Early powerhouse workers, Russian spies and urban hipsters have all lived, worked and played in Kingston… once known as Eastlake. Here we spill the (organic roasted coffee) beans on one of Canberra’s first suburbs…
When the Kingston Power House steam whistle blew at 5 minutes to 5pm every day, coal covered workers would put down their tools and think about wandering up to “The Kingo” for a drink or even knocking off a piece of coal to help keep their families warm in their thin walled workers cottages.
Exposed to harsh and hot conditions—including coal ash and asbestos—the Power House workers in the early 20th century were a melting pot of many cultures.
Later they were joined by workers at the Bus Depot, and printers from the Government Printing Office.
Today “The Kingo” (Kingston Hotel) remains a tradie’s favourite, along with public servants, families and basically anyone who wants to enjoy a good steak and a beer.
Scandals, spies and espionage
Whilst residents of Kingston went about their business, a secret war was being waged in local bars, parks and streets, making today’s spy thrillers look pale by comparison.
With the USSR embassy located directly opposite the Kingston Hotel and Funeral Directors, ASIO agents would base themselves in the Kingston Hotel during and after the Cold War to monitor the embassy. Rumour has it they even rented a space above the funeral parlour next door to keep watch.
Incidents like the Petrov Affair—the very public defection by the Russian Ambassador and his wife, who were also operating as Russian spies—were apparently only the tip of the iceberg.
Original shopping Mecca
Kingston was one of the first two shopping centres in Canberra (along with Manuka), featuring stores such as JB Young’s—Canberra’s first department store that was later taken over by Grace Brothers (now Myers); Cusack’s furniture store, Frawley’s shoes and Ken Cook Menswear.
The northeastern corner of the shopping centre is built around a small park called Green Square—so named for the green park at its centre. The grass was replaced during the drought years by spiky native grasses—but after complaints by families with children, the popular green grass was reinstated!
Today you can still find an eclectic range of shops at the original Kingston shopping centre, with the Old Bus Depot Markets and Kingston Foreshore boutiques just a short stroll away.
The original Kingston Forensic Medical Centre (or morgue) was described as a “dark and dingy” building on the foreshore of Lake Burley Griffin. Darker still is the rumour that one of the drain holes in the autopsy room would leak out directly into the Lake, unwittingly releasing human body parts into the water!
First Gateway to Canberra
Canberra’s first settlers would have mostly arrived by train, at Canberra Railway Station in Kingston.
Interestingly enough, Kingston was never meant to be Canberra’s main, or only, train station. Originally established to bring coal to the Power House, Walter Burley Griffin had always intended for the railway line to run through the south to the north of Canberra and on to Yass, with a central station rumoured to be planned for where the chess board in Garema Square is now.
In fact there was a temporary railway line that ran from Kingston over the Monaro Bridge and into Braddon—for delivering building materials. However a flood wiped out the bridge and no further plans to extend the line were seen through.
Today the Canberra Railway Station continues to be used, with plans for a high-speed rail delivering passengers to and from Sydney in under three hours, still in deliberation.
Sadly, the popular Canberra Railway Museum, that lived behind the station, has closed its doors. Once a hive of activity on weekends, hosting rides on some of Australia’s oldest and largest operating steam locomotives, as well as miniature steam train rides popular for children’s birthday parties, loud steam whistles could be heard from as far away as Deakin!
In the public eye
In September 1984, Bob Hawke played cricket at Kingston Oval on the weekend the election was announced and, batting, had mistimed a hook shot, with the ball smashing his own spectacles and driving glass into his eye. In agony and half blind, he was taken to hospital. The surgeon who removed the glass said had it gone a fraction deeper he would have lost the sight of his eye altogether.