Heat by Rob O’Neill

Das Capital

Girlie’s had her fun and I’ve been to, well, Canberra.

Hung over Girlie called on Sunday to report “not too much” damage had been done and she was off to Manly with the survivors: “Can you not come home too early so I can clean up later?”


No problem.

I got out of the house early on Saturday and would have made it to the capital of this great lucky country by 1 at the latest had I not decided on a scenic detour through the Southern Highlands. Pretty damn good it was too. I saw my first ever wombat roadkill for starters. One gets so bored of putrifying kangaroo.

Beautiful countryside, rough as guts road up to the Wombeyan caves. Coming out the end I stopped for coffee and lunch at Taralga. It’s odd how you can be reasonably close to civilization over here and still wander into a small town and be treated like an alien. Hey, it’s not a flying saucer, guys, it’s a Ford Fairmont!

In Taralga time goes slow. Real slow. But that gives me enough time to read most of the jumbo weekend Herald before anyone comes to take my order. I ask if there’s a service station in town and they look at me as if I’m retarded.

Maybe it's me, the city boy who takes far longer than a day to chill out.

I finally make my way into Canberra at 4ish and head straight for Parliament, lucking in on the last hour of an open day. Interesting place the Federal Parliament. While it’s imposing enough, set on a rise to the south of the city, it also looks a bit like a bunker, covered in grass as if it wants to hide. It’s kind of defensive. You could draw all sorts of analogies with the Australian psyche there.

So I will.

It's was obviously supposed to be a confident statement, but it's ended up being only "semi-confident", as it were. You find that all over; the brash go-getting exterior betrayed by all sorts of insecurities about identity, recognition and security: "Australia will claim it's place in the world! (If that's okay with you.)"

Security is understandably high, with x-ray gear at the entrance and armed police everywhere (sidearms only). Apart from that dose of 21st century reality the rest was a bit like a school fete. It was a family do and there were lots of activities for the kids, but I think only in Australia (or New Zealand) would the gardeners have cleaned up their machines (ride on mowers and the like) and parked them prominently for inspection in one of the interior courtyards.

The building itself works in the shape of a cross, intentionally I’m sure, so as you enter you pass through a great hall and then the building is intersected left/right with the senate chamber on the right and the house on the left. At the head of the cross are the various committee rooms.

Portraits of past prime ministers, governors general and luminaries cover the walls in the upstairs mezzanines. Highlights here include a wonderful portrait of Gough Whitlam.

Gough is still active and remembered for many things, but most memorably to me for a rejoinder he made in Parliament one time. A member from the bush was waxing on about services to his constituency before finishing grandly, addressing himself to the speaker: “Because in the end, sir, I’m a country member.”

“We remember,” Gough responded urbanely.

Another more subtle but equally impressive portrait of Paul Keating is nearby.

A portrait of Her Majesty is stuck in amongst a bunch of governors general and miscellaneous others, as if they are not quite sure what to do with her – which of course they aren’t.

By the time I got out it was getting pretty damn cold so I went off to find a hotel and some dinner. The city is a bit of an overgrown country town full of memorials and museums, and despite the fact that it is a “designed” capital, the center is still a bit hodgepodge. But I did find a good, warm South American restaurant, Rincon Latino, which knocked up a more than respectable coriander chicken. Being in the center of some great Australian wine country, I selected a nice Chilean cabernet as accompaniment.

My Comfort Inn wasn’t particularly comfortable, or particularly cheap. Not a good combination. But Sunday was a big day with the National Museum, Art Gallery and War Memorial to cover and still get home in time for tea.

More on that next time.