Archive for the ‘Parliament House’ Category

Everything Worthwhile in Canberra in 24 Hours

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

Our second day in Canberra got off to a late start since Justin and I were in no rush and Angela was exhausted from working on her paper the day before. We made breakfast in Angie’s apartment and then caught the bus up Capitol Hill to see the Parliament Building that we had failed to reach on foot the day before.

“Parliament house is a new building, which replaced an older, more modest Parliament House in 1988. It is a rather arrestingly horrible structure, crowned with a ridiculous erection that looks like nothing so much as a very large Christmas-tree stand. On the way in I stopped beside a large ornamental pool to have a look at the rooftop erection. ‘Largest aluminium structure in the Southern Hemisphere,’ declared with evident pride a man with a camera around his neck who saw me studying it. ‘And are there many other aluminium structures competing for the honor?’ I asked before I could stop myself”
- Bill Bryson

Parliament House complete with Christmas Tree stand topper

View of the grounds from the front of the Parliament building

“To enter the Parliament house I had to submit to a security inspection and had a small pocket knife taken away from me and twenty minutes later was sawing away on a scone in the cafeteria with something far more lethal. The whole of Parliament House is rather like that- superficially grave and security conscious, in keeping with the trappings of an important nation, but at the same time really quite relaxed as if they know that no international terrorists are going to come storming over the parapets and that visitors are mostly just people like me who want to see where it all happens and have a nice cup of tea and a bread product in the cafeteria”
-Bill Bryson

Main lobby in the Parliament building

Once you get into the Parliament building you are left to wander as whimsy takes you. Having grown up in Washington DC this seems absolutely preposterous to me. If you wanted to so much as walk into the lobby of a government building of any significance in DC you would have to submit to a security screening, full body scan, finger printing, metal detecting wand, pat down, light frisking, background check, and quite possibly be asked to provide a blood or urine sample. Assuming you are not deemed a terrorist after all that you would probably still have to walk around with an armed escort and a name tag with your finer print and picture ID on it. However, inside the Parliament building nobody seems to be terribly concerned with security of this magnitude. Once we were inside we opted not to do one of the hour long guided tours and instead let Angela take us around and give us the more concise run down of things.

Justin and I sitting in the Senate chamber. There are two houses to Australian parliment. The color of the Senate room matches the colour scheme of the House of Lords in England, decorated in red, but muted to tints of ochre, suggesting the earth and the colours of the outback

Justin and Angela repping their citadel rings in the House of Representatives. In commemoration of the colour scheme of the British House of Commons, the House of Representatives is decorated in green. However, the colour is muted to suggest the colour of eucalyptus leaves.

As if being able to stroll around the most important government building in Australia wasn’t wild enough, they also allow you to take an elevator up to the roof and walk around on top of the building. The views from there are spectacular, and I didn’t see a single sniper or security guard while we were up there. I can’t tell if Australians are too trusting or they just long ago accepted that tourists don’t want to go to Canberra, so why on earth would an international terrorist waste time trying to blow up a lot of hideous buildings and empty space. Plus it would be a royal pain to get out there. So yeah, they are probably safe due to apathy.

View from the roof of the Parliament building

Justin and I posin on the roof

Christmas Tree stand/flagpole

After a thirty or so minute stroll through the new Parliament building, we decided to walk down capitol hill to check out the old Parliament Building. This building was in use from 1927 to 1988, when the New Parliament building was opened. The interior offices are set up to look like they did in the late 70′s, so there is awful wood paneling and yellow and green tones everywhere. It doesn’t really feel that old at all, just dated.

Old Parliament Building

Aboriginal protest over their lack of representation in the Australian government, located on the lawn in front of the old Parliament building

Aboriginal parliament building, also erected in protest

Shanty town that acts as the permeant residence of the aboriginal protestors

Me sitting in the Speakers Chair for the House of Reps (you can tell its from the House of Reps because its green)

Angela playing dress up and repping her citadel ring

The house of representatives in the Old Parliament building. As you can see they updated the color palette in the new building to be more muted and more Australian looking.

This Mace, which is used in the House of Representatives was given to the speaker of the house when it is in session to signify that the session is open and he or she has the floor. The current Mace in use was a gift from the United Kingdom House of Commons in 1951 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the commonwealth of Australia.

Senate chamber, again, with a very bold color palette in the old building and the senate chamber currently in use features a far more muted palette. The Senate is always red and the House of Reps is always green.

After we had seen our fill of the Parliament buildings, both old and new, we began our long walk back towards Angie’s apartment. To get there we walked back over Lake Burley Griffin and leisurely strolled around the sprawling green lawns in the surrounding Parliamentary Zone, an area very similar to the National Mall in Washington, only more deserted and futuristic looking.

“Even the National Capital Authority, the governing body for the city, admits in a promotional fact sheet that ‘many people believe the Parliamentary Zone has an empty and unfinished character, where the vast distances between the institutions and other facilities discourage pedestrian movement and activity. ‘ I’ll say. It was like walking around the site of a very large world’s fair that had never quite gotten off the ground.”

-Bill Bryson

"The Lake Burley Griffin contains an engineering wonder (the wonder being why they bothered) called the Captain Cook Memorial Jet, a plume of water that shoots a couple of hundred feet into the air in a dazzlingly unarresting manner, then catches the prevailing breeze and drifts in a fine but drenching spray over the bridge and whatever is on it." - Bill Bryson

“it’s a very strange city in that it’s not really a city at all, but rather an extremely large park with a city hidden in it. It’s all lawns and trees and hedges and big ornamental lake.”- Bill Bryson

This part of Canberra has a very Washington DC-esk feel to it, like you are near the Jefferson Memorial

This is the National Library of Australia, which looks ASTOUNDINGLY similar to the Kennedy Center. There is an architect somewhere who plagiarized and got away with it since nobody can be bothered to care that much about Canberra.

The Kennedy Cen...I mean National Australian Library and the Lake Burley Griffin as viewed from the overpass bridge

Citadel buddies

Exhausted and hungry we stopped at a wood fire pizza restaurant for dinner before heading back to Angela’s apartment to rest, shower and change before going to the Canberra Burns Club Pipe Band Ceilidh (a ceilidh is a gaelic word meaning party and it is pronounced kay-lay). The ceilidh was being put on as a fundraiser for the pipe band that Angela had been playing with since arriving in Canberra. Ever since we had proposed the idea of coming to Canberra, Justin had been ecstatic about attending the ceilidh.

When Angela and Justin were in Scotland last summer with the Citadel pipe band for the Edinburgh Tattoo, they had attended a traditional ceilidh with lots of older experienced pipers, and both of them had glowing accounts of this evening. Their experience consisted of them hanging out in a pub drinking while lots of pipers got up in front of the room and piped amazing solos and then everyone sat around chatting and generally having a great time.

If this had been how things had gone down it might have been an interesting cultural experience, but the reality of the evening was far from the intimate bar hang out that Angela and Justin had been expecting. Instead we spent upwards of two hours sitting in a banquet hall of a country club-type establishment listening to a bagpiping talent show-esk performance, featuring many differnet bag piping and celtic music groups from the area, many of whom were not that talented at all. Refreshments were absolutely perfect….. had we been at a five year old’s birthday party.  On each table were plastic plates and bowls filled with doritos, potato chips, jelly candies and mints. Classy.

Since bagpipes have only one volume, obnoxiously loud, conversation was almost futile, but Justin tells me my facial expressions said it all. About halfway through the first groups set Justin looked over at me and said

“I think I am going to go get you a drink”

To which I replied “No amount of alcohol will make this better, but you are welcome to try anyway”

He came back with a Gin and Tonic which was made with some sort of weird gin that tasted vaguely like licorice. Even the alcohol in Canberra is awful.

Justin and Angela went back and forth discussing the various musical strengths and weaknesses of each group but to me it all sounded like a rousing chorus of cats being drown that refused to die. After about two hours of this Angela and Justin had both determined that this situation was never going to morph into the idyllic memory they had from Scotland and we left. Once we got back into the downtown area we met up with Angela’s friends to hang out at a bar that had more people in it than I had seen the entire weekend walking around the city. We hung out there and chatted for a bit before catching a cab back to Angie’s apartment, since it was below freezing out and Angie and I were both wearing dresses, having foolishly believed that the ceilidh would be an occasion that required such attire. I shouldn’t have worn a dress, I should have worn ear plugs. Once back in Angie’s apt Justin and I packed up our things to prepare for our early bus the next morning and then all three of us turned in for the night, underwhelmed but exhausted all the same.