After just one night in Sydney it was time to hit the road once again: the famed Great Ocean Road and Adelaide my ultimate destination. I walked the short distance to the car rental office, fired up the satnav and headed off out of town. I had visited Canberra earlier in my trip and, despite all the negative comments I'd heard prior to my arrival, I was surprised at just how I'd enjoyed the city. I'd promised myself that I would return and so it was that I found myself dodging the innumerable rotting roo carcasses littering the Federal Highway as I headed back towards the Australian Capital Territory.
I woke a little later than planned in my motel room in Antill Street (what a rather lovely name for a street!) in Queenbeyan. Suddenly it dawned on me: it was Remembrance Sunday and I was within spitting distance of one of the world's capital cities. I have always liked to pay my respects and the opportunity to visit the Remembrance Day Parade in a country which suffered such great loss in wartime was too much to pass up. Hurriedly I checked out and sped through the deserted streets of Canberra - I swear I saw tumbleweed rolling past at one point - before finally arriving at the bottom end of Anzac Parade. I was expecting huge crowds, road blocks and high security as you get in London but, as I turned left and headed up towards the Australian War Memorial, I was shocked to see... nothing. Nothing at all. Had I missed it? Had I got the dates wrong; was it only Saturday?
I was bemused and, passing the lines of memorial sculptures lining the grand old boulevard, I headed up to the memorial proper to find out what was going on. Or, more to the point, what wasn't. It was politely explained to me that Australia doesn't have a Remembrance Sunday; rather they remember their dead on Armistice Day and ANZAC Day in April. Ooops.
I decided to have another look around the memorial's galleries whilst I was there and, realising that I'd missed whole areas of the museum on my previous visit, I was rather glad that I did. I found myself particularly moved whilst looking at photos and mementoes from the Great War in France as, with me being so far from home, it really hit home the tragedy of those brave young soldiers being cut down in a conflict that, literally, couldn't have been further from their own homeland. It was a tragedy in Europe too, of course, but at least it was on our doorstep and there was a reason to fight.
I spent several hours exploring the exhibits but eventually had to drag myself away as I was only in town for one day and I had a whole list of other destinations to visit. My first stop was Regatta Point on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin for the Captain Cook Memorial. The memorial takes the form of a huge water jet sending water shooting 147m into the air which sounded impressive enough that I felt the need to visit. If you aren't impressed with that stat then let me give you a couple more facts: the exit velocity of water leaving the nozzle is 260 km/h and, at any one time, there is in excess of six tonnes of water in the air. Here is one more fact - it is switched off from midday until 2pm daily - so, having fought my way through the Free Tibet and Chinese Human Rights protests, I was disappointed to discover that it was now five minutes after twelve.
At a lose end and, realising I was stood next to the National Capital Exhibition, I decided that it would be silly not to pop in. The exhibition told the fascinating story of how Canberra came to be: how the fierce rivalry between Melbourne - then the largest city in Australia - and Sydney - the oldest - meant that neither would ever be fully accepted as the capital city of the newly federated Commonwealth of Australia. A compromise had to be found and, after much discussion, it was decided that Melbourne would become the capital on a temporary basis whilst a new permanent capital was built between the two cities. A competition to decide the location was held and the rules stated that the winner would be located in New South Wales but at least 100 miles from Sydney.
The site was eventually chosen in 1908 and two years later the government of New South Wales ceded the area now known as the Australian Capital Territory to the Commonwealth Government. A further competition was held to select a design for the new city and, eventually, the American architect Walter Burney Griffin was appointed to design the still nameless city in 1913. Progress was painfully slow - admittedly the First World War didn't help matters - and it wasn't until 1927 that the original Parliament House opened. One of the very first items of legislation dealt with in the new parliament was an act to repeal O'Malley's prohibition laws which had meant that the ACT was dry. I liked that a lot and I hoped that the politicians toasted their achievements with a cold beer. Very Australian!
I've never really been much of a person for museums but I had been utterly enthralled by two in a single day - it was time for something different. The National Carillion was a short drive away and, although it was entirely different in that it wasn't a museum, it was precisely the same in that I had cocked up my timings and arrived to find everyone else leaving. I had arrived right at the end of a recital which, initially, frustrated me but I soon realised that it was actually a blessing as I sat beneath a shady tree and admired the view across Lake Burley Griffin undisturbed by anyone. On the shores people could be seen, randomly milling around, as if looking for somewhere they should be. Clearly this was where the locals would spend their Sundays; picnicking, walking, jogging, soaking up the sun. I found the whole thing rather intriguing and sat there trying to decide whether I could live there or not. It wasn't just an idle daydream - back in the seventies my parents had come close to emigrating to Canberra - but, although I loved the place, I just couldn't imagine living in such a clinically clean and ordered place. And, with that, the Captain Cook Memorial started up in the distance.
Back at the giant fountain I was disappointed to discover that the spectacle didn't quite match up its impressive stats and, against such a large background canvas, 147m wasn't actually so high. Maybe I was being a little uncharitable (or maybe it was the fact I was wet through after the wind changed direction and blew six tonnes of airborne water right across those of us who were trying to take photos) but I decided not to dwell on it and headed off to Black Mountain which sits imposingly above the CBD. The ascent to the summit was steep and winding but the view across the city proved to be rewarding. I paid an exorbitant $7.50 to climb to the observation deck of the 195.2m Telstra Tower which sits proudly atop the mountain and, on reaching the top and realising the view was no different to that from the ground, promptly returned to my car and headed off out of town.
The drive from Canberra to Melbourne is 660km of particularly uninteresting tarmac so I had already decided to break the journey in the country town of Albury which lay roughly equidistant between the two. It is the favoured place to break the journey for most people but I had a friend who lived in the town so it was a no-brainer for me. Unfortunately, as I headed out of Canberra after a busy day, it was starting to get dark and I had no choice but to stop at the first motel I came across. If you've never driven in Australia let me explain: unless you have a death wish (or a road train) you don't drive after dark as the wildlife - and Australia has a lot of wildlife - has a tendency to come out and try to ruin your day. Hitting a roo is sure to cause serious damage to your car and, if you are unlucky, yourself as it rolls up your bonnet and through your windscreen. It is such a problem that rental car insurance is void for accidents after dark.
Continuing my drive the following morning I decided to stop off and visit Calder Raceway which was located just off the main highway. Until that point I hadn't encountered anyone who was truly unhelpful during my entire stay in Australia but the security guard on the gate at Calder made up for that in spades. At one point I was unsure if he was going to set his dog on me (he was too fat and lazy to do anything himself) but eventually he settled on a verbal attack. I have been thrown out of many places in my time but never by someone with a bigger attitude!
When I reached Melbourne I knew exactly where I was heading: the Immigration Museum which is located in the Old Customs House just along from Flinders Street Station. What I didn't know was where I was parking and, having circled the area half a dozen times looking for a parking spot (and carefully dodging the trams), I settled on an expensive private parking lot. The museum proved to be fascinating; living up to the hype and well worth the expense (though, if you plan on going yourself, take the train!) I found myself particularly touched by the stories of those who'd left everything they knew to spend six weeks on a disease ridden ship in search of a better life. Being so far from home myself I couldn't help but feel a connection to them but I knew I could be home in 24 hours if I decided I had to go. They would more than likely never see home soil again after sailing out of Southampton. It hit home what a huge deal it would be in those days to leave everything you have ever known - and everyone - to head off to a new life in a new land.
Strangely this started me thinking of what awaits me back at home and, for the first time in a long time, I started to feel confused: worried about what awaits me back home whilst, at the same time, feeling terribly homesick and alone. It was apparent that a change of scene was what was needed and I headed off, a lot earlier than planned, towards Geelong where I am spending this evening before I head out on to the fabled Great Ocean Road tomorrow. I can't wait!
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