets, the former Coggan’s bakery building is one of the few remainders of Braddon’s 1920s industrial-zone origins. The building functioned as a bakery or associated bakery building continuously from 1926 to 1991, as per the original zoning of Braddon as a light industrial area. 

According to the building’s entry to the ACT Heritage Register, the bakery building is “the most historically distinctive structure” remaining of the original light-industrial zone of Braddon. Architecturally, the distinctive building features a symmetrical facade with division into vertical bays, stepped parapet, red tile roof, plain wall surfaces and general appearance of simplicity and elegance.

Braddon Garden City Heritage Precinct

Donaldson, Elimatta, Batman and Currong streets form the boundary of the Braddon Garden City heritage precinct. This area, including the street furniture, is heritage listed as “an early 20th century ‘Garden City’ planned subdivision” and is an outstanding example of early Federal Capital planning philosophy and architecture. Begun in 1921 and originally termed the “Ainslie Cottages Project,” the development of the area was intended to address a housing shortage for workmen and lower-grade public servants. The Braddon Garden City heritage precinct forms the only physically completed residential area design by Canberra architect Walter Burley Griffin.

Gorman House Arts Centre 

Built in 1924, Gorman House was the first of several purpose-built government hostels for public servants new to the nation’s capital. A far cry from Braddon’s bustling cosmopolitan streets of today, residents of the hostel once had to walk through paddocks to reach their jobs in the city centre. 

Continuing operation as a government hostel into the 1970s, the building underwent substantial refurbishment in the 1980s. Gorman House opened as a community arts centre on September 15, 1981, benefitting from the installation of five new theatres. The building functions today as a hub of community art in central Canberra, hosting multiple dance studios and theatre groups, a writer’s centre, gallery, and many visual artists and musicians. Gorman House Arts Centre Incorporated also manages the nearby Ainslie Arts Centre.

The Gorman House buildings are a local landmark, recognisable for their Federal Capital Commission (FCC) architectural style, distinct to older Canberran buildings. The cream and Brunswick green exterior harks back to Georgian colour schemes, while the red brick detailing, rough caste walls, symmetrical inter-connected pavilions, low building height, and landscaped courtyards between buildings provide a juxtaposition between Georgian and Mediterranean Inter-War styles.

Haig Park

The iconic Canberra green belt of Haig Park runs through the suburbs of Braddon and Turner. The park was named for Earl Douglas Haig (1861-1928), commander of the British Empire Forces during World War I. Haig was a much celebrated figure within imperial Australia when the park was established, although his reputation has since developed controversy, as his military strategies on the Western Front in WWI resulted in excessive casualties of his troops, often for little immediate gain – earning him the nickname “Butcher of the Somme.” 

Before Haig Park’s establishment in 1921, the cleared farmland which would become Canberra was exposed and windswept, suffering from dust and hot winds. The park was designed by Charles Weston, Canberra’s first Superintendent of Parks and Gardens. First named “East-West Shelter Break,” Haig Park was intended to be a dust and wind-break for the up-and-coming suburbs of central Canberra. Over the years, the site also served as a popular public park for locals, and was officially designated a public park in 1987. Haig Park and its planting design are listed as a heritage site under ACT protection, and have also been classified by the National Trust.

Hotel Ainslie (Mercure Canberra) 

The Hotel Ainslie, currently operating as the Mercure Canberra, has provided accommodation services in the heart of Canberra since 1926. Built in the English Arts and Crafts style, it was one of many government hostels built to accommodate newly-arrived public servants in the young national capital. From 1928 to the present day it has operated as a commercial hotel, and has been variously known as the Ainslie Rex and Olims Canberra Hotel. The structure was considerably extended to the southwest in later years, however the heritage charm of the site remains unchanged. Many of the original trees and landscaped areas around the hotel are heritage listed, as is the exterior of the original building.

Merici College

Merici College was founded in 1959 as the first Catholic girl’s school in the national capital. Originally named Canberra Catholic Girl’s High School, the archdiocesan origins of the school are uncommon. Rather than being run by one order of nuns, the school was originally established and run by staff from six different religious orders – the Sisters of Mercy, the Presentation Sisters, the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, the Brigidines, the Ursuline Sisters, and the Sisters of the Good Samaritan. Rosemary Follett AO, first Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory, and first woman to become head of government in an Australian state or territory, is a notable alumni of the school.

Northbourne Flats 

The Northbourne flats, completed in 1959, were formerly located on either side of Northbourne Avenue, with one block in Braddon and the other in Turner. The flats, which were utilised as public housing for the entirety of their existence, were the first high-density housing on the now highly-developed Northbourne Avenue. 

Although bearing some hallmarks of the Post-War International Style, such as cubiform overall shape, plain, smooth wall surfaces, and exposure of structure frames, the Northbourne Flats were rejected for entry onto the ACT Heritage Register. The ACT Heritage Council determined that the Flats “lack[ed] some critical characteristics” of the Post-War International Style, which significantly diminished the integrity of the architectural style. The buildings were demolished in 2018/ 2019 to make way for new private housing developments.

Northbourne Oval

Northbourne oval is an original and iconic leisure space in the heart of Braddon. Planned as designated “green space” in Sir Walter Burley Griffin’s 1913 layout, the oval is the “oldest enclosed recreational facility in Canberra.” Opened in 1925, the oval has a long and continuous sporting history, playing host to decades of cricket, Australian Rules, and rugby, as well use by local schools. Although developments have recently grown around the site’s fringes, much of the original character of Northbourne Oval remains today as a green oasis surrounded by mature poplar and pine trees, adjacent to the much-changed Canberra city.

Are there any iconic Braddon heritage sites we’ve missed? If you’d like to see something added to this list, let us know!