Canberra, Canberra – who are you really?


Jackson Pollock, Blue poles, 1952 at the National Gallery of Australia.

Three days in Canberra and I’m still a tad confused.

The city is beautiful, perfectly laid out and very quiet at this time of year. The streets are lined with hotels and apartment blocks but not much else. I’m not sure where the living takes part.

Now, I can hear you all thinking it’s probably where my hotel was based. And, to a great degree it probably is. But, this city remains a conundrum even after extensive exploring.

Let’s recap. This city is new and it looks it. It came about because Melbourne and Sydney were fighting over who should be the capital. Canberra is right in the middle between the two cities. Sounding a little like dealing with small children? “If you two can’t stop fighting it’ll go in the middle and neither of you can have it.” Yep, that’s probably exactly how it went.

The capital came into existence in 1913 and took over as the capital in 1927. The current parliament was built in the 80s, opening in 1988 after 10 years of building, which included all the roading and infrastructure around it. It almost looks like a set from a movie. Just a few minutes from the centre of the city and your driving through bush or pasture. I read somewhere kangaroos can be a problem. I’m not surprised. I’m not sure the kangaroos realise the human race has moved in.

The city is flat. It was built and remains as it was. There’s no old part, no filtering out as populations grow. There is nothing wrong here, nothing needing fixing. Don’t get me wrong. I like it. It’s beautiful with green everywhere and some really wonderful buildings.

Parliament House is stunning. The architects Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects won the commission to build the new parliament. It was to be sited on top of a hill called Canberra, which means meeting place. Seems apt right? Well, the architect had an issue with the hill part. His belief was politicians should not be on a hill looking down on the rest of the country. They should sit amongst their people. So, they pulled the top off the hill, built Parliament House, then put the hill on the roof.

The National Gallery left me confident of the type of art I like and I’m at peace with that. I may be showing my age but pop a massive Jackson Pollock on the wall and you’ve got me smitten. They have two. They also have Matisse,  sublime etchings by Whistler and works by Ian Fairweather.

Driving back to the hotel on the last day we wondered momentarily if we had taken a wrong turn. We were not in the city, not a city we recognised anyway, one with buildings. We were surrounded on both sides of the road by bush and mountain ranges lining the horizon. But we were on a three lane road and just as the question “have we taken a wrong turn” was finished being asked the very centre of town opened up in front of us. Yep, we were in the heart of Canberra.


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