Canberra is the often forgotten capital of Australia, not Sydney or Melbourne or any other Australian city. Indeed, it could have been Melbourne or Sydney, but the great rivalry between them led to it being founded between the two cities--a little closer to Sydney. The Australian Federal Parliament was in Melbourne from Federation (1901) until 1927. It was moved in this year to a new house of parliament, in Canberra. So, for a time at least, Melbourne was the capital of Australia.

It has a population of just over 300,000. It is Australia's largest inland city. It was built in The Australian Capital Territory, an area sold to the Commonwealth by New South Wales for the purpose of building a new capital. As both Melbourne and Sydney were keen to take the role, Canberra (Aboriginal for 'meeting place') was put in between the two.

The inner city was designed by Walter Burley Griffin. He won a competition for the honour and it remains the best designed area of Canberra to this day.

Being the nation's capital, Canberra has the country's houses of parliament. The Old Parliament House, which lies near the city's major lake (Lake Burley Griffin), was in service from 1927 until 1988. It was only ever meant as a temporary parliament. In 1988, the modern building was opened on Capital Hill. It is recognisable for the great four-strutted flag pole that towers above the building itself.

There are various other landmarks that make Canberra worth a quiet, yet interesting visit. The War Memorial is a grand old building that sits at the base of Mount Ainslie and at the end of a sublime carriage way called Anzac Parade.

Then there is 'Questacon', the national science and technology centre. A ridiculously absurd looking building matched by an equally interesting interior.

The country's largest library is there, The National Library of Australia, which claims to have every book ever written in the western world, and frequently does.

Also the High Court building and its sister, the National Gallery. The High Court is the nation's most powerful court and the all-important constitutional watch-dog. The National Gallery contains some of the country's most comtemporary and coveted pieces, as well as undesirable junk.

Finally, the Captain Cook Memorial Water Jet. Now this is a must see! On a bad day it is a cylindrical piece of concrete that sits dormant in the middle of Lake Burley Griffin. On a less bad day it comes to life, pointlessly spurting megalitres of brown lake water high into the air. As much as I admire the local Government for spending $A750,000 having the jet fixed a few years back, I think it is a spurt most Australians could do without. I can't imagine a tourist turning up and looking terribly disappointed, only to ask: "What happened to the spurty thing in the brochures?"

I have to say, so much as the city is a bore at times compared with Sydney or Melbourne, it is a great place to live. I mean, stabbings still make the news in Canberra, and murders are a 'special bulletin' situation. The public schools are actually more than half-decent. The hospitals (3) are as good as can be expected. And apart from a local Government that thinks it does more than it actually does (or has to do), the place is looked after fairly well by its politicians.

A Tourist Guide to Canberra

I have met heaps of backpackers who may spend months in Sydney and then head straight for Melbourne without bothering to check out what Canberra has to offer. Even Australians seem to want to avoid the place. Pity, because the city is designed as a showcase. Suppose you had two days to get from Sydney to Melbourne...

If you left Sydney on a bus around 9am you would be in Canberra in time for lunch, arriving in the central district known as Civic. Pick up a hire car if desired , but this trip can be done on foot with a bit of effort.

Go straight to Parliament House along Commonwealth Avenue. You do not need to have an interest in politics to be fascinated by the only Parliament in the world that you can walk over (Ok, Sir Norman Foster copied the idea for the German Bundesrat, but you cannot picnic on a glass dome). Parliament House could help you get your bearings, but now due to terrorism concerns the grassy roof is out of bounds.
Free. Spend an hour.

Then walk down the grassy vista to Old Parliament House, where Parliament used to sit. If you are not interested more politics you can visit the Portrait Gallery inside and perhaps recognise some famous Australians. Outside OPH is the famed Aboriginal Tent Embassy.
$2 entry (donations appreciated at the Tent Embassy). Spend half an hour.

Adjacent to OPH is the National Archives of Australia, which usually has a small exhibition based on some interesting collection they have managed to dig up.
Free. Spend half an hour.

Alternatively, you might want to spend this time at the National Library of Australia which also has special exhibitions. The library is at the edge of Lake Burley Griffen, about 500 metres from OPH.
Free. Spend half an hour.

Finally for the day, head to the National Gallery of Australia. An extensive range of Western, Asian and Aboriginal art exists, including Renoir, Picasso, Warhol, Pollock (including Blue Poles), Reubens, Tiepolo, de Kooning and Brancusi.
Free (exhibitions are extra). Spend two hours.

That is it for the first day, but if you have a car (and there is still daylight) you might wish to check out the embassies in Yarralumla, adjacent to Parliament House. The Thai, Japanese, Belgian, American, Chinese, Croatian, Indian, New Guinean, South African and Mexican embassies were built using distinctive architectural styles. Loser countries (as Moe Szyslak would say) have their embassies further south in O'Malley - Culgoa Court is a circular road that has the embassies of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Zimbabwe and North Korea - literally Australia's Axis of Evil.

If you are a bit of a rubbernecker, you might want to tactfully drive around the remains of Duffy, devasated by bushfire in January 2003. Duffy about 10kms south-west. Even Rudy Guiliani was in awe of the destruction when he visited eight months later. If you are heading this direction on Adelaide Avenue you will notice the non-descript house of the Prime Minister, known as The Lodge.

Returning back to Civic you might be able to check out the Governor General's Residence from a lookout on Lady Denham Drive in Yaralumla.

Canberra has a bit of a nightlife, but considering its size of 300,000 the city is pretty much dead on weekday evenings. On weekends the nights are a bit more livelier in Garema Place in Civic. More trendy bars are further away in Kingston and Manuka

The following day is a bit more difficult to attempt without a car, but may be possible with public transport (unfortunately it can be limited).

Head to Telstra Tower on Black Mountain to view Canberra at altitude.
$3 ? Spend half an hour. Need a car to get there, or a lot of free time.

At the base of the mountain is the National Botanic Garden, full of unique Australian fauna.
Free. Spend an hour.

But if you are an indoorsy type of person who prefers watching videos and listening to music rather than frolic around flowers, then check out Screensound Australia instead. It is a repository of Australian audio-visual recordings that dates back to when sound waves were recorded using beeswax (?). There is usually one exhibition that involves contemporary media like pop music or television. Screensound Australia is situated in the campus of Australian National University, lodged between Black Mountain and Civic.
Free (exhibitions are extra). Spend an hour.

Travel then to the National Museum of Australia, a controversial collection of Australia's history. Some say the exhibits are too political, others say it the entire collection is incoherent. You can download an audit report of the web to get a professional opinion. Anyhow the building itself is interesting. Free buses are available from Civic.
Free (exhibitions are extra). Spend two hours.

Go back to Civic for lunch, or look for some suburban restaurant for a meal. There are Chinese restaurants in Braddon (a very pathetic excuse for a Chinatown, despite the fact that at least one restaurant there is owned by Jackie Chan's family).

Head then east to the Australian War Memorial. Very interesting and informative, without being preachy or sensationalist, while the Shrine of Remembrance is as fascinating as it is reverent. The AWM is at the top of a wide boulevarde called Anzac Parade that looks down to Parliament House at the other side of the lake. You may be interested in the various memorials for different conflicts and arms of service along Anzac Parade.
Free. Spend two to three hours.

Further east of the War Memorial in a suburb with the innocuous sounding name of Russell are the buildings housing Australia's defence and intelligence agencies, clustered around the American-Australian Memorial. To symbolise Australian-American comradeship in arms a severe looking aluminium eagle is perched atop this 258 metre monument, its gaze penetrating over Lake Burley-Griffen towards the Parliament House that appears at this angle to be cowering in the ground.
Free. Just circle the monument and be on your way. The eagle would look more impressive from Parliament House, if security would allow you to climb the grassy hill.

Back in Civic, at the base of the bridge that spans Lake Burley Griffin, is a smaller a museum dedicated to Canberra's design and history. At this point you will notice that Canberra is laid out in a pretty weird way. It is surrounded by bushland and mountains (or the scorched remains of bushland). Major roads are very rarely straight, but usually loop around a geographical feature. Every third intersection seems to be a roundabout. The American town planner, Walter Burley-Griffen was a devotee of numerology and allegedly designed Canberra according to secret mathmatical patterns. You could say it works in summoning demons, in the form of needless rush hour traffic jams.
Free. Spend half an hour

I needn't mention in Civic there is another *Cultural* Museum dedicated to Canberra, but I guess by now you would be sick of them. But there are also other museums with a subject matter you might be interested in covering for the last few hours you are in Canberra. If you like sport head to the The Australian Institute of Sport. For science see Questacon. For space exploration head over to the satellite tracking station and museum at Tidbinbilla. And there are museums dedicated to trains, bicycles, dinosaurs, police and probably other things I have missed.

An late night departure from Canberra will get you into Melbourne in time for an early breakfast. Not a bad diversion on an otherwise boring 900 km trip along the Hume Highway ?

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