Monday, August 8, 2011

Canberra and the Census

Well, our presence in Australia has been officially documented.  They do a census here every five years (I commented to the Census taker that was very ambitious).  Unlike in the US where they seem to spread it out over a year, they make everyone fill out their form on the same night here, and you have to do it where you currently are.  A census worker came last week to the flat to give us the forms and we explained we would actually be in Melbourne that day, and he said that we'd have to fill it out at our hotel then.  He said it didn't matter that we were just visiting.  So when we checked into our hotel tonight our clerk handed Daniel and me each a form and seemed very relieved to know that we had already heard about it and he would not have to explain it to us.  It had 54 questions on it, thankfully some of which I got to skip.  It was actually kind of fun to think my data was with the jumble of everyone else's.

It seemed fitting to do this the day after visiting Canberra, Australia's capital (no, it's not Sydney or Melbourne).  They actually have a separate federal territory much like D.C. called the ACT, and also like DC is a planned city that was a compromise.  If you didn't know that about DC, it's time to brush up your history. The ACT was actually designed by an American, who won an international contest for the honor.  I kind of felt like if we didn't like Canberra, we had no one to blame but ourselves.  In several of the guidebooks they said Canberra was pretty lame, or if they were being polite, just a new city that was still finding it's footing.  It's been around since about the 1920s, and is basically a during the week city made up mostly of politicians.  We were there on the weekend, which meant it was very empty and on Sunday night we had a hard time even finding a restaurant that was open.  Even so, Daniel and I really enjoyed it.  It's a very pretty city with lots of open green spaces and walking trails.  We especially enjoyed the fairly new Parliament Building (built in 1988) and the National Museum of Australia.  Like in DC, there a quite a few museums (although not near the wealth that the Smithsonian provides) and they are for the most part free.  I also went to the National Gallery while Daniel walked around.  We had hoped to see the Australian War Memorial Museum, too, but ran out of time.  We didn't get there until 2pm on Saturday and everything is only open 9 to 5 each day, and some weren't open at all on Sunday.

So here's Parliament.  It's so big, I couldn't really get it in one picture.  Even the flag on top of the spire there is huge--the size of a double decker bus.  There is also a metal copy of the seal of Australia underneath the spire.  It has a kangaroo on one side and an emu on the other.  There was a restaurant in town that advertised you could eat the seal of Australia as they served both kinds of meat.  I figured I would just pop in a few minutes and be done, but there was so much interesting stuff we where there a couple of hours.  I'll try not to bore you with all of it, but I'll hit a few highlights.  As I was a poly sci minor, I find all of this highly interesting, but I'm sure not everyone wants to know the number of senators per state or about the various ministers, etc.

They had in the great hall a very long piece of embroidery that represented all of the different states of Australia that several embroidery guilds involving over 200 members had done.  It was amazing, so I took a picture of each panel, but I'll just show you one.  Keep in mind they did this with a needle and thread, people.  I think it is funny, too, that when other Aussies were looking at in with me they said, "oh, the guilds did it," rather matter-of-factly.  I was thinking, who has an embroidery guild?

Next, there were several Aussie all in a tizzy over a particular painting.  When I finally glimpsed it, I saw it was the queen.  One of them was kind enough to explain it's significance to me.  I mean, they like the queen over here, but this seemed especially exciting.  The queen has actually visited quite a bit, but on this particular occasion, a painting was commissioned to commemorate the visit and presented as a gift to the people of Australia. They are really over the moon about the current queen partly because she is the first reigning monarch to ever visit, and she comes every few years.  Charles and Diana also visited.  

He told me this was a VERY famous painting (I got the impression it was the nation's favorite of her) and even pointed out how she was dressed in yellow and had a sprig of yellow wattle on.  He did not have to explain the significance of this to me, however, as I had just read the day before at the Museum of Australia that the yellow wattle was the national flower of Australia.  They are a type of tree that is bright yellow and they are all over the place here in full bloom right now.  I happened to take a picture of one at the Botanic Gardens in Sydney before I knew what it was called or it's significance.

Another thing I found interesting was this document, which was a formal apology to the indigenous people of Australia Parliament passed in 2008.  It is very detailed in what it is sorry for I and thought was very gutsy.  I wondered if we could do something similar--it would certainly be a nice gesture.

There was lot of other fascinating stuff including a 1267 copy of the Magna Carta and pieces from England's gates in front of Parliament that had been damaged in the bombing of London.  They sent them in 1943 to Australia for "safe keeping."  I will try not to bore you further, however.  Parliament also offers the best views of the city.  Here's a picture from out front:

I'd love to tell you all the information I read on the little plaques at the Australia museum and about the art I saw at the gallery, but I realize that's probably not very interesting blog reading.  Suffice it to say, I really enjoyed all the free museums in Canberra.  

We headed to Melbourne this morning.  There is not much of anything between Canberra and Melbourne (about a 7 hour drive).  It's very pretty, though. It's a lot of smallish mountains and fields full of sheep and cows.  Most of the grasslands we have seen so far have been very brown, but we started to see some green and lots of yellow wattle.  We even saw several spring lambs.  We also had some lamb for lunch at a little bakery in a tiny town.  It turns out I don't like lamb, at least regular lamb.  I like lamb curries and lamb gyros, but I very much do not like regular lamb in taste or texture.  That was a little disappointing since it's so cheap here.  We arrived safely in Melbourne, although driving downtown was a little stressful.  Our hotel is right downtown, so we can walk from here on out.  We ate dinner in our room and called it an early night, and decided to make sure of the free all you can eat internet for posting.  We'll hit the town tomorrow.


  1. i'm learning so many fun facts and history tidbits from you! Thanks for not putting every single guild pic on there, probably good for the blog popularity. But I did like the history lesson on Canberra and especially the census data. And the wattle/queen picture, not to be confused with a waddling queen :)

  2. Ha! These are very friendly people, but I think if I suggested that their queen waddled, we'd have our visa revoked.