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.