The area now called Yarralumla was originally part of two separate land grants granted to free settlers for the establishment of farms. In 1828, Henry Donnison, a Sydney merchant who had arrived with his wife and family on the brig Ellen on 29/30 July 1828, was granted an allotment on the western side of Stirling Ridge. A second grant was made to William Klensendorlffe, a German who had served in the British Navy and arrived free in the Colony in 1818. He had bought the land from John Stephen, on 7 March 1839. Donnison’s land was officially named Yarralumla in a survey of the area conducted in 1834. Yarralumla was a name for the area used by the local Ngunnawal people, apparently meaning ‘echo’.
Yarralumla’s streets were named after Australian governors and botanists.
When the construction of Australia’s capital city commenced, the Yarralumla brickworks were established to supply building material. The bricks were used for many of Canberra’s buildings, including the provisional Parliament House. In 1917, Walter Burley Griffin named the area surrounding the brickworks ‘Westridge’. A narrow gauge goods railway was constructed for the transportation of bricks to some of the major building sites in central Canberra. This linked the brickworks to places such as Parliament House, and the Kingston Power House.
By 1928, there were over 130 people on the electoral roll for Westridge. The majority of the population consisted of men working at the brickworks and the nursery, which was responsible for testing and selecting plant species for their suitability to Canberra’s environment and oversaw the propagation of more than two million trees planted in the Canberra area.
Westridge was officially gazetted as a Canberra suburb in 1928, but was officially renamed to Yarralumla in the 1950s. In 1963, Lake Burley Griffin was filled and Yarralumla was expanded to include Westlake, which had up until then been officially part of Acton.
After World War II, the suburb began to expand rapidly with the construction of many private homes. Yarralumla’s image as a ‘lower-class’ suburb would persist into the 1960s and 1970s. This general perception began to alter once Lake Burley Griffin was created and its surrounds landscaped transformed into parklands. The area soon gained a reputation for its attractive lakeside location. During the 1980s, house prices began to rise coincident with a rejuvenation of the suburb. Large numbers of the original government-built monocrete, brick and weatherboard houses were demolished and replaced by larger dwellings of a variety of more modern styles and materials. The suburb is generally regarded as one of the more desirable in Canberra.
Accommodation is mostly separate houses, although the number of residences in the suburb has been increasing through conversion of blocks to dual occupancy and other medium-density-type developments.
Yarralumla is notable among Canberra suburbs for its large number of landmarks and places of historical interest. The Governor-General’s residence Government House, which shares the name Yarralumla, is located at the western end of the suburb in 53 hectares of parkland. It sits alongside Lake Burley Griffin, next to the Royal Canberra Golf Club and Scrivener Dam. The house was built in 1891 as the headquarters for the Yarralumla property. Also located alongside Scrivener Dam is the National Zoo & Aquarium. The nearby Yarralumla Woolshed is available for event hire, often playing host to parties and bush dances. The land surrounding the woolshed has been developed as an equestrian park, including areas for showjumping, eventing and endurance riding.
The eastern end of Yarralumla is home to many of the diplomatic missions in Canberra, many of which are built in a traditional style reflecting that of their respective home countries. Examples of regionally styled chanceries include the embassies of Saudi Arabia, Thailand and China, and the High Commissions of India and Papua New Guinea. The United States embassy was the first embassy built in Canberra, with the foundation stone laid on the Fourth of July, 1942. The embassy is an impressive compound of buildings built in a Georgian style, inspired by several buildings designed by Christopher Wren for Virginia at the beginning of the 18th century.
Also located in the eastern end of the suburb are Lennox Gardens, the Yarralumla Yacht Club, the Albert Hall and the Hotel Canberra. The Hotel Canberra opened in 1924 to accommodate politicians when Parliament was in session. The hotel was closed in 1974 and the buildings served as an annexe for Parliament House between 1976 and 1984. The Hyatt Hotel Group re-opened the hotel in 1987.
Weston Park is situated on a peninsula near the western end of Lake Burley Griffin. The park includes swimming areas, children’s play equipment and wading pools, and a miniature railway, and is a popular barbecue spot on weekends. Weston Park forms part of a string of parks that line southern shore of Lake Burley Griffin; other parks include Yarralumla Bay, Lennox Gardens, which incorporates a Japanese garden, and Stirling Park.
Yarralumla is located in the central Canberra district of South Canberra. It is bordered by Lake Burley Griffin to the north, Commonwealth Avenue and Capital Hill to the east, Adelaide Avenue and the Cotter Road to the south, and Scrivener Dam and part of the Molonglo River to the west.