Canberra

I don’t think I’d want to live in Canberra but visiting for a few days was nice. It’s a very sedate place which, depending on a point of view, could either mean quiet and relaxing or dull and empty. On a plus side, the food was uniformly fantastic and the city is very green, with many European trees which must look stunning in autumn. The road system however is a visitor’s nightmare; evidently someone decided that parallel streets are way too boring and that the traffic must run in circles and loops instead.

To break up the trip, we stopped in Beechworth for the night. It’s a pretty little historical town but unfortunately we couldn’t explore it properly the next day: almost everything was closed because of Christmas holidays and the rain was bucketing down like crazy. It kept on pouring for the rest of the drive, so our view of the countryside was limited to dead kangaroos by the side of the road. Luckily, for the rest of our stay the weather was pretty much perfection.

It was pretty cool to see the Parliament House in the flesh though we decided to skip the queue and not see the interior. It’s a massive improvement on the Old Parliament House for sure, which looks positively daggy in comparison. The Australian War Memorial was genuinely impressive and my favourite landmark in Canberra. The one unintentionally amusing detail was that the interior mosaics of young strapping soldiers and pilots were so reminiscent of Soviet-era art I half-expected stars and sickles to pop up somewhere.

The National Gallery of Australia had an excellent retrospective on the art of Tom Roberts. Back at the school/uni, I used to think that the Australian art history classes were massive bore, but in hindsight I’m grateful to them for introducing me to Roberts, Sidney Nolan, Albert Tucker et al. Roberts’ portraits are exceptional and though I’m usually not a big fan of landscape painting, I’m so used to seeing European landscapes in museums that the Australian landscape, and especially Australian light, is such stark contrast the paintings feel striking and refreshing. I had no ambition to see absolutely everything on display in the gallery, so I mostly stuck to the modern Australian art and particularly Nolan’s series of Ned Kelly paintings, which were awesome. The National Portrait Gallery, which has a collection of portraits of notable Australians from different eras, was also good, though by the end of it I was thoroughly galleried out.

The National Zoo was good value; unfortunately we didn’t get to see the white lions, because cats being cats, they chose to doze in the shade. Sun bears however were up and active, which was cool because I’ve never seen them in real life before, and we did manage to see one of the tigers after one of the keepers coaxed him out. The National Arboretum was worth visiting mainly for its collection of bonsai and penjing trees, which were like a living work of art and adorable to boot.

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