A funny place for a capital city

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Looking at Parliament House, then – 1958

Canberra: Combining city and country

CANBERRA … they say it was a good sheep station that has been spoiled.

But old photos take me back half a lifetime and then some.

We had gone on a family road trip from Victoria to northern New South Wales and Queensland to take my grandpa to where he grew up.

Three adults and three young boys in the car. That must have been an eventful drive…

I remember how uncrowded Canberra was. As they say, like a country town.

Dad parked right in front of the Australian War Museum … with about a dozen other cars and a caravan.

Today, Canberra is shaking off that country town tag and has become a modern city set in the country side.

It has something to appeal to the curious, adventurous, sportsperson, foodie or explorer.

Within comfortable distance of Kosciusko and Perisher, it’s an excellent place to set yourself up for a week of snow or hiking activities, if Jindabyne is already full (which is often the case in peak ski season).

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The view over Jindabyne

The drive there from Canberra is enjoyable in itself, particularly that exceptional view of Jindabyne as you come over the crest … the sky-blue water opening up before you in amongst the mountains. Breath-taking.

As home to the Australian National Collection, Canberra allows you to explore significant culture, art and history throughout the museums, galleries and archives.

Then there are the various embassies to discover, radio telescopes and space centres, markets, shopping, food and wine.

Throw in some recreational activities spanning the lakes or bustling precincts, or explore fresh, natural surrounds including Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve and Corin Forest and you have something to excite or interest the whole family.

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Looking at Parliament House, now – 2017

Today, the war museum has almost doubled in size. There is a large underground carpark behind the architect award-winning extension, and parking bays for buses.

A lanscaped boulevard, Anzac Pde, leads down to Lake Burley Griffin which provides the centrepiece of the city.

The boulevard ensures Parliament House, as well as the original building, remain in direct eye-sight of the war museum. This is in order to remind politicians where their prime responsibility is … with the people of Australia.

The treed parkland that weaves itself throughout Canberra has become established and the city skyline has changed dramatically since that first visit.

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The museum is a fascinating place. The Roll of Honour, two long walls commemorating the Australian service men and women killed in conflict or peace-keeping missions, the memorial pool in the central courtyard, and the Hall of Memory with the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.

Known as the Hall of Whispers, you can imagine the impact it had on a young boy as it evokes thoughts of those service personnel who have died.

Canberra itself in the late 1950s was a row of art deco-style shops. Today, they are building a light rail network from the expanding northern suburbs right into the centre of town.

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What surprised me on this visit was how easy it was to get around Canberra.

The circular lay-out of the roads made it such a futuristic city. Yet I found myself walking everywhere.

And poking my head into the buildings of national significance.

I had expected these institutions to be remote, aloof. Yet they were very accessible.

Around Parliament House is the National Library, Australian Museum, High Court, National Portrait Gallery and the National Art Gallery, all built to last as part of Australia’s heritage.

The National University and the Australian Academy of Science with its iconic Shine Dome are in the north-west sector.

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Designed by architect Sir Roy Grounds and built in 1958, the distinctive shape of the Shine Dome or “Martian Embassy’’ was to reflect the inquiring and innovative nature of science, and has been added to the National Heritage List for its historical and architectural significance.

Then there is the Hyatt hotel that dates back to 1926 and the scene, apparently, of many special occasions and no doubt high jinks.

Beautiful avenue parklands, all spread out around the lake that divides the business district from the parliamentary zone.

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When Australia became a federation in 1901, the nation needed to create a new capital city.

Unable to decide between Sydney and Melbourne, on March 12, 1913, Canberra was named the compromise – the word derived from the Ngunnawal word Kamberra and thought to mean ‘meeting place’.

American architect and landscape architect Walter Burley Griffin was the original designer of the city.

What strikes you is the proximity of everything. A perfect mix of country and city.

Within a 10-minute drive you can be enjoying the classic Australian landscape that is so well entwined with Lake George to the east and the Australian Highlands to the south.

Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, is a huge hit with school-age children. It appeals to the inquiring mind, right from the 3D statue of Albert Einstein at the front – now you see me, now you don’t – when viewed from different angles.

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Then you have access to modern art as well as the classics.

There seems a true appreciation of culture, sciences, environment … and nature.

You can be relaxing in a natural hot spring then next minute tobogganing on snow-covered slopes.

There’s a sense of celebration and acknowledgement of Australian history, and acceptance and an embracing of all things new.

At inner-city Manuka you can watch national and international sports being played on the oval, while virtually next door is the national trust listed swimming pool.

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Stripped of its pair of springboards, the pool still provides a convenient place to cool off and train.

The manager has a few copies of the book That’s Where I Met My Wife for sale.

The title originated from an old man who hadn’t spoken for a couple of years. While on an excursion from his care home the other bus passengers were stunned to hear him exclaim: “That’s where I met my wife.’’

Walking through the Telopea Park opposite takes you to the lake edge, now a collection of apartment buildings and boardwalks imitating city waterfronts worldwide.

Yet no visit is complete without a tour of the new Parliament House. It has been designed to be transparent … open for the people to see. And guided tours take place at regular intervals throughout the day.

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Built at a cost of $1.1billion in 1988 with enough concrete to build 25 Sydney opera houses, it is one of the most open parliaments in the world.

The house is u-shaped or horseshoe so everyone can see everyone else … an idea created in Australia.

It has been created in the colours of Australia and highlights art works from artists from Arthur Boyd to Tom Quilty.

The beauty of Canberra is the fresh air. And its location is within easy access to the Snowy Mountains and the South Coast. Sydney just an easy three-hour drive.

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The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, a 45-minute drive from the heart of Canberra, is where you’ll discover NASA’s Deep Space Network. It is an international network of antennas that support interplanetary spacecraft missions.

Meanwhile Lanyon Homestead, one of Australia’s premier historic properties, is set at the foot of the Brindabella Ranges on the banks of the Murrumbidgee River.

Here, a 20-minute drive from the city centre, you will enjoy gorgeous views of the Australian countryside from the 1859 homestead that has been beautifully restored and furnished.

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There are guided tours of the homestead and the outbuildings that made this pastoral property a showpiece in the region. A reminder of the sheep stations that were here before the city.

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2 comments

  • Daunting, yes. Reflective too. Reflective about the senseless cost of lives in war. So many go to fight for king and country, believing God is on their side. Thousands died in a day in WWI … what for … 10yards, 20 yards of desolate ground. The war museum is probably more a memorial … a reminder of reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by so many. As for Canberra as the capital city, we joke about all the shortcomings attached to the political centre of the country yet it really is beautiful … a testament to the founding fathers and the US architect Walter Burley Griffin who designed the lay-out. It is so refreshing to be surrounded by the natural landscape … Canberra is about 10km wide and 20km long … maybe I exaggerate … but it seems like you are never more than a 10 minutes drive from the countryside. And snowfields or surf beaches perhaps two hours away.mthere are space centres and sheep stations right on its doorstep … but it’s hot in summer and cool in winter

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