Page 44

Canberra, The National Capital

Our Introduction to Canberra

The journey to Canberra was pleasant. There were many hills, of course, but mainly short, gentle ones and the weather was beautiful. That damned Alice decided to play up. She kept telling us that the route we'd chosen did not coincide with existing roads, and did we wish to continue? What she really meant was that existing roads don't coincide with her internal map. I told her Yes and she threw a tantrum and refused to do anything; she wouldn't even switch off. However, the instruction book told me how to reset her and she powered up again in a better mood. Just as well - for her.

The caravan park we arrived at is a bit of a dump but we've heard that the alternative is much worse so we'll live with it. It was also an unpleasant shock to be back in the busy world of hustle and bustle with every car using a litre of fuel in an attempt to out-accelerate the one next to it from each traffic light. Ho-hum, we'll soon be back in country Australia again.

The list of things to see was endless so we made an enthusiastic start.

Cook's Jet

The Captain Cook Memorial Jet in Lake Burley Griffin. I wonder what old Jim would make of it.

To the right of the Jet is the Australian flag flying over Parliament House. The large building to the left is the National Library, and further left is Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre.

Telstra Tower

I tried to obtain some statistics for the Jet but it depends on whether the 'main nozzle' is being used and whether one or both pumps are turned on. Should the main nozzle and both pumps be employed there are about six tonnes of water in the air at any one time. The water leaves the nozzle at 260 kilometres per hour and rises to a maximum of 147 metres. I know all this for a fact - it says so in a pamphlet with Australian Government and the Coat Of Arms printed on it. Politicians never lie, so you can safely take it as fact. Was the main nozzle in use when the picture was taken? I tell you what, you find somebody who knows. My guess is that the main nozzle and both pumps are only used on special occasions.

The Telstra Tower.

We visited the Black Mountain Lookout where we found the Telstra Tower. Since their $6 entrance fee was reduced to $1.90 for we wrinklies, we paid with enthusiasm and took the lift to the viewing platforms. There was one viewing level with a nice coffee shop. This was enclosed by large glass windows and gave excellent 360° visibility over Canberra and surrounds. Above that was an open air level with a high parapet and even higher railings - to prevent people jumping over, I presume. I doubt it was to stop people getting in. Higher still was a smaller but even better viewing platform, still with 360° views but only a low parapet so ideal for photography. Jumping off there would have been easy but you'd only land on the lower open air platform a few feet below. Not so much dramatic as embarrassing.

Before leaving the coffee shop level, Pam ordered a large Honeycomb Crunch ice cream. That woman is the viper in the Garden of Eden. How could I sit and watch her eat one alone? So I had one as well and tomorrow, when I step on the scales, I'll know just who to blame.

From the Black Mountain we went to have a look at Saint John the Baptist church which the Tour Director put on her list of places to see as it was the first church to be built in Canberra. It was approaching dusk and the little church was locked but we looked around the outside and perused the graveyard. There was an adjacent building with a shingle roof which was the first school in Canberra. That, too, was locked.

Do you ever wander around graveyards, just reading the headstones and wondering about the stories behind each one? Some were of babies and young children which are always especially poignant. Pam spotted a spate of children's deaths which occurred around 1926/7. Was there an epidemic? At the opposite end of the scale was a headstone commemorating a man whose first names were absent - he was just referred to by his initials and surname. Unusual to find someone remembered so impersonally when the norm is deep emotion.

The following picture was taken from the upper level of the Telstra Tower.

Canberra from Telstra Tower

Canberra from the Telstra Tower appears predominantly water. I certainly found Lake Burley
Griffin larger than I expected. The surrounding mountains gave a feeling of enclosure.

I'm getting a little out of synch but I'm sure you'll bear with me. I'd like to show you a picture of the Australian High Court from across Burly Griffin, not because it's an attractive building but because of the rainbow that resulted from a combination of the sunshine and the drifting mist from the Captain Cook Jet.


The rainbow came and went with the breeze.

The following morning saw us back on the road to Canberra - we were staying just outside the Capital in Queanbeyan. This time I entered a roundabout in what turned out to be the wrong lane. Realising my mistake I flicked on my right indicator and started to move over. This resulted in all hell breaking loose from a motorist I was about to carve up, and a self righteous twit in the car behind us. The first motorist was perfectly right; he was using his horn to warn me and I immediately moved back into lane to wait for an opportunity to try again when traffic permitted. The idiot behind, however, had never been in any danger but continued to use his horn, perhaps as compensation for his penile inadequacy.

You'll have to stay in this lane then turn back later, said Pam as the horn blared on and on. Normally I would have done so, the fault being entirely mine. But the piece of excrement behind was really getting up my nose so I let him wait until a suitable gap appeared in the traffic for me to swap lanes and take the exit that I wanted to. Thereafter, every time a horn sounded in Canberra - and they do seem fond of using them - Pam said, Is that us? Note the word 'us'? What she meant was, What have you done now?

Old Parliament House

The splendid entrance to Old Parliament House.

We continued on our way, visiting first Old Parliament House and then the new Parliament House. The last Prime Minister to serve in Old Parliament House was Bob Hawke. When they told us his office had been left untouched we half expected to see beer cans and bottles littering the floor.

P.M.'s Office

The office of the Prime Minister. Bob Hawke was the last to use it.

Prime Ministers used to sit with their backs to the window which overlooks the street. In the new building the P.M.'s office has no windows facing outwards for security reasons. On the left is our guide. All the guides wore white gloves.

Do you ever wonder where our great leaders do all their thinking? It certainly wouldn't be in the House of Representatives Chamber, they would need somewhere much quieter. In fact, they would be subject to interruptions everywhere. Except . . .

P.M.'s Toilet

The seat of power. How many P.M.s sat in here and deliberated, perhaps crunching the numbers
before the next vote? They could remove their shoes in here and use their toes as well.

I looked around. Just off the Prime Minister's office was a door leading to a chamber where nobody would bother him. Nothing flash, either. No gold fixtures and fittings, just plain grey melamine surfaces and white porcelain and only one tap.

We left our car where it was and walked across to the new Parliament House. The approach on foot is alongside a long, grass avenue lined by trees and flagpoles. Surprise! Half way to Parliament House is a 4-lane highway that crosses the grass avenue in a cutting so deep that no traffic noise is apparent until you're on top of it. Look at the second picture below; down towards the Old Parliament House you can see a break in the line of flagpoles on the right. Adjacent is a dark line crossing the grass. That's the highway cutting. Well disguised, isn't it?

New Parliament House

Parliament House. The giant flag (12m. x 6m.) was being really difficult, hanging limp from the
mast for long periods just to spoil my picture. However, my patience was eventually rewarded.

The new building is enormous and very nice inside. From the outside, however, we much prefer the old building. We had hoped to watch our political masters from the public gallery but they had all gone home for Easter and wouldn't be back for a month or more. Nevertheless, we were able to see where they all play. The tour we took was most interesting - enjoyable, too. I won't go into a lot of names and dates because you'll be bored and I can't remember them anyway. We were surprised that, at the end of the tour, we were invited to take the lift to the roof. There we found a lawn growing - see the picture below - and amazing views over Canberra.

The Australian Coat of Arms, seen above the entrance on the picture above, is in the gap between the right hand two people standing by the railing in the picture below. Unfortunately not easy to make out.

View from Parliament House Roof

This is the roof of Parliament House! On the left you can see the Captain Cook Memorial Jet.
To the right of the Jet and closer to the camera is the National Library.

Looking straight down the grass avenue and over the highway cutting is Old Parliament House painted white. Beyond that is Lake Burley Griffin and further back still, the War Museum at the foot of Mount Ainslie.

We'd only been in Canberra two days before it became apparent that the residents of the A.C.T. see themselves as entirely separate from the Federal Government. In fact, they quite resent being bracketed with the politicians, especially when it comes to unpopular decisions emanating from Parliament House. As our guide said, We just live here, we have nothing to do with what goes on in Parliament. He was once refused service in a petrol station because his car had A.C.T. number plates. Everyone says Canberra has done this, that or the other, he complained. Canberra hasn't done anything. It's the people that were elected by you from all over Australia who come to this building and make the decisions.

Grass approach

Looking up the grass approach to Parliament House. I can't get over how well hidden
the road across is. It would totally spoil the whole impact if it was at surface level.

How about just a smidgin on the origins of Canberra? It's quite interesting. How many countries have had their national capitals designed as such from the ground up?

The Australian Constitution allowed for a new capital city to be built in the state of New South Wales but it had to be more than one hundred miles from Sydney. The site for Canberra was chosen in 1908. Initially both Houses accepted Dalgety as the new national capital but the New South Wales politicians threw a wobbly saying it was too far from Sydney. Politicians! Dalgety was, sadly, rejected and 'Yass-Canberra' was selected. Our old friend, King O'Malley, was influential in the choice. He thought that the greatest geniuses came from cold climates. How many geniuses do we have in our present Government? Perhaps he meant clowns.

Remember King O'Malley who was found near death in a rock cave on the beach at Emu Park in 1888? He'd come to Australia from America in a last ditch effort to cure his consumption. He can't have held out much hope because he brought his own lead-lined coffin with him. Coowonga, the Aborigine who found him, nursed him back to health and King went on to become a Federal Minister and lived to a grand old age. Much of what is known of this mystery man is covered on Page 34 of this website.

An international competition was held for the best design for the new capital city. In 1912 it was won by an American, Walter Burley Griffin. He entered a magnificent design, especially as he never saw the site. He worked entirely from information he obtained from the competition kit. He was assisted by his architect wife and business partner, Marion Mahony Griffin. The focus of Griffin's design was a lake - later named after him - which didn't even exist at that time. It was to be formed by damming the Molonglo River and that occurred in 1964 - a mere 43 years ago at the time of writing - thus it's not surprising that the finishing touches to the city are still being carried out.

The site was treeless and the surrounding hills bare due to over-grazing. Between 1913 and 1926 over two million trees and shrubs were planted. The planting goes on to this day as surrounding areas are developed. The local ABC television station screened a feature on the current plantings.

The district had already been known as Yass-Canberra for many years but the Government invited alternatives. After many suggested names had been rejected - for example, Gonebroke and Swindleville - the favourite, Canberra, was retained. It may originally have come from a local Aboriginal word meaning 'meeting place'.

In my not-so humble opinion, Canberra is a fabulous National Capital. I feel though, that because it was planned as opposed to evolving, and because it's all new, it must inevitably have something of a sterile feel which time will cure. It is undoubtedly a very functional city, yet beautiful too. And that, dear friends, is the profound opinion of one who had been in Canberra for all of two days. As an Australian citizen I'm very proud of our capital though Pam has some reservations. End of subject.

Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, was the subject of our attention one day. Pam has covered it well in her journal so I won't go into a lot of detail. Despite carrying my camera all day, I didn't take any pictures there. Questacon was primarily aimed at young people; it makes learning fun. There was something there for everybody, though, and Pam and I stayed far longer than we intended.

It was a very simple exhibit that I found most thought provoking. It comprised of a pendulum - a heavy disc on the end of a fine wire that went all the way up to the ceiling, about four floors above. The pendulum swung slowly back and forth through an arc of about six metres. It skimmed over a circular 'table' designed like a compass, mounted high enough above the floor to prevent anyone interfering with the pendulum - you viewed it from above. I'm now wishing that I had taken a photograph! Anyway, the point that I am so laboriously trying to arrive at is that the line the pendulum took across the face of the compass changed very slowly over each day. The explanation is not that the pendulum changed direction, but the compass table - which was firmly attached to the floor of the building - turned. That is, the earth turned but the pendulum did not. Had this exhibit been assembled at either of the earth's poles, the compass table would rotate 360° each day. Had it been assembled at the equator, it would not rotate at all. As it was, in Canberra it rotated - I think it was two hundred and something degrees each day. Yes, I know, I'm hopeless. Doubtless, this principle is the basis for inertial navigation systems though a very refined gyroscope would replace the pendulum.

Australian-American Memorial

One hazy autumn afternoon, Mount Pleasant Lookout gave us a view of the Australian-American
Memorial silhouetted against Lake Burley Griffin, and the Telstra Tower on Black Mountain.

The Australian War Memorial is a 'must see' for any visitor to Canberra, and with good reason. Where all those photographs, guns, swords, tanks, aircraft, uniforms and God-knows-what came from beats us. Even before we entered the Memorial we came across Simpson and his Donkey, shivering in the cold wind outside.

Simpson's Donkey

Simpson's Donkey, and the story behind it, were displayed outside the War Memorial entrance.

We went in full of excitement and anticipation but that quickly evaporated. The Memorial doesn't in any way glorify war, rather it portrays it truthfully showing all the horror, suffering, pain, destruction and death. Not that these facts were new to us, but to have it shown so graphically and on such a scale really brought it home. You turn away from one scene and there's another, then another. What those men endured is just appalling. One wall of the Memorial was covered in passport-sized photographs of men who had died. Portrayed like that it had a huge impact, serving to emphasise the unbelievable waste of young lives. And for every single man in those photographs, include the devastating grief to his loved ones.

We watched a clever production called Striking By Night featuring the Memorial's Avro Lancaster bomber, better known as 'G for George'. The presentation depicted one night during WW II when hundreds of bombers, including George, took off from England to carry out a raid over Germany. Next morning fifty aircraft had not returned. The show was excellently arranged with the Lancaster as the centre piece, embellished with lights, flashes, explosions and other sound effects, against a backdrop of two large cinema screens showing WW II film of the the aircraft queuing to take off, and the night scene over Germany with aircraft on fire and the infernos far below. For every airman that died that night, how many innocent civilians were killed or maimed on the ground? And all because of one power-crazy maniac.

Lancaster G for George

Lancaster 'G for George' with the screens shown behind. Taken before the show started.

A few hours was enough for us so we decided to drive up to the Mount Aisley Lookout behind the building. As we left the War Memorial, this was the view before us as we walked down the steps. We were standing on one of Walter Burley Griffin's 'lines of focus' for the city.

View from War Memorial steps

Symmetry! The view from the steps of the Australian War Memorial looking down across
Lake Burley Griffin to Old Parliament House and the new Parliament building beyond.

The view from Mount Ainslie Lookout was as spectacular as the wind was cold but it was getting late and the photos were pretty ordinary. So let's round off Page 44 and move on to 'More on Canberra' on Page 45. We have just one more week in Canberra and then we'll be hitching up our home and heading north, then further north, until we cross back into the tropics and finally reach the Gulf of Carpentaria, probably sometime around August.

Footnote: This re-working of Page 44 was completed on 7 May 2013. It conforms to HTML5 and CSS level 3.