Canberra: Museums, Cockatoos, and Buses

Published: April 19th 2018
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A convict's love token.A convict's love token.A convict's love token.

Seen at National Museum of Australia.
Not many international tourists visit Canberra, or Australian ones either despite it being their capital city. We've gotten an equal mix of surprise and bemusement from those we've told about our visit here. Even our AirBnB host (in Canberra) politely asked us why we came, as he was more used to people renting his place for business reasons than vacation ones. Most people prefer to go straight from Sydney to Melbourne, bypassing this city altogether. But I think they are doing Canberra a bit of a disservice, because while it certainly is less metropolitan than Sydney it has lots to offer a visitor. It is a planned city, built from scratch to a design in an era (the early 20th century) that seemed to assume private automobiles were going to dominate transport and link the various elements. It's designer mapped out the city of the future in broad interlocking rings of highways and through roads, all constructed around the central feature of The Australian Parliament Building. The city itself is surrounded by large forests and rolling hills, so there are plenty of grand vistas, a large central lake, parks and open spaces. It took a bit to understand the bus system
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At National Museum of Australia
here, and it would be a lot easier to get around if we had rented a car, but once we got thee hang of the bus system things became much easier and we have enjoyed our time. Wild parrots are cavorting in the trees, including big flocks of cockatoos. The centre consists of a university campus and am impressive open air shopping mall with plenty of pedestrian traffic, public art, and outdoor cafes.We were really only here out of curiosity and knowledge of few interesting attractions and it came up with quite a few surprises. And we spotted our first kangaroo on the train ride in!

We spent our first full day at the National Museum of Australia which was big on Aboriginal history and gave us quite a few interesting history lessons on the country as a whole. It was a uniquely modern looking building which some might think is ugly but I found pretty interesting. It included an exhibition on the colonial fleet that scouted the islands coast in the 1800's, including some spectacular original sketches of the local flora and fauna, as well as a massive hall dedicated to the history of the Australian settlers from
Badass ArtBadass ArtBadass Art

Seen at Canberra Museum and Gallery
past to present. The remaining third of the museum was dedicated to the Aboriginals, their history and way of life, including relics of their way of life and many great examples of their art.

While visiting the local Sunday markets, we came upon a glass-works which was pretty cool. We were talked through the process while the glass was heated, cut and tweaked in an open studio while we looked on. The attached studio and gallery were all the more interesting after this. We walked the scenic route back to the bus stop and could see that the quality of life here could be quite good, there is certainly plenty of space. A running festival was going on the weekend we were there and you can tell that a great deal of local events go on here. Canberra seems like it would be an excellent place to raise a family.

The biggest surprise was the Australia War Memorial, which our AirBnB host heartily recommended. The name is somewhat misleading; while it is in in fact a large memorial, it also contains an extensive war museum inside. The whole place was brilliant and well attended and we spent nearly an ninety minutes in the World War 1 wing alone, which followed the timeline of the Anzac forces battle by battle during their deployment overseas. There was far too much to see and we could easily have spend another hour and a half there. It was interesting to see the Australian perspective on war, as they have fought alongside Canadian forces several times, including Passchendaele, D-Day and the Pacific.

Rather optimistically, the remembrance quad lined with the names of the fallen had used up all the stone inserts for the names of conflicts past; no space left for any future engagements. This memorial scored very highly in our books and is easily one of our favorite places we have visited since coming to Australia. In the centre is a pool of reflection and an eternal flame. At the far end was the equivalent of a memorial chapel but although the building had stained glass and the trappings of a religious building, no mention of gods were to be found within it, just stained glass memorials to the different service branches as well as a tomb of an unknown soldier.

At the end of each and every day a piped lament and the last post are played live, and a military officer is present. In addition, the story of one of the fallen is read. It was very moving and removed any element of jingoism that might have developed after visiting displays of military might. I would suggest more war museums do the same.

The second big success was the Red Hill Nature Reserve. After being thoroughly museumed out, we decided to go for a hike to an outlook near where we were staying. The steep 30 minute climb was worth it, as we came up to spectacular views. Canberra is a beautiful city and unique compared to others. Sure, it's a bit quiet and being here for a week might have been a bit too long, but it is thoroughly worth a visit for 3-4 days. All of the attractions we went to were free to visit so we saved a lot of money while we stayed here. It is nestled in a valley among rolling hills and bush land. Trees were planted everywhere and it has developed the nickname of The Garden City.

We are glad we came but we are definitely ready to move on to our first housesit in Melbourne. It will be a long day - eight hours between two regional buses. But so many people here have told us that Melbourne is one of the greatest places to visit and stay in the country, and we will be there for a little under two weeks. On to the next adventure!


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