RTA Big Ride 2005 diary

Day 5: Rest day - Queanbeyan
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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 Ainsley.

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
Canberra from Mount Ainslie

Captain Cook Memorial Fountain
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 right.

Soviet mural
Soviet mural

Roll of honour
Roll of honour

Menin Gate lion from Ypres
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.

Diorama
Diorama

Fighter plane
Fighter plane

Weary Dunlop
Weary Dunlop

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 and counsel

National Library
National Library

Captain Cook globe
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 road.

Statue in pond
Statue in pond

Cones
Cones

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!).

No admittance
No admittance

More guards than tourists
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
House of Reps

Portraits
Portraits

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.

Ride Statistics

No riding today

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