As with so many things in life, it seemed a good idea at the time… ignoring the signs and feeding the wildlife at Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.
But hindsight is a wonderful thing. No sooner had I flicked the aspic off the pate than a swarm of geese attacked.
I refute the collective noun of ‘gaggle’ for an army of geese and the whimsy it implies.
There was nothing whimsical about being pecked repeatedly about the head and face as I battled the two largest birds with a baguette and thermos of goji berry infused green tea.
A group of tourists heard my cries for help and the tour group leader Kung fu’d the belligerent poultry and dragged me to safety beneath the carillon.
The clanging of its bells seemed to mollify the geese long enough for us to escape into The National Museum of Australia.
Not quite how I had imagined my weekend in Canberra.
I was only there to do a one-pager for an inflight magazine.
A catch-up with friends and dinner at the latest French fusion restaurant on Mort Street.
Just for the weekend: 48 hours.
Forty-eight hours too long according to the naysayers.
I breakfasted with friends (the naysayers) before leaving Sydney.
“Canberra is boring.” “It’s in the middle of nowhere.”
“Full of roundabouts.”
How would they know?
They’d never been to Canberra.
But that doesn’t stop them rubbishing the nation’s capital; it’s something of a national pastime.
No one ever seems to mention the hatted restaurants, or the wineries, or the swish bars, or the museums, or the art galleries.
Canberra isn’t really in the middle of nowhere.
But it is miles from the sea.
And that rubs Aussies.
If you keep going you might end up at Bogan Gate, Boorindal or Quambatook which are not without their charms, the latter being the tractor pulling capital of Australia.
But the nation’s capital is my final destination.
The Hume Highway from Sydney to Canberra was made for cruise control not eye spy. There’s nothing to see.
On arrival, all roads lead to Parliament House.
At $1.1 billion, it’s Australia’s most expensive building and considerably more than the $220 million budget allocated for the project.
This whopping construction, home to Australia’s Federal Parliament, is part-subterranean with a partially-lawned roof to preserve the aesthetics of the site.
There’s something a bit hobbity about it.
It was designed to be inconspicuous, to align with nature but it seems a touch theatrical / contrived even.
Whatever your thoughts on the aesthetics it’s worth a visit.
It’s a striking city attraction and best done early in the morning before weary afternoon yawns set in and the tourists descend in abundance (it has over one million visitors each year).
Once you’ve cleared security – think of an airport without the airplanes – you’re welcome to wander through the building at your leisure using the visitor guide available from the Information Desk, or you can join one of the guided tours which begin every half-hour between 9.00 a.m. and 4.00 p.m. Don’t worry about bringing a watch, there are more than 2,400 clocks; and while we’re talking stats, there are 4,700 rooms, 3,000 original artworks and 23 hectares of gardens.
Browse the Prime Ministers’ portraits and the House of Representatives and Senate Chambers and check out one of only four surviving 1297 issues of the Magna Carta.
Before leaving, take the elevator to the roof to see the 81-metre high stainless steel flagpole and double-decker-sized Aussie flag.
There’s a magnificent view, so it’s a great place to plan the rest of your day.
Then it’s back down, past the 90,000 piece forecourt mosaic and on to Old Parliament House.
Canberra is exactly as I imagined: clean, orderly, a touch over-manicured – like an uber-groomed micro-beard.
And a little bit neurotic.
Everything in its place.
It’s Stepford Wives meets Legoland meets SimCity.
I’m a little surprised the sun-kissed Aussies ‘girt by sea’, decided to build their nation’s capital inland.
Not the faintest hint of bronzer, sun or surf.
After Australian federation in 1901, and a decade of bickering between Melbourne and Sydney about who would get to be top dog, the Australian people chose a treeless paddock 150 kilometres from the coast as the seat of government.
But the ‘Bush Capital’ was more than a compromise between two quarrelsome states, it was a nascent country’s vision to create the greatest city in the world.
With the end of constipated Victorian conservatism and the optimism heralded by the turn of the 20th Century and Edwardia frippery , new Australia wanted a city with wow-factor; a city with a uniquely Australian flavour.
So they chose an American to build it, the champion of carports and L-shape living plans, a man named Walter Burley Griffin.
The architect from Illinois won an international competition to design the city in 1912 – beating a couple of hundred other entrants – and famously said of his vision:
“I have planned an ideal city – a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future. I have planned a city that is not like any other in the world. I have planned it not in a way that I expected any government authorities in the world would accept.”
But accept it they did, and despite two world wars and a global depression, bush-fringed Canberra flourished in the newly created city-state of the Australian Capital Territory.
Today,Canberra is an orderly place of grand boulevards, manicured lawns and harmonious buildings.