I was looking forward to my weekend in Canberra for the people I was going there to see than for the city itself. Canberra has something of a reputation for being very sterile, boring and you’d only ever live there if you were somehow involved with the Federal government.
But in recent years, Australia’s capital has undergone something of a renaissance. Some large companies have moved there, and the tourism office has some excellent sites to promote. Some of these include the Australian War Memorial, the Institute of Sport, Questacon, Royal Australian Mint, the National Museum and Library, and the old and new Parliament Houses. Some of these charge an entry fee, but plenty are free or donation.
As you drive around Canberra you see all these impressive buildings and none more so than new Paliament House. Although it might resemble a hobbit house because it’s underneath a hill and you can have a picnic right above where politicians spin their bullshit, I reckon it’s a beautiful structure. It’s also open to the public every day and free tours go through it every half hour.
Just up the wide expanse of ANZAC Parade is the equally impressive Australian War Memorial. This is where I chose to spend my limited sight-seeing time and I can heartily recommend it. It’s free (or donation) to get in and even though I spent 5 hours walking around it, I didn’t see everything. While the layout is a little confusing at first, you are given a map as soon as you walk in the door to help you find your way around (and it also includes a list of ‘must see’ features, so you can go straight to the highlights). The exhibits change fairly frequently but the standing exhibits are excellent as well and cover Australia’s involvement in wars, regional conflicts and peacekeeping efforts from the Boer War (before we were officially Australia) all the way through to the current war in Iraq. Naturally the largest exhibits are those for the First and Second World Wars and you could easily spend a day wandering these two halls.
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Another excellent exhibit is the Hall of Valour – 57 of the 96 Victoria Crosses won by Australians are on display in the largest publicly accessible collection of VCs in the world. Along with each VC is a photo of the recipient as well as a brief bio and an excerpt from their commendation (ie: why they received the medal). As I read about the actions of these men, I was amazed at what humans will do under extreme duress and to protect their mates.
Canberra in winter is a cold place and also very dry. The effects of massive bushfires a couple of years ago are still very visible and water restrictions are still in effect. The city looked a little bleak and stark, but it was easy to see how good it would look once Spring comes.
If you’re coming to Canberra, don’t expect to be able to walk everywhere. The place is quite spread out and you’ll need either a car or figure out their (apparently) excellent bus system.