Wednesday, December 13, 2017

National Capital - Canberra

By Jen.

Back in the beginning of fledging Australia’s nationhood, Melbourne held both the Victorian and national seats of power. But, with the rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne so great, it was decided to move it to an independent site that had to be “at least 1000 km from Sydney.” While not in either state capital, the national capital was relocated to Canberra, an empty field in the New South Wales countryside. Like Washington, D.C., Canberra was allotted a plot of land to become an neutral district called the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). It is completely surrounded by NSW; and, strangely, the only border where we saw you-are-entering NSW signs.


Lots and lots of effort went into planning the town and the buildings. Strangely, though, the city is not very friendly for pedestrians or using mass transit. At least the roads seem to handle the traffic well. And, as we were visiting on a weekend, all the parking was free.

First stop was the parliament building. Again, this was high on symbolism, but low on aesthetics. Literally everything in every room represented something about Australia, which is a great way for the representatives to remember what they are representing. But, overall, I felt that it was built to impress, but lacked a cohesive beauty.

The first thing you see when you drive up is the lawn running up the hill and over the building, which is, in and of itself, impressive. The building is set up on the hill so that you can see your constituents, but under the ground so that you aren’t above them.

There is an aboriginal mosaic in front of it, surrounded by water, representing both Australia (an island nation) and a meeting place.

The national seal.

After passing through security, you are welcomed into the columned foyer, which is decorated with light color marble, representing a eucalypt forest.

The overlooks from the balcony each have leaves from an different Australian plant carved and inlaid into the wood.

They had a multipurpose room, The Great Hall, that was made mostly of Australian hardwoods, the exception being a dark colored trim wood that was a gift from a neighboring country. It is complete with an enormous tapestry of a eucalypt forest that took 14 weavers 2 years to complete.

The House of Representatives followed the British tradition of green colors, however, instead of the deep hunter green Britain used, Australia’s chamber uses shades found in Australia’s bush, reminiscent of the eucalyptus leaves. Also typical of the trees is that the newer ones at the top are lighter colored than the older ones at the bottom, so the chamber fades as you go up each level.

Similarly, in the Senate, instead of the deep British red, they went with the red from the dirt of the Outback, which also fades in color.

Of course, my favorite part was the green roof and the garden courtyards (we weren’t allowed in the courtyards, though).

The front points directly down ANZAC Parade and to the Australian War Memorial.

After the visit of Parliament House, we made a stop at the old parliament building, which now houses a museum. It had been patterned more closely to the UK Parliament.


Then we made our way to the Australian War Memorial. This is a massive complex that artfully presents both the honor and atrocities of war. We made it through WWII before we had to start bypassing exhibitions because it was getting to be too long.

Each flower represents an Australian life lost in a war. This is only one small part of such walls.

A beautiful memorial to the unknown soldier, down up in the theme of old Roman-Catholic churches.

Of course, being engineers, we were more appreciative of the technology and ingenuity developed.

This was a jig that allowed soldiers to secretly retreat while giving the pretense they were still at their post. The candle would burn down enough to burn the string, which would release the wood block, which pull the trigger. A bit of a Rube Goldberg device.


After all the museum visits, I was exhausted. For some reason, I really struggle in museums. Between the standing, walking, and reading so many different topics, I have a hard time enjoying them for very long. Jonathan, on the other hand, seems to have no problems and really enjoys the knowledge. We called it a night and planned to visit again the next day. After some deliberation, we really only felt like going to the Telstra Tower, though there were many other interesting sites to go visit. So, we concluded our visit with an overlook on the entire town.


FUN FACT: The highway distance markers (mile markers in the US) are slightly different in Australia. Obviously, they are in kilometers, which are smaller than miles. So rather than put one up every kilometer, they skip a few before putting one up. Secondly, they are often marked with a two-letter abbreviation of the next town in that direction above the distance. So, for example, if you were heading towards Broken Hill and you were 8 kms out, you might see a highway distance as "BH 8".

Monday, December 11, 2017

More Beautiful Coastline

Finished with Sydney, we once more found ourselves along the coast.


This is one of the handful of wooden deck suspension bridges left in Australia. Crenelations for the win.

Australian signs are very entertaining.  They are also very inconsistent!  There are at least a dozen variations of the kangaroo caution sign.






While we were walking at North Head in Murramarang NP, we spotted a seal floating in a calm pool. 

At first we wondered if it was dead?   Nope.  Injured?  Doesn’t look like it…  A google search told us that it was taking a nap and letting the sun warm it through its fins.  Apparently this is the seal version of putting your leg outside the covers. 

BLOG UPDATE: We updated the blog, including an image of the van (finally replacing the ancient one of our previous van, Chuck). So if you normally read this from your email, you might make a visit to the website to see the changes.

Saturday, December 9, 2017


Sydney is Australia’s largest metropolitan area. Though, Melbourne is expected to surpass it next year. Situated around an incredible natural harbor, the region was one of the first settled by Europeans. Despite its best intentions, Sydney has a so-so mass transit system. Regardless, the only way to visit for us was by train. Being unable to park in most parking garages, and annoying to park on small street-side spots, it is rarely worth the effort to drive into central business districts. So, we opted to spend a day wandering the waterfront around the harbor bridge and opera house.

It is really tough to get the scale of the bridge. If you look closely, you might see a tiny spec on the upper arch. That is a person, climbing to the top. Note the ubiquitous ferry in the foreground.  The city surrounds the harbor on all sides, and the easiest way to get around it is often by ferry.

One thing I like about early 19th century construction is the incorporation of art into everyday functional pieces.

Australian cities are generally very keen on public works and the arts.  Sydney is no exception. The quite photogenic Sydney Opera house is right on the water. It is a strange building to look at.  Made from reinforced concrete sections.  It was partially made off-site, and built here.




All of the building sections are actually sections from the same sphere.  A very original idea.

Unlike the shiny metal appearance from photos, the exterior is covered with off-white shiny glazed ceramic tiles.  Several of the sides are set up as outdoor projection screens for art displays and whatnot.  Quite impressive.

One of the wharfs adjacent to the Opera House has its own resident seal. 

Continuing on, we climbed Observatory Hill.  On the way up, we found this interesting art exhibition. These drums were somehow all internally controlled, with no visible wires etc.  It was called The Last Resort., and showed how Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major can be affected by location and the weather.

The next stop was the observatory itself. Some really cool stuff in here. Built in the 1800s, this was the hub of astronomical observation in the southern hemisphere. Some of the instruments contained therein are nearly priceless. The observatory also served to keep time for the whole city. At the time, naval navigation depended on highly accurate clocks.  Even these clocks needed calibrated however.  Using telescopes, the astronomers would calibrate their clock.  At 1PM every day a large yellow ball would drop from the top of the observatory. This allowed all the ships in the harbor to recalibrate their clocks.

They really took style seriously back then.



Can you imagine watching the transit of Mercury on one of these?  Or catching Halley's comet?

We also visited the  Museum of  Contemporary Art.  Most Australian capitals have an excellent art museum that is free.


Notice the cruise ship in the background?  Even though we are on the fourth floor?  It was a real challenge to keep this monstrosity out of every photo.