Monday, January 29, 2007

Australia Day

Our Australia day was busy. It started with a tour round New Parliament House at 9.00am. It is a beautiful building. It was opened in 1988 after building costs went way over the budget of $700 million; the actual cost was around $1.7 billion, worth every Australian $.

A lot of the building is underground as city planner Burley Griffin did not approve of the seat of government being on high. Instead the people of Canberra look up to an 81 feet high stainless steel flagpole, with a flag as big as a bus that crowns Capital Hill. We went out onto the roof and had views down to the Old Parliament House, the lake beyond and the War Memorial with Mount Ainslie behind. There was turf on the roof to reinforce the hill effect.

An Aboriginal mosaic outside the entrance depicts a meeting place, Canberra means meeting place. The soft greens in the House of Representatives are taken from the various colours of gum trees and the pinks of the Senate House from the colour of the the blossoms and the rocks in the interior of Australia.

We saw an enormous tapestry of a eucalyptus forest in the great hall which was set up in case wet weather meant Australia Day events had to come inside. The painting the tapestry depicted by Arthur Boyd was on the first floor. Other artworks were scattered throughout the building, Aboriginal paintings are included, although indigenous MPs are rarer than women MPs, and there were the usual Prime Ministers portraits.

A quick trip to the Parliament gift shop revealed an interesting line in Whips .... I can only speculate what the MPs do with those in their spare time. I did succumb to the allure of the brand spanking new Australian of the Year, Prof Tim Flannery's book 'The Weather Makers - The history and future impact of climate change'. The front cover blurb by Bill Bryson says 'It would be hard to imagine a better or more important book' so I guess I had better knuckle down and read it.

We watched a flypast and heard the roar of a 21 gun salute from the Terrace Café on the first floor at the front of Parliament House, above the Coat of Arms with the kangaroo and emu, animals that can't go backward exemplifying a nation moving forwards not backwards.

The Rose Garden was our next port of call. It provided a peaceful, scented, enclosed space in the middle of the city, with a bowling green and tennis courts. It was noticeably short on shade so we didn't hang around too long. There was an interesting Women's suffrage timeline and fountain.

Then we got involved in a Protest. Because we came in a little late we weren't quite sure what is was all about, but Peace signs and Thinking Globally acting locally banners flew along with the Aboriginal flag and Indigenous Elders led the Australian Day Protest outside Old Parliament House, Canberra. We joined in and put our gum leaves on the fire for 'justice and peace'.

Then we joined a Tour round Old Parliament house which was built in 1927 and used until it nearly burst at the seams and relocated to the New Parliament House in 1988. It was designed by John Smith Murdock a government architect. Sombre wood and traditional green and red leather seating of both chambers reflected the Westminster model as did the ornate Speakers chair. The Prime ministers office was on corner of building with big windows to two fronts, they worked with their backs to the windows, there were no security concerns in those days. The Press loved the building as knew what was going on, no sound proofing, and they enjoyed close proximity to the decision making machine, their press office was over cabinet office which one Prime Minister referred to having 'the leakiest roof'. We had a swift lunch break here and then moved swiftly on.

The National Portrait Gallery is in Old Parliament House, it is due to be moved to a new building in 2008. We saw a good selection of eminent Australians with bang up to date portrait of cricketer McGrath. Lots of women represented (including photo of Germaine Greer) and historical portraits of early Australian women pioneers.

The to draw breath and clear our heads a little we drove up to the top of Mount Ainslie and enjoyed the fab views over Canberra.

In the evening we went to the Fireworks Display. Kim prepared our Picnic and very yummy it was too, and we positioned ourselves at Regatta Point, in Commonwealth Park. The picnic included Anzac biscuits baked by sister Sarah and Lamington Cake, both very Australian. Anzac biscuits were so called because the sweet chewy biscuit would survive the long journey out to the troops in Galipolli. I have no idea why Lamington cake is called that.

We were entertained with pre firework events on Lake Griffin - dragon boat, jet ski and skulls racing. There was a pageant of old boats in fancy dress. A live band Heuristic played good Australian rock. A stunning sunset over surrounding mountains provided a fantastic setting and signalled the start of the fireworks. They were fabulous, more intimate than Sydney's New Years Eve extravaganza, here in Canberra they appeared to be right on top of us and at end Captain Cooks Memorial Jet joined in with a huge coloured plume of water. Utterly magical.

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