I had one free weekend in Term 2 (my Saturdays usually being taken up with sport), and I decided that I was going to make the most of it. It was the middle of the Southern winter, and many Australians were gearing up to celebrate ‘Christmas in July’. Despite the cool weather, we were still being treated to some beautiful sunrises.
A friend of mine from Oxford was studying in Canberra, so I decided to book a bus ticket to Australia’s capital city for the weekend. After nipping into a little French cafe at Central Station, I hopped on to the Greyhound bus and settled down for the five hour journey. It was chilly enough in Sydney, but the temperature dropped noticeably when I got off the bus in Canberra.
My friend Chris was busy until that evening, so I decided to head straight up to Australia’s Parliament House.
The entrance hall had a lot of pillars, which apparently represented a eucalyptus forest. From here I joined a guided tour around the building, through its function rooms, House of Representatives and Senate. The system in Canberra is very much modelled on Westminster, and I kept getting flashbacks to British PMQs (which I went to watch live a few years ago).
It was nice to see another old Oxford student here! Bob Hawke attended the university from 1953 to 1955.
I then made the climb up to the roof of Parliament House, from where there was an excellent view over the city.
After leaving Parliament House I still had a few hours to kill, so wandered through the Parliamentary Triangle and across Lake Burley Griffin. The city was very reminiscent of Geneva with its focus on diplomacy and science, in addition to the tall fountain in the lake. It also had some excellent shopping.
However, I don’t remember seeing flaming galahs or crimson rosellas in Geneva…
Getting to my friend Chris’s house was a little eventful as my phone ran out of battery (goodbye Google Maps…) and I got two wrong buses. However, a friendly Australian girl gave me a helping hand and I eventually made it without further mishap.
Next day we decided to check out the Australian War Memorial – an imposing building which photos didn’t really do justice. A central ‘Eternal Flame’ was installed in 1988 to give thanks and remember Australia’s war dead.
I normally like to read every single plaque in museums and exhibitions, but it would take days here! The building was absolutely huge, and used as a museum, shrine, and extensive archive.
A long Roll of Honour covered the walls around the Eternal Flame:
A little history now… Canberra was purpose-built as a capital city, as neither Melbourne nor Sydney would agree to the other being capital. The planned nature of the city was very obvious when we walking around, as it was full of long straight streets and open spaces. The War Memorial was perfectly aligned with Parliament House.
The city was absolutely full of museums and galleries – too chilly to do anything else! (And that’s ‘chilly’ as in ‘sub-zero temperatures’.) We followed the War Memorial with a visit to the National Gallery of Australia.
The gallery exhibits ranged from the excellent (a small-scale version of Angel of the North) to the bizarre (a selfie cubicle that, er, did nothing at all).
I had a return bus ticket booked for the following morning, so didn’t get any further chance of sightseeing. However, I was introduced to the TV series of Game of Thrones (prompting me to go out and buy the first book!). It was then back to Sydney for my last week of term….