Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Last weekend I went to visit my friend Kimberley and Hamish in Canberra. They're both public servants there. Canberra, like DC, was the capital designed when the country couldn't decide if Sydney or Melbourne should be the capital. As a result, it's the only major city not located on the ocean. Ok, calling it a "major city" is probably not quite right. It's more like a "major town". Canberra only has 300K people, almost all of them working for government.

The visit was mostly about hanging out with friends, but I also wanted to take in some government, and K and H are excellent tour guides when it comes to that. We went to see New Parliament House on Saturday. New Parliament House is 20 years old, but the "New" differentiates it from "Old" Parliament House which preceded it. It struck me just how similar our governments are. Sure there's the big difference about having a PM instead of a President, but once you get beyond that, bicameral systems descended from Mother England just aren't that different.

That afternoon we checked out the War Memorial. Which is much more of a museum than a memorial. After being thoroughly educated on the Anzacs at Gallipoli and the bombing of Darwin by the Japanese, I came out stunned at the rules of war. How, in the midst of the bloody and futile months long battle with the Turks, they would call a temporary armistice with their opponents to collect their dead. Then, they'd each go back to their sides to continue fighting. It seems that the wars we're involved in today don't follow those gentlemanly rules.

The following day we saw Old Parliament House. It's must more British, and not nearly as circa 1980s as New Parliament House. In fact the chair for the Speaker of the House is a replica of the one used in the House of Commons in England. However, the original was destroyed in the bombing of London, and now the Brits have a replica of the replica made out of timbers from Queensland.

We also covered, what I can only assume to be, the defining event in Australian Political History. Since Australia remains a commonwealth of England, the Queen has ultimate power over the government. In the 70s, the Governor General (ie, the Queen's man in Australia) told her that government wasn't functioning because the PM refused to call an election (the PM can call an election at any point in his 3 year term). And so the Queen sacked the PM, and put the opposing party in power and demanded an election. Most famously the dismissed PM Whitlam stood on the steps of Parliament and said "May God save the Queen, because nothing can save the Governor General." This story was told and retold in both Parliament Houses.

We also explored the National Gallery, which was a sweet abridged museum. Each room covered one genre of art. It had all a work from each major contributor to the movement, then moved on. Here's the Monet in the impressionists, now just to your left you'll see the Dali in the surrealist corner.

Other than the political history, the biggest impression Canberra made on me was the weather. It was freezing. It rained on and off all weekend and never topped 50 degrees. In fact there was even snow reported in the mountains. Brrr. This queenslander can't handle that sort of chill factor anymore.



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