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.
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".