How to Survive Canberra

I am in Sydney, but I want to talk about Canberra. Quentin (my travel buddy in down under) and I spent a few days there. It was boring, sorry but there is nothing to do, and yet we had some nice adventures thanks to our Airbnb host, Terry, where we slept. I don’t know if he’s a typical Australian, he’s proud of his country. That’s how we do it here,’ is what he often repeated.  


First a brief word about Canberra, the capital of Australia. I’ll admit, I actually thought Sydney was the capital, but no, the politicians decided once that there should be a new political capital if neither Sydney or Melbourne would not be the political capital. 

The first settlers

The first white English settlers came to Australia in 1787. The place where they moored later grew out of Australia’s most famous city, Sydney. There were other major cities in Australia and when one began to think of having a national government, a battle arose between Melbourne and Sydney. Until then politics had been in Melbourne and they wanted to remain the political capital, but Sydney also wanted it and so the politicians decided that there should be a new place. No one won that way. 

Several places were designated and for inexplicable reasons they decided to found a new city: Canberra. What ‘meeting place’ in Ngunnawal (an Abioriginal language) means. The people who had to furnish the new city moved to Washington, not as boring as Canberra, but NY is more fun, and took that as an example to found the new city. 

It’s looks a bit like Washington. They have long wide avenues, lots of greenery and many modern buildings that are far apart from each other. I think there is a lot of space between the buildings and in the city, enough to expand in the city, but the frontpage news of the day is that there is too little space in the city. Really? I don’t see it, but my European idea of space may be different from the Australians. With 25 million people and lots of nature you think differently than when you come from the Netherlands (I’m Dutch) with 17 million inhabitants on a much smaller surface. In the Netherlands there are on average 504 people per square kilometer, in Australia there are 23.2 people. 

The new parliament 

We visit the new parliament which is a huge building that I see for the first time in my life. It is not an icon, like the white house in Washington. The building is buried in a hill. From the outside it looks boring, but inside it is beautiful and spacious. It was designed by an Italian architect who won the competition to design the new parliament. Just like they also determined the flag for Australia by a competition. Australians love competitions according to the silly guide in the new parliament. 

In the tour we have in parliament we do get a brief summary of the prime ministers Australia has had. I especially remember Holt, the prime minister who drowned.

The Prime Minister who drowned

Harold Edward Holt went swimming in the sea in 1967. He was Prime Minister of Australia, but Prime Minister security was not necessary at the time, so he went alone. He never came back. They looked for him and there are still complete theories of what might have happened to him, but the most likely is that he drowned despite being a good swimmer. A month later they declare him dead and not much later they choose a new prime minister. Bizarre story if you ask me. 

After this tour we decided to have a drink as there is not much else to do in Canberra. The next day we would go to the old parliament that looks more like the white house than the new one. I think the old one is also much nicer, but yes, that’s taste. 

The old parliament

The next day I ask the guide of the old parliament why a new parliament was built. This guide is fun and likes to talk about politics. You can see he likes it. He probably does it voluntarily, because he is already well into retirement. Because they had already decided that a new one would be built before the old one was built, so it was built,’ he says. But this one is more beautiful and in Europe the politicians also stay in the old buildings, because it is history,’ I say. He nods. This is also more beautiful. 

Political cartoons

After his tour in which we have plenty of opportunity to ask questions, we go to the exhibition about political cartoons of 2017. They are good! They make minced meat from the changing prime ministers all the time through internal party politics. There are many drawings about a subsidy to a fund of the Great Barrier reef must save, people think $444 million is what is a lot – also seems to me, though the goal is good. 

There are also many drawings about the sheep that fly first class to India, but that refugees are still stuck on Manus or Nauro – two islands – and have no normal facilities or prospects for a future there. 

Or about Article 44 in the constitution, which prohibits having two nationalities if you want to sit in parliament. 

In short, it was feast for a political junkie. 

Drinks in the garden

And then it’s time for alcohol again. They have a drink – it’s Friday afternoon – in the garden of the old parliament building where we enjoy beer and wine. It is also great weather in the days we are in Canberra. Every day around 27 degrees, it can get worse. 

Our Airbnb host: Terry 

Then we go back to our Airbnb which is far from the centre. We stay at Terry who lives alone. He has two daughters, I suspect he is divorced, but we don’t talk about that. We do talk about politics. His opinion is simple: if you are a Muslim you don’t hear in Australia. This is rather short if you ask me. You cannot exclude people on the basis of faith, but it does reflect the more people in Australia think. That you can say something like that here surprises me. You cannot say that in the Netherlands even though some people think it.  

Terry is a very nice host and just started as UBER driver. He is nervous when his first day is, but when we see him at breakfast the next morning he is very happy. He drove all Friday night until five in the morning and everyone was nice and cozy. Moreover, he already has five stars, his day can’t break any more. 

Bus to Sydney 

We say goodbye to Terry to take the bus to Sydney. We want to take the bus there, but Terry offers to bring us. How nice and so we have a last ride with Terry. 

Panda points

I’m not very talkative in the car, it’s morning, but I can explain a principle to them when we talk about pandas. Why are we talking about that? No idea, but I explain that I use panda points with friends to talk about how long you haven’t had sex. One month of no sex is a panda point. Oh, then I have a lot of panda points,’ says Terry. I laugh, I don’t think I wanted to know this. 

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