A flat stone fountain in Parliament. It looked like a sheet of glass.
For the first time on this trip, we hopped in a car, left
the city behind, and headed toward the countrysideâ€¦ in this case, the rural
land between Sydney, Australiaâ€™s
largest city, and Canberra,
capital city. (One should keep in mind
that Australia really only
has ten or so â€śmajorâ€ť cities: the two aforementioned plus Melbourne,
Adelaide, Perth, Brisbane, Cairns, Hobart (capital of Tasmania),
Alice Springs, and Darwin. When you go to an airport at one of those
cities, the only other domestic flights listed are to the other nine.
Looking upward through the skylight toward their flagpole. Largest stainless steel structure in the world.
Although Canberra and Sydney are separated by only 260 kilometers
(approximately 160 miles), the land between them is completely rural and
pastoral with rolling hills and pastures full of sheep and cows. It is hard to analogize the land to a place
in the United States. In some places, the scene reminded us of the
gentle slopes of southern and eastern Pennsylvania. Other places were much more like the Smoky Mountains
of Tennessee. Our drive also took in land that could have
been lifted from the upper Midwest, from Colorado
or Wyoming, or even from the plains of Texas.
Old parliament building in the foreground, then the ANZAC memorial in the far away distance.
And even though we took this drive in late
fall here, most of the foliage remained green even the grass had long since
started its winter nap.
We arrived in Canberra
shortly before noon. The city is just
shy of a century old and was completely planned (and designed by an American,
no less). When Australia was granted commonwealth status by
shortly before her death, both Sydney and Melbourne immediately staked their
claim to be the fledgling nationâ€™s capital city. Rather than risk a fight that would tear Australia
asunder, the politicians decided to find a neutral site and build a city. Thus, Canberra
came into existence.
The house was being called into the chamber. Thats what the green light and the buzzer going off means. They have 4 minutes to get there.
Unlike most European capitals but quite akin to Washington, DC, the
business of Canberra
is all government. If commercial (or
even cultural) activity exists here, it is well hidden. But the beautiful buildings of the Australian
government are in plain view and very accessible. In fact, they were shockingly
accessible. When was the last time we
could drive up to the US Capitol and park our car? Not only could we do that at Parliament House
here in Canberra,
we could park underneath the building without having our car searched!
Parliament House is quite unique in that most of it is
underground. In fact, you can walk on
the â€śroof,â€ť which is a couple of stories above ground, and survey the Aussie
version of a National Mall, which stretches from Parliament, past Old
Parliament House and Lake Burley Griffin (named for the American architect and
planner of Canberra), and al the way to the impressive Australian War Memorial
(which looks even more amazing illuminated at night).
We decided to take a tour of Parliament with a
full-of-energy guide who whisked us around the massive complex. Since Parliamentarians cannot leave the
building when the legislature is in session, the designers included tons of
amenities, including a post office, movie theater, travel agency, restaurants
and shops, gymnasium, swimming pool, and a few other things I cannot
recall. From the Prime Ministerâ€™s
Office, one can open a series of doors that reveal a clean, clear passage to
the buildingâ€™s center, beyond and out of the front door, down Parliament Hill
to the Old Parliament, and all the way to the illuminated War Memorial, a
distance of seven kilometers. Thus, from
the Prime Ministerâ€™s desk, if all the doors were open, he could see clear to
the other side of Canberra
with no impediment.
One of four original copies of the Magna Carta rests in
Parliament, and we saw it.
Outside the new parliament house.
Sunset in Canberra.
learned why the kangaroo and the emu were both selected for Australia
coat of arms.
Neither animal has the
capability of moving backward; the symbolism is that Australia
, like these two native
species, is always moving forward.
fact, the national anthem is called â€śAdvance Australia Fair.â€ť)
And a final oddity â€“ the worldâ€™s tallest stainless steel
structure sits atop the building. It is
a series of arches that form a gigantic flagpole on which the Australian
national flag flies. This particular flag
is as large as two tour buses.
But the highlight of the day happened at 2:00 pm. We were fortunate to show up on a Wednesday,
because the House was in session and that afternoon was reserved for Prime
Ministerâ€™s Question Hour.
You've heard of "California Pizza Kitchen", but have you tried the "Australian Pizza Kitchen"???
Some of you
may have flipped past C-SPAN and seen the weekly verbal flogging of Tony Blair,
the UK Prime Minister, usually by the opposition parties. Australia
adopted this custom into
its parliamentary form of government and we were fortunate enough to have a
seat in the gallery overlooking the floor of Parliament.
To say that the behavior of the Parliamentarians was a bit
churlish might be giving them too much credit.
At least two of the members were asked â€śkindly to excuseâ€ť him or herself
by the Speaker. Of course this was all
for show, each side hoping for the perfect zinger or sound bite for the evening
news. No real work was done. Pure political posturing and nothing
But, gracious, it was funny.
The poor prime minister tried and tried to answer a question but the
opposition shouted insults and barbs while laughing or hissing.
Their pretty money.
It resembled a den of fourth graders arguing
on the playground rather than a serious assembly of men and women gathered to
plot the future course for their nation.
If a naĂŻve bystander walked into that chamber and heard only that
â€śdebate,â€ť he or she could readily assume that the opposition was devoid of all
ideas and simply resorted to unsubstantiated innuendos, half-baked truths, and
outright lies to gain an upper hand with the electorate, (which, for the
student of American politics, sounds grossly similar to our current opposition
It is so much easier to shout
than to have a sincere political debate or to put forth a genuine set of
That much seems
Despite the showy aspect of the hour, it was fun to see how
another country conducts both it political affairs. I just hope we retain the quasi-civility (even
if it is feigned) of our system and not resort to the downright crassness of
Tomorrow we head to Melbourne
and begin our final leg in Australia.
Lots of flags and a cool structure up on the hill.