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Published: December 1st 2015
We felt we had to see Australian Capital as we were driving past it but everyone we spoke to thought we were crazy for wanting to go. Their viewpoint was supported by all the books and tourist information we've read which said that there was very little there. For this reason we decided to only spend half a day there.
We left Sydney and immediately started having engine troubles with a warning light coming on, at first intermittently and then solidly. It turned out the light was for the water level. I checked the vehicle's manual and, when I couldn't find the water tank where it claimed it was, realised we had the wrong manual. I then opened the engine and looked but couldn't work out how to fill the tank. We limped on to a campsite only 7km further on and rested for the evening. The campsite had only an ablution block which looked like something from the seventies. We were glad to leave next morning after I'd figured out the engine problem.
We drove for about two hours down the Hume Highway which became the Federal Highway just outside Canberra. The highway was also called Remembrance Drive,
as signs regularly proclaimed. Along the centre of the road were bushes bearing red berries. Aside from this, the road was quite dull and there was little to see. After a while though I noticed that trees prettily crested in yellows and oranges were drawing closer to the road. About twenty kilometres from the city we found ourselves driving along the rim of what I guess was once a lake. It was a huge, lushly covered valley, edged on every side by hills. It was a strange but incredibly beautiful area. The approach to Canberra was up a steep hill which the camper van struggled with. As we got over the other side though the view was gorgeous. It has to be the nicest approach to a capital that I have seen. I guess it helps that no one wants to live there!
Canberra itself felt quite non-descript. That was until we reached the top of the Anzac Parade. Here, to our left, was the war memorial, and to our right a broad red road leading up to the Parliament Building on the hill. Sadly it turned out that this was the only attractive feature of Canberra.
started our visit by driving up to Mount Ainslie. From here we had expansive views over the city and it's surrounds. It looked pretty from this vantage point. Parliament, the Anzac Parade, the Australian War Memorial and Lake Burley-Griffin were the only prominent features but the whole area was verdant with vegetation. On the way up the hill we saw a huge kangaroo bounce across the road in front of us and clear a four foot fence before bounding off into the bush.
After a quick lunch on the mountain we went back down to the Australian War Memorial. This immense structure is a poignant reminder of all the battles fought by Australian soldiers; World War One was the main focus, but every other Australian conflict was commemorated too. Outside we walked along a path which had plaques for each of the Australian military units. In front of the building were heavy guns from different sides of several conflicts and even the bridge of an old Australian ship.
The main memorial was a huge rectangular courtyard. In the centre, along the whole length, was a pool of water. At the end, in the water itself, was a burning
flame. Beside the pool wreathes had been laid by Australian dignitaries and foreign embassies. Above the courtyard were two galleries with long lists of all Australia's fallen and the edge of the boards poppies had been placed. Under the galleries were the names of the places Australia had fought - starting with the colonial conflicts in Sudan and South Africa; moving into the theatres of World War One and World War Two; and then past World War Two to battlefields which included Vietnam, the Solomon Islands, Iraq and Afghanistan. The display was a solemn reminder of Australia's martial history and the young men and women who have given their lives in service to King or Queen and country.
Following the memorial, we drove down the Anzac Parade to the government quarters. We parked up and started heading towards the Parliament Building, which, from a distance, looks like a hill with a sculpture on top. Walking through Canberra is quite a strange experience - it is literally government building after government building - no shops, cafés, restaurants or hotels... nothing but official offices. I'd hate to work there. If I described how quiet the streets were on a Sunday you
would not believe me. I couldn't believe that we were at the heart of a thriving democracy and no one could be bothered turning up to see it.
We left the buildings behind and continued our ascent up Parliament Hill, through extensive park lands, to the Parliament Building itself. When you reach the front it is quite imposing - a marble fronted building cut into the hillside. There are columns in front of ordinary looking doors. Above is a terrace and sun shades... perhaps an elusive café? In front of the large square columns is a huge water feature with prismatic corrugations which make the water fall gradually in very interesting waves. I realise that this is the first thing I've described as interesting in Canberra - sad isn't it! The sculpture on top of the hill is a series of pillars reaching up to the sky, supporting a huge Australian flag. It is quite striking.
We walked around the building in the heat of the day until we were sure we'd seen everything and then walked back down the hill. This time we veered towards the Old Parliament Building which was a completely uninspiring squat white 1920s
construction. This was designed to be a Provisional Parliament Building and then remain part of the landscape of the city as a prominent fixture in the skyline.
We got back to the car wondering if there was anything else to see. Following the tragic attacks in France over the weekend we decided to head to the French Embassy to pay our respects. After struggling a bit with the circular layout of the city in which not all roads connect to the ring roads we found the Embassy District which was also completely uninspiring. We found the French mission quickly and paused to examine the floral tributes and half-masted flags. After a couple of moments of quiet reflection we moved on so others could reach the gate.
When we left the embassy we went to find Captain Cook's Jet, an intermittent water feature in the Burley-Griffin Lake. It was too intermittent for us though so we didn't see it. The lake looked very unnatural and I found it boring.
We drove away, through the central business district and finally saw coffee shops... all closed. Our road out was long and straight towards the Snowy Mountains. I don't remember
much because I was so tired. I did spend some time pondering Canberra though and can report that everything written about it in all of the travel books and tourist guides is accurate. It really is boring. We were glad we only gave it four hours and could move on to much more exciting adventures.
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