It was an early start for the 7:04 train to Canberra, a mere 4 hours from Sydney which sits in Australian Capital Territory (ACT) nestled within New South Wales.
The lonely planet on establishment of Canberra reads; Canberra took over from Melbourne as the seat of national government in 1927, but the city’s expansion really got under way after WWII when the population trebled to 39,000!
The capitals reputation is a somewhat sleepy one, everyone will tell you they met someone weird from Canberra, but I can’t help feel I want to judge for myself and with beds in Sydney booked out for the weekend and an impending exit from Australia, I find myself westbound!
It was hot as I got off the train and not walking distance to the centre. With buses only once an hour it had a small town feel.
I spent the afternoon meandering the ‘CBD’ although unlike other cities it doesn’t have the banking district, but small rows of shops. It’s more country town than capital, reminding me a bit of Alice! The design of the city when you first look at it seems illogical for a manufactured city. It doesn’t have the grid structure of geometric Melbourne, but when you explore further its design is grand, veins running through the centre and alignment in the positioning of government buildings giving it a regal feel but it is also overwhelmingly quiet!
I walked to city hill which looks one way out over the town and also out to Lake Burley Griffin and Parliament Hill. It was a quiet, green spot with beautiful view!
Canberra was a manufactured capital after the rivalry between Melbourne and Sydney left a stalemate as to who would be the capital. It’s funny then that both cities are represented. The main roads is neighboured by the Melbourne building to the west and the Sydney building to the east.
I spent much of the afternoon in galleries, first the art and craft centre which had an intruiging display often cosies, some inspired by ginger Afros, another by Princess Beatrice’s fascinator!
I then moved on to CMAG. It had an exhibition about Canberra throughout the years. The name Canberra is an aboriginal term for meeting place. There was some interesting exhibits about what it means to belong to the land and also the unique shape of the ACT, carved out as it is to make sure it has it’s own water source!
I was to be Couchsurfung in Canberra, a site which you can find a local to host you. With Canberra I thought staying with locals would make my time more special, and luckily I stayed with a lovely young couple, Bec and Pete who had both studied at the University. Both had one on to work for the government, like much of their circle of friends. Pete pointed out that as a government town, there was relitively little poverty and little wealth, most of the population with a university degree on a government wage. The impact this can have on a town is quite interesting. Otherwise seperate factors such as the housing market are at the mercy of change of government and the hiring and firing of one main sector!
In the evening we went with Bec and Pete’s friends to a bar, followed by some evening food markets. It was nice to have a ready made group. That district was ‘melbourne inspired’ and a bit hipster!
In the morning they lent me a bike, a pretty good way to explore Canberra as its flat and fairly quiet! I biked through town to Lake Burley Griffin and then turned up Anzac Parade. This straight parade led up to an impressive memorial, on each side statues remembered different wars and different groups such as nurses and infantry. It reminded me of Berlin. Once at the memorial, your view back was unobscured to Parliament Hill.
The memorial had some poignant displays on the world wars and more recent conflicts. A woman read poetry in the exhibits and battle scenes remembered the tragedy. Finally the eternal flame and names marked Australias sacrifices over the years.
Biking down to the lake, I stopped at the Carallion, an obelisk given to Canberra to commemorate 50 years a capital. Is it strange that it was a present from the British government, accepted by Queen Elizabeth?
Crossing the lake brings you to an area which is how I would picture Washington. The galleries, museums and court buildings line the lake forming the bottom of a triangle, the next level stands the gardens and old parliament building and the top of the triangle in the New Parliament building, wielding a huge flag on top.
I went to old parliament and after a well deserved drink I tackled the exhibits.
The one which had caught my eye was political cartoons from 2014. Satirists had pictured policy and mistakes such as the changes to budget which caused Quantus job loses, the three word election campaign generator which saw Labour rise to power, and any excuse to take the mick out of Tony Abbots big ears!
The rest of the building was open to show the workings of the house with exhibits on democracy. It was interesting to walk around the rooms where key decisions were made toy take Australia to war or provide women with rights.
Outside the parliament building is a permenant protest set up in the 70’s. The area holds a lot of embassies and so the aboriginals set up a tent embassy on the lawn in front of the parliament. There is still a collection of tents here and an eternal flame.
At the top of the triangle is New Parliament House. After passing airport security you are free to explore the rooms used when parliament is sitting, it is all very modern and a bit clinical. There is a lift to the roof where the huge flag is erected and a great view directly across to Anzac Parade.
After exiting the building I found the bike had a puncture. It was along and hot walk back to the northern suburbs. That evening I joined Bec and Petes friends to hangout watching sport again it was great to have a ready made group of friends to experience Canberra life with.
It was an early start for the train back to Sydney but It meant I was there just as the city was warming up. Ricky and I, plus half of the city were fleeing for Manly. Only 40 minutes by ferry, it had a completely different and relaxed feel. We joined the people on the beach, perused the sport shops. The beach was a beautiful stretch of white sand donned with sunbather and people playing volleyball.
About 4pm dark clouds began to roll in fast, the temperature quickly dropping from 36 degrees to 20, the sky going as dark as night. After watching the first moody splits drop we joined the flock of people queuing for the return ferry.
With my impending departure to Indonesia there was lots to sort in the way of currncy, visas and flights but nothing could burst my bubble that I was off to a paradise island to complete my Divemaster training. I was happy to be leaving Australia having seen all but one of its 8 states and Territories but with plenty of reasons to return one day.
Next stop, Gili Air!