12 December 2016

On this day in history: Canberra land goes for a song

The first land auction in the ACT, 12 December 1924. On the platform, from left are:  J. H. Calthorpe, H. C. Crammond, W. G. Woodger, Sir Austin Chapman and T. E. Woodger.  Source: #003693, Images ACT,
The first land auction in the ACT, 12 December 1924. On the platform is (from left):
 J. H. Calthorpe, H. C. Crammond, W. G. Woodger, Sir Austin Chapman and T. E. Woodger.
Source: #003693, Images ACT

On the 12th December 1924 the very first land auction was held in the Australian Capital Territory. At the time, Canberra was still in its infancy, with only a scattering of buildings around the Molonglo River like the Hotel Canberra, St John’s Church, Blundell’s Farmhouse and some small cottages at Acton and Duntroon. The population of 1,500 lived mainly in tents and huts. Houses were impossible to get.

But on this day there came a great change. As seen in the advertising poster below, residential and commercial blocks all over Canberra were released for purchase towards the end of 1924, some for as little as £350. Blocks along Empire Circuit cost around £400-470. The most expensive block advertised, on the corner of Wilmot and Tennyson Crescents, would set you back £470.

Blandfordia real estate poster, 1924.  Terms and conditions listed on the left-hand side. Locality map (bottom right) retains much of Walter Burley Griffin's original plan for Canberra, notably the geometric street designs and three distinct basins of the central lake.  Source: HMSS 0182 W. G. Woodger and Family Papers
Blandfordia real estate poster, 1924.
Terms and conditions listed on the left-hand side. Locality map (bottom right) retains much of Walter Burley Griffin's original plan for Canberra, notably the geometric street designs and three distinct basins of the central lake.
Source: HMSS 0182 W. G. Woodger and Family Papers 

The auction, held in a marquee on Capital Hill next to the Surveyors' Camp, was attended by around 300 people, a fifth of the population of Canberra. Run by Woodgers and Calthorpe Ltd, the auctioneer started the day by proclaiming; ‘No capital city in the world started with the same advantages in the way of water, light and sewerage as Canberra enjoyed,’ and that he hoped ‘figuratively speaking, that each of them would take away a piece of Canberra in his pocket.’



Houses under construction in Blandfordia, ca 1926. Source: #007871, Images ACT
Houses under construction in Blandfordia, ca 1926.
Source: #007871, Images ACT
And then the bidding commenced with lots in Eastlake (later known as Kingston), Manuka, Red Hill, Ainslie, Civic and Blandfordia (Forrest) going under the hammer. They proved very popular, selling for on average around half a thousand pounds, which far exceeded what was expected. The first business property was sold to J. B Young, a storekeeper in Queanbeyan. Starting at £650 ‘spirited bidding’ raised the price of the Eastlake property to £2,050. The first residential property went to H. F. Halloran for £400, and Mrs O’Hanolan became the first woman to purchase a lease in the ACT. One particular block sold to Thomas Shakespeare, who went on to use the premises to establish The Canberra Times. Woodgers and Calthorpe themselves bought property in Civic. The day was thought of as a considerably success. 

House at 75 Empire Circuit, Forrest, ca. 1926.  Source: #007192, Images ACT
House at 75 Empire Circuit, Forrest, ca. 1926.
Source: #007192, Images ACT

Land auctions remained a feature in Canberra over the next couple of years with demand remaining very high; one block measuring 20 feet by 108 feet went for £3500. Sometimes properties would go for three times more than the asking price. Woodgers and Calthorpe, as Canberra’s first real estate agency, played a vital role  in the growth and advocacy of the city and became very successful. They eventually sold the business to L. J. Hooker in 1959 with William Woodger continuing as director of that firm. J. B. Young's went on to become a successful and extensive department store chain. They operated on their Eastlake premises for around fifty years, before the business which was taken over by Grace Brothers in 1979.

J. B. Youngs, Kingston, decorated for the visit of the Duchess of York in May 1927.  Source: #008041, Images ACT
J. B. Youngs, Kingston, decorated for the visit of the Duchess of York in May 1927.
Source: #008041, Images ACT 

Like all properties in the ACT the blocks sold on that first day were 99-year Crown leases, which required the leasee to pay rent (starting at 5% of the unimproved value of the land) to the Commonwealth. This revenue was intended to fund the new city. However, the scheme was not a success and in 1971 Prime Minister John Gorton finally abolished land rent of leases.  The leases are due to expire in 2023, seven years from now. What happens next is still unknown, but it is assumed that the government will roll over the leases for another 99 years.

House at 33 Melbourne Avenue, Forrest, ca. 1926 Source: #007193, Images ACT
House at 33 Melbourne Avenue, Forrest, ca. 1926
Source: #007193, Images ACT

In today’s money[1], £400 would equal the moderate amount of of $36,640. According to real estate website Allhomes, blocks of land in theses suburbs today have an unimproved land value of a minimum of $652,000. A house on Tennyson Crescent was recently sold for $3,950,000. Demand for land and housing, is as ever, very high.

The papers of the Woodger family, including photographs and other documentation relating to land sales and the development of Canberra are available for reference from the ACT Heritage Library at HMSS 0182 Papers of W. G. Woodger and Family.

 
  

Bibliography

1924 'CANBERRA', Queanbeyan Age and Queanbeyan Observer (NSW : 1915 - 1927), 16 December, p. 2. , viewed 26 Nov 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article31658763

1967 'One of biggest industries', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 26 May, p. 16. , viewed 21 Nov 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article131657153

 Curious Canberra, ABC. 2016. Can people own land in the ACT?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-07-04/can-people-own-land-in-the-act/7550166. [Accessed 26 November 2016].

 Environment, Planning and Sustainable Development Directorate. 2016. Leasehold. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.planning.act.gov.au/topics/buying,_selling_and_leasing_property/leases-and-licenses/leasehold . [Accessed 26 November 2016].




[1] Modern day prices were arrived at by using this website to convert 1924 currency into 2016 currency. It was assumed that the Australian pound and British pound were worth the same in 1924. That figure was then converted into modern Australian dollars.