Saturday, May 8, 2010

What a brilliant time of year to visit Canberra!

Saturday 8 May

Oh how I long for the open road...and I have been waiting 2 years for the Art Gallery of South Australia's travelling exhibition: Hans Heysen. A Grand Vision: Strong Forms and Bold Light. It is finally hitting the National Gallery in Canberra. I am up at 5am whipping up a picnic lunch and pretending, not very convincingly, to be the wii's best friend. We're relaxed about our planned early departure and it's about 7:30 before we're off to pick up mum. So far so good, but I am doing a bit of embroidery and fail to notice that for some reason hubby has himself all lined up as though he's heading in to Sydney... ah, where are you going???? Luckily I looked up before he had us on the freeway!

A brief detour around the suburbs to head in the right direction then hubby announces that as we're passing (you reckon?) he needs to stop by the house again..

Another attempt at a getaway. Clearly living in a false sense of security that there's now no misunderstanding where we need to go, I'm still not paying attention properly and hubby has us wizzing down the road towards the beaches at Wollongong... where on earth are you going this time??????? (Have I ever mentioned that hubby's sense of direction isn't his strongest point? LOL) Another minor detour and we find ourselves at last cruising down the Hume Hwy admiring expansive views of golden fields, luxuriant gums and distant blue hills. The embroidery is packed away.. this is too good to miss.

There's not much going on in the flower department along the median strip today, but the landscapes round about are looking lovely with swathes of russet and gold as the pastures run to seed. There's water in the dams and creeks as we pass and I'm still not over rejoicing in what rain has been had in the area. More, much more, is needed.

As we make the turn from the Hume onto the Federal Hwy the poplars that line the junction are all but finished with their golden columnar dispay. There is something about this stretch of vibrant autumn trees that is deeply associated with Canberra for us. We really feel like we're heading to the ACT when we reach these beautiful trees and the oaks that follow not long after.

All runs smoothly, including the conversation, when we find a sign announcing that there has been an accident ahead. Progressively the speed limit slows until we are directed to a detour through Bywong. The cars on the road as we turn off the highway are looking pretty mangled, but it's an ill wind that blows no-one any good and we have been handed the perfect excuse to get off the beaten track a little. Rich golden pastures embellished with the shrubby local trees, this alternative drive is a delightful diversion which brings us back to the hwy further along the Federal Highway.

As we round Lake George we look with interest for the water that is reputed to be in the lake at present. There's a truck being loaded with heavily woolled sheep.. not much water to be seen there. Then as we climb the hill where Weerewaa Lookout is perched, there it is. A slim streak of reflective blue off in the distance. What a happy day it will be when we can drive and see water to the edge of the road again!

Only about half an hour and we're pulling up in the almost empty car park of the National Gallery of Australia. We navigate the bizarre and convoluted temporary entrance arrangements. Mum having dragged herself up stairs and escalators and along walkways we approach the entrance desk and note with some bemusement that the commencement date for the Heysen extravaganza has been pushed back to 14 May. Oops. I even checked the website and didn't notice that. Oh well, looks like we'll have to come back in a couple of weeks. No wonder the car park and the gallery is so quiet!

Never mind. It's not like there is a shortage of things to do in and around Canberra. We decide we'll just head on over to the War Memorial, but first, we'll have a quick squizz at the lookout at Mount Ainslee. We've never got around to doing this in all our Canberra visits. It's a steady climb and quite a pleasant arrangement of parking nearby a pleasant area of natural rock walls and stairs. Following your eyes you are lead irresistibly down to admire the aspect across the War Memorial down Anzac Parade to the lake, beyond which Old Parliament House sits squat and dignified at the feet of the uber modern New Parliament house with it's monumental flag pole astride grass embankments which simply scream for children to roll down them all giggles and green stains.

We take our fill of the views across Canberra city centre, admire the butterflies on the flowering native shrubs in the gardens. Breath deep of the scent of the Australian bushland. Ah. It's a beautiful day. Clear blue skies and crisp autumnal air, and I just don't feel like being indoors after all.

It's nearly lunch time and we decide to tick off another Canberra site we've not made it to before. Black Mountain. The route to get there takes us down Anzac Parade. Mum has not had an opportunity to admire the many memorials that line this ceremonial parade as it's just too far and hard for her to walk. First on the left with the rich red of the Turkish flag flying alongside the Australian flag is the Attaturk memorial. Then we pass memorials to the Navy, Nurses, Air Force, Rats of Tobruk and at the end of parade an beautiful arch of bronze. A matching arch is situated on the opposite side of the parade. These together constitute the New Zealand Memorial. A gift from the New Zealand Government to the people of Australia in 2001, the Memorial is a symbol of the ANZAC experience, an evocative link between Australia and New Zealand. It also serves as a reminder of the long history of cooperation between the two nations.

The design of the Memorial consists of a bronze representation of the handles of a flax basket (kete harakeke). The words from a Maori proverb, ‘Each of us at a handle of the basket’ (Mau tena kiwai o te kete, maku tenei), expresses the unique co-operative relationship between the two countries, especially in wartime.

It's a beautiful memorial. The Kiwis have good taste.

Mum's keen for a slow drive up the other side of the parade, so we turn at the roundabout and head back up towards the war memorial. Past the Desert Mounted Troups Memorial the original of which was erected in Port Said after the Great War in memory of Australian and NZ troops, but destroyed during fighting in the area in the 1960s. This is followed by memorials to Vietnam War, Korean War, and the Army. It's quite the grand parade, shaded by mature eucalypt trees.

Back on our way to Black Mountain we round Lake Burley Griffin. We note the bike hire. Too vigorous for mum, but oh how glorious it would be to ride around the lake on a day like this with the manchurian pear trees a vibrant band of colour along the opposite shore, shining in resplendent Manly Sea Eagles colours across the face of the National Library! ...well.. it is footy season! We make the turn up to to Black Mountain nearby the Australian National Botanic Garden. Not much view from the road on the way up or the carparks at the top of the mountain. It's $7.50 and up a long ramp or flight of stairs for the privilege of admiring the views from the tower. Having contemplated the possibility of lunching at the restaurant here, it turns out it is closed on Saturday for lunch. Oh. A quick sip at the timed water fountain outside, listening to the chatter of birdsong from the shrubbery around the carpark then it's back in the car once more. I can't say I'm sorry as I just feel like driving through the countryside rather than sitting in a restaurant.

We're heading off towards Lanyon down to the south of Canberra. However it being lunchtime, we decide to sus out the upper Murrumbidgee at Kambah Pools. An easy drive through some open plains leads down to low hills encrusted patchily with scrubby vegetation. We enter the reserve and note a sequence of rough car parks. We opt for the beach car park, but find this rather uninviting with a steep slope down to the river, the tiny glimpses of which look pretty murky. We really need rain. It is way too steep for Mum to even think about it in the time we want to allow for our picnic. We move on to the rock pools and find a much busier car park, and decide again it looks a bit more of a strain than we're interested in and all together too populated. All is not lost however as we find a nice shady parking spot further up the hill where there is no-one. I amuse myself picking up some stray rubbish people have left behind before tucking into our little... I shall call them ratatouille quiches. Mum breaks out some lindt chocs she has been given for mothers day and requests assistance in their consumption... truly not a problem.. we'd love to help. :o)

All done, I manage a few stitches on my embroidery as the others slowly finish off their meals and we're on our way south again towards Lanyon Historic House.

Lanyon sits as it has always done, in a working sheep and cattle station. The pastures are wonderfully deep and golden. Lovely fat sheep browse in the shade of ample trees with plenty of leaves. Further along black angus enjoy the freedom of their large paddock. The iconic Brindabella ranges as a back drop. It's superb. Oh how I love these inland vistas.

Crossing over the cattle grids we pull up in the Lanyon car park and wander slowly into the house. A deep shady verandah. A wood frame fly screen door. Through the ornate entrance hall to the little gift shop where we pay our $7 pp ($5 for concessions) and accept the offer of a vounteer guide to escort us around the house. This is not compulsory of course, you can wander about on your own with the leaflet if you prefer. I am almost always happy to accept the commentary from the volunteers. They pretty much always know heaps more than what you can get off a brochure and today proves no exception.

Lanyon we learn was established in the earliest days of European settlement in the Monaro at the very limits of legal occupation of the limestone plains. Cross the Murrumbidgee the land had not been surveyed and you would be squatting.. which of course plenty of people went ahead and did, so it is interesting to know that the partners who bought Lanyon were keen to keep on the right side of legal tenure. We spend the better part of the next three hours slowly touring the house and chatting with our guide, ranging across topics including a Great War veteran by the name of Legge, a man that Charles Bean, official Australian war historian of the Great War, disliked to the extent that he wrote him out of the history... Mr Legge is a man who clearly bears some looking into.

We learn also that Lanyon was only saved by protest action on the part of ACT residents in the 1970s. As Jack Mundey was leading green bans to save the historic precinct of the Rocks in Sydney, awareness of the value of such historic places was growing elsewhere including the nation's capital. Many a demonstration later, legislation was passed to protect Lanyon as a working property in perpetuity. The sprawl of suburbia can encroach no further than it currently sits, leaving Lanyon, it's homestead and it's beasts nestled happily along the Bidgee in the shade of the Brindabellas.

We enjoy hearing stories of the families who lived here and stories of descendants and workers from the old days who have visited and filled in little details about the family and life in the house and on the property. One elderly man stood transfixed for ages in front of the painting of a kangaroo hunt. Turned out this very painting had belonged to his grandfather and was supposed to be given to him but it went missing. Someone in the family had sold it evidently as is shown by the provenance of the piece. The old gent once had a paper that said who everyone in the picture was, but that unfortunately had been lost sometime over the years. I guess you wouldn't see the point of keeping it when the picture was long gone.

We have loved the exhibition of old photos of the family, especially those of the kids. Informal of shots of kids being kids. The era makes little difference. In one of the more formal photos the older offspring are posed formally and trying to look mature and civilised, as you get to the younger kids the feet are bare, the legs are brown.. wild Australian children. Another shot of Australian children and young adults pants rolled up clambering about the rocks in the river. A nod to convention with their straw boaters and fine dresses and waistcoats. On the other wall is a photo of one of the sons who went to the Great War, wounded numerous times at Gallipoli and in France he wasn't a farmer when he came back. Here's his plane, here's his car. Only a decade until he'd squandered his inheritance living. Living for all he was worth.

Eventually it's time to head off. Some slight alarm from mum when she can't find her camera, then we're braving the risks of the exit route from the property.

We decide to head the few kms to Tharwa, so we can cross the upper Murrumbidgee. The charm of the river crossing is obliterated by some large scale infrastructure work being done on and around the single lane bridge. The bidgee is a low trickle, so much smaller than it is far to the west at Hay. The sun is low and the light is bad as we turn around and head back towards Canberra. The sides of the bridge high enough to ruin any chance for a good look at the river. Best we can do is hold the camera high and hope for the best!

Safely on our way, we're heading back to the north, to home, to sunset skies which in a particular stretch of our journey always seem to display that glorious pastel combination of blue eastern horizons topped with beautiful misty pink and lavender with clouds in sky blue like a nursery wall. To the west the deep orange, black gum silhouettes and a rich blue sky. Tonight the sky displays Orion prostrate across the western plains, his dog sirius too high in the sky for comfortable viewing.

It's been a glorious day in capital country. :o) We still have so so much to explore. We're glad it won't be long before we're obliged to return. Next time, the exhibition and maybe Calthorpes House Luckily the lady who inherited Calthorpes house was an historian who realised the value of this unique property to the nation and persuaded the Government to buy it with all the original owners things intact. The original owner in the 1920s went to Sydney and bought everything for the house in one fell swoop and then never allowed anything to be changed... or perhaps we can include a drive out to Tidbinbilla...or finally make it to the zoo.. We really must just stay for a whole weekend... never a shortage of things to do in Canberra.. just check your dates before you head off!