On the 25 September 1995 a group of Canberra residents,convened by Major James Cullens and Mr David Evans, met to consider the need, at the turn of the century, for a commemorative project in the National Capital, as a celebration of the close historical and cultural links which exist between Australia and Britain.
Field inspections of possible sites for such a project followed and eventually a semi-circular grassed area, adjacent to the Old Parliament House Senate garden, was selected.
In November 1996 Air Vice Marshal Desmond Hall, the President of the ACT Branch of the Australia-Britain Society, was invited to assume leadership of the group. This resulted in the formation of a committee of the Society under the chairmanship of Sir John Mason, with Air Vice Marshal Hall as executive vice chairman.
Two members of the committee, Major Desmond Woods and Dr John Gray, suggested Magna Carta as a theme for the proposed monument. This was agreed and the name Magna Carta Committee was adopted.
The National President of the Australia-Britain Society, Mrs Marjorie Turbayne MBE OAM and the Board of the Australia-Britain Society decided to make the Magna Carta monument the society's 'Centenary of Federation project' and subsequently undertook to act as guarantor to the National Capital Authority for its cost. Meanwhile the committee began fund-raising and, in close association with the National Capital Authority, set to work to initiate a design competition for the monument in Australia and Britain.
On the 6 December 1996 the committee lodged with the National Capital Authority a preliminary proposal for a Magna Carta Monument to be erected in Canberra 'as a commemoration of Freedom under the Law'. This was agreed to in principle and on 13 July 1997 a formal proposal was submitted to the Canberra National Memorials Committee. This was accepted and the name Magna Carta Place as the site for the monument was authorised in the Commonwealth Gazette of 1 October 1997.
Magna Carta Place was dedicated by the Hon. Sir Gerard Brennan AC KBE, the Chief Justice of Australia, on 12 October 1997. This day was the 700th anniversary of the sealing by King Edward I of the 1297 issue of Magna Carta, an original copy of which is now on display in Parliament House.
A high point in the Magna Carta Committee's fund-raising campaign was reached when - after an approach by Air Vice Marshal Hall to the British Deputy High Commissioner in Canberra - the British Government made a most generous donation of $528,000 towards the cost of the monument, as its centennial gift from the people of Britain to the people of Australia.
We also record our thanks, gratitude and appreciation to Mr David Fall and Dr Andrew Pocock. Not only were they members of the Australia-Britain Society but during the project period, they were heavily involved in the work of the Magna Carta Committee and their support was invaluable. Similarly, the British High Commissioners during the project Sir Roger Carrick KCMG LVO, Mr Alex Allan and Sir Alastair Goodlad KCMG gave their full and helpful support.
The Australia-Britain Society expresses its appreciation to the National Capital Authority and its Chairman, Air Marshal David Evans AC DSO AFC RAAF (Retd), Ms Annabelle Pegrum Chief Executive, Mr Michael Grace, Dr David Headon and Ms Rosalind Ransome for their work and dedication to the project.
Finally, Sir John Mason and the Australia-Britain Society Magna Carta Committee thank the major donors, the Friends of Magna Carta, and all the donors, whose generosity has brought the Magna Carta project to fruition.