Posted by: asprockett | June 11, 2013

One Wonderful Weekend in Canberra

Thanks to a very generous offer from a Rotarian friend, we were able to spend last weekend in Canberra, the capital city of Australia, visiting him and his family. It was our first time to really get away from the hustle and bustle of Sydney since our trip to the Blue Mountains several months ago. Canberra, about a 3 ½ hour drive from Sydney, was the political answer to the 1901 rivalry between Sydney and Melbourne about where to locate the capital of the new nation. Our National Geographic Traveler guide describes the location as “equally inconvenient to both cities.” But Canberra should be thought of as much more than an inconveniently located compromise.

Although we only had the weekend in the city, we got a good taste for Canberra thanks to our warm and welcoming hosts. We started our first full day in the city with a hike up Red Hill where we saw wild grey kangaroos.

Wild kangaroos on Red Hill in Canberra.

Wild kangaroos on Red Hill in Canberra.

For us, the trip was pretty much made at that point, as we had only seen ‘roos in Taronga Zoo. Seeing them in the wild was one of Dan’s main goals in Australia, so at least he can return to the US happy. A short hike up the hill provided just the opportunity we’d been hoping for, and at the end we were treated to a beautiful view of the city.

We took a quick drive around the city to view the Old Parliament House and the Aboriginal “embassy” (essentially an approved, permanent protest) before heading to Parliament House.

Aboriginal protest site across from the Old Parliament building.

Aboriginal protest site across from the Old Parliament building.

After our weekend in Canberra we have learned quite a bit about how Australia’s federal government operates. I am left wishing we had the ability to dissolve Congress when it gets to a deadlock, just as Australia can. We got another spectacular view of the city from the roof of Parliament House. Yes. The roof. As our host explained, the design was created such that the people could always stand above their political representatives, reminding the elected officials of their duty to their constituents.

A view from the front of Parliament House. You can walk up to enjoy the grassy space below the metal triangle, on the roof over the politicians' heads.

A view from the front of Parliament House. You can walk up to enjoy the grassy space below the metal triangle, on the roof over the politicians’ heads.

From the roof of Parliament House, you can look down the Anzac Parade to the War Memorial and Ainsley Hill, with Lake Burley Griffin and the city below. The Parliament House also holds a 1297 version of the Magna Carta, limiting the rights of the King and establishing the rights of the English people. Parts of the Magna Carta are actually still in force in parts of the United Kingdom and Australia. Before leaving Parliament House, our final treat was to have lunch with Queen Elizabeth. I must say, she was so struck upon meeting us that she remained speechless throughout our entire meal!

Posing with Queen Elizabeth at the Parliament House.

Posing with Queen Elizabeth at the Parliament House.

From Parliament House, we headed to the Australian War Memorial. The War Memorial recognizes all Australians who have died in battle. Attached to the memorial is an extensive museum about each of the wars Australia has fought. (And by extensive I mean you would need at least 3-4 days to get through all of the displays.)

Australian War Memorial wall. The names of soldiers killed in wars in which Australia has participated are engraved on the wall.

Australian War Memorial wall. The families of slain Australian soldiers leave poppies next to their names engraved on the wall. 

The museum does a really interesting job of integrating the displays of airplanes and warships with narrated presentations, video, photographs and informative placards. We had to be shooed out of the museum at closing time, where we paused outside for the daily remembrance. The War Memorial has started a tradition of sharing the personal story of a soldier who has died in war, “lest we forget.” By telling an individual’s own story, it is a moving reminder of the heavy toll of war.

War Memorial ceremony in remembrance of a soldier who fought in WWII.

HDR photograph of the War Memorial ceremony, in remembrance of one soldier who fought during WWII.

Before heading back to our host’s home for another delicious meal (and let me tell you, we ate very well over the weekend!), we took a trip to the top of Mount Ainsley to view the city as the sun set and the lights came on. The view from the top of the hill helped us get a better idea of Canberra’s sprawling reach.

A view of Canberra at dusk from the top of Mount Ainsley.

A view of Canberra at dusk from the top of Mount Ainsley.

Our evening ended with wine and a rugby game on TV. Dan and I (well, more Dan than me) have a better understanding of the rules of Rugby Union now. Wait, Rugby League? Union? Agggh! Tell me again in which league the New Zealand All Blacks play?

We then spent Sunday morning at the (free) Australian National Portrait Gallery. The gallery features a paragraph long description of each of the portraits, giving us an introduction to the individual’s contributions as well as a better understanding of aspects of Australian history and culture. We also strolled around near Lake Burley Griffin and peaked into the National Library before returning home for a traditional Australian lunch of prawns in hollandaise and roasted leg of lamb. (See, I told you we were well fed this weekend!) We had just enough time for a quick drive through the Australian National University campus before catching our bus back to Sydney.

There are a number of things we would still like to do in Canberra, so it looks like it will have to remain on our list for a return visit.



  1. Oh, good tips! We’ll be spending a couple of days in Canberra next month. So excited!

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