Our penultimate stop in Australia was the capital city of Canberra. Unsure what to expect here we kept an open mind upon arrival. I’m glad we did because it turned out that Canberra, although not the social party hub of the country, had a lot to offer us including a warm welcome with friendly locals and a relaxed unhurried feel about town – the opposite of the rollercoaster East Coast you could say.
As we spent our three days walking around town checking the map every so often to decide where to visit next and in which direction to head, locals approached us to ask if we were lost or needed help in any way. This has not happened in any other village, town or city we had visited! It suddenly felt like we had left Australia behind and landed in another country. There were no tour operators at every other step trying to suck us into buying one of their ‘deals’ either which made a refreshing change! No-one seemed to be in a rush to get to work, or to get home from work, the pavements were spacious not crowded and the roads barely busy with traffic.
The main reason we had decided to come to Canberra was to visit all the free stuff, and I’d like to thank Canberra City for providing all the free stuff too! Sydney and the like should take note! In all seriousness, we had read good reviews about the museums and galleries in Canberra, so we knew that was how we were going to spend our three days in town. Canberra was to be an educational field trip.
The National Museum of Australia – free entry – was just an amazing huge state of the art museum with informative and interesting exhibitions, where I learnt even more about the history of Australia: the Canning Stock Route, Captain Cook, Aborigines, Torres Strait Islanders and so on. We were in there for a few hours, but still hadn’t seen it all by closing time.
Also free entry was the Canberra Museum and Gallery where we had just a quick half an hour checking out their displays. We visited the ‘Floriade’ flower festival, again free entry, where huge colourful flower beds were on display.
For me though, the best two free things to do in Canberra we left until our last day to visit: New Parliament House and Old Parliament House. Firstly, the amazing thing is that these two buildings are free for the public to enter. Secondly, they have a free guided tour if you so desire or you can wander around freely on your own. Thirdly, the security is almost non-existent – since when would you be able to wander into the Houses of Parliament in London for free and un-chaperoned?! Canberra just felt so relaxed and obviously not at all under any threat. We did our own self tour in New Parliament House, where we were able to sit in the public gallery of both the House of Representatives and the Senate:
Apparently the public gallery gets very busy if Question Time is on, and you need to get a (free) ticket in advance, but it was empty when we were there as Parliament was not sitting.
After leaving (New) Parliament House we set off downhill to Old Parliament House. We were lucky enough to arrive just as a free guided tour had commenced, and so we were able to join the small group of three others for an intimate tour around the building. Highly informative, honest and educational is how I would describe our 45 minute guided tour! I was disappointed when it came to the end as I had been rather enjoying learning about Australian politics, international relationships, citizenship policies and Australia’s view of Britain and the monarchy. Again, we visited the House of Representatives and the Senate, with the difference being that we were able to sit and explore the whole room, as opposed to sitting in the public gallery, as the rooms are no longer used for Parliament. The deep red sofas in the Senate were very comfortable, and we learnt they were this colour in line with Westminster and the House of Commons. Today however, given that the relationship between Australia and Britain is not as close as it used to be, and Australia wishes to stamp it’s own mark on it’s politics and not be led by Britain, the colour of the furniture in the Senate in the New Parliament House is more of a pinky-red, so we were informed.
And oh, there was a replica Speakers chair with gown and wig which was just crying out to me to be tried on!
All in all, we had a very successful trip to Canberra and agreed it was well worth the visit. After three days I was even getting used to finding my bearings go around in circles quite literally in the ‘City of Circles’ – thank you Walter Burley Griffin for designing such a symmetrical masterpiece.