August 31, 1999 - Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

Another day full of exploring a new town, this time the capital city of Australia, complete with it's own state. Designed in a similar manner to Washington, DC the city is centred around the parliament (capital in Washington) building and has a specific pattern. In Canberra there is a circular sequence of roads around the parliament buildings and the close-by city centre. It is designed to be a park city, a showcase for the country.

We began with another meal at McDonald's (which basically serve the same as we have been receiving in restaurants though in a different form) with their free newspaper (at a restaurant in the same 'restaurant' area we were in last night for dinner).

After a relaxing meal we drove into the centre of Canberra along Northborne, on which our hotel is located. We started with a trip to the east past the war memorial to Mount Ainslie to look out over the city. It had a really good view across the war memorial to the parliament buildings (both old and new). The city is actually quite small, with small pockets of settlement and building sparsely scattered around the area. We enjoyed the mountain area which is all park land with many birds flying around.

We continued on into the main City Circle (shopping) area and parked at a parkade we had been told about by the hotel as where to park in the area. We parked and walked through a small 'market' and then through a few stores in the area. We continued on across the bridge towards the parliament building. It was quite a walk and we passed over Lake Burley Griffin which is in the middle of the city. It passed us quite close to a fountain (the Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet) that can been seen from quite a distance all around the city, must be about 100 m into the air. There were a few boats on the water but not that many, perhaps that is because it is not the summer yet – it was very sunny and quite warm today (though I wore a coat all day).

We walked along the southern shore of the lake past the Parkes area in front of the parliament building to the National Gallery of Australia. We had quite a deal of difficulty finding our way around, even with a map. We did grab a bite to eat almost right away when we (finally) found the café in the gallery. It was quite a nice café with gourmet- style food and drink. The café looked north out onto the back sculpture garden and lake just beyond.

We wandered through the Australian Aboriginal art displays which were in many ways similar to the native art from Canada and the US. Many of the works were painted using natural dyes on bark. We continued past a contemporary (world) art display and up the stairs to the Australian art display which was a mixture of colonial and native art. A lot of it was terribly depressing with the 'subjugation' of the Aboriginals. Much of the art was European in nature but had a certain Australian twist with nature as a dominant theme.

We left through to the south and up past the old Parliament building to the magnificent new Parliament House. It is a strange looking structure that is built in the place of a hill that used to be located there so it has grass growing over the top of it with an Australian flag flying high above the top of the hill supported by a series of four massive metal arches. The main entrance is composed of a series of marble pillars and glass. It is a very new building, only completed in the late 80s/early 90s. We passed through security and learned that the House of Representatives was currently sitting and in Question and Answer which is a time when most of the members are in the house so we quickly ran up the marble stairs of the front foyer, towards the back of the building and across a glass bridge to enter into the House.

We sat in the house for about half an hour, listening the Prime Minister speak as well as a number of others. The house was very nicely furnished and appointed with large public viewing galleries (along with more private viewing galleries enclosed in glass near the ceiling which are used for school children and other visiting groups). The layout was very similar to the one used in England (a semi-circle of seats with the government on one side and the opposition on the other side with the first row of seats occupied by ministers and shadow ministers (on the opposition side), without tables to use, the ministers using their laps as desks).

We left just before the half hour to catch a tour of the building. We met just outside of the Great Hall which is a hall just behind the main foyer and is used for entertaining dignitaries and holding social functions. It is a wonderful hall with a wood floor and massive forest- like tapestry at the far end (which was a copy of a painting – the tapestry looks very much like it). We were guided around the main area of the building and given a bit of background. It was interesting to learn that the site where the Parliament resides was always to be the site for the building. After the second world war they built what they knew would be a temporary building since the materials available at that time were of sub-standard quality so they built it just down from the hill. A building which still stands and also offers tours (though we did not visit).

We took an elevator outside the Senate chamber to the roof where we were able to walk around and get a great view of the city. We walked down the grass to the street and, after failing to catch a cab, back to where we had parked the car, a good mile and a half away. We walked straight all along Commonwealth Avenue sopping only at the mall we had parked in for a quick coffee. We paid for the parking and continued on. We did resent paying for parking though since many of the places we visited today had free parking (though we were told by the motel that this was where to park).

It was still relatively early so we attempted to find our way to Black Mountain Park which was directly to the west of where we were. The one- way system was a bit tricky but we eventually passed it after driving down Parkes Way (along the lake) so we turned back and made the long climb to the top of the mountain where the Telstra Tower is located. It is a small tower (only about 200 m high) that is used for communication but because of it's location it offers a great view of the city so they have a viewing platform (one inside and one outside) as well as a restaurant in the middle.

We took the trip up about 50 m to the viewing area, it was just getting dark and there were a number of children there so we went up a level to the outside platform where the wind was quite strong. The guard said that normally they shut the platform in winds this strong but since they had so many visitors (perhaps they wanted a few less???) they had kept it open. After returning to the ground we visited a little display they had set up a level below the main entrance. It was put up by Telstra (the main telecommunications company, it seems, in the country) and discussed a bit of the history (like the discussion about the telephone link they put between Adelaide and Darwin where, somewhere in the middle, they found a spring which they named after the wife of someone in the party – Alice, hence, Alice Springs).

We drove back down through the park and travelled to the same area we had had dinner the night before and since we did not really want a big meal we had dinner at a Thai noodle house. It was a good meal, though a bit busy (so our service was not as good as other restaurants in town have been).

Canberra is a nice place but not terribly interesting. It is a great idea to plan a city but they have made things, in some ways, more complicated to get around. It seems a bit devoid of any 'life' in general, a bit too clean and tidy. Don't get me wrong – it is nice to visit and there is a lot of park land but it just does not seem to have that sparkle of other cities.

Tomorrow we are travelling quite a distance…Not really looking forward to it…Melbourne here we come!

⇒ Continue to September 1, 1999 - Melbourne, Victoria, Australia