City of Sound is about cities, design, architecture, music, media, politics and more. Written by Dan Hill since 2001.

I spotted a few enticing visual patterns when browsing Australian cities in Google Earth recently. First, of course Canberra’s Ebenezer Howard-inspired city centre looks fantastic from the air, even if it was never finished according to plan.

Canberra from Google Earth

(See also Marion Mahoney Griffin’s beautiful watercolours – “infused with sepia, gold and other luminescent tones which capture the goldenness of a quintessential Australian landscape” – as part of the winning submission for Canberra’s design, with her husband: 1, 2, 3, 4.)

It’d be interesting compare a few more garden city layouts – given Google Earth’s fantastic capability for revealing urban layout, as noted previously with respect to Barcelona (see also). Unfortunately, the current detail of satellite footage in Google Earth’s Welwyn Garden City – and that of fellow Hertfordshire example Letchworth – is not good enough to do comparisons.

But another garden city, Colonel Light Gardens in South Australia, has decent detail, including of the enjoyably-named Piccadilly Circus:

Colonel Light Gardens

I’ve overlaid the following images from the original plans and sales brochures for the suburb, lifted from the Colonel Light Gardens Historical Society’s (PDF), onto the eventual layout. They fit beautifully:

Colonel Light Gardens drawings

Plan for Colonel Light Gardens overlaid onto Colonel Light Gardens

While we’re overlaying, the beautiful plan for Canberra doesn’t quite line up with eventual reality, even given the unfinished nature of the project, as this overlay of the Griffins’ plan onto Google Earth indicates:

Canberra plan overlaid onto Canberra

But back in the real Canberra, or Google Earth’s version of it anyway, what are these features over to the east of the city centre? Water treatment plants? Agricultural plots? They’re huge:

Canberra circles

However, I think I know what this is: reflections from the roof of the redeveloped Southern Cross railway station in Melbourne causing glitches in the satellites’ cameras. Perhaps a case of the blooming jaggies (which sounds like a late-60s British psychedelic band). They look like giant icicles, hanging at that endlessly surprising vertiginous perspective that Google Earth has, belying the sun-bleached tone of the surrounding terrain:

Reflections on Southern Cross station Melbourne


6 responses to “Best-laid plans for Australian garden cities and reflections on the Southern Cross”

  1. Tom G. Avatar
    Tom G.

    The large circles are centre-pivot irrigated fields. There is a large boom that is just visible in the photo. I would be willing to bet that these are test plots for either the University or the Ministry of Agriculture (or whatever the Australian equivalent is.)
    Now on the second photo – the sun angle tells the story. The sun is to the right of the photograph, and the amount of reflected light off the right side of the roof has saturated the satellites CCD camera causing bloom.


  2. Jacob Avatar

    Center pivot crop irrigation is very common here in the U.S. (I think its due to the mostly flat land in the american mid-west). NASA has some beautiful satellite images of hundreds of these circles, here is one from part of Kansas.


  3. Talbet Avatar

    As a Canberra resident I was pleased to see this, it’s a very beautiful city. Tom is correct about the circles, although I wouldn’t have known what to call them. As far as I know they are privately operated and used to “pre-grow” grass to be transplanted to lawns in new suburbs like this


  4. Armon Avatar

    They are pivot irrigators drawing water from the Molongo River to grow lawn grass/turf for new gardens.


  5. Michael Avatar

    I was hoping the ‘Agricultural plots’ were images of a new type of farming me Mum has been talking about. She is a memeber of Landcare ( ). One of Landcare’s projects has been to help promote the idea of circlular shaped farms and separating fields with tree corridors and about farmers cultivating several types of crops or cattle on the one farm so, I imagine, most of these new types of farms would end up looking like massive pie charts… It’s probably just Pivot Irrigation though, huh. 😦


  6. sevensixfive Avatar

    I really like the notion of an independent, post-occupancy evaluation of an urban design. Given that the drawings are tools for fundraising and political consensus building as much as they are construction documents, some kind of idependent comparison between the proposed and the as-built should almost be mandatory. Great idea!


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