Thursday, May 13, 2010


As Canberra lurches closer to it's centenary (1913-2013) I think it is important to remember a man who played an important role in the foundation of Canberra as the nations capital.  King O'Malley (1858 – 1953)(bio here) was an (American Born) Australian politician at the time of Federation. It was never really known for sure if he was an American citizen or a Canadian British Subject.

O'Malley needed to be a British Subject in order to sit in Parliament but he is believed to have admited being American before his death. It was known that his parents had a farm in the United States and that he was schooled in New York. He was a founding member of the Australian House of Representatives serving from 1901 to 1917. O'Malley was also Minister for Home Affairs and had enormous control of the new Federal Capital of Canberra . King O'Malley was a prominent and colourful member of Parliament and often his radical ideas were not widely accepted. Many regarded him as a charlatan.

O'Malley drives in first peg of Canberra.
Photo Wikimedia Commons (here)

A historian of the time once publicly described O'Malley:

"O'Malley's monstrously overgrown persona seemed to be inhabited simultaneously by a spruiker from Barnum's three-ring circus, a hell-and-tarnation revivalist, and a four-flushing Yankee Congressman. He was a moderately big man, auburn-haired with watchful grey eyes and a red-brown beard, wearing a wide-brimmed felt hat, blue-grey suit with huge lapels and a low-cut vest, loose cravat with a diamond collar stud, and in the centre of his cream silk shirt-front a fiery opal."

O'Malley played a prominent role in selecting the site of the future capital, Canberra. He declared American architect Walter Burley Griffin (an American) winner of the town planning competition. On 20 February 1913, O'Malley drove in the first peg which marked the start of the development of the city. He was also present at the ceremony for the naming of Canberra on 12 March 1913.

O'Malley and Prime Minister Fisher and Lady Denman at the naming ceremony.
Photo Wikimedia Commons (here)

What I found most interesting though was that O'Malley was teetotal. He was responsible for the highly unpopular ban on alcohol in the Australian Capital Territory at the time. (Drinkers went to Queanbeyan NSW, just across the border instead) prohibition was not lifted in the ACT until 1928

The Canberra suburb of O'Malley is named after him.
Canberra Centenary website (here)
ABC's Stateline Report has a good program (here) (video)

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