The land on which the Acton campus sits has evolved dramatically, from open savannah grassland use by generations of Indigenous people, to a pastoral landscape, and then to an administrative hub for the newly established Federal Government in the early twentieth century.

Another period of change began in the 1940s with the foundation of the University and the construction of makeshift buildings and facilities. By the 1960s, the building of the ANU, along with rest of Canberra, was booming.

We can still see evidence of these changes across the campus environment. These photographs, some taken 50 years apart, powerfully illustrate the rapid growth of the ANU campus and the transformation of both the built the natural landscapes.

1963: 1963 1965

The formation of Lake Burley Griffin in the mid-1960s transformed the Canberra landscape. Rising water levels and alterations to the bed and banks of Sullivans Creek made the waterway a more prominent part of the campus environment. The lake flooded a series of limestone caves, reported to contain early Aboriginal rock art, occupation areas and ceremonial sites.

Images: ANU Archives.

1965 2015

ANU rising. By 1965, many of the key features of the ANU were already established. University House, the Chancelry Building and the distinctive hexagonal forms of the H.C. Coombs Building are complete. The School of General Studies Library (later, the J.B. Chifley Library) is nearing completion. Canberra High School (the large white building in the centre of the images) became part of the University in 1992 and is now home to the ANU School of Art.

Images: ANU Archives and ANU Photography.

1976 2015

Aerial view of the ANU campus, 1976 and 2015

Images: ANU Archives and ANU Photography.

1965 2015

The HC Coombs Building is an iconic part of the ANU, its hexagonal design and the labyrinthine interior is unlike any other building on campus. Named after Dr Herbert 'Nugget' Coombs, Chancellor of ANU from 1968 to 1976 and one of the founding fathers of the University, the foundation stone was laid by Prime Minister Robert Gordon Menzies in 1962.

The architects Mockridge, Stahle and Mitchell Pty Ltd were renowned in Australia for their work on educational buildings and churches, and their unique interpretation of the Post-War Ecclesiastical and Post-War Melbourne Regional styles. The hexagonal shape of the footprint is also reminiscent of the work of renowned architect John Andrews of John Andrews International.

Stage 1 was completed in 1964 and the Coombs Lecture Theatre was added in 1968. An additional ‘hemi-hexagon’, left out of the initial construction due to financial constraints, was added in 1971. At this time, the 'lab wing' of the building was also added. In 2002, the HC Coombs Extension was constructed to provide additional space for the expanding schools and the College of Asia and the Pacific. Further growth prompted a need for more space. In 2008 the Hedley Bull Building was completed to house the College of Asia and the Pacific in the southeast section of the Coombs Extension. It was opened by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

Images: ANU Archives and ANU Photography.

1960 2015

Planning for the construction of the John Curtin School of Medical Research (JCSMR), the brainchild of Nobel laureate Sir Howard Florey, began in 1949 with a permanent facility not completed until 1957. The internal laboratory and office fittings were originally designed by the ANU Design Section under the directorship of the nationally recognised Australian designer Frederick Ward.

In 2002, half of the original JCSMR complex was demolished to make way for new facilities, completed in three stages between 2005 and 2012. Prime Minister Kevin Rudd officially opened the Stage One and Two sections of the school in May 2009.

Images: ANU Archives and ANU Photography.