Canberra

Canberra is interesting, it’s unusual, it’s different.

100 years ago Canberra didn’t exist. It was sheep farms. Then, to stop bickering between Sydney and Melbourne over who was cool enough to be the capital city, the government decided to pick this spot of land about equidistant between the two and declared the sheep farms to be the site of Australia’s new capital.

The city streets were designed by and American landscape designer. He lined up stuff with mountains, so there’s this very pleasing perfection in the city. The city didn’t really start being built until after WWII, so there’s a lot of modernist and brutalist architecture, which happen to be two of my favourite styles. Canberra feels like a good city.

Yesterday I went to Parliament. It lives on top of Capital Hill (which lines up with mountains and stuff). Actually, it’s not so much on top of the hill as in the top of the hill. I mean, when you’re living in a democracy, you don’t go putting a giant palatial parliament on top of a hill for the plebs to look up to. No, instead you put it inside the hill and the plebs can go walking up the hill and below their feet are the upper and lower houses. It reminds me a bit of New Grange in Ireland. I’d link to it, but I can’t seem to be able to open any more brower windows.

The Australian Parliament buildings are so big that it’s about a 2km walk all the way around. I discovered this the hard way, yes, I did. But it’s that big because it’s designed to house everything and everyone for the next 200 years.

It makes the New Zealand Parliament’s mishmash of buildings seem very inadequate. Hey, can’t we make a new capital city in the middle of the Manawatu?

I also visited the Old Parliament. It’s just down the hill from the new one, all lined as up and stuff. It’s probably not the oldest building in Canberra, but it’s one of them. My favourite parts weren’t the older bits of the building, but the newer wings built in the 1970s. I especially liked the Prime Minister’s office, which last housed Bob Hawke, and its Bob-and-Karen-style wood-panelling.

My favourite room was the one dedicated to the 1975 Fraser/Whitlam hoo-ha. Using all the dramatic TV footage of the day (complete with ads from the era – “One day you’re gonna get caught with your pants down”) it relives the events that lead to the Governor General firing Prime Minister WHITLAM.

Y’know, somewhere in the New Zealand Parliament there is an upper house. It’s an empty room used for functions, but I like that it’s there and maybe one day New Zealand will have an upper house that will cause trouble. Yeah.

It’s nice and hot here. Like Sydney was, it’s like New Zealand on a really nice summer day (as opposed to those summer days that are freakishly cold, which seem to happen a lot lately). There are heaps of trees around here with heaps of naughty, noisy birds.

Last night I caught a bit of “The X Factor”, which is like an Idol show but includes oldies and groups and the judges mentor the performers as well as judging them. It was good, but it still had that kind of emptiness that Idol has at its heart.

Today there shall be museums and art galleries and I shall also wonder why there appear to be no convenience stores in downtown Canberra.

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