Another lazy start to the day; we loaded up the car and set off; destination Canberra. Road, the M5, was not too busy getting out of Sydney and it wasn’t long before we were out of the City and into the countryside. We followed the M31 the Hume Highway, gradually climbing higher and higher through open countryside, almost like the plains, with gently rolling hills. Grasslands with sheep and cattle and vast fields of cereals. We were in the Southern Highlands.
Got bored with driving the motorway, even though the road surface was good and made for easy driving at a good pace, so we turned off at Aylmerton to the Old Hume Highway; less traffic and it passed through little settlements, much quieter now they have been bypassed. Interesting old towns, seemingly in the back of beyond, with many original late 1800s buildings. One town in particular, Berrima, was set up to be the regional administrative centre. There was an impressive courthouse and a prison, all built in the lovely golden sandstone of the area. We discovered the prison is still in use today although only the original walls remain, dating from 1834. The town lost its importance when the railway was built further to the south and the admin centre with it. The ‘town’ boasts the oldest continuously licensed pub in Australia - The Surveyor-General Inn. We had a pie and a pint, (well Ruth had duck pate!). Lots of well preserved houses scattered around the green but those along the road were now little shops, aimed squarely at tourists.
On now to Moss Vale ( the current admin centre of the Southern Highlands), a delightful main road full of little shops, many dating from the late 1800s and early 1900s. A little spoiled by the brash signage, but interesting to see how much has been preserved. We drove on through the rolling countryside, mostly farmland before rejoining the Highway proper. Turned off and drove through Goulburn, another ‘frontier’ type town before taking the tourist route (number 8) south to Queanbeyan, our destination for the night. First campsite looked unloved and there wasnt much space so we drove on to the next site (mostly cabins, once again!), but clean and tidy, new facilities. Set up, heavy clouds rolling in so we set up the table and chairs inside the tent and prepared dinner, we could hear thunder in the distance and before long the rain started, not too heavy as fortunately we were at the edge of the storm. Stopped before too long. bed.
A lot of the cabins are occupied by contract workers, so there was some early morning noise as they set off to work. We drove into Canberra for some sight-seeing, just a 20 minute drive, the roads were good.
Canberra’s roads are very good, often dual carriageway, wide verges and well signposted. We found the National Gallery of Australia easily enough and parked the car. The Gallery is amazing; it is huge with very high ceilings. The first exhibit we came to was the Aboriginal Memorial, 200 hollow logs (vertical coffins) stood in a small area through which wound a path (representing a river), each log decorated in a traditional style from different areas of Arnhem Land. The 200 is the number of years, until 1988, of European settlement. It was very moving and the artwork fabulous; for us it was the best exhibit in the Gallery. They had a fine collection of traditional and modern aboriginal artworks ranging from paintings to basketry, jewellery, bark paintings, masks and textiles, quite a collection.
There were galleries of modern art and oriental art which we looked through, were not interested in the international art gallery. Had some lunch then strolled around the sculpture garden. A real mixture of pieces from Rodin to Henry Moore all in a garden setting. The planting was great too, all Australian including lots of ‘ghost’ gums, eucalyptus with white bark.
On now to see the Parliament buildings. We drove to the old Parliament House built in 1927 and replaced in 1988, now the Museum of Australian Democracy. Took some photos of the front and the view across to the War Memorial but decided against going in and instead drove round to the new building and we did go in.
Parliament had ceased for their Christmas break so we were able to go and see both Chambers (House of Representatives and the Senate) and as one might expect they were modern in layout though very much based on the Westminster model; Speaker’s chair (a gift from the UK), despatch boxes, mace etc. Even the colours are similar, a sort of eucalyptus green for the Representatives and a muted red for the Senate. There were portraits of past prime ministers and photographs of all the elected members. Some interesting history exhibits; the signing of the constitution by Queen Victoria, plus her writing desk. There was a beautiful tapestry in their Great Hall, looked just like a typical Australian forest, it was 20 metres wide and 14 tall. A great visit and well worth the time spent there.
Now for the War Memorial; we were a bit late to go inside, but not sure we wanted to. We did drive Anzac Avenue and saw all the individual Services memorials along the way. The Avenue was very wide. It is said the office of the prime minister in the new Parliament House faces the War Memorial to caution him should war ever be considered again. So,the short drive back to the campsite, topped up with groceries on the way. A lovely day, it was hot in the bright sunshine and a lovely evening. Dinner, bed.
We liked Canberra, at least what we saw of it, nice wide streets, plenty of trees and open grassy areas. The residential areas we drove through were similarly treed and grassed! Maybe return tomorrow on our way out.
What a night! Wind and rain, according to Ruth; I didn’t hear much at all with my earplugs in to stop the noise coming from the young contractors in the cabins below us. We grabbed breakfast in the tent as it was still pouring down outside. At a lull in the weather we struck camp and set off. The forecast was pretty dire so we called Carolyn to see if we could bail out to her house. It was 6 hour drive, but we didn’t fancy another couple of nights in the rain, and the rain was torrential at times.