The Capital in February


Recently we had the opportunity to visit Australia’s capital city – Canberra, and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT). The ACT was originally part of New South Wales,  and was separated to become the ACT as part of the choosing of a neutral site outside the two biggest Australian cities at the time – Melbourne and Sydney. Melbourne and Sydney have had a long history of rivalry, and it seems that this might have been part of the reason why a separate location was sought for the nation’s capital. An extensive search was conducted, and in 1908 Canberra was chosen as the location of the nation’s capital. The new Federal Capital Territory (later named Australian Capital Territory) was created on 1 January 1911 when the New South Wales government ceded 2,360 square kilometres of land including the seaport of Jervis Bay to the east to the Commonwealth Government. Before being chosen as the site for the nation’s capital, the area was a rural area. But there was some settlement and some of the original buildings still exist in the city. For example, the Anglican St Johns Church, consecrated in 1845; and the Duntroon House built by the Campbell family which today is part of a military academy. Near the commercial heart of Canberra there is a large lake called Lake Burley Griffin.

Lake Burley Griffin

Lake Burley Griffin

The construction of the lake, on the Molonglo river, commenced in the early 1960s, based largely on Walter Burley Griffin’s plans. There was a move to name it Lake Menzies after the Prime Minister at the time, Sir Robert Menzies. But this idea was vetoed by Menzies himself. At the western end of the lake is Scrivener Dam, which is what makes the lake possible. When the dam was completed in 1963 the area was in drought, so even though the valves of the dam were closed to allow the lake to fill at that time it didn’t actually fill until April 1964 when the drought broke.

Lake Burley Griffin

Lake Burley Griffin, with Fountain and the Black Mountain tower

This allowed the first event scheduled for the lake, a rowing championship, to take place. Today the lake provides a beautiful setting for various recreational activities including sailing, canoeing, cycling, and walking. Or just finding a nice shady tree to sit under and watch the world go by… And there are various places of historical and general interest next to the lake. The weather in Canberra has been described as harsh with frosty winters and hot summers. But this didn’t seem to deter settlement of the area, and I noticed that even though it was quite a hot day when we were there, the number of people running, walking or cycling along the lake was quite high. I took the opportunity to cycle around some of the parkland in Canberra including a trail along a section of the lake while my wife and kids spent the afternoon in air-conditioned comfort. This blog is the result of my ‘adventure’.

Captain Cook Monument

Captain Cook Monument

In 1970, the Captain Cook Fountain/Memorial Jet was added, as part of the celebrations held that year to mark the bi-centenarary of the discovery of Australia’s east coast by Captain Cook. It seems a little odd to me that the driest continent on earth has a large lake, with the spectacular fountain and the Captain Cook monument which all have water as a major feature. or maybe it’s not that strange. I guess it would be easy to have a bit of an obsession with water if one lives on the driest continent on earth! On a small island in the lake is the National Carillon. It is a musical instrument made up of 53 bronze bells. The musical instrument itself was a gift from the British Government on the 50th anniversary of the National Capital. The building it is housed in consists of three triangular shafts supporting three central elevated chambers, and reaches a hight of 50 metres. The Clavier Chamber, situated half way up the shafts gets it’s name from the Carillon keyboard, called a Clavier. Played by trained musicians the clavier operates the Carillon by a system of mechanical linkages to the bells themselves.

National Carillon

National Carillon

National Carillon

National Carillon

Not far from the Carillon, there is a garden area called Nerang Pool. This provides a bit of a contrast to Lake Burley Griffin – the Nerang Pool area is small, with well cultivated garden and sculptures, wuite the opposite the general surrounds of the lake which tend to be fairly broad open spaces with groves of trees. or other features.

Nerang Pool and Gardens

Nerang Pool and Gardens

Nerang Pool and Gardens

Nerang Pool and Gardens

Nerang Pool and Gardens

Nerang Pool and Gardens

As I cycled to see a lot of the features in this post I had no idea how to get to most of the places by car. Even while trying to get to the Lake cycling trail I got lost in the Australian National University campus – a sprawling collection of buildings and winding streets that seems to stretch forever. As a result of my experience getting ‘lost’ while trying to find the lake from where the rest of my family was I decided to try getting back to them via a different route. At a place called Acton Park there is a cycling / walking bridge that goes over one of Canberra’s main thoroughfares, so I decided I would go over that. I was pleasantly surprised by what I found – a well thought out thoroughfare for cyclists which followed the main streets. In no time I was in the same air-conditioned comfort as my family. For tea we all went back to Acton Park (which I happened to be able to find) and had ‘haystacks’ – corn chips topped with beans and salad. And then we drove back to Gundagai, where we were staying for the night.

A GPS map of where I rode can be found here: http://www.strava.com/activities/111883458 .