My fears of a freezing cold night were overblown. Though the campervan was not as warm as a comfortable bed, I think my sheer exhaustion kicked in and I slept like a log. However, not realising that I was parked less than a 10 minute drive from the Canberra Information Centre (oddly located more than a short walk from the CBD), I wake up early and rush to get ready and complete my drive. I am over an hour early for the opening of the Information Centre so decide to snooze on the parking lot before freshening up in their toilet facilities.
The lady in the centre is lovely, she explains that most the museums in Canberra are free to access and that a day is not enough to see everything that Canberra holds. I take her on her word, noting how many museums are listed on the double sided sheet she presents me – however, I have already mentally my priority list. At the top of my list is the Parliament House, of which I am informed there is a free public tour. I decide to check the time of the next tour and the lady informs that if I jump in my campervan now, I should just make it. I follow her instructions and the route is easy enough – it is in a straight road over the river – I don’t get lost and I am ten minutes early.
The Parliament House is situated a short walk from the Old Parliament House but the two could not be more distinct if they tried. The new Parliament House is stunning. A bold, statemented building that is forward thinking and a real landmark. I am blown away at first sight and cannot wait for the tour to begin. The ten minute flies by and the tour commences. Our guide is a lovely Italian Australian called Maria, who has taken up the role in her retirement and is clearly passionate about her role. What she does not know about Parliament House is no doubt not worth knowing and she imparts her knowledge with a fervent hunger for questions. The new Parliament House is very open door, an access all areas tour that has not holds bars is a refreshing approach to a political scheme. The inside of the building is vast, but has a subtle grandeur that is far from imposing and reflects the open approach shown to the public. Though there are echoes of British Parliament, with Australia fulfilling its nod to the Commonwealth, new Parliament House also has a refreshingly Australian take on things – which may seem odd when learn that is was designed by an American! After Parliament House, I decide that it is time to venture into the CBD.
Now I have heard very few positives about Canberra’s over designed centre and so there is rabid curiosity to see if the statements are over exaggerations or mere home truths. Sadly, the latter is the case. Canberra’s centre is without character. At its heart is an over sized indoor shopping centre, that looks like a throwback to the past. There are a few shops outside of the centre but they are in the minority and are seemingly characterless too. Having been impressed by the beauty of the riverside landscaping, it is a major disappointment to see a city which could have wowed be so cold and dreary. I waste little time finding food before weighing up my options. Tied on my list of priorities are the National Museum of Australia and the National Gallery of Australia. I settle to undertake them in order of proximity. With the National Museum on the same side of the river as the shopping centre, I jump in the car and head across.
The building itself is vast, which in itself is a pleasant surprise. Many Australians have told me about the lack of history in their country, but even before the museum visit, I had started to think that by the term history, they mean white history. Australia is a young country in global terms, but before white man took hold, there was, of course, the wonderfully fascinating Aboriginal culture. I am enchanted to behold how much worth is placed in non-white history within the museum, but equally intrigued by the way in which white man’s interference is projected as damaging. While I try and take as much in as possible, the museum is more than a day trip in itself. With so much material presented, it is difficult to choose which areas to focus upon. After an extended chat with one of the museum’s guides, who informs me further about the origins of my Australian home, Melbourne, I decide that my mind will go into information overload if I don’t change pace. I start to wish that I had set aside more time for Canberra as I head out of the museum and start my drive to the National Gallery of Australia.
Located next to the National Portrait Gallery of Australia, a medium which fascinates me, I spend a moment contemplating which one holds more pull. I decide that the National Gallery holds more weight, having had so many recommendations prior to my visit. My decision does not let me down. Once again the building is vast and stocked full of amazing pieces. While many galleries I have visited within Australia have had a strange focus on traditional British work, the National Gallery is eclectic in its approach to art and often serves as introduction to different mediums. I am captivated as I meander through and before I know it a good few hours have past and darkness has already set in. With only one more place on my priority list, I decide that despite that darkness, I will attempt a visit to the Australian War Memorial.
With only a short drive back the other side of the river (my lunch time planning clearly was not that thorough), I park up and immediately spot two massive kangaroos bouncing along on the grass. I am amazed to see these wild creatures at home in the city, but decide to not get too close. I make my way via an alternative route to the Australian War Memorial only to find it closed but nicely lit. At its entrance are a group of school children being led through their paces on some manic fitness programme and I decide that I have really missed my chance and that maybe somethings are best left undone for the next time… With Canberra as the last real stop on my trip, I decide to spend the evening relaxing – however, Canberra is not an easy place to find amusement. Without any idea of where to head, I consult the internet for theatrical or musical entertainment but find nothing.
I wander around the now empty CBD and stumble accidentally upon a series of small restaurants. I opt for Chinese and read the cinema listings, it seems that there is little else to do. I select Bridesmaids and head to the cinema on what turns out to be the opening night of the last ever Harry Potter film. Surrounded by people in costume, I feel out of place and buy my ticket for the film that no one else wants to see and enter the cinema. With the film making me laugh so hard that I cry, I leave the cinema refreshed and relishing the fact that I probably had the best ticket of the night. I return to my campervan at almost midnight and decide to drive for a good hour before finding a rest stop.
I have to energy to sleep and at least that way I am one step closer to home. Once on the road my energy dwindles and I am only just an hour outside of Canberra when I pull into a truck stop. I am not sure if I am allowed to sleep there but decide that I am not going to seek an alternative. I jump in the back, set my alarm and the next thing I know I am dreaming of some far off land…