Australia, Trip 3 – Part 4, Canberra

Friday 3rd October

It has certainly been a busy week switching between two locations in the Sydney area, Lane Cove and Silverwater, and the system going live on this new project. I have also been suffering from a cold which has been playing havoc with my sleep just as I got over jet lag!

But enough of that boring stuff its nearly the weekend, and better still its a long weekend; Monday is a public holiday – Labour Day – what a bonus!

If you have read my previous posts you will know that I had planned to see either Brisbane or Hobart during this trip. Unfortunately lack of planning on my part and the long weekend meant that there were only limited and extremely expensive flights available; a rethink was necessary.

And so, my destination for this weekend is Canberra – capital city of this great nation, seat of the government and home to the world’s embassies.

It is safe to say Canberra was never on my list of places to see. Everything I have read suggests that it is a bland, functional place with clean lines and square buildings. Not having any of the character or history of the other major Australian cities. As the story goes it was built because the leaders of Melbourne and Sydney couldn’t agree which should be the capital and therefore a purpose built city was constructed.

Having decided on my destination I planned to sort out a hotel and then drive across on Saturday morning. But as Canberra is not actually in New South Wales I thought I should check to ensure I was allowed to drive the Ute I have borrowed into another state. No was the answer! Company vehicles are only insured in NSW.

So now I had another choice to make – hire a car or go by train. Train it is. Booked online I now just need to get to Central Station for 6pm and find the right platform. Its a four and a half hour journey so I am hoping to be in my bed by midnight – if all goes well. That then gives me two full days exploring before heading back to Sydney at a more respectable time in the late afternoon Monday.

Well I found the train in the end. Central station is enormous and so it took a little while, but now I am settled in my seat ready to go. As you get off the Sydney trains you are faced with corridors leading to numerous other platforms and destinations; what you don’t get is very much information. As I had loads of time I thought I would get out of the station, find a bank as I needed some cash and get a coffee. After that, attack the station again!

Now a little refreshed I noticed that amongst all the listed destinations and route maps, a small notice that said something about “Ticket only trains platforms 1 – 5”. Could this be what I am looking for?

Up the escalator and then in through what must have been the original station entrance, I find the platforms I am looking for and even better a sign telling me that the 6:14 to Canberra is waiting on Platform 2. Perfect! Quick Hungry Jacks and find my seat.

Strangely there is no barrier stopping you getting on the train. No ticket inspector, nothing. So I got on, carriage D, found my seat, number 27 and made myself comfortable. I had a window seat which, had it been daylight would have been great. Never mind, this was always about getting to the hotel for a full days exploring tomorrow.

The train arrived in Canberra a few minutes late but certainly nothing to worry about. Only two taxis were waiting at the station, I was third in the queue, but the first driver put a call out and more arrived within a few minutes. I was in my room with a nice cup of tea before 11pm. Perfect.

Saturday 4th October

Unfortunately I woke feeling decidedly unwell. The cold I thought I was shaking off was back with a vengeance. Although it did slow me down a little it certainly wasn’t going to stop me getting out and seeing a few places. On my list, but in no particular order are ….

Finally getting everything I needed for my day together I headed out for the, longer than expected, walk to Parliament House.

2014-10-04 09.50.59Just a few minutes from the hotel I came across something completely out of place – a section of the Berlin Wall!! It was erected outside the German Club as a permanent reminder of the countries divided past.

The Parliament building is enormous. Situated on the top of a hill commanding incredible views out over the city in all directions. Having visited the Houses of Parliament in London, having booked weeks in advance, and experienced the queues and the security, it was difficult to believe that in Canberra you can just walk in. Yes there was security at the entrance, body scanners and x-ray machines, but it was so easy. Through in a matter of minutes I found myself wandering around the near empty corridors and galleries. Both the Senate and House of Representatives were open to view. Although there isn’t the sense of history that you get when you walk around the building in London, particularly Westminster Hall which dates back almost a thousand years and has seen such historic events as the trial of King Charles I, you do get a sense of freedom, space and relaxation which is incredible considering you are walking through the very centre of Australian Government.

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For the second time today I came across something quite unexpected. On display is an original copy of the Magna Carta. The original was signed by King John at Runnymede in 1215, following which a number of official copies were made and distributed around the kingdom. From memory I believe that four still exist of which only two are outside the United Kingdom. Next year being the 800th anniversary of the signing there are a number of exhibitions being organised bringing together the remaining copies for the first time since they were produced. Never having seen this incredibly important document before I had promised myself that I would go to one of the events. Little did I know that I would see one of the few remaining documents on the other side of the world.

2014-10-04 12.01.36The New Parliament building is  an amazing piece of architecture build right into the hill so that when you access the roof you are walking on the grass that stretches right down to ground level at the entrance. I was very impressed. As a statement of confidence in a nation, and the future of that nation, I couldn’t think of anything better.

Interestingly it took a while for the nation to actually feel confident enough to commit to the permanent construction of a Parliament building. The old, or interim, Parliament building which is at the foot of the hill was first opened on 9th May 1927 and continued in use until 9th May 1988 when the new building was opened by the Queen.

The Interim Parliament Building is now home to the Museum of Democracy. It offers a fascinating insight in to the running of Government as you get to walk through all of the main offices from the Chief Whip to the Prime Minister. You are even able to sit at the cabinet table and imagine yourself taking part it a discussion on some key part of the counties business.

2014-10-04 15.20.34On the lawn outside the building is the Aboriginal Embassy. This hut has been in place, in various forms, since the early 1970’s and is now considered to be the official embassy for the indigenous population.


King Billy outside Parliament House

Jimmy Clements, King Billy, a member of the Wiradjuri people, walked for over a week to attend the opening of Parliament House on 9th May 1927. He went there to protest that the building was on the land of his ancestors. A policeman asked Clements to leave, saying he was dressed inappropriately for the occasion. A crowd came to his aid and he remained.

The following day prominent citizens were paraded before the Duke and Duchess of York, including Clements although at the time he wasn’t considered a citizen in his own land!