Canberra, Australia (10th Jan 2008)
Canberra, Australia's capital city was also the next state capital that we had to visit and our 3rd so far after Melbourne and Sydney. The main reason that Canberra even exists is because the Melbourne and Sydney couldn't stop arguing between themselves which deserved to be Australia's capital when the country was first colonized; thus the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) was formed and lie near enough slap bang in the middle of the other two places. As we rolled into town our driver explained to us how the city was purpose built and features lots of symmetry. The first thing we noticed about Canberra were the confusing roads there, since the city was built on plans that were submitted in a completion, the roads look really pretty on the map but in practice seem quite hard to navigate and our driver more than once found himself in the wrong lane at the wrong time and all over the place.
We had heard that Canberra was a really dull place, but as its Australia's capital city we thought we would go and check it out for ourselves. The state itself however has some very interesting laws that are not of the norm, for instance, they have no restrictions on the purchase and operation of fireworks and pyrotechnics, you can legally grow your own marijuana plants (but only two per person) and the city is also home to the country's biggest porno producers due to relaxed laws on what is acceptable to film.
Having only one full day in town we were glad to be on an organized tour that made sure you got something out of every minute and ran a tight ship in order to get you round and see everything. Our first stop was at the houses of parliament, the new ones, that opened in 1988 at the cost of the tax payer who in that year were each made to pay a AU$70 fee in order to build it at a total cost of AU$1.1 billion. It was hard to like our driver when we were on the road as he acted like a tool most of the time, but when it came down to doing his job and giving us the facts, figures and being a tour guide it was hard to knock him as his knowledge was second to none and he never left any stone unturned to give you an answer, so here are a few of the things that he told us about Canberra's new houses of parliament. Firstly, the new parliament building is partially built underground, under the "Capitol Hill" so that to give the impression that it is on the same level as "The People" and not above them. Ever wondered why the Australian coat of arms has a Kangaroo and an Emu on it? No, us neither, but the answer is, because they are only capable of moving forward, which is a vision that is meant to be shared by the people who strive to be the best.
Maybe we are cynics and maybe because Kara is an Interior Designer, we couldn't believe what the inside of this grand building looked like, we had read in the book that it is very impressive - even being 20 years old now it has a new and modern feel and it reflects how a Parliament building should be - light, spacious, practical and conducive to good management of a nation. This is not the case… The building is very dated and uses the oddest choice of building materials to try and give a luxurious feel but it just seems like a total mish mash of woods, marble, stone and tile at make the place seem as if it were created with leftovers from a housing development. The driver explained that all the materials were meant to be symbolic of the coming together of the commonwealth countries and also to show Australian culture via the aboriginal paintings etc and the Italian marble and the French wood, blah blah…
Our tour took us to all the important areas of the building, or at least the ones we could get access to as they are setting up for the first opening of the new parliament that is in February some time. We first got taken into a large hall, known as the Great Hall which lies in the centre of the building with passages that lead off to chambers either side. Before we went into the Great Hall we were shown a massive painting that is on the outside walls of the hall by Arthur Boyd called Eucalypt Forest, we didn't know why it was so important until we actually got into the hall, where a 20Metre long tapestry copy of it fills an entire wall which is amazing given its sheer size. Another little fact is that the tapestry copy was slightly edited from the original and includes Hayliees comet which passed over the Australian skies around the time of the new buildings opening and is used to act as a way to date the painting, apparently…
Out of the great hall we were lead to another large open room where loads of paintings hang on the wall of the ex-prime ministers in their glory days on a 4 foot tall canvas. We got a brief history lesson on the politics from as far back as the 40's and then took a quick look round and had the names of particular importance pointed out to us. Just as we were being led off to another room, Mark stumbled on an absolute gem, one of the only four remaining copies of the Magna Carta which the guide though wasn't worth a mention! It was amazing to see and in quite good condition given that it has been around since 1297, the only down side was that you could get a photo of it because it was in a protective, gas regulated container so to keep it looking fresh and not rot away. This led us into the first of the two most important rooms in the building, the House of Representatives. Much like what you see on TV when you see our own houses of commons, but much smaller than you would imagine, only probably as big as a tennis court or so. Today was a non sitting day so we didn't get to see any action but we did get to go in the public gallery and hear a woman giving a lecture to a bunch of Japanese students about politics…Yawn. After this we moved on to the Senate Chamber, which was more of the same except this was finished in a pinky red as opposed to the other which was a light mint green.
The last stop was the roof of the building which is an experience in itself as you step out of the lift into what just seems like a manicured garden mixed with the most luscious green grass topped hill. Like was mentioned before the whole place is semi submerged in the soil and really seems weird when you're on the top of it. The views from the top were pretty good and showed the cities symmetry well; directly in front is the War Museum which sits at the end of ANZAC parade, to the left (45 Degrees) there is a captain cook memorial in the middle of the lake that shoots a really high spray of water in the air at a certain time everyday and to the right (45 Degrees) is a huge column statue from the Americans with an eagle atop which is of some significance no doubt?
After a quick break for lunch in the city centre we moved on to what proved to be the most interesting place in the city, The War Memorial and Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which features massive underground galleries and displays devoted to Australia's involvement in conflicts around the world. When you step through the front gates, you walk into a courtyard area which has some modest gardens and a water feature running through the middle of it leading up to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier who is buried here as a symbol and tribute to all those who lost their lives in the first World War. Back into the courtyard and a set of stairs take you up onto a mezzanine level which looks back down into the courtyard on one side and on the other side (the wall side) are thousands of names that are written as a memory to those who died in wars since WW1, including 72 from the war in Iraq.
Onwards, and into the main museum there are countless bits of war paraphernalia ranging from the start of the century right up to the modern day including weapons, uniforms, propaganda posters/videos, a tank and even an Australian Equivalent to the Spitfire, probably not as good as our though. I could go on forever describing this place as it was amazing, but I won't, I will just say it is highly recommended in our eyes for anyone passing within a hundred mile round trip of the place. Shortly after coming out of the museum we were again on the road and heading for our final destination for the day, Australia's real capital city, Sydney. One final thing to note was that on the way we saw the first of what is meant to be many "Big Things", a huge 30foot tall sheep! Mad!