Following the gold rushes of the 1850s and under the influence of Welsh miners and settlers, annual music and arts festivals were established, at first in Victoria. The first of these was the Music Society of Victoria, which was established in Melbourne in 1861 and the Royal South Street Society Ballarat, which was established in 1879. These are often, but not always, referred to as Eisteddfods. There are competitions, festivals, challenges and other events, all of which have the character of an Eisteddfod. A history of Australian Eisteddfods has been written by Cath Filmer-Davies - Eisteddfod - a Welsh Tradition in Australia, Seren Press, Brisbane 2001.
The musical and arts life of Canberra dates from its earliest years. During the second phase of Canberra's building - 1922-1938 - the Canberra community had the benefit of a multi-ethnic community, no radio (till the early 1930s) and a high community participation in the performing arts. The Christmas edition 1927 of the Federal Capital pioneer reported a concert by the Canberra Orchestral Society's 40 players. A Repertory Society and Choral society had been formed, ethnic national days were celebrated and 1929 saw the establishment of the Canberra Male Choir.
It was members of this Choir who spearheaded the move to establish an eisteddfod in Canberra - a leader was William J. Hunt (later Musical Director of the Canberra Philharmonic Society) who raised the proposal at the Choir's AGM in 1935, and asked at the 1936 AGM 'what progress?'. But by June 1937 arrangements had been completed for a juvenile eisteddfod with awards of gold (30/-, shillings, first) and silver (10/- second) medals. Some of the early competitors are still (2003) in Canberra and the Society has a copy of the adjudicator's report for one competitor. A draft constitution for an incorporated community Society was presented by November 1937. A donation of 20 guineas in September 1938 and an affiliation fee 20 shillings in April 1939 rounded out the Choir's initial support for the Canberra Eisteddfod Society.
Eisteddfods, with sections in voice, instrument and dance were held from 1938 to 1941 when the Society went into recess due to the constraints of the war effort for the Second World War.
The late 1940s to early 1950s saw a revival in community activity, together with the determination by the Federal Government in the early 1950s to fund the third phase of Canberra's development. These developments provided encouragement for the community to revive the eisteddfod in Canberra.
The Australian National Eisteddfod Society Inc - was formed under the Patronage of the then Governor-General, with Vice-Patrons being the Prime Minister, the Minister for the Interior and the High Commissioner for the United Kingdom. The eisteddfod was to be a vehicle to encourage and foster the national development of the performing arts.
An annual eisteddfod has been held each year since 1955.