Forrest is named after Sir John Forrest, an explorer, legislator, Federalist, premier of Western Australia, and one of the fathers of the Australian Constitution. The streets in Forrest are named after explorers and governors.
Forrest is one of the few suburbs in Canberra built to the original Canberra plans. The street layout is directly derived from Griffin’s 1913 plan, which defined the major axes of Melbourne and Hobart Avenues radiating from Capital Hill and concentric circles. The road layout and subdivision pattern of the precinct is mirrored on the opposite side of Melbourne Avenue. These many circular and geometric patterns in its streets and can be quite confusing to drive in.
Forrest was originally part of the suburb Blanfordia, which was gazetted as a suburb in 1928. The majority of the precinct was constructed in 1926 – 27 to meet the urgent need to provide housing prior to the opening of the provisional Parliament House in 1927. The original residents of Forrest were mostly senior public servants who were moved up from Melbourne.
Forrest, together with the northern parts of Deakin and Red Hill, sometimes called ‘Old Deakin’ and ‘Old Red Hill’, represent the most prestigious residential area in Canberra. The Melbourne firm Oakley, Parkes and Scarborough won a 1924 competition to design the housing for the precinct. Most of the area is detached dwellings in which a 1600m2 block would be on the small side, and 2000m² blocks are not untypical.
The precinct is also a repository of a small number of compatible privately built dwellings designed by early local architects including Kenneth H Oliphant, one of Canberra’s first independent architects. Oliphant’s work has contributed notably to the character of the urban architecture of Canberra.
The houses of Forrest are bounded by Canberra Avenue, Empire Circuit, Manuka Circle and Fitzroy Street. They were completed in 1938 and include a former fire station. They are considered important examples of Australian Early Modern Architecture and illustrate a distinctive comparison with the ‘Federal Capital Architecture’ that dominated in Canberra in the 1920s and 30s.
The public domain landcaping of the precinct is associated with Thomas Charles Weston, Superintendent of Parks, Gardens and Afforestation, Canberra 1913-1926. Weston’s use of Australian native species was an unusual practice for this period.
The remnants of street furniture, that is street signs, fire hydrants and footpath lighting and other elements including kerbs and gutters and examples of brick drains, are valued for their contribution to the aesthetic of a twentieth century ‘Garden City’ planned subdivision.
Forrest also includes part of the Manuka shopping centre and has a government run primary school, Forrest Primary.
Today, the suburb, including its street furniture, is subject to conservation measures to preserve its character.