Canberra's Parliamentary Houses (new and old)

14th May, Canberra, Australia

Manda writes:

Visiting Telstra Tower was quite an experience this morning. We, along with what seemed like a few hundred school children piled into the lifts and up the tower. That's an exaggeration as it was probably just a class of year 6's but what they didn't make up in numbers, they certainly compensated with their voices! I felt exhausted just watching them!

From above, Canberra looks like a small picturesque city and consequently it was easy to pick out the landmarks. With Canberra's most prominent landmark as a benchmark, the Captain Cook Memorial Jet, it wasn't difficult getting our bearings. This jet sits on Lake Burley Griffin and is basically a geyser-like fountain. It pumps out water to 147 metres and at any one time, there is 6 tonnes of water in the air. That's one powerful pump!

Canberra, as viewed from the Telstra Tower.

Being the capital city, there is no shortage of governement buildings in Canberra. We spent most of the day tracking these down and they simply looked superb in amongst the autumnal colours. First stop was Parliament House, the home of Australia's federal governement. My first impression of this place was that it looks modern and tastefully decorated. We joined a tour and were shown around the areas open to the public. Our guide, Helen, gave us a brief history about this place and explained why a new parliament building was subsequently built (there is an Old Parliament House). Constructed around the time of the first world war, the Old Parliament House was always intended as a temporary home (building plans were simplified because of budgetary constraints, what with the cost of fighting a war).

The architect who designed Parliament House was influenced by the straight lines and axes of landmarks around Capitol Hill, Washington D.C. and this explains the similarities. The ground on which the house sits on used to be a mound. However, the then prime minister wanted the building to be on the same level as the people. The house had to be close to the people, accessible to the public. The ground was subsequently flattened and the earth that was dug up was used to landscape the complex - the building has a grass covering and the common joke is that it is the only parliament where the public can walk all over their politicians!

Helen showed us around the Great Hall, the House of Representatives Chamber and the Senate Chamber. We were allowed to take photos in the public galleries as there were no parliamentary proceedings going on at the time.

The House of Representatives Chamber.

The view from the roof top was pretty good too:

View from the top of Parliament House. Old Parliament House can be seen in the distance (white building), and beyond that the Australian War Memorial (a few tiny pixels in this photo!).

We headed for the Old Parliament House next. We didn't go inside and just took photos around the grounds. Our attention was drawn to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on a patch right opposite the Old Parliament House. Some Aboriginals erected these tents in the 70s, along with slogans of peace and anti-genocide, in response to the then governement's refusal to recognise land rights. These ram-shackle tents and hand-painted protest signs are in marked contrast to the clean, orderly surroundings of the Old Parliament House. It is, nevertheless, of significant cultural importance.

The Aboriginal Tent Embassy.

We then did a drive-by of some of the foreign embassy buildings (shooting a camera, I hasten to add!). Some of them looked great, incorporating their unique country architecture to what might otherwise be a dull stately building.

All building-ed out, we made tracks back to the campsite. We had a royal wedding to watch! A Tasmanian lass, Mary, is set to wed her prince, Prince Frederik of Denmark. Apparently, they met at a bar (The Slip Inn) in Sydney during the Olympics in 2000. The whole of Australia is embracing this news and are celebrating this fairytale event. Some of them are celebrating in more ways than one. Apparently a few blokes were spotted in the bar (where the Australian princess-to-be first met 'Freddie') with signs around their necks: 'Kiss me, I'm a frog'. I guess the question is 'do you feel lucky punk?'! Well do ya?!