18 November 2016

Board in Canberra?

With International Games Day  on Saturday 19th November, and the recent speculation about Canberra featuring on a new Monopoly board, we thought it was a good time to have a peek inside the ACT Heritage Library’s collection for some good old fashioned vintage games.


Playing cards featuring Old Parliament House, date unknown
Playing cards featuring Old Parliament House, date unknown

The simplest and most versatile of these are the playing cards featuring Old Parliament House. As those of us who have been to a gift shop recently know, playing card designers (whoever they are) love to feature iconic buildings, and these are no different. Printed and designed in Hong Kong these playing cards were probably aimed at the tourist market.

'Know Your Cities' jigsaw puzzle featuring Civic, ca 1970-1981
'Know Your Cities' jigsaw puzzle featuring Civic, ca 1970-1981
Another more educational initiative brought about the inclusion of Canberra in the first series on the  ABC of City Education ‘Know Your Cities’ jigsaw puzzle production, published by the UK-based Paul Hamlyn Group.

This jigsaw puzzle of several hundred pieces, shows an aerial photograph of the city. The photograph looks south across the lake and beyond and can be dated by the appearance of various landmarks. The National Carillion in the top left hand corner puts the picture after 1970, but the lack of construction on Capital Hill places it before 1981. Civic itself is much roomier than it is today – there are open air car parks and even single story buildings along Northbourne Avenue! The jigsaw puzzle is a snapshot in time that shows a city, not even fifty years ago, that looks remarkably different from the one it is today.

'Canberra Visitor: the Capital Board Game,' approximately 1978
'Canberra Visitor: the Capital Board Game,' approximately 1978

Another snapshot is provided  by ‘Canberra Visitor: the Capital Board Game,’ published around  1978, at a time when Belconnen Mall had the moderate claim to fame as the second largest regional shopping centre in the country – a fact proudly proclaimed by one of the 'Destination Cards' in the deck.

Players for this game select an itinerary and have to move around the board (a map of Canberra) to complete it as quickly as possible. Chance cards provide both setbacks and opportunities such as ‘A friendly student invites you to a jazz concert at the A.N.U. Union. Go straight there,’ and ‘One of ACTION’s articulated buses stops near you. Luckily the bus is going directly to one of the places you intend to visit. Go straight to that place.’ Designed ostensibly to educate players about Canberra, it also had the obvious additional benefit of promoting it as a destination.

Chance cards, 'Canberra Visitor' board game, approximately 1978.  Card reads 'Most usually it starts to rains. Shelter for a while. Miss one turn.'
Chance cards, 'Canberra Visitor' board game, approximately 1978.
Card reads 'Most usually it starts to rains. Shelter for a while. Miss one turn.'

Finally there is the ‘This is Your Capital: Canberra Game', a cross between Monopoly and ‘Canberra Visitor.’

Businesses and landmarks such as the Canberra Times, Telecom Tower, ADFA, Young’s, and even Woden Bus Interchange were all up for grabs.  Smaller businesses scattered round Canberra made it onto the board, like Continental Decorators, Flair Style Manuka Arcade, Sapphire Photo Processing, ACTCOM Computer Centre and Village Newsagency Hawker, many of which are now defunct. Aimed to promote Canberra businesses, it was created by the Canberra Association for Regional Development. The first player to buy twelve properties and return home safely wins.

'This is Your Capital: Canberra Game,' approximately 1985

Games like these ones reflect the changing fabric of society, from marketing Canberra as a tourist destination, to tracking the rise and fall of small businesses, to a providing an unintentional snapshot of the city fifty years ago.

But these games also provide a glimpse into how people, particularly friends and families, came together to spend their time. One example of this can be seen on the back of the Canberra jigsaw puzzle case where someone in the past forty-odd years penciled in a list of names, presumably those of the family who played the game. Different handwriting also warns about a missing puzzle piece. The simple, child-like handwriting shows that these games are not static, but worn in, well-loved dynamic pieces of our history.

To reflect this, some of these games are now available to be played during library hours. Just ask at the ACT Heritage Library. More details about all the games can be found through the Libraries ACT catalogue