Australian Capital Territory

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Our History

The ACT Branch was formed in 1937 by AIIA members mainly from Victoria and NSW. They included Sir Robert Garran, Secretary of the Commonwealth Constitutional Convention and for many years Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department; H.F.E. Whitlam, Commonwealth Crown Solicitor and father of the future Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam; the Anglican Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Ernest Burgman; Sir John Crawford, Secretary of the Department of Trade and future Vice Chancellor of ANU; Sir Kenneth Bailey the Commonwealth Solicitor General, and Leslie Bury who would become MP for Wentworth, Treasurer and Minister for Foreign Affairs among other ministerial appointments during the 1960s and 70s.

World War II resulted in increased migration to Canberra from other states, and this was further boosted by the establishment of the Australian National University and the post-war Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme, which provided scholarships for ex-servicemen and resulted in a significant number of students and graduates living in the city. By 1950 the ACT branch membership had risen to 50 which included a group from Yass led by the Town Clerk.

The Dyason Lectures, delivered annually, were a major event in the growing city with many distinguished speakers filling the Albert Hall, then Canberra’s premier venue, or the largest theatre at ANU. The series ended in 1981.

Many regular functions attracted considerable numbers and were often followed by receptions at what is now the Hyatt Hotel. There was one occasion when the then Acting Prime Minister arrived, uninvited and happily under the influence.

The 1960s saw the permanent relocation to Canberra of the Defence Forces headquarters and the social service Departments of the Commonwealth, resulting in a further rise in membership. The arrival of the Australian Defence Force Academy with its degree courses through the University of NSW provided another source of speakers to augment politicians, diplomats and ANU academics.

In 1987 Stephen House was opened as the national headquarters of AIIA. The branch had contributed to the building fund and, after some consideration, decided to leave its rent-free facilities at the ANU to take up residence in the new building.

Membership currently stands at more than 200 and a student branch was formed at ANU during 2007. Members from other branches visiting Canberra are always made most welcome.

Bob Byrnes*

* Bob Byrnes was ACT Branch Secretary from 1949 to 1954 under the presidencies of H.F.E. Whitlam and Leslie Bury. He was made a life member of ACT Branch at the 2008 Annual General Meeting.