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Rediscovering Ginninderra:
Arthur Percival

Born: 1879; Died: 1964; Married: Frieda Brahe

Arthur Percival arrived in Canberra from Melbourne on 19 January 1910. He was head-hunted by Charles Robert Scrivener, the first Director of Commonwealth Lands and Surveys. Scrivener recruited Percival and other surveyors, including Percy Sheaffe, to establish the Territory's boundaries.

Percy Sheaffe started the border survey of the ACT at Mount Coree in June 1910 - a survey he continued, his wife by his side, for the next three years (she must have been an exceptional woman). Sheaffe went on to become Chief Surveyor, and Percival, whose work was primarily on the technical aspects of the city in this early period, later became Commonwealth Surveyor- General, a position he held from 1929 until his retirement in 1944. Percival and Sheaffe remained lifelong friends.

The first surveyors camp was at Kurrajong Hill (now Capital Hill), where all the team lived under canvas. The surveying team worked long hours - Percival's diary records working days that started at 7.30am, went on until 6.15pm, then from 8pm to 11.0pm. lnitially, this rate of work continued seven days a week for two months.

ln January 1911, Arthur Percival married Frieda Brahe. Frieda and Arthur lived in a tent at the Canberra camp. Their first child, Wilma, was born in Melbourne but lived with her parents at the camp from the age of 15 weeks. The family have photos of Wilma on her mother's knee outside the Percival's tent. Wilma was at the naming ceremony of Canberra on 12 March 1913.

Arthur and Frieda returned to Melbourne in early 1915. Percival worked with the Department of Home and Territories and was OIC property and survey branches from 1920 until his appointment as Commonwealth Surveyor-General in 1929.

Arthur Percival lived in Canberra from 1929 until his death in 1964. He was active in the Canberra community and, among other interests (bowls, rugby union and freemasonry) was a foundation member of the Canberra Artists' Society. He was president of the Society from 1930-34 and 1945-50 and its first life member.

His contribution to Canberra is recognised by a street named after him in the suburb of Duffy, and by nearby Percival Hill, at the junction of Ginninderra Creek with the Barton Highway.

Many of his descendants still live in Canberra: the youngest are fourth generation Canberrans.

[information and photos kindly supplied by Percival family descendants]

Related Photos


Atchison, J. Percival, Arthur (1879-1964). Australian Dictionary of Biography, Vol10, 1988. National Centre of Biography, Australian National University.

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