Canberra – day 284

Getting off the bus at 6.00am was actually a blessing – not sure what happened but Jayne was surprisingly warm whilst my feet had effectively turned into blocks of ice!! We quickly navigated our way through the dark and deserted streets (apart from a couple of hard core drinkers still partying from the night before) towards the YHA. Too early to check in, we made ourselves a coffee and sat in the communal kitchen waiting for the spa and pool to open! Might as well warm up in a civilised manner!!! Sat in the sauna for a while, still trying to get feeling to my extremities although we both ended up bypassing the pool and spa as neither of them were heated… A warm shower and we were good to go! Had some (free) fruit toast for breakfast as we waited for Julie to pick us up. Decided to head to the Parliament House first to do one of their free guided tours. The roads were still surrounded in fog, we made our way to Capital Hill, through airport-like security to enter the building which is dug into the hill. The tour was actually really informative and the guide, Shaun, was clearly passionate about his job and the 45 minute tour passed really quickly as we visit the Great Hall, the House of Representatives, the Senate and past seemingly endless corridors. The House of Representatives and the Senate reflect the same colours used in the British Houses of Parliament, although using the hues from the Australian flora and fauna (apparently!). We also learnt why the kangaroo and emu are used so much to represent the Australian government (cause they can only move forwards, not backwards) and that when the lights and bells ring in the house, the delegates have only four minutes to get to the correct chamber before the doors are locked, preventing anyone from entering or leaving, which can have a great impact on the passing or blocking of new laws. 
We then took a lift to the grass topped roof which is topped by an 81 metre Hugh flagpole. The rooftop lawns encompass 23 hectares of gardens and provided superb 360-degree view, especially now the fog had lifted. 
Next stop was a drive by the old Parliament House and, located on the front lawn, the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, which is an impertinent site in the struggle for equality and representation for indigenous Australians. We then drove to the Australian War Memorial. Considered Canberra’s most rewarding museum experience, it wins ‘Australia’s best tourist attraction’ regularly and features halls dedicated to WWI, WWII and conflicts from 1945 to the present day. A spectacular aircraft hall located below the memorial was also really interesting, showcasing original fighter jets and other equipment used whilst a sound and light show blares out in the Anzac hall.  The entrance to the museum is via a commemorative courtyard with a roll of honour of the Australians war dead. Family members have attached bright-red paper poppies to the names of the relative. These poppies of remembrance reflect those that flowered on the battlegrounds of Belgium, France and Gallipoli in the spring of 1915. Spent time looking at the seemingly never ending list of names, fully aware that some of them represented entire families that had been wiped out. Managed to find a few ‘Stockdale’ names in the plaques but no ‘Langford’. Behind the courtyard is the mosaic encrusted Hall of Memory. This is home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, representing all Australians who have given their lives during wartime. The mosaic images of the four representatives of the Australian Military Corp (army, navy, airforce and nursing) was absolutely stunning as was the four plain sculptures in the back of the hall all made in different material to represent the different corps. Walked down the Anzac parade, enjoying the glorious sunshine and visiting the different sculptures as we chatted about past and upcoming holiday destinations. All feeling hungry, we headed to Julie’s favourite noodle restaurant and had the most incredible Laksa soup – a combination of Chinese and Malaysian cuisine, the coconut and chilli, meat and vegetable noodle soup was perfect and just what we needed to keep us going on our tour of the city.
After lunch, we went to the National Arboretum. Located on land previously impacted by bushfires, the arboretum is a ever-developing showcase of trees from around the world. It has excellent views over the city as many of the plantings are still small as they are in their early years. There was a sculpture at the top of one of the viewpoints that shows the words ‘wide brown land’, three words from the famous poem ‘My Country’, written by poet Dorothea Mackellar when she was living in England and missing her home country, Australia.Drove through the streets, looking at the university in our way to Black Mountain which is located northwest of the city. At the summit of the mountain is the 195 metre high Telstra Tower. Allowed to visit the viewing platform at 66 metres up the shaft we had panoramic views of the city, including Lake Burley Griffin which was filled by damming the Molonglo River in 1963 with the 33m-high Scrivener Dam. Dropping us back at the YHA, we said goodbye to Julie – grateful that she was happy to be our personal chauffeur and tour guide for the day. There was no way we would have seen so much of Canberra under our own steam and on public transport! Were picked up again from the hostel soon afterwards by Connor who took us out to a nearby bar for a few drinks and a catch up. Fortunately, not as messy as the last time we went out for ‘a drink’, all three of us were giggling about various stories and the evening passed really quickly. Connor dropped us off at the supermarket so we could get some stuff for our coach to Sydney tomorrow before we walked back to the hostel, climbed into our bunk beds and passed out, exhausted from the night bus followed by a brilliantly busy day. 

Sunday 17th July 2016