Mahkoolma, near Barren Jack (now known as Burrinjack Dam) is in New South Wales. You won’t find it on maps though, as the name is no longer used. However, it could have found fame if the heavens hadn’t opened one August day. It was one of numerous sites considered in the contentious search for an Australian National Capital.
The following sketch of the proposed site appeared in the Australian Town & Country Journal (June 6 1906)
Here is what it might have looked like as the Capital;
In 1906 Mahkoolma was the New South Wales Government’s preferred site. This was because the popular alternative, Dalgety, was considered too close to the Victorian border. 😍
In August that year the State’s Chief Surveyor, Mr A. L. Lloyd, was instructed to take some forty federal members of parliament to Mahkoolma on an inspection tour.
Everything was done to make the day a success. A huge marquee was erected, filled with delicacies for a picnic lunch. However, one thing Premier Joseph Carruthers had no power over was the weather. Mind you, mid winter does seem a silly time for such an excursion.
On the day the Federal politicians set out by rail and coach to inspect Mahkoolma, rain fell. Water insinuated its way down the politicians’ necks, inside their collars. The coaches stuck in the mud. The politicians had to walk. One of them – Senator Stewart – broke down and fainted under the strain of the journey. (Smiths Weekly 29 March 1927)
Another mud spattered senator wanted to know if it was all a practical joke.
There was worse to follow. When Mahkoolma was reached, the tired, wet and hungry Federalists discovered that the marquee had been blown down by the howling westerly, and all the food was sodden.
Leaving the politicians for the time being gazing at the spring chickens smeared with Charlotte Russe. Lloyd wired to his ministerial head in the Carruthers Ministry, explaining the facts and asking leave to push on. (Smiths Weekly 26 March 1927)
The visitors were filled with relief. With their boots overflowing with muddy water they cried in unison, ‘Get us out of this‘. And so it was that Mr Lloyd took them to Canberra, anther location in the running and, just quietly, his own strong preference. And guess what…..the sun shone. 🌞
Ironically, it was the prospect of drought that had first raised doubts about Mahkoolma’s suitability. The NSW Government Architect Mr Walter. L. Vernon was a strong supporter of the site, but he had felt bound to refer to the problem in a report a few months earlier.
One paragraph detracts somewhat from the glory of Mahkoolma. Mr Vernon deals with the possibilities of Barren Jack under drought conditions, and the conversion of the picturesque lake into a valley of pestilence with its attendant horrors for the Federal city. Dealing further with this particular phase of the question, Mr Vernon adds that it may be considered that the raising of the dam to a sufficient height to avoid such a contingency must be taken as concurrent with his recommendation of the site for the Federal capital, as assuming that the reservoir were ever emptied, a foul and stricken valley would be exposed to the view of the citizens, instead of a valley and picturesque lake. (Yass Evening Tribune May 31 1906)
In 1908 Canberra officially got the nod, although it did have its detractors;
Oh dear, that was a bit harsh from the Bulletin. Never mind, Canberra, in the Australian Capital Territory, was a good compromise, being halfway between those eternal rivals, Sydney and Melbourne.
I did love this post on a blog where people were discussing the choice. No guesses about where Anonymous’ heart lies. 😎
The federal politicians who visited poor old Mahkoolma on that dreadful day would get their revenge on NSW politicians in 1927, when Parliament House officially opened. If you want to read about it, CLICK HERE.