The Search for Canberra’s Very Own Secret City

All those people who are always insisting that “Canberra’s not cool” are about to be proven unequivocally wrong! Listen up, you bunch of naysayers, ‘cause the ‘Berra has a super cool secret – and we’re about to dish the dirt on it!

And no, it’s not Questacon.

A Visionary Comes to Canberra

Once upon a time (all the way back in 1924, to be exact), there was a visionary town planner and developer who went by the name of Henry Halloran.

Mr Halloran was originally from Sydney. Born in 1869, he had a background in valuation and conveyancing, perhaps early inspirations for his later development pursuits. He had already worked on areas such as Lithgow and Coffs Harbour before setting his sights on the Queanbeyan region.

Having secured some land just over the ACT border at auction, he planned to create a brand new suburb that would be called ‘Environa’.

Canberra’s Lost City

Environa Bandstand_web

The Bandstand at Environa Image Source

Environa was the 8th Division of the Canberra Freeholds Estates (which were launched by Halloran), and was designed to house a variety of homes and businesses. The promotional flyer reads: “A magnificent subdivision, the design is a masterpiece of town planning on beautiful undulating land with far reaching views and overlooking the wonderful city of Canberra itself”.

Streets were to be named things like Justice Ring (we don’t know how we feel about that one), The Speakers Avenue, Rue de Paris, Piazza di Roma and Tokio Dori – it was all going to be a very glamorous affair, by the sounds of it!

Other points of difference included the fact that the estates were “absolutely the nearest freehold land to the Federal Capital City” – a claim that would surely send buyers into something of a frenzy in the modern era! – and an area labelled simply “reserved for special purposes” – ooh, juicy!

Located outside the Federal Territory, the land at Environa was sold as absolute freehold under the Torrens Title, and the flyer also boasted that it was free from the “onerous” restrictions applicable to the Commonwealth Leasehold Titles. Well, then.

The suburb was also set to include some seriously nifty stone work (that a 1971 edition of the Australian Women’s Weekly labeled “Canberra’s Stonehenge”) and its very own bandstand. Pretty cool, we think.

Women's Weekly_web

Environa was featured in the Australian Women’s Weekly  Image Source

So What Happened to the Project?

Things were going full steam ahead at Environa… until the Great Depression hit, halting the project in its tracks. The Depression brought virtually all construction works in the area to a standstill, and meant residents fell on extremely hard times that saw them struggling to pay rent and put food on the table. Not exactly an ideal time to be launching a new suburb.

Unfortunately, due to the terrible circumstances and a serious case of bad timing, none of the blocks of land at Environa were sold, and so the development never went ahead. The land to the north eventually became integrated into South Queanbeyan, and that was the end of Mr Halloran’s vision.

Environa Remembered in Modern Times

While the visionary Halloran’s dream had met its unfortunate end; it still lives on in some small way thanks to Google Maps, a handful of news articles, a Wikipedia page, a few forgotten stone relics – and this blog post.

We have to say that we’ve been thoroughly inspired by Mr Halloran’s plans and were saddened to hear the story of how Environa met its untimely end. We can’t help but wonder what the bold new suburb might have become, and we’re interested in how this story could inform development in the future.

Maybe there’s even a developer in Canberra game enough to try and revive this forgotten suburb? All will be revealed in the fullness of time, but for now we’re left wondering, dreaming and marveling at what could have been.

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