Capital city

Trip Start May 18, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

This morning I decided to stay another day in Canberra - I thought I might as well give the capital a chance, seeing as I would probably not be passing through again. First things first, I bought an overnight Greyhound ticket to Melbourne, checked out of the City Walk Hotel and checked into the Kingston Hotel (on the other side of the lake, nearer the Parliment Building).

My Greyhound Bus ticket ($64, 8 hours with one 30 minute stop) was leaving tomorrow night and arriving on Wednesday morning at 8:00am in Melbourne. On the plus side I would not need to worry about accommodation Tuesday night but on the downside I probably would not get any sleep either.

The Kingston Hotel was not busy, and had probably seen better days, so the helpful staff gave me a whole dorm room to myself. A private room would normally cost twice as much but I was only paying $20 for the night. The hotel location was good for museums and galleries, so made a good base for the next couple of days of ensuing museum mania.

First stop: the Parliment Building at Capital hill. This is by far the most impressive building in Canberra for me. From initial design to full realisation it's a fascinating story of engineering achievement (even though it was not completed within budget). Rather than put the politicians in a building on top of the Capital hill, looking down on the citizens, the architects constructed the huge complex inside the hill. This allowed for the citizens to walk on top of the building and therefore be above the politicians. Since 1988, when the building was opened, anyone has been able to do this (day or night) but this year a fence is being constructed to put an end to free access.

The free professional tour of the building is worthwhile, as it provides insights into the themes of the rooms and their construction. For those obligatory tourist photos take the lift to the rooftop for a stunning view of the city and surrounds. There are quite a few political exhibits (including an original Magna Carte - one of four left in the world) and on 'sitting' days you can witness Australian politicians debating. Today the parliament was not in session, but if it was 2:00pm would be the best time to watch in the public gallery, as it's Question time then.

A short walk down to the Old parliament House was the next logical place to visit. However, on arrival I didn't actually go in as I was distracted by the Aboriginal Tent Embassy that has been set up on the lawns, facing the Old Parliment. I got talking to one of the original activists who started it all back in 1972 when the first tent went up (there are over a dozen tents erected now). He seemed rather laid back, and didn't have any passion in his arguments for the Tent Embassy today. Perhaps it was because I was the umpteenth person to be asking him these questions. We talked for some time while I sheltered from the rain. Reading printouts from his web site and hearing about the history of the Embassy confirmed my fears that a status quo has been achieved at this protest site that is not progressing Indigenous Peoples issues in the Federal Government.

Next stop: the National Gallery. On the way I walked passed the High Court of Australia and stood on the same spot where Michael Caton, Tiriel Mora and Charles 'Bud' Tingwell (aka Darryl Kerrigan, Dennis Denuto and Lawrence Hammill) were in the film The Castle. It's an Australian comedy classic, so if you have not seen it yet rent it out for some authentic Aussie humour. The National Gallery was pretty good, with a lot of variety but the collections seemed a little on the small side. The famous Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock is on display here. An example of his drip art that the gallery paid over one million dollars for; and caused a bit of controversy at the time.

During the day Canberra seemed to come to life. There were people out and about which made the city feel a lot more lively. There is a lot to do if you are a tourist passing through the capital and wanting to do tourist things. But when those places shut for the day at around 5pm, making the most of this city becomes a little more challenging.

Public transport seems to wind down in Canberra during the evening, with less frequent bus services. Unfortunately the Telstra Tower is not serviced by a bus route even during the day.
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