Category Archives: Australia

The story of Canberra uncovered at the National Capital Exhibition Centre

Atop Canberra’s Regatta Point, overlooking Lake Burley-Griffin, sits the National Capital Exhibition Centre, which tells, through a series of brilliant interactive displays, the story of the people, events, history and the design which contributed to the development of Australia’s capital city. Most importantly, it highlights Canberra’s vital role as a symbol of Federation.

A view of Canberra
A view of Canberra

Archaeological evidence, including rock shelters, rock paintings and engravings, burial places, camp and quarry sites, as well as stone tools, suggests that the region was inhabited by humans for at least 21,000 years – which makes Tokyo, London, Paris, Rome and even Athens look like youngsters! The original people went by a number of names including Kgamberry and Kamberra.

White settlement in the area began in 1824, when Joshua Moore established a homestead and station which he named Canberra. The Campbell clan, led by patriarch Robert Campbell settled soon after and built a mansion which they named Duntroon. Today the Royal Military College is located on the old Campbell station and the original Duntroon mansion is home to the Officers’ Mess.

Canberra, as the world knows it, was born in 1908, when it was chosen as the site for the capital of the new Federation of Australia. In 1910, the Australian Capital Territory was established and in 1911 a competition was held to select a design for the new capital city. The winning plan was devised by John Burley Griffin and his wife Marion Mahoney Griffin, although poor Marion received no recognition, at the time, for her work which included all the absolutely exquisite drawings.

The Griffins proposed a city divided into two halves, separated by a lake. On one side of the lake would lie the civilisation section – the town, shops, schools and houses. On the other would lie the government section – the Parliament buildings, courts and administrative buildings.

With the construction of the new capital city underway, it remained only to find a suitable name. There were some strange suggestions, including Olympus, Paradise, Captain Cook, Shakespeare, Kangaremu, Sydmeladperho, Eucalypta and Myola. The name Canberra, which means, in the language of the original people, “meeting place” was eventually chosen.

At midday on 12 March 1913, the name was officially conferred by Lady Gertrude Denman, wife of the then Governor-General, Lord Denman, at a ceremony on Kurrajong Hill (now known as Capitol Hill. The event has been commemorated every year, ever since, as Canberra Day, on the second Monday of March.

The National Exhibition Centre gives a wonderful introduction to this place called Canberra. You can uncover the story of the original people of the land and learn the importance and significance of the local Bogong moth to their way of life. You can browse among photos of the first white settlers, and explore models of their homes and displays of their chattels. You follow the story of federation and the quest for the new national capital. You can study the Griffins’ prize-winning designs. You can enjoy the sound and light show at the scale model of central Canberra.  But best of all, from the huge front window you can enjoy a dress-circle view across the lake, taking in the spectacular dance of the Captain Cook Memorial Jet, to the Government section of this unique modern, fully planned city.

Canberra – London? Paris? Rome? Athens? Tokyo?

London! Paris! Rome! Athens! Tokyo! … Canberra?

Canberra  doesn’t quite fit with that line up of big names does it? Yet, it has more in common with these cities than meets the eye – apart from the obvious fact that they are all, of course, capitals of their countries.

The Tower on Parliament House
The Tower on Parliament House

I was fare welled with a few raised eyebrows and more than a few expressions of heartfelt sympathy when I set off last March, with thirty twelve-year-olds, to learn all about the engine room of the Australian nation and to discover what makes Canberra one of the world’s great cities.

We began our tour with a drive through Yarralumia, the embassy precinct. It was a good place to start because, in the matter of embassies, Canberra has quite outshone its sister capitals. Generally, in any country, embassies are grand establishments, but generally, they’re only distinguishable by a fluttering foreign flag or a coat of arms. In Canberra, however, each embassy building reflects the unique architectural style of its country; there’s the Chinese Embassy’s grand pagoda, the long house of Papua New Guinea, the rambling Georgian mansion of the USA, the Cape Dutch style of the South African High Commission and the strikingly beautiful edifice where the representatives of Thailand reside. Disappointingly, Aotearoa New Zealand seems to have drawn its inspiration from a drab 1970s office block in downtown Dunedin! Shame! Still, it doesn’t detract from the whole world of architecture and the line-up of glittering internationals in the winding, leafy streets of Yarralumia.

Canberra! London? Paris? Rome? Athens? Tokyo?

Victoria’s Strathbogie Ranges

Strathbogie Ranges
Strathbogie Ranges

I must confess I probably wouldn’t have gone to the Strathbogie Ranges, in Victoria, Australia, if I hadn’t been a conscript to a school camp – a late conscript.

Once I’d adjusted to the idea of five days in the wilderness with forty something Year 8 girls, I began to consider the possibilities – hiking, camping, abseiling and mountain biking in the outback, kayaking on a peaceful lake. It sounded better and better.

A week later, tramping along a rough bush track, breathing in the heady scent of eucalypts, with the cackle of a kookaburra ringing through the trees, swinging from a rope down the face of a giant boulder, paddling in a kayak through an avenue of semi-submerged ghost gums on a mirror-smooth lake and finally falling asleep under a star-studded night sky, I thanked my lucky stars that I hadn’t missed it.


Untamed Australia in Melbourne’s Studley Park

Trapped in Melbourne, longing for the wilderness? Stuck in the burbs, dreaming of billabongs? Confined to your office, pining for the bush?  Shackled to your laptop, grappling with your inner Clancy? Don’t despair; the outback is closer than you think.

The Yarra River, Studley Park, Melbourne
The Yarra River, Studley Park, Melbourne

Just ten kilometres from the CBD, lies Melbourne’s own slice of untamed Australia – Studley Park. It rambles through stands of ancient gums and scrubby bush, over hills of unruly grass, along steep, rocky bluffs, all the way down from Kew to Collingwood and across from Abbotsford to the Eastern Freeway. The Yarra River winds through it, slow and lazy for the most part, but breaking into rapids, tumbling down Dights Falls and spreading into a billabong. From the flat, grassy banks, there is no trace of the modern world. The view is from ancient times, when the Wurrundgeri people fished from the banks while their children swam in the shallows. The only sign of the nearby city is the hum of traffic on the freeway. It is punctuated by the calls of the native birds which refuge in the bush. Here, and in many other parts of the park, you are alone, in the remote and timeless bush.

But Studley Park isn’t just a wilderness – a retreat for the solitary refugee from the big smoke. For the sportsperson, a picturesque, if somewhat rugged golf course spills across the hills through the trees; there’s a cricket ground; bike and walking tracks snake along beside the river where kayakers and canoeists ride the currents. For the gourmet, the extremely popular Studley Park Boathouse restaurant and café offers fabulous food with wide-angled views of the river and the bush. At the historic Abbotsford Convent, a grand gothic building set in tranquil gardens, the Bakery Café, Lentil as Anything restaurant and the Boiler Room bar, please a range of palates and pockets. There are barbeques and picnic spots for those who like to do it themselves. For those with a bucolic bent and most particularly for the kids, there’s the Collingwood Children’s Farm, where you can fill your nostrils with the pungent smell of manure, watch pigs, chooks and peacocks potter and strut, feed the goats, see the cow being milked, cuddle some very accommodating cats, wander among the vege patches and fruit trees and even ride a pony.  There is something here, in this beautiful bush setting, for everyone.


The little penguins of Phillip Island

If you haven’t seen the little penguins struggle ashore at dusk on Victoria’s Phillip Island, then you’ve missed one of Australia most amazing spectacles.

Torquay Beach, Victoria, Australia
Torquay Beach, Victoria, Australia

Just before sunset, 365 days a year, tourists pack into a grandstand in the dunes at the Phillip Island Nature Park on Summerland Beach and turn their eyes to the ocean. As the light fades, small dark shapes begin to break the surface of the sea. More follow, then more, battling through the surf, against the pull of the tide, until finally, they reach firm sand. Like a miniature army they march up the beach. The crowd surges from the grandstand and clatters along the wooden walkways through the dunes, following as the weary little soldiers make their way slowly through the hillocks of sand and sea grass to their shelters, high above the shoreline.

These are the famous fairy penguins of Phillip Island, now more commonly called the little penguins, as this is a closer translation of their scientific name, Eudyptula Minor. The little penguins are found only in the Southern Hemisphere and at 33 centimetres, they are the smallest of the world’s 17 species. Unlike their black-backed brethren, the little penguins’ dark feathers are a rich deep blue which camouflages them both above and below the ocean.

A little penguin may stay at sea for weeks, diving for fish and sleeping as it floats on the surface. It can swim up to 100 kilometres a day and can dive to depths of up to 65 metres. Its skin is kept perfectly dry, during long spells at sea, by its waterproof feathers.

Despite its hardy character and natural assets, the life of the little penguin is precarious. At sea it is at risk from sharks and birds of prey. Rough weather, fish shortages, oil spills and plastic rubbish also pose dangers. On land its survival is threatened by cats, dogs and foxes which can kill up to 40 penguins in one night. And then, there are the tourists who press in their noisy hundreds as close as they can to the penguins’ domain, with cameras flashing, despite the many signs prohibiting this and the impassioned pleas of the Nature Park staff.

With over half a million visitors per year, Phillip Island’s Penguin Parade is Australia’s number one wildlife tourist attraction. It is a magnificent spectacle with all the qualities of a great drama. Set against a sensational seascape of surf, sky and sand dunes with brave, it is a story of tiny heroes, pitted against the mighty forces of man, beast and the elements.

Witness it while you can!


Pressed like a jewel into a ring of forested Victorian hills, Daylesford is a rare and precious place.

Daylesford Lake
Daylesford Lake

All year long, weekend refugees from Melbourne’s fast track flock to its lakeside B&Bs seeking healing for their jaded bodies in its magical mineral spas and healing for their flagging spirits in its ashrams.

The lake water is warm, dark and earthy, smelling and tasting of the iron rich mineral springs that feed it. On the hot days of the summer holiday season, picnickers dot its banks while families splash in the water with ducks and dogs. In the evening it is quiet, only the distant bark of a dog breaks the silence. The passing walker and the occasional watcher, lost in contemplation on a jetty, are the only signs of human habitation. The lake is still. Perfect sunsets reflect in its mirror surface and cockatoos drift home to roost on its tree-bordered banks.

The town centre, with its short strip of wide pavement and verandahed shops, recalls a past time, where life was slower and simpler. The Pastry King cake shop offers all those home-baked products that smack of slow, careful hours in the kitchen. The organic deli is stocked with the yields of a good and pure earth.

On New Year’s Eve the parade brings the whole town out. It has all those features of country parades of yester year; the animals, the horses, the pipe band, the decorated trucks and bikes and the farm vehicles which remind us that Daylesford is, and always will be, no matter how many iterations it passes through, a little country town.