(This post backdated to the date it happened, not the date I wrote it.)
It might have been a negative-something night outside, but the bed was lovely and warm. We awoke, had breakfast and showers, and …
Wait, I should mention the shower. Everything in the serviced apartment we stayed in was great. Except the shower. It was designed by sadists.
The shower head was at about the level of my nose, so I had to crouch down to get my hair wet. A sign extolled the virtues of short showers, but surely that’s not the type of short shower the water authority had had in mind.
Worse, the taps had pointy handles, so as I was crouching, I kept stabbing myself in the back. I don’t think I’m making too much of it by saying that a special place in hell should be reserved for whoever designed that shower.
So, after showering we headed out to (new) Parliament House on foot.
We walked up Canberra
Way Avenue and found the back end of Parliament House, including the loading bay and garbage collection area. Very nice. As I snapped a picture of it, Justine backed away in case any security personnel were about to burst out of the bushes and wrestle me to the ground.
Around to the front for the obligatory photos of the big wire coat of arms, through the security check and into the building itself. My, but it’s big. Very damn big. And given how big it is, there didn’t seem to be huge numbers of tourists moving through, though there were a couple of overseas tour groups. It had me wondering why the insides of foreign countries’ parliaments would be interesting to people. It’s not like they’d often see the inside of our parliament on the news or anything.
We found the House of Representatives. The attendant was handing out maps of where each MP sat. Not that it was in session of course, but I managed to spot my local MP’s seat. Similarly in the Senate, they had a map so I could find my state’s senators.
A lift was available to go up to the roof, a big grassed area with the humungous flagpole in the middle (prompting the Get Smart variant joke: “That’s the second biggest flagpole I’ve ever seen”. There was a terrific view over the city from the top.
The roof itself isn’t really that high up off the ground — part of the grassed area actually slopes gently down to nearby the entrance, but it’s fenced off for security reasons. So the building, while huge, is largely underground. Now I’m wondering if it inspired the Teletubbies house.
As we walked down to Old Parliament House, a procession of WW2 jeeps, trucks and motorbikes was coming up the driveway, as preparation for the following days’ VP anniversary events.
After a hot chocolate at Old Parliament House, and a quick look for the famed John and Jeanette Howard postcards (such a sickly thing; perfect for sending to relatives, but alas I could only find John) we got a lift from one friend to another’s house in Florey, a suburb in the North East.
Tangent: transport and urban form in Canberra
This just re-inforced to me how spread out Canberra is. Some naysayers claim that Melbourne is too widely dispersed, too low density to support viable public transport. To that I now say pah, if you want low density, look at Canberra. It’s undoubtedly very green, but everything is so spaced-out so as to make any trip (but particularly on foot) a long one.
There are big gaps of bushland between the activity centres, with not-quite-freeway roads linking them. While the traffic isn’t too bad, so it would be theoretically possible to cycle on the roads, I reckon you’d have to be super-fit to handle the distances.
And there are big gaps between the government buildings in the Parliament House area… for the most part huge carparks that fill with the cars from workers during the week, but leave a concrete and ashphalt desert on the weekend. This makes the entrances to some of the buildings (such as the National Gallery) quite unfriendly for pedestrian tourists. A stark contrast to the National Gallery of Victoria, for instance.
So it does seem that all of Canberra is car-dependent. There are buses, but most of them don’t seem to run particularly often (perhaps every 20 minutes at best), and not many run late at night. Consequently few people seem to use them. The level of traffic isn’t terrible, probably because the population is under half a million. One wonders what the anticipated growth is, and what kind of planning has gone into it, as when and if it reaches a million, there could be dire problems (even beyond the current ones of total car/petrol dependence in an environment of spiralling petrol prices; job catchment and social issues for isolated youth and the poor; and the usual batch of issues associated with the road deficit).
Interestingly, the subject of impending road expansion came up several times in conversations with the locals. One major road project is held up in the courts at the moment, but some (completely unprompted from me) raised the topic of public transport alternatives. Light rail in particular has a lot of backers, but the ACT government seems to have no stomach for it, apparently failing to realise the effects of induced traffic following road expansion.
Back to the travelogue
We had lunch at Marita’s friends’ place, then afternoon tea with my friend Merlin, one of a handful of people I’ve known since primary school. His two and a half year-old son Kai was going gangbusters, which was amusing to watch. Merlin and his family face a similar situation to mine: currently renting in a cold depressing house they don’t like, but light is at the end of the tunnel, as they’re buying and will move in the next few months.
Merlin gave us a lift back to Kingston. We watched the TV news for a bit, trying to find the AFL scores, but eventually gave up and checked them via SMS/PocketNews. Canberra’s TV stations are more focussed on rugby. In fact on Friday night we’d found that with a combination of free-to-air and the hotel’s hobbled Foxtel options, we’d had two channels of rugby, two of cricket, a handful of crap movies, and frustratingly, no AFL.
Then via cab we headed out for the birthday party that had brought us to Canberra in the first place, in a suburb I can’t recall, somewhere around the back of the rather imposing Black Mountain and its viewing/communications tower.