On one of my first days in Sydney, I decided to take a bus and head out of the city and go to the capital of Australia, Canberra. Contrary to popular belief, Canberra is in fact the capital. Not Sydney and not Melbourne, but Canberra. A small unknown spot on the map with only 350.000 inhabitants, located midway between the two previously mentioned cities.
Whenever I told someone about my plan to go to Canberra, I was met with comments like “but there’s nothing there”. Apparently, Canberra is a boring city with nothing to see and therefore, no one goes there – not even Australians. But it’s the capital, and since I’m a capital collector and generally believe in making up your own mind about places rather than just seeing whatever is popular with others, I decided to head to the capital and see it with my own eyes.
Early in the morning, I caught a Greyhound bus from the central station in Sydney and four hours later, I had arrived in the center of Canberra.
The first thing that I wanted to see was the Australian War Museum. I picked up a map at the tourist office, determined to walk everywhere that day. Something that I would later regret! The weather was so hot that day and in some areas it even got to 45 degrees. Thankfully, I had a water bottle and I wore light clothes, but I still felt as though I could faint any minute. I used any excuse to walk in the shade. And since the distances in Canberra are quite far between the sights, I probably should’ve just spent some money on the city busses instead of dragging myself around the city.
I finally managed to get to the Australian War Memorial an hour later. The memorial was opened in 1941 and is the national memorial to the members of the armed forces and for anyone who has given their life or fought in wars that involved the Commonwealth of Australia. The place is huge, so I decided to spend a few hours there, reading about the many many wars in the National Military Museum and studying the many sculptures in the Sculpture Garden.
One thing that caught my eye, was the exhibition of the Kokoda Trail, which was the location of the battle between Japan and Australia in 1942 during the Second World War. I recently heard about this, when I went on the 1000 Steps Kokoda Walk in Ferntree Gully, Victoria.
When I felt that it was time to leave the memorial, I walked out the front door and was met with a beautiful sight! From the memorial, I could see all the way to the Parliament House on Capital Hill, which is 3,5 km. away. There are no roads that connect the memorial and the Parliament House, but there is a clear line of sight from both places. Thinking about it afterwards, I knew that this was the case, but I had forgotten and managed to get my mind blown. It was a really cool sight!
When Australia was brought together as one country in 1901, the plan to build a new capital begun. Since Melbourne and Sydney couldn’t agree on which one of them should be the capital, it was an easy solution to just build a new one. They chose a location midway between the two cities and in 1927, Canberra became the new capital.
In 1911, Walter Burley Griffin won the Federal Capital Design Competition with his design being influenced by the 20th century movements; City Beautiful and Garden City.
The design of the city is what I really like about Canberra; The clear lines of sight and the fantastic views you get because of it. It’s so different from anything I’ve ever seen before – and probably ever will see.
One thing that I could’ve gone without though is their many roundabouts that are all enormous and completely impossible to figure out. Especially for pedestrians and cyclists. I came across several roundabouts and even though my destination was so close, I wasn’t able to get there, as there was absolutely no way of walking across any of the roundabouts. It was in the middle of the day, so there were cars everywhere. Normally, there would be some sort of bridge or pedestrian crossing, but no. There was nothing. So instead, I had to walk several kilometres to finally get to a pedestrian bridge and cross the busy roads.
The Parliament House was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp Architects and opened in 1988 by Queen Elizabeth II herself. Before that, the Provisional Parliament House (known as the Old Parliament House) was used to hold meetings, but when the new one was opened, it took over. The design of the new Parliament House is very interesting; it’s shaped like two boomerangs and is topped by a flagpole that is 81 m. tall.
My original plan was to walk all the way to the parliament, but since I had to spend so much time to even get to Lake Burley Griffin – an artificial lake that divides the city – because of the terrible road systems, and because I was hot and exhausted, I chose to simply view it from the lake and save it for another day.
Canberra is known as the “bush capital”, which refers to the natural vegetation in and around the city. Canberra is in many ways different to any other Australian city, especially due to the fact that it’s located in the country and not near the ocean. Therefore, the heat is more dry, which I could definitely feel on the day that I was there.
When I had finally crossed the bridge over the road to the lake, I caught sight of an automatic plant waterer in the Commonwealth Park and immediately ran to it and danced around in it. It was so nice to get cooled down after walking for so long in the hot, dry weather. While I was having a shower (fully clothed, it dried straight away anyways), a man came by to shut them down. He could obviously see that I was a bit desperate and since my water bottle water had gotten too warm to drink, he showed me another waterer, where I could get fresh drinking water.
We had a good chat together and he then decided to show me the National Capital Exhibition, which I hadn’t even heard about before. He had to continue his job, so he left me to it, and I was really glad that he brought me there. I didn’t have much time to spend, as I had to catch the bus back to Sydney and still had to walk several kilometres to the bus station, but in the time that I did have there, I learnt some very cool things about Canberra. I learned about the city through audio-visual displays, a short film, photographs and artifacts, and viewed the Parliament House across the lake from the big windows.
A few moments later, I decided that it was time to head back to the city center and the bus. But before getting on board, I spent some time in the main shopping center and shopping street, which was surprisingly lively.
Despite what citizens of other Australian cities may believe, Canberra is a spirited city with many opportunities and interesting things to do and see. I really believe that it’s underestimated and that more people should give it a chance and explore the city despite what others may say. Personally, I found the city very interesting and enjoyed my time there a lot. There may not be as much to see and do there as the larger Australian cities, but Canberra has its own charm and is worth a visit in my opinion.