Impressions of a National Capital

Raining and overcast, our introduction to Canberra is one from inside buildings that can keep us dry. We visit the National Capital Exhibition. We learn that Canberra's land was once sheep paddocks. That a referendum was held in 1899 as to whether Australia should be a single nation. Australia voted. A majority vote in all states and Territories, Tasmania the highest, Queensland the lowest, in 1901 it become a single nation. Australia's constitution provided for a capital. Many sites were considered. In 1908 the land that Canberra now stands on won. Seven hundred names were proposed for the new capital. The local aboriginal term 'kamberra' meaning meeting place won. The capital was named in 1913. It sat within a newly proposed Territory – Australian Capital Territory. Designs for the new capital were invited from around the world. Chicago based architects Griffin and his wife were successful. Designed in a triangle with the parliament at the apex, all the important buildings sit within this.

We visit the War Memorial. It reminds of Melbourne's Shrine of Remembrance. The view makes me think of Washington DC. Names to be remembered adorned with poppies, a museum sits underneath. I learn that Robert Menzies was Prime Minister in 1939 Australia; of Australia's part in war and of Japan's involvement in WWII. I learn what a kamikaze is. A letter on display sent home by a soldier in 1939 is my favourite item. Many stories of war, many planes on display; there is sadness about so much fighting. There is a lot of information in this building. Too much to read in one visit… I imagine an easy resource for any Canberran school children needing to do an essay on war!

We browse the museum and the National Portrait Gallery. We see pictures of Barry Humphries, Nicole Kidman, Hugo Weaving and other famous Australian celebrities. Of early pioneers and important people throughout history. Queen Adelaide's story catching my attention, I also learnt that the left handed Margaret Court was taught to play tennis right handed, earning her 'the arm' nickname. Seeing a picture of Nancy Wake, it made me smile to already know of her story from Melbourne's shrine of remembrance :-). I was also able to put a face to the man that has had many call me 'Miss Jane' – Norman Hetherington of Mr Squiggle fame. Got a lot to answer for that man ;-).

We follow Canberra's tracks. Mt's Ainslie, Pleasant and Black Mountain with its Telstra Tower allow us to view the city from various vantage points. It looks smaller from above. And very green. The design of the city is easy to see. As are the roads in and out. All the major buildings can be distinguished. The Telstra Tower holds Canberra's highest post box. It reminds of Melbourne's sky deck. From Mt Pleasant we can hear the bells from the National Carillon. Its home is Lake Burley Griffin. It is Canberra's central point. Cyclist, walker and jogger friendly, many routes wind around. We find a globe memorial dedicated to Captain Cook at Regatta Point. I learn Captain Cook first named Botany Bay 'Sting Rays Bay' and of the ships used for his voyages – the Endeavour on the 25th August 1768, the Resolution and Aventure in July 1772 and the Resolution and Discovery in July 1776.

Across the lake we reach the parliamentary quarter. Driving this route, with different buildings placed at strategic points round the lake it very much feels like we are driving through a giant's playground. We find the aboriginal tent embassy by old Parliament House. It has been there for over thirty years. The parliamentary quarter also holds Reconciliation Place. An area dedicated to recognising reconciliation between indigenous people and Australian settlers. Taking us naturally back to the lake, we find an international flag display. Belgium and the United Kingdom noted, we find Germany and Poland's flags missing! It is a nice spot there. Peaceful and very spacious, it very much has a capital feel.

We take a trip to parliament. This leads us to Eric, our guide, who is very informative. Telling of its history he informs Parliament House sits on a hill that was physically lowered by 20m so the politicians did not sit too high above the people they serve. That grass covers the roof to help it blend into the hill above. He tells of many clocks in the building. Over 2000 of them. They hold lights. If so flashing, members have four minutes to get to the relevant house to vote. For then the doors lock. So set at four minutes due to the oldest member taking 3 mins 45 seconds to get to the House of Representatives from the furthest away point in the building :-). This story made me smile :-). Our tour ending we sat in both houses and listened. We hear talk of recession, criticisements of the last party in office and of a plea for assistance for drought affected farmers. Similar talk to back home, it reminds of happy Scottish Government times.

Exploring a lot by car but making sure to walk the town centre centre, in the throngs of rush hour, with people heading home, it had a really good feel about it. Our feet taking the honour walk, finding flame trees, reading about Ainslie's sheep and the other side of midnight, Canberra has delivered a most interesting four days. Immersed in a bit of art and culture, learning Canberra's history and of many a person's story, learning exactly what a carillon is, I really enjoyed my stay. All apart from the entrance to the Telstra Tower enjoyed for free, it has the added benefit of accessibility to all. I would love to work in Canberra. You would also probably leave a bit healthier than when you arrived!! I liked it :-).

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