I went on a Canberra bus tour today, since I figured that it was a
perfect time to see all those places Canberra is famous for.
First impressions: with all the public buildings and statuary - the
weight of historic moment in the city - I couldn't live here. It feels
different from a European city which has the same weight but a
counterbalance of the lived-in feel. Here the effect is not so much that
this is a city, but that it is a public monument.
We drove up the massive drive towards the War Museum and I started to feel
the urge to scream the question: "Is it worth it? Is there really so much
need to entomb people's experiences in public sentiment?". Thankfully the
urge passed as we turned out of there and went up to the top of Mount
The view from Mount Ainsley is spectacular. The bus driver showed us
where the Hospital tragedy occurred; where the bush-fires swept in and
all the sights. Being almost on the perpendicular of the triangle, the
location is perfect for understanding Burley Griffin's plan.
Canberra from Mount Ainslie
Captain Cook Memorial Fountain
Next we went to the War Memorial. I had to be reminded to take off my
cap when I entered the Hall of Memory where they house the Tomb of the
Unknown Soldier. The murals and stained glass windows there are just
incredibly soviet in style. Then I wandered into the museum itself.
There is so much stuff in there. We had an hour to wander around,
and the driver warned us that a day would not be long enough - he was
Roll of honour
Menin Gate lion from Ypres
Despite my initial inclinations towards detachment, I found myself
quite moved by the dioramas and the 3D representation of Gallipoli.
Then as I took in more and more stuff, moving through to WWII, I found
myself getting numb so I went outside to get some food - rustic style
mini-pizza and a chocolate milk. There were school groups everywhere.
We next went to the National Canberra Exhibition. It's a good place to
get a bit of the history of the place, and contains all the alternative
plans for the capital and a light-box landscape which can highlight
various features of the area with LEDs. It also contains a plaque with
words from Walter Burley Griffin's vision for the city. I recall them
from Margo Kingston's book "Not Happy John", and I make the same
observation she does: while this may have been meant as a place for
the people, its purpose been subverted by politicians trying to keep
people out of the democratic process.
...for public assembly and festivity more than for deliberation
Captain Cook globe
From there we went to the National Gallery where we had about 2 hours
- again, not anywhere near enough time. I wandered through the various
sections, spending a bit more time looking at the Australian art, than
at other works. Seeing all the Sydney Nolan series on Ned Kelly in one
place, I was amazed. When you see a small reproductions or a single
work, the impact is so diminished as to be almost worthless. I came
away with such a respect for some of the classic Australian artists
that I never had before. I really wanted to have the time to take an
audio tour and spend a whole day in there. Given time constraints, I
decided to check out the High Court instead, which is just across the
Statue in pond
I was shown into the main courtroom by a court attendant who was, I
think, glad to have some company. He was very chatty and a fair bit
cynical, but proud of where he worked. The place has so much weight
of authority invested in it, it seems to exude from the walls. I
guess you can find all the court statistics and data on-line, and
it's all a bit dry, but I found my self inordinately impressed.
Once back on the bus, we were driven past the old Parliament House
and up to the new, where we were given another couple of hours until
5 to look around (I found myself getting bored at the end of one). First
we had to go past the barricaded main entrance to a side door where
everyone had to pass through a metal detector with several burly
guards nearby. Once we were into the foyer on the other side of the
main doors, we had guards everywhere in groups of two or three. This
is most certainly a place for festivity (not!).
More guards than tourists
As the house was not in session, we were able to walk into the public
gallery of both the House of Representatives and the Senate chambers.
There are also some good - and some stodgy - portraits of
politicians and other government officials; some memorabilia; some
paintings of official events and some educational displays.
House of Reps
We drove back to camp via the embassy route. The different embassies
are mainly differentiated by architecture - primarily cultural and
increasingly, it appears, security-based structures. The Finnish
embassy is a elegant study in glass, with minimal security. The
US embassy, on the other hand is this big colonial mansion on top
of a hill which rivals Parliament House in size, and which has
massive fortifications. The guards weren't too impressed by a bus-load
of waving tourists, by the look of it. It's a bit hard to tell who
has the biggest official presence in Canberra, the US or Australia.
Back in camp I picked up my clean laundry and decided that I would
book a place at the gourmet dinner in Gunning tomorrow night as the
menu looked wonderful, and such a change from camp food. After dinner
we had the Red Faces show. Some of the usuals from the last two years
were there. There were also some good new acts - primarily a guy from
the catering volunteers who sang "Sweet Caroline".
After the official show, we were treated to a local talent review,
including the woman (Michelle) who had provided the entertainment in
Cafe Big last night. All through the acts, two girls dressed up in
white jumpsuits were corralling riders with feather boas and trying to
persuade them not to go to bed. They were the last act and put
on a magnificent Agnetha and Frieda performance with "Ring, Ring",
"SOS" and "Rock Me". The crowd went wild and the girls lapped it
up - the performance was excellent with both the moves and the
voices quite similar to Abba. Unfortunately there was also a
Sparkle Motion moment earlier when three girls in shorts and short
tops performed calisthenics to a pop number.
No riding today