100 years of Canberra

By | Category: Travel destinations

Today is the 100th anniversary of creating Canberra, a spot that was devised since neither Melbourne nor Sydney would accept the other as the Australian capital. So over the years it has been derided by the two. Being largely peopled by politicians and civil servants – two of the most disliked groups of people known to unfortunately exist hasn’t helped.
I’ve been to Canberra frequently over the last forty years although admittedly not for the last five or so, so does Canberra deserve its reputation? The local paper, the Canberra Times, has listed 21 reasons why its reporters like the place. Australians might say that that is because they can’t find 100 good things to say about it!
The Australian parliament building – the original one not the modernistic one that is now used – was opened in 1927 when Stanley Melbourne Bruce was prime minister. A year later a man called Percy Deane who ran Bruce’s civil service was quoted as saying that the best way to see Canberra was from the back of a departing train! In the sixties, seventies and eighties, I would have agreed. It was a strange place that shut down at night when the civil servants went home at 5pm. All people ever discussed – unless you were a student at the Australian National University there – was politics. The road rules were different then from NSW. Roundabouts flummoxed drivers when they were first introduced in Australia and Canberra was the first place to have them. When I took my wife there in the seventies, she thought it a boring place. When I took my children there twenty years after, they thought the same.
The reason other Australians visited it was because they needed to talk to the representatives or visit their student offspring. Who would admit to going voluntarily? All it really offered apart from a parliament building to wander around was a huge water spout in Lake Burley Griffin, (named after an American who designed the city on a boring grid scale so all streets looked fairly similar) the war memorial (which is a museum rather than just a single memorial) and the gallery in which hangs Jackson Pollock’s painting Blue Poles. How well I remember the furore that caused when it was bought.
All this was in an era when Eric Westbrook of the Victorian National Gallery in Melbourne called the atmosphere in Canberra sterile and that to live there would be appalling.
Today it is different although many Australians might disagree. They retain the views of an earlier age. Now there are wineries by the dozen scattered around the city, national museums ranging from sport and art to broadcasting and the national archives as well as gardens to roam. Skiing isn’t too far away in winter and nor is Mt Stromlo, the huge observatory that is such a landmark. No longer an observatory it does give great views over Canberra and the Brindabella Ranges.
But it still hasn’t become a placed loved by many people other than Australian politicians. Will the next 100 years change that?

For more information about Canberra, click here

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