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.
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?