We started our fourth day in Canberra by doing a drive around Lake Burley Griffin which is the centre point of Canberra City’s master plan. We stopped at a number of points as we pottered on our way around most of the lake.
Our first stop was at Telstra Tower on Black Mountain only to find that it, and its outstanding lookout, were closed indefinitely.
The tower rises 195 metres above the mountain summit and is a long established Canberra landmark. Apart from its observation deck, the tower once had a revolving restaurant and a large display of telecommunications technology.
Further around he lake, we found something quite unexpected and unique – Canberra’s National Rock Garden. It’s located at the bottom end of the lake near the Scrivener Dam that holds the water of the Molonglo River back to form Lake Burley Griffin. I assume that it will be more developed in the future, but right now it consists of a dozen huge boulders of different types of rock. These range from Ballarat Quartz to Canberra Limestone. Amazingly, there is a complex set of security cameras here – as if anyone is going to steal a 3 or 5 tonne boulder.
We have seen all of Canberra’s iconic tourist sites many times before but it is always worth revisiting some of them to see what is new.
Back in the Parliamentary Triangle, we stopped at Old Parliament House. This was the original home of Australia’s Parliament shortly after federation in 1901. It witnessed 61 years of Australian legislature, with a myriad of associated events, and was central to the development of Canberra. The opening of Parliament heralded the symbolic birth of the nation’s democratic capital after federation.
In the last decade of its use as a parliament, the building had a chronic shortage of available space Construction of a new building began in 1981, and was intended to be ready by Australia Day, 26 January 1988, the 200th anniversary of European settlement in Australia. It was expected to cost A$220 million. Neither the deadline nor the budget was met.
After Parliament relocated to the new building, there was a debate on whether to demolish Old Parliament House. Finally, was decided that its most suitable use would be a ‘living museum of political history’. The building was re-opened in December 1992 as the Museum of Australian Democracy.
Recent protests have see the building set alight on two occasions. On 21 December, last year, the front doors were scorched by a fire, lit by protesters, whose origin was either accidental or intentional.. Nine days later, the heritage doors, portico, and façade were all substantially damaged by a larger fire, that was intentionally lit. A number of people are now facing charges in relation to this stupidity. It is estimated that the cost of repairs will exceed $4 million.
Nearby are the Old Parliament House Gardens which I have never seen before. They are enclosed by a large hedge that ensures their privacy. Over recent years, the Gardens have been restored to their former glory, enhanced with the introduction of features such as seating pavilions, pergolas, rose arbours, pathways, gateways and the refurbishment of the tennis courts and bowling green.
Our new Parliament House was designed by Mitchell/Giurgola and Thorp Architects, whose design was selected from 329 entries in an international competition. Ten thousand people worked on the construction of the building, which is built almost entirely of Australian materials. Parliament House is one of the largest buildings in the southern hemisphere and it cost $1.1 billion to build. It is 300 metres long and 300 metres wide, has a floor area of more than 250 000 square metres and has more than 4500 rooms. When Parliament meets, 4000 to 5000 people work in the building.
The building is set into a hill that is covered by a grass lawn. Before the days of terrorism and covid, people could walk on this grass roof as the design symbolised that a democratic parliament is never above the people. The sentiment is still there but security now prevails..
A distinctive mast on which the the Australian flag flies, marks the exact centre of the building. It stands at 81 metres high and weighs 220 tonnes. It is one of the largest stainless steel structures in the world. The Australian flag flies over Parliament House 24 hours a day. Our coat of arms features a shield showing the insignia of each state and is supported by a kangaroo and an emu – two animals that can only go forwards, not backwards.
Across the road from the Old Parliament House is the random collection of tents of the “Aboriginal Tent Embassy’. It is a permanent protest occupation site that has become a focus for representing the political rights of Aboriginal Australians. It was first established in 1972 when four Aboriginal men gathered under a beach umbrella to protest the then government’s approach to Indigenous Australian land rights, it is now made up of a haphazard collection of signs and tents. The government don’t consider it to be an official embassy but it has been a site of protest and support for grassroots campaigns for the recognition of Indigenous land rights, Aboriginal deaths in custody, self-determination, and Indigenous sovereignty. It is regarded by the Australian people with something between derision and firm support.
In the middle of the day, we had a long and relaxing lunch with our old friends, John and Janine Snare. At the time of my service in Vietnam, John was a young Captain and Duntroon graduate. He was the Officer in Command of my unit, 85 Transport Platoon. I remember him as a good leader – he would have to have been in order to lead a unit of 60 men that was mostly comprised of cynical National Servicemen (men who wee drafted into the army and who had no real intention of any career in the armed services).He treated us in a way no different from regular soldiers and I believe that our work reflected this. I have kept in touch with John over the years since we began holding our early reunions and I always enjoy his, and Janine’s, company. John retired some years ago as a Colonel after a long and successful military career.
After lunch, Jill and I spent some time at the National Botanical Gardens on the lower slopes of Black Mountain. These botanical gardens have the world’s most comprehensive display of living Australian native plants.
We followed a 1 1/4 kilometre long winding trail for a couple of hours that took us through various plant habitats such as desert, coastal and rainforest environments. Mid summer is probably not the best time to visit these gardens as most of the plants flower in spring, However there was still plenty to see. The gardens are not only home to plants but many birds, animals and reptiles.
I’m afraid that a number of people (including me) are having trouble seeing the images in the emails that my blog sends out. This problem seems to be most prevalent with people using Apple devices and/or Apple Mail. There is nothing that I can do on my website to change this and I have raised the issue with Apple’s technical support people. They have escalated the problem to their software engineers in the USA. In the meantime, the best way to see my complete posts is to click on the blue coloured title in the email and it will open the original post on the website and include all the images.