John Overall (architect)

Sir John Wallace Overall, CBE, MC & Bar (15 July 1913 – 2 September 2001) was an Australian Second World War veteran and architect. As inaugural Commissioner of the National Capital Development Commission from 1957 to 1972, he made a significant contribution to the development of Canberra.

Sir John Overall

CBE, MC & Bar
Commissioner of the National Capital Development Commission
In office
Succeeded byWilliam Andrews
Personal details
Born(1913-07-15)15 July 1913
Sydney, New South Wales
Died2 September 2001(2001-09-02) (aged 88)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
EducationSydney Technical College
Civilian awardsKnight Bachelor
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal
Military service
Branch/serviceSecond Australian Imperial Force
Years of service1940–1945
RankLieutenant Colonel
Commands1st Parachute Battalion
Battles/warsSecond World War
Military awardsMilitary Cross & Bar

Early life

Overall was born in Sydney, New South Wales, on 15 July 1913. He had humble beginnings and grew up with his sisters in a Masonic home in Sydney.

Second World War

Overall served as an officer in the Second Australian Imperial Force during the Second World War,[1] where he was awarded the Military Cross for "great courage, devotion and initiative" in 1941 for his service during the early Western Desert campaign in North Africa.[2][3] Overall was awarded a Bar to the decoration for his "outstanding leadership and disregard for danger" on 1 September 1942 during the First Battle of El Alamein.[4][5] After serving with the 9th Divisional Engineers, in September 1943 he took over command of Australia's first parachute infantry battalion, the 1st Parachute Battalion, and was in command of that unit when they deployed to Singapore at the end of the war.[6]

Architectural career

When he returned to Australia following the war, Overall worked as an architect and in 1952 was made the Chief Government Architect in the Commonwealth Department of Works. In 1957 he was appointed Commissioner of the newly established National Capital Development Commission (NCDC). In this role Overall made a significant contribution to the development of Canberra up until 1972 and in this regard is known as the "father of Canberra" for implementing Walter Burley Griffin's vision for the city as the founding Commissioner of the NCDC, a position he held for 25 years. Overall was also an advisor to various State Governments and fought vigorously for the protection of the Rocks area in Sydney which was marked for redevelopment.

Overall returned to private practice in 1972, where he served on the boards of Lend Lease and CSR Limited.

Overall lobbied successive governments for the building of a new parliament house, and in 1977 was asked by Malcolm Fraser, Prime Minister of Australia, to be chairman of the selection committee that chose the winning design for the new building. Overall also became a member of the construction committee of the new Parliament House and he fought vigorously for the integrity of the original design to be maintained when synthetic grass was suggested as a cost cutting measure by the government of the day for the roof of Parliament House. Today Parliament House has a grass lawn roof as a result of Overall's passion for the integrity of the design to be implemented. He threatened to resign over the issue and lobbied Paul Keating, then Federal Treasurer to approve the additional funds to complete the building.

Overall was awarded the Royal Australian Institute of Architects Gold Medal in 1982, and John Overall Offices, the head office of the ACT Planning and Land Management and Overall Avenue in the Canberra suburb of Casey were named in his honour.

Overall is now highly regarded as the "father" of Canberra for implementing the Walter Burley Griffin "vision" and transforming Canberra from the "Bush Capital" as it was described as from the 1920s to the 1950s as well as selecting the design for the new Parliament House.

Personal life

Overall's wife Margaret died in 1988; he dedicated Canberra Yesterday and Today to her as 'my inspiration and our family's inspiration.' The couple had four sons and, at Overall's death in 2001, eleven grandchildren.[7]


  1. "Overall, John Wallace". World War II Nominal Roll. Commonwealth of Australia. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  2. "Recommendation for John Wallace Overall to be awarded a Military Cross" (PDF). Index to Recommendations: Second World War. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  3. "No. 35396". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1941. p. 7335.
  4. "Recommendation for John Wallace Overall to be awarded a Bar to Military Cross" (PDF). Index to Recommendations: Second World War. Australian War Memorial. Retrieved 5 September 2009.
  5. "No. 35771". The London Gazette (Supplement). 5 November 1942. p. 4795.
  6. Long 1963, p. 554.
  7. Bruce Wright, 'Architect Who Created the Nation's Capital' Sydney Morning Herald, 13 September 2001 p. 42


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