One day, long, long ago, there was a huge debate as to whether Sydney or Melbourne would be chosen as the capital city of Australia. Some bright spark decided that, due to the rivalry between these two cities, a new city, Canberra, would be born.
It would be fair to say that our expectations of Canberra were fairly low, as everything that we had previously heard was negative. For instance, we had been told that the city had no character, there was not much to do there, and that restaurants and bars closed early most days. Great! Despite finding it difficult to suppress these preconceptions, we made our way into the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) with our minds wide open.
Our first experience of this wonderful city was trying to find somewhere to stay. Bizarrely, for a capital city, we could only really find one place, in an outer suburb, that seemed to be (a) half decent and (b) located on a bus route into the city. The campsite that we found was nice enough – our site even had an en suite bathroom – and there was a bus stop right outside the campsite. Unfortunately, the bus only ran until 8.30am every day! Given our semi-retirement these days, we now only know of one 8.30 in a day, so we had to explore different options. This resulted in a 2km walk into the village, finding the bus interchange, and waiting for the *hourly* bus into the capital city of Australia – HELLO?!
Once we were on the bus – which cost about $20 each (you can almost get a 10-trip-ticket for that price in Sydney!) – we explained to the driver which attractions we were looking to see. As promised, he informed us when we were at the nearest bus stop to the first tourist attraction. It was about a 10-minute walk from the bus stop to the place that “runs Australia”, New Parliament House – HELLO?!
We eventually found New Parliament House, more by luck than judgement. There were no tourist signs or maps anywhere! This place is the Australian equivalent of the Houses of Parliament and, it is a very modern looking building. It was free for us to gain entry, we joined a free guided tour of the building, and even observed a press conference with the Leader of the Opposition in a public reception area. How cool is that?! Also, had we timed our visit better, we could have sat in on Question Time in one of the two chambers. Unfortunately Parliament were not sitting on the day that we were there – as it was Friday we assumed that the High Powers must have been “working from home”… We went for a walk on the grass lawn on the roof of the building, took some photos, and then headed off in search of the National Portrait Gallery (NPG).
Rightly or wrongly, we were continually comparing Canberra with London, in more ways that one. Public transport in Canberra was poor in comparison, buses were expensive and did not run as regularly as we expected them to – we actually decided to use our car when we returned the next day to see some other sights of interest. In another comparison we felt that the locations of the tourist sights were really spread out from one another, and there weren’t many other tourists around either. In fact, there wasn’t much of a buzz at all!
En route to the NPG we passed a couple of tourist maps (!!), so we were able to navigate our way there. It was a 15-minute walk or so, in the pouring rain, but we enjoyed viewing the exhibitions when we arrived. From the NPG we walked next door (10-minute walk) to the National Library of Australia, which, again, was absolutely no comparison for the British Library in London. In fact, we have been in small English libraries (think Camberley and Aldershot!) that have more character than this place! In fairness, they are planning a refurb, but what took them so long?!
By this point we were feeling totally underwhelmed, so headed into the city centre to get some dinner. Here we found a shopping mall that was on a par with Festival Place in Basingstoke, and whilst walking around the outdoor streets we felt like we were shopping in Woking. Saying that, there was a multi-cultural festival happening here, which we stumbled across purely by chance, where we got to sample some foreign food and drink. However, when we headed into the shopping mall later, to kill some time before the next bus home, we found many multi cultural people eating their dinner in the food court, which we felt spoke volumes… Incidentally, we were killing time for over an hour before the next bus back to the bus interchange – and last for the night (!) – at 9.15pm?!
We did return to the city the next day, in our car as planned, and we visited the Australian War Memorial and Australian Mint. Unfortunately, the road works along Anzac Parade restricted our view of the war memorial and, as it was Saturday, there was nobody producing any coins at the money factory – other than Sarah, who paid $3 to a vending machine so that she could produce her own $1 coin… So, we were finished by lunchtime and we decided to hit the road and head back to the beach at Batemans Bay, feeling totally confused by the whole experience. Even now we are still asking ourselves, ‘where did we go wrong; what did we miss?’
In general, we were left feeling very disappointed by Canberra, the capital city of this great place down under. We really wanted to like it as much as Sydney, but we didn’t. We couldn’t. On a positive note, the city was modern, and clean, and the attractions that we visited charged no entry fee. However, the overall lack of user friendliness perhaps indicates that the city was designed with architecture in mind, as opposed to the people that would visit.
Perhaps the legalisation of fireworks and hardcore pornography (yes, they are generally illegal in Australia), and the decriminalisation of cannabis screams in desperation, ‘please come and live here!’ However, taking all that, and more, into account, we wont be going back there. Not in a hurry anyway.
When we checked out of the campsite on Saturday morning, the receptionist told us that he was unable to refund the money that we had paid for the other two nights (which we had half expected might be the case anyway). However, when we asked why, he stuttered and spluttered, and gave us a full refund. Brilliant!
We had planned to be in Canberra for four nights, but we left early after only two. Upon arrival at our next destination, Batemans Bay, the first thing that we did was go to the circus. Now what does that say?!