Day 269 – Monday January 14, 2008 – Canberra, Australia
We had a lot to do today so it was an early start for us. The Australia War Memorial is an enormous museum dedicated to all of the soldiers who have served Australia since the countries’ inception. Upon arriving, we immediately drew comparisons to Washington DC as the memorial is built across a long open stretch from the Parliament Building. While walking from the carpark to the museum’s entrance, we noticed hundreds of plaques embedded in the concrete, each memorializing a different regiment or unit.
Just inside from the entrance, the first two areas we came across were focused on World Wars I and II respectively. These areas held hundreds of historical artifacts from the wars. Also, in what was perhaps the most interesting part, dozens of dioramas recreated some of the more famous battles. We took our time working through these two areas as there was a lot of information to take in.
After leaving the World War I & II areas, we entered a section of the building that houses old military vehicles. Once inside, we walked past everything from jeeps to World War I era airplanes. Most interesting for us though was the World War II Japanese Mini sub that was recently discovered and brought to the surface in Sydney Harbor. It was sunk during an attack on Sydney during WWII. Every ten minutes the lights went down and the museum recreated the events of the Japanese attack on Sydney through a specialized light and sound show. It was very interesting.
While the submarine was cool, Shawn Reece was chomping at the bit to go to the Discovery Zone. The Discover Zone is an area that enables kids to experience what it was like to be a soldier in an interactive way. For example, in the World War I portion, Shawn Reece dressed up as a soldier and communicated via Morse code from a bunker, while in the Vietnam section, he dressed up as a helicopter pilot and flew over the Southeast Asian jungles.
By this point we had been at the museum for two hours and still had sections on the Vietnam War and the modern era wars to visit. We decided to quickly walk through these sections, opting to only take in their major displays. Finally, after two and a half hours at this brilliant museum, we headed back outside to sit on a tank. I had seen it on the way in and couldn’t wait to get on top! Jasmine finally got me down after a few minutes so we could head over to the Parliament House.
Tours of the Australia Parliament Building are given once an hour and when we called a couple of days earlier, the information service said that we didn’t need a booking. After getting some lunch, we drove over to the Parliament House and went through metal detectors before being given a tour time. Once inside, we explored the large marble filled lobby for a few minutes before heading upstairs to start our tour.
The tour itself lasted about an hour. During this time our guide took us through the corridors and hallways of the Parliament Building as he explained how the Australian government works. He also did a great job of explaining how it differs from similar governments around the world, most notably the British government from which it stems.
About thirty minutes into the tour, we were ushered into the lower house (House of Representatives) which is decorated in a traditional green color. (The traditions of using green and red come from England) From here the prime minister is elected and laws are introduced. After a fifteen minute talk about the rooms different details, we were led back across the building to the Senate or upper house.
In much the same way, the upper house is dressed in a traditional red color. The Senate oversees the lower house and reviews all bills before they become law. Instead of using a system like is in place in England where members are appointed to the Senate, the Australians adopted the American system where each state gets equal representation and Senators are elected. In Australia, each of the states gets six senators with the two major territories each getting two. In this way, the Australian government is a mish mash of systems from other countries
Our tour concluded in the Senate chambers where we were the set free to explore the grounds on our own. Since the Parliament Building is built into the side of a hill, it is possible to stand on the roof. Our guide told us that the building was designed this way so common people could always be above the politicians. After looking through the dozens of portraits of past prime ministers in the corridor, we boarded an elevator up to the roof, where brilliant views of Canberra awaited us. We also got a close up of view of the massive Australian flag flying overhead. Before long, we headed back down stairs and eventually to our car.
The final thing we wanted to do on Monday was visit the Telstra Tower. The Telstra Tower is built into the side of a hill overlooking Canberra. It was mainly built as an antenna tower, but an observation deck and restaurant were also constructed when it opened. We had seen the tower from the Botanical Gardens the day before and couldn’t resist a trip up there. After paying admission, we boarded the elevator and thirty seconds later emerged at the top.
From the observation deck we could see the range of scapes that are in and around Canberra. On our left, we saw the central business district with smaller residential neighborhoods in the distance. Straight ahead of us laid the government buildings surrounded by massive lakes. Finally, to the right. we saw undisturbed rolling hills and mountains with a few small lakes thrown in. Being able to see it from high above enabled us to gain a new appreciate for the city. The scenery was quite stunning.
After Monday’s varied activities, we still had a lot to do in Canberra and Tuesday would prove to be another busy day. We only had the car for a few more days and the realization that we would be in Sydney very soon started to set in. So far Canberra has turned out to be a huge surprise. In my head, I keep drawing comparisons between Canberra and Washington DC. All I can say is that is quite a compliment!
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The Coomer Family