A rare history: the story behind the historic 11 State Circle address

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Sitting just a stone’s throw from Parliament House in Forrest, 11 State Circle is a block you may have passed many times without a second glance, but dig deeper and you find a rich history.

In 2021, the site was put up for sale for the first time since 1962, and was secured by Canberra developers Keggins. Through a new development, Keggins will continue the narrative of 11 State Circle and build on the history of the iconic piece of land, with the past influencing the present.

The block was originally purchased by Sir Cyrus Lenox Simson Hewitt (Sir Lenox) for £100. Sir Lenox was a public servant, with a career that included roles as a senior adviser and departmental secretary, and secretary of the Prime Minister’s Department during the Gorton Government. Later, he served as chairman of Qantas where he championed for females to have equal pay and better conditions. His wife Hope Hewitt was a Canberra academic, poet, member of the Commonwealth Literary Board and Canberra Times reviewer, and they had four children.

At the time, Sir Lenox knew that some of the large family houses in Forrest and Red Hill had been adapted to provide self-contained ‘granny annexes’ and persuaded the planning authorities to let him build a property that could be used from the outset as a family home with one flat, or as in fact happened, as four separate units.

“Dad’s plan was that his widowed mother would move from Melbourne and live in a self-contained flat in State Circle, very near to all of us,” says Sir Lenox and Hope’s daughter Patricia Hope Hewitt, who served as a British Labour politician from 1998 to 2007.

“In fact, the whole area felt like home: we lived in Torres Street, our other grandmother (Pattie Tillyard) in Mugga Way, our aunt Pat (Wardle) in Melbourne Avenue opposite the Girls’ Grammar School which my sisters and I attended.

“Every Sunday, Dad would take us to worship at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, on the hill just up the road from the flats, and after church we would drop in to see Dad’s devoted PA, Betty Townsend, who lived one block up on Hobart Avenue.”

Proximity is something that Keggins hopes 11 State Circle will offer downsizers—the ability to live in the prized inner south without sacrificing space or location.

Over the years, one of the flats’ most famous tenants was Flo Bjelke-Petersen, who lived there during her Senate term. Long after he moved to Sydney in the ‘80s, Sir Lenox had a strong connection to Canberra and his State Circle site, and made regular commutes back on weekends. He had a strong desire to see the area developed and activated.

While Keggins will usher in a new era for the site, the development will closely respect the past. The original building was designed with a European aesthetic to evoke memories of Geneva, where Lenox and Hope lived for a time after their marriage . Keggins’ new landmark development is being designed by renowned Melbourne architects Parallel Workshop to bring a truly global flavour to Canberra, and ushering in a new era of design unlike anything the city has ever seen.

As an owner builder, Sir Lenox was hands-on in the development of the flats, and would often visit the site in his blue 1935 Chevrolet. He was also well ahead of his time when it came to reducing waste.

“Despite the demands of the Treasury, Dad supervised the building work himself. In those days, public servants often came home for lunch and Dad would stop at State Circle at lunchtime and again after work to check how the builders were getting on,” says Patricia.

“I remember him grumbling about the waste of ‘perfectly good’ broken bricks – and gleefully telling us that he’d sorted through the pile of discards, collecting half-bricks that he could get the brickies to use the next day. We would go with him at weekends to ‘help’.”

Like its predecessor, the new development will incorporate sustainable, people-centric design with family and a strong connection to the local area at its heart. While the site was approved for 42 apartments on acquisition, Keggins has chosen to significantly reduce that number to create expansive residences that enhance liveability and blend effortlessly into their surroundings.

It’s a fitting next chapter for such a rare piece of land.

More details on 11-13 State Circle in Forrest will be unveiled soon.