Category Archives: Australia

Hamilton Island

The plane tilts and slants through the clouds. Suddenly, there below, is an expanse of sunlit sea, a crowded launch trailed by threads of wake, a yacht in full sail, a rough circle of land with a sprinkling of buildings half-hidden in dark green bush, a forest of tall masts at a marina, a stretch of sandy beach and way out in the distant blue, the broad white line of the reef.  From up here, Hamilton Island looks like Paradise. Down on the ground, the sun is warm, the air is soft and it feels like Paradise.

Hamilton Island
Hamilton Island

Hamilton Island was formed eons ago, when sea levels rose, creating a chain of drowned mountains just off the Queensland coast. Nowadays the island is a popular tourist destination, which plays host not only to travelers from all over the world but also to numerous festivals, including the famous Hamilton Island Race Week Yachting Festival as well as cultural events like the annual performance of the Australian Ballet

Until  1975, when it was purchased by “men with vision” Keith Williams and Bryan Byrt, Hamilton Island remained just a bush covered dot in the ocean. In 1978 Keith Williams commenced construction of Hamilton Island Harbour.  Work on the Hamilton Island Resort began shortly after and in 1982, it welcomed its first guests.  In 1986 the Whitsunday Holiday Apartments opened, followed by the Reefview Hotel in 1990 and the five star Beach Club in 1999.

In 2003 the Oatley family acquired the resort. Among the Oatley developments are the Yacht Club with its fabulous restaurant. Then, there’s qualia.

Questacon

There’s no better place to wind up a tour of Canberra than Questacon.

Questacon's Awesome earth gallery - the place to learn about earthquakes, tsunamis and bushfires
Questacon’s Awesome earth gallery – the place to learn about earthquakes, tsunamis and bushfires

Questacon, Canberra’s Science discovery centre, gives a whole new meaning to hands on. It  opens an entirely new window on Science.

What better way to learn about momentum than to drop from a great height on giant slide? What better place to experience centrifugal force than strapped into a big swing? What better place to come to grips with shifting tectonic plates than in an earthquake simulator?

Questacon brings Science to life.  But the best thing about it, is the team of interesting, helpful people on hand to explain and operate all this great stuff and to encourage the fearful as well as restrain the foolhardy.

The National Gallery of Australia

Massive, plain and as impenetrable as a fortress, the National Gallery is absolutely perfect for its purpose as a storehouse for some of the nation’s most prized and priceless art.

The National Gallery of Australia, Travelstripe
The National Gallery of Australia, Travelstripe

Within the National Gallery’s solid white walls are the expected national treasures, like the breathtaking aboriginal installation just inside the entrance and the legendary Sydney Nolan Ned Kelly series. There are also some unexpected international treasures, like Monet’s Les Nympheas, Matisse’s Jazz, Leger’s Les Trapezistes, Andy Warhol’s Campbell Soup Tins and Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles.

Surrounding the National Gallery is a magnificent Sculpture Garden. There’s a silver ball and a cluster pears on the front lawn. A huge wire apple hangs suspended from a wall. Around the back, on the edge of Lake Burley Griffin, great chunks of metal and wood are strewn almost carelessly, across clearings and among the trees. In a secluded corner lines of sculptured heads float on the surface of a pond.

Hours, days, perhaps weeks, maybe months and even years might easily be lost here.

The Australian Electoral Commission

The Australian Electoral Commission is the place where the process that puts Australian Politicians in their places in Parliament is organised. You wouldn’t visit it for the fine architecture, or for a tour of its labyrinth of offices or for a chat with its large force of functionaries. You probably couldn’t! Most of it has a locked down, closed off, “secret electioneers business” air about it.

At the Australian Electoral Commission's Education Centre
At the Australian Electoral Commission’s Education Centre

However, if you’re a twelve-year-old future voter, a visit to the Australian Electoral Commission’s Education Centre is well worthwhile.

A tour begins in the theatrette, with a DVD on the history of elections in Australia, from the time when only landowners could vote, until the referendum in 1967 which, officially and nationally, extended the vote to all aboriginals and effected universal suffrage.

Then it’s off to the next room to learn all about the Who? Why? How?, Where? and When of the electoral process, at a series of brightly colour-coded activity stations.

The culmination of the programme is a mock election with all the paraphernalia – polling booth ballot box, ballot paper and tally board. The candidates are four students (dubbed apples, pears, peaches and bananas) and the guards, scrutineers, vote-counters and voters are the remaining twenty-six. After much juggling of the fruits, much recounting and redistributing of votes, we all get the principles of preferences and absolute majority – I think!

The Royal Australian Mint

Canberra is not just the seat of Australia’s Federal Government and the repository for its national treasures, it’s also the source of the stuff that makes the world (here in Australia anyway) go round – money!

Titan the Robot at work in the Royal Australian Mint
Titan the Robot at work in the Royal Australian Mint

The Royal Australian Mint, in the quiet Canberra suburb of Deakin has been turning out Aussie dollars and cents, along with medals, medallions, tokens and seals since 1965.

I must confess, I was expecting case after glass case of coin collections, endless conveyor belts charged with little pieces of metal and lengthy, technical explanations of the minting process. But, although does have coin collections, conveyor belts and lectures, the Royal Mint is a truly fascinating place to visit.

The history of Australia’s currency is told through a DVD in the theatrette. There displays of coins both ordinary and rare, including the famous 1930 penny in the mint’s display room along with fascinating little anecdotes of fraud and forgery and equally fascinating examples of counterfeit money.

From elevated walkways with glass walls, you can watch the whole coin production process,  from the engraving room to the final workshop where a tireless robot, called Titan, tips all the finished coins into bins ready for distribution.

The Royal Australian Mint is packed with entertaining and interesting surprises. Adults and kids alike love it!

The National Museum of Australia

The big, bold, bright and angular National Museum of Australia sits on the edge of Canberra’s Lake Burley Griffin. It breaks the balance of Walter Burley Griffin’s art deco city, the decorous white of the New Parliament building and the muted green of the landscape with its unruly lines. From a distance it’s an attention-grabbing architectural interloper. Up close, from outside it’s overwhelming. Inside it’s magical.

In the Garden of Australian Dreams
In the Garden of Australian Dreams

You can dip into the past and find fascinating (and minute) details like the origin of the “furphy”.  You can dance through the present (literally) following the moves of young aboriginal dancers. You can design your own space-craft, don three-d glasses and watch it negotiate the 22nd century freeways in K Space’s theatrette.

But the best and most beautiful space at the National Museum is the garden Of Australian Dreams. The gallery brochure describes it as a “rich landscape of symbols and meanings drawn from Australian life”

A giant map spreads across the surface of the garden and under the Museum building, bringing together the conventional map of Australia as well maps of aboriginal boundaries, vegetation,  geology, roads and electorates.  The broad yellow line which intersects the area, represents the line devised by the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 to divide the globe into Portuguese and Spanish territories.  Red and white poles represent the way that the early surveyors read the Australian landscape. A walk-in camera obsura helps you to interpret the garden. The bush is represented by a stand of gums. The rudimentary white “Dream House” represents the built environment of Australia. The gnome perched on a ledge on the “Dream House” represents the “Antipodean” that Europeans of the Middle Ages imagined lived in the mythical land down under.

Always available to guide you and answer any questions on the National Museum of Australia, is a large, well informed, endlessly gracious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual retinue of guides.

The High Court of Australia

The High Court of Australia is a building where the form truly reflects the function. It is 40 metres tall with a façade of gleaming white concrete and great inscrutable glass panels. It is a building which speaks of power and authority. And well it might. This is the place where, legally speaking, the buck stops.

Inside the High Court of Australia
Inside the High Court of Australia

The High Court of Australia is the highest court in the Australian judicial system. Here, the law of Australia is interpreted and applied; cases of special federal significance, including challenges to the constitutional validity of laws, are decided; and appeals, by special leave, from federal, state and territory courts are heard.

Seven Justices, including, and headed by a Chief Justice, preside over its three courtrooms. Each courtroom is quite different, both in style and purpose.

Courtroom One is large and lavish; it is furnished and panelled in native timbers, with symbolically adorned doors. Past justices gaze stonily down from portraits on the walls. The most striking piece in this courtroom, and possibly in all three, is the magnificent tapestry banner, showing the badges of the states and the crest of the Commonwealth. Courtroom One is used on ceremonial occasions and when the full bench of seven justices are required to sit.

Courtroom Two is generally used when a bench of five justices is sitting. Applications for leave to appeal by video-link are also heard in this plain unassuming room.

Courtroom Three is furnished with coachwood timber and flooded with light from a glass ceiling.  Matters here are generally heard by a single justice. It was in Courtroom Three that the Mabo case was heard and a portrait on the wall shows the presiding Justice holding the Mabo settlement document in his hand.

In addition to the three courtrooms, the High Court of Australia has an administrative wing, an area for the Justices and a large, stunning public hall.

Canberra’s old Parliament House

Before the New Parliament House there was the Old Parliament House.

Old Parliament House, Canberra, Travelstripe
Old Parliament House, Canberra, Travelstripe

Designed by John Smith Murdoch, the Old Parliament House is an example of the “stripped” Classical style of architecture  – symmetrical and balanced but without flourishes like pillars and pediments – which was commonly used for government buildings in Canberra during the 1920s and 1930s. It began operation on 9 May 1927, as a temporary base for the Commonwealth Parliament after its relocation from Melbourne to the new capital. It served for sixty one years, until finally, in 1988, the New Parliament House was opened.

These days Old Parliament House is home to the Museum of Australian Democracy – one of the country’s most fascinating museums.

The building itself is a monument to its era, with frosted glass panes in doors, wooden signs with gold lettering ghosted in green and pointing gloved hands, of dark, narrow wood-panelled corridors and the faint, but unmistakable, scent of a time when smoking indoors was  perfectly fine. Clichés like “if only these walls could talk” spring readily to mind.

Our group was greeted at the front door by a guide and taken to a spacious ground floor room, once probably some kind of common room or café but now a bright, light-filled classroom. The thirty students were divided into groups and each was given a coloured box. Inside each box were descriptions of the roles they were to play in an enactment of the landmark debate on the Franklin Dam issue. There were rudimentary costumes, scripts and artefacts like letters, newspaper articles and banners.

Once hydro workers, protesters, representatives from the tourist industry, police and politicians were “in character” it was off to the House of Representatives to debate the issue. The rest as they say is history!

Canberra’s new parliament house

Undoubtedly, the centre point of Canberra is the new Parliament House. All roads, paths, parks and even the lake seem to lead to it, point to it, highlight it or underscore it. There is truly, no missing it.  It’s a striking building, by anyone’s standards – a sprawling white stone mass, semi-submerged in a rolling green lawn with great, gleaming metal flagpole at its apex.

New Parliament House
New Parliament House

Parliament was not in session at the time of our tour, so the place was ours to explore and enjoy.  Our wonderful Education Officer/ Guide made certain that we didn’t miss anything and that we felt truly at home there, stressing that the New Parliament Building and indeed, the whole of Canberra, belongs to all Australians.

We began our inspection of our new Parliament House in the Great Hall, where we stood in silent admiration of the beautiful and enormous tapestry that fills the far wall. Then followed a long, long walk through narrow corridors running north, south, east and west, past closed doors and past portraits of familiar political faces past and present. Occasional banks of windows gave glimpses of quiet green courtyards below. We crammed into a lift and burst out onto the roof under the flagpole. It rose above us like a giant tripod, its pointed end lost in wisps of cloud. From here the roof-top lawn seems made for roly-poly but better games await us in the chambers below.

In the House of Representatives, my 30 twelve-year-old travelling companions dress up and enact a parliamentary debate “Should ads be shown during kids TV programmes?” They follow the protocols of parliament really well and they read their scripted lines with conviction. They put an end to advertising during kids TV shows. But the truth is they’re far too polite, well-behaved and downright decent to be convincing as Australian Members of Parliament!

 

The Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial is a mighty stone edifice which stands on the upper slope of the hill at the outer edge of the “civilisation” or town side of Canberra.  It looks down a broad avenue, lined with monuments, across the lake to the new Parliament building.

The statue of Weary Dunlop at the Australian War Memorial
The statue of Weary Dunlop at the Australian War Memorial

There is a suggestion of the Parisian Champs de Mars in the avenue and a hint of Les Invalides in the memorial itself but it has a different and uniquely Australian translation. A statue of Australia’s own World War Two hero Weary Dunlop stands, not as uniformed young digger, nor as a decorated ex-serviceman, but as an old man in crumpled suit with a red cloth poppy tucked into his stone buttonhole.

Inside, the Memorial the stories of Australia’s Wars,  from the clash with the Boers in South Africa to the Vietnam involvement, are told in a variety of ways that make the hardship, the horror and the tragedy that is common to them all, impossible to forget.

There are galleries of dioramas, storyboards, photographs, weapons, uniforms and memorabilia.  The Discovery Zone offers a Hands-on, see it touch it smell it, play on it experience. In a great sensurround hangar you are literally immersed in battle – stand on a platform and watch an air raid on a city below, or sit on the ground and watch a dog-fight in the air above.

The Hall of Valour honours the heroes of war. The Walk of Remembrance, lined on both sides with endless ranks of names, honours those who sacrificed their lives.

The Australian War Memorial is more than a war museum, it’s admonishment to peace.