The historic Sydney and Melbourne buildings have a special place in the hearts of Canberrans.
Built in the early stages of Canberra’s formation, the buildings sit right in the heart of the city centre on either side of the main approach road into the national capital. In recognition of the importance these buildings hold in the physical and social history of the city, the ACT Government has tasked the City Renewal Authority to act as the key liaison between government and owners of the iconic Sydney and Melbourne buildings to encourage and support revitalisation of these significant heritage sites.
The Sydney and Melbourne buildings are Civic’s key landmark buildings, framing the gateway to Northbourne Avenue and City Hill. Constructed between 1926 and 1946, the buildings were designed as the city’s premier “retail trader’s block”. The buildings defined the early character of Civic and continue to contribute to the urban realm experience of Civic today.
Normally city buildings are substantially developed by one government or private owner. However, due to the state of the economy in the early 1920s, the Sydney and Melbourne buildings were auctioned off by the government under Crown Lease arrangements. As a result, each successful bidder constructed their “lot”, at their own expense, to an overall concept design. The Crown Lease arrangements for the Sydney and Melbourne buildings continues to be in place, where the lease holders each own their “part” of the building, and have bought the right to use and develop the land under a lease for a term of 99 years.
Sydney and Melbourne Buildings during Melbourne Building in the 1950's.
construction phase, 1927
Images from the collection of the National Archives of Australia.
Today there are 102 separate titles (Crown Leases) and three unit plans for the Sydney and Melbourne buildings. Further, there is no “common areas” arrangement in place to coordinate maintenance of the buildings (for example building façade, signage, paving and shopfronts). This is because each lessee is responsible for their own title, which extends from their shopfront, within the colonnade, to the public footpath, which starts beyond the building facade.
As a result of this large and diverse ownership structure, there are significant difficulties in achieving a uniform approach to the maintenance and appearance of the buildings. It should be noted that both laneways (Verity and Odgers) within the Sydney and Melbourne buildings are owned by the ACT Government.
Revitalising the Sydney and Melbourne buildings directly contributes to the ACT Government’s Statement of Ambition and Planning Strategy.
As such, our aim is to work with the lessees, their tenants operating within the buildings and the community to identify appropriate ways to achieve a revitalisation that:
Since the creation of the City Renewal Authority in 2017 the ACT Government has already undertaken revitalisation projects on public land adjacent to the Sydney and Melbourne buildings. These include:
Aerial view of the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings, 2018 Footpath and landscaping improvements, 2019
Activities and events have brought new life to the public spaces in and around the Sydney and Melbourne buildings:
On 18 April 2019, The Soul Defender, a military truck turned soul music stage, hosted a free dance party in Verity Lane. Hundreds of people filled the laneway to enjoy the music and unique surrounds.
Enlighten came to Civic again in 2019. The facades of both buildings facing onto Northbourne were illuminated with the work of Canberra-based artist Hannah Quinlivan.
Soul Defender heating up Verity Lane, April 2019 Illumination of the Melbourne Building as part of Enlighten, 2019
One of the first steps in the revitalisation of the Sydney and Melbourne buildings was the construction of new shared waste enclosures in each of the laneways. This initiative will reduce the large number of separate bins scattered on the Territory’s land into one central secure storage area.
Presently, each of the building’s tenants enters into a service agreement with a commercial waste operator to collect their waste in the laneways. This means there are multiple commercial waste operators servicing more than 50 bins across each of the laneways.
We are working to issue a licence (under a trial basis) to a single waste service provider to operate the new shared waste enclosures we have installed in both laneways.
Once the licence is executed, we will work with the new waste operator and all building tenants to coordinate a transition period to:
If you would like to discuss or report a concern about the Sydney and Melbourne Buildings, please direct them as follows.
Images used in Reviving an Icon, Pt 1 video were obtained Courtesy ACT Heritage Library.
Courtesy ACT Heritage Library, subject, photographer, date, collection, image reference number.
Northbourne Avenue, Civic, with the Sydney building to the right, March 1951, 009167
Sydney Building and Hotel Civic, Mildenhall, William James, d 1968, 1930s, 009893
Melbourne and Sydney Buildings, corner of Northbourne Avenue and London Circuit, 1930s, 009915
Melbourne Building from median strip, Northbourne Avenue, Civic, looking north. Windows are being installed on the otherwise open verandah on the first floor. The Jolimont Building for the Department of Census and Statistics is visible at right rear. Four cars are parked,May 1953, 009589
Melbourne Building, Civic, March 1951, 009166
The Melbourne Building, Civic Centre, ca 1941, 006479