The Australian War Memorial

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After 5 days of weather typical of an English summer (i.e. cool, grey, intermittent rain), the day we were leaving Canberra was hot and sunny. C’est la vie! Our flight to our next destination, Melbourne, wasn’t due to leave until around midday so we had a couple of hours to kill and took the opportunity to walk up to the Australian War Memorial, about 20 minutes away on foot.

It’s in a dominant location in Canberra, standing on a hill at the north end of the city’s ceremonial land axis, which stretches from Parliament House on Capital Hill along a line passing through the summit of  Mount Ainslie.  There are three parts to the Memorial – the Commemorative Area (shrine) including the Hall of Memory with the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier, the Memorial’s galleries (museum) and Research Centre (records). The road leading up to the Memorial from the city centre and along the axis is known as the  Anzac Parade  and is lined with memorials to various campaigns the Australian armed forces have been involved in.

Conceived in the 1920’s, indecision about the design and the Great Depression in the 1930’s delayed it’s construction and it was only completed in 1941, after the outbreak of World War II.  It was designed by two architects from Sydney, Emil Sodersten and John Crust. The main feature, the Byzantine domed  Hall of Memory is a Modernist, Art Deco structure.

Time was very limited, so we didn’t have much time to look around once we’d reached the memorial, and could only get a quick look around the Shrine.

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In the courtyard there are  a series of bronze plaques, the Roll of Honour, which lists the names of 102,185 Australian servicemen and women killed in conflict or on peacekeeping operations. The poppies are not an official part of the monument but have been left by relatives visiting the Shrine who have left the poppies next to the names of their relatives. A moving, unofficial, tribute bringing a human touch to the monument.

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We returned to our hotel via the Anzac Parade. Here’s a few photos of some of the monuments lining the avenue.

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The NGA Sculpture Garden and Skyspace

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Australia is like the UK in many ways – including the opening hours for Galleries and Museums. The National Gallery is only open between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. so with limited time available I didn’t have chanced to see much of their rather excellent and extensive collection. However, a sculpture garden has been created in the grounds between the Gallery building and of Lake Burley Griffin and that’s accessible even when the gallery is closed.  There’s also a few sculptures at the front of the building.

In all, there  are 26 works by International and Australian artists on display. Here’s some of them.

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Although not strictly part of the Sculpture Garden, there’s another major work outdoors that can be accessible out of hours – Within Without, an installation by James Turrell. Like the Deer Shelter at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, it’s a “Skyspace” which visitors can enter, sit quietly and contemplate the sky. Unlike Deer Shelter Turrell hasn’t converted an existing structure but created one from scratch, and landscaped the area around it with lawns and a pool.

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The Skyspace itself is a structure inside a structure. The outer one covered with turf but, as became apparent, with no roof. Once inside a second dome like structure made of stone, Victorian basalt, is revealed. This is the viewing chamber which has a hole in the ceiling – the oculus – with seats around the walls, just like the Deer Shelter with which we’re familiar.

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Looking up through the oculus the sky can be seen.

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Initially, the sky was dull, grey and featureless. But we returned a little later after our tour of the sculpture garden when the sky had partly cleared and we were able to view a blue sky with passing, white clouds. Sitting watching the changing patterns induced a feeling of calm and it was fascinating to watch the sky change as the clouds passed over. 

Within the Skyspace, light seems more painterly. Movement and sound are intensified, the sky shimmers and pulsates. (NGA website)

It was really weird in that although we were looking at only a small area of the sky, we could perceive  changes we would not have noticed looking at the “big” sky outside. I could have spent hours staring through the hole!

I believe that the installation is open during the night and it would be good to view the dark star lit sky on a clear night. Not possible for us on this occasion, though.

Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly Series

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I had an hour to spare before our tour of the Parliament building in Canberra so I took the opportunity to pop into the National Gallery (only a 20 minute walk from Parliament) to have a look at the iconic series of paintings by the Australian artist Sidney Nolan of the legendary bushranger, Ned Kelly.

The Gallery’s website tells us

Sidney Nolan’s 1946-47 paintings on the theme of the 19th-century bushranger Ned Kelly are one of the greatest series of Australian paintings of the 20th century. Nolan’s starkly simplified depiction of Kelly in his homemade armour has become an iconic Australian image. Highlighting these works makes the point that Australian art is part of the world, with its own stories to tell.

Ned Kelly was a controversial character; a violent criminal to some, including the establishment, but a hero to many. Nolan, who, like Kelly, had Irish roots, clearly fell into the latter category.

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There are 25 paintings, displayed in a dedicated room with some related works, which tell the story of Kelly – the events that led him to become an outlaw, his exploits as a bushranger, the battle with the police that led to his capture and trial. They’re painted in a simple, colourful, naïve style, using house paints rather than oils. Kelly is depicted in his armour, in a simplified way, but it is as if the armour is part of him. His helmet becoming his head and the eye slit going right through.

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The paintings are also noted for the way they depict the Australian landscape

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They’re fantastic paintings and I’m glad I managed to find the time to see them. The whole series can be seen on the Australian National Gallery Website.

We would come across Ned Kelly again a few more times during our holiday, while we were in Melbourne.

A visit to the Australian Parliament

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As the Conference I was attending finished at lunch time on the Wednesday, I had a free afternoon. We’d decided to visit the Parliament building and, although there are regular free tours, we signed up for a paid tour that would allow us access into more areas of the building.

Parliament was sitting, so the tour didn’t include visits to the Senate and House of Representatives Chambers. However, afterwards we took the opportunity to sit in an watch part of a debate in the House of Representatives.

To get into the building we had to pass through security, although once inside visitors are relatively free to wander around much of the building. The security personnel were also friendly and polite, unlike the stoney-faced individuals you often face in official buildings in England.

The original Parliament building, now known as Old Parliament House, is a short distance away. It’s an Art Deco style structure completed in early 1927. In 1978 it was decided that a new building was needed and an architectural competition was held to select an architect, which was won by  Mitchell/Giurgola, an architectural practice based in Philidelphia, with the on-site work directed by the Italian-born architect Romaldo Giurgola. Work started in 1981 and it was opened on 9 May 1988.

On the forecourt in front of the building  there’s a 196-square-metre mosaic by the Aboriginal artist Michael Nelson Jagamara. It wasn’t possible to get a good shot of the mosaic but there’s a photograph of it on the Parliament website together with some additional information.

After passing through security we entered the foyer where there are  48 marble columns, clad in green Cipollino marble from Italy and creamy pink Atlantide Rosa marble from Portugal, intended to evoke the muted pinks and greens of the Australian landscape as well as the colours of the two Parliamentary Chambers.  The floor has a series of circles, semi-circles and triangles of Paradise White marble and black Granitello Nero limestone from Belgium, full of fossils.

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The Great Hall is used for dinners, receptions and the like. During our visit it was being prepared for a dinner due to take place that evening.

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The Great Hall Tapestry, which is an enlarged version of an Arthur Boyd painting, Untitled (Shoalhaven Landscape), which depicts a bush scene in the Shoalhaven River area in southern New South Wales. It took 13 weavers more than two years to complete and is one of the largest tapestries in the world.

There are lots of works of art exhibited throughout the building, including portraits of all of the Australian former Prime Ministers (although those of the last two are still being painted). This is the portrait of Gough Whitlam, the Labor Prime Minister whose dismissal in November 1975 by the Governer-General, John Kerr, provoked a constitutional crisis.

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This is Tom Roberts‘ painting of the opening of the first Federal Parliament held in the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne in 1901. It’s in the foyer of the Main Committee Room and is known as the “Big Picture” for fairly obvious reasons.

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This is the Main Committee Room itself. The painting on the back wall is Red Ochre Cove by Mandy Martin.

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From the roof there was a long view down the main axis from Mount Ainslie in the south right down to the National War Memorial to the north.

After the guided tour we decided to go and have a look in the Chamber of the House of Representatives. We had to leave our bags and phones behind and pass through another security checkpoint and were then guided onto the balcony where we could watch the proceedings. At first there were relatively few MPs in the Chamber and they didn’t seem to be discussing anything of great importance. But after a while we could see Members drifting in and the Chamber began to fill up. It was clear that an important debate was about to take place. There’s been some controversy in Australia about MPs having dual nationality, which isn’t allowed. There was a motion put forward by the opposition Labor Party and we watched the debate begin to unfurl with contributions from senior Labour members and the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, the latter coming across as rather aggressive and unpleasant. We watched the debate for about half an hour before deciding we’d had a good taste of the action (!), and departed to go down to have a look at the National Gallery Art collection before our evening meal.

 

 

 

Impressions of Canberra

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Parliament House

We left Sydney on a Saturday morning, travelling by coach. Canberra is a couple of hundred miles away and as Australia doesn’t have a good inter-city train service, this seemed like the best option for getting there and we found it a convenient and comfortable enough service, rather like the National Express coaches in the UK.  The Sydney suburbs seemed to go on forever, but we eventually started to travel through open country and even saw kangaroos in the wild.

We arrived in Canberra to be greeted with heavy rain and quite cool temperatures. In fact, for all of our stay there, except the day we were leaving, the weather rather reminded me of a British summer – i.e. cool with bouts of rain! This didn’t have much of an impact on me personally, as I spent most of our 4 days there inside the Conference Centre.

Canberra is the national capital of Australia and was only created in the early 20th Century as a compromise alternative to Sydney and Melbourne. Neither of the latter would have been happy if the other had been designated the Capital. Most Australians from Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere I spoke to were quite scathing about the city as being “boring”. However, we quite liked it.

It’s a planned city influenced by the “Garden City” movement, so in many ways it reminded me of a bigger version of Letchworth or Milton Keynes in the UK. It’s very roomy with lots of green space, wide avenues and broad vistas. There was relatively little traffic, which made a pleasant change from the hustle and bustle of Sydney. We could cross the road easily rather than standing for what seemed forever at the pedestrian crossings in the Sydney CBD! Transport around the city seemed quite easy with regular buses.

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The old Parliament building

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View over Lake Burley Griffin towards the National Carillon

There was quite a lot to see and my “other half” didn’t have too much trouble finding things to keep her occupied, despite the weather. There’s a number of Museums, Galleries and places of interest including the Australian Parliament, the old Parliament Building and the National War Memorial.

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The National War Memorial

There’s even an Aboriginal “Embassy” manned by activists representing Indigenous people whose treatment over the years has been such that they have plenty of grievances. It was originally founded in 1972 to protest about the Government rejecting a proposal for Aboriginal Land rights but now serves as a focal point for the broader Indigenous movement.

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The conference kept me busy, but I had a free afternoon and a few hours before we left for Melbourne on the Thursday morning so I managed to squeeze in a visit to the Parliament, a quick look at the National Gallery, the National Gallery sculpture Park (which is accessible after the Gallery had closed) and a very quick visit to the War Memorial.

 

Return Down Under

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I’m still feeling a little jet lagged having just spent the best part of the past three weeks in Australia. I was there 3 years ago and expected that it would be my last trip down under. But I managed to wangle myself an invite to speak at a conference in Canberra (same reason as for my previous couple of visits) and extended the trip to spend some time on holiday. This time I wasn’t alone as my other half has overcome a fear of flying so she came with me.

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We had a most excellent time over there, visiting Sydney for 5 days before taking a coach over to Canberra and then flying to Melbourne for another 5 1/2 days. We had a busy time taking in the sights and visiting exhibitions. We went to a concert at Sydney Opera House, visited the Australian Parliament and watched part of a rather heated debate, saw kangaroos and penguins (yes, penguins), visited my wife’s “ancestral home”, ate some excellent food and even managed a couple of walks along the coast. The conference was pretty good too and it was also good to see some old friends and make some new ones. It did mean that I wasn’t able to see so much of Canberra, but my wife was able to explore and was even able to get out to local wineries with another “other half” who had a hire car.

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The weather was generally good, except for when we were in Canberra when it was just like an English summer – i.e. cool and wet – except for the day we left for Melbourne when it was hot and sunny. We arrived in Melbourne to be greeted with a heavy downpour during the evening but after that we had plenty of warm sunshine.

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I took several hundred photos so have some sorting to do and lots to write up here to bring back the memories.