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Memento : Issue 19
january 2002 memento 13 Walter Burley Griffin's drawings of Canberra are a cherished and highly valued par t of our collection, but they did not always enjoy the same level of care they now receive. In fact for a long time no one really cared at all. The story of these drawings since 1912 is one of neglect, chance and strange disappearances, but it has a happy ending. Walter Burley Griffin's plan of Canberra was submitted to the 1912 Federal Capital Design Competition in the form of watercolour drawings by his wife Marion Mahoney. When the drawings arrived in Melbourne from Chicago, they passed into the custody of the Depar tment of Home Affairs. After Griffin was declared the winner of the competition, the drawings were purchased by the Commonwealth. Photographs taken at the time reveal that even at that early stage some of the drawings, which were on cotton material, had already been torn. In late 1912 the drawings were moved to Canberra for use by the Federal Capital Commission. In 1913 they were back in Melbourne, in the basement of Government House. For storage, they were removed from their stretchers, rolled up and placed in galvanised cylinders, each time risking being creased, scratched or otherwise damaged. Later in 1913 the drawings were cleaned and stretched on frames for a town planning exhibition held in Sydney. In 1917 a set of slotted, zinc-lined chests was constructed to house the drawings.The same year the drawings were transpor ted to Adelaide for exhibition at the Australian Town Planning Conference and Exhibition. One of our conservators Ian Batterham carefully removing a Griffin drawing from chipboard where it had been pasted for several years. drawings Griffin safe at last! In 1925 Mr CS Daley, Secretary of the Federal Capital Commission, pointed out the historical significance of the drawings and stated that they should be stored with the archives of the Commonwealth. There is no documentary evidence about what happened next and it was not until 1953 that they were heard of again. In November of that year the drawings were 'rediscovered', packed in five wooden crates in a Depar tment of Works workshed in the Canberra suburb of Kingston. They were taken into the custody of the Archives Division of the Commonwealth National Library on 6 November 1953. In 1961 the Commonwealth Archives Office was established as an autonomous unit and the drawings became par t of its holdings. During the 1960s the drawings were sent away twice for exper t conservation treatment. The treatment they received, in hindsight, was far from ideal, leaving the drawings adhered to sheets of chipboard with starch paste. Finally, in the early 1990s the drawings received the conser vation treatment they deserved. Our conser vators carefully cleaned the drawings, removed them from the chipboard, mended tears and edges and placed them on new stretcher frames. And so, 90 years after leaving Chicago, the drawings have found a permanent resting place in Canberra.You can see the full set of these well-travelled drawings in the exhibition about Griffin's competition entry in our Canberra gallery from 12 April.