Sometimes you can know something but until you actually see it, you don’t really know it. I know Canberra is a planned city. We all learn that in primary school. It was not until I stood at the front of Parliament House and looked straight up to the distant tree-lined avenue and saw the War Memorial that I truly understood.
I was more impressed with our Parliament House than I expected. The way it hunkers down in the hillside like a celebration of democracy rather than authority. Inside, the attention to detail and craftspersonship – the marble and marquetry had me absorbed for hours. And then there is the giant tapestry of the Arthur Boyd painting in the Great Hall. I had to go and look at it twice. My photo cannot do it justice.
We drove around nosing at the embassies and each time we reapproached Capital Hill I was again in awe of the apex and flag appearing as if some sort of magic had put it there.
Okay, I sound way to patriotic! Let’s move on.
Old Parliament House – or I prefer its former name – the Provisional Parliament House is now the Museum of Australian Democracy. Compared to the new Parliament House it is so cramped and pokey it is hard to imagine anything important happening here. There was really a constitutional crisis in this building? Announced on these front stairs?
Bob Hawke’s office has been recreated exactly has he left it in 1988, complete with a print of the Arthur Boyd painting he had on the wall. The press rooms have been set up as though they were functioning offices including half-filled ashtrays. It is a glimpse into another time – not all that long ago!
To complete the triangle we had dinner at Hotel Canberra which opened in 1924 to accommodate the Parliamentarians and etc. They had built this city in the middle of a paddock. There were no existing choices. Can you imagine the political intrigue and deals that were down in this hotel? If the walls could speak. Read more of its history here.
I am not sure why parking at the Australian War Memorial is only 4 hours. We went there twice and in 8 hours did not feel sated. We had not seen it all! I found my girl Winged Victory – the Greek goddess Nike. She was one of the first monuments to the Great War and was erected in Marrickville in 1919. Sadly, being brass and something odd she did not weather well and became unsafe. Close to a hundred years later she is now in the museum.
The National Portrait Gallery was like being in a bubble. You know when you are so absorbed in a thing that when you walk outside you are surprised there is a rest of the world. Australia is only one of five countries in the world to have a National Portrait Gallery which I think it surprising. The gallery is chronologically set out and as such becomes a history of the country seen through its people, but also a history of art and changing styles.
We did not get to see all of the National Gallery of Australia. We spent some time with the masters and with Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series. When the gallery closed we wandered in Sculpture Garden which sadly felt unkempt and rundown. Could someone clean the cobwebs off of the Rodin? Perhaps pick up the dead kookaburra? The garden seemed like it was an afterthought. Let’s shove Henry Moore in the back utility area and call it a sculpture garden. I expect that is not really true but it did seem a bit daggy.
Having said that, Canberra is a city of amazing sculptures just randomly everywhere. Even the airport had two stunning large sculptures.
The other disappointment was Floriade – a million bulbs planted in the Commonwealth Park. Sure, it was nice to see lots of flowers but the displays were plonked into the festival site with the food vans and displays. Honestly, the Toowoomba Carnival of Flowers does better flower displays. The gardens are treated like gardens and the festival part is elsewhere. Yah Toowoomba. You win.
I could geek on lots of things in Canberra. Many of my obsessions are in this city – design, architecture, history, art… I did not even get the museum. Looks like I will have to go back.