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Canberra  Australian Capital Territory

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Australia's capital city, Canberra, had a difficult birth, punctuated by indecision, political infighting, wars, the Great Depression and the perennial battle of architect versus bureaucracy, but has since risen above these difficulties to become a thriving, modern city.

Canberra is situated 150 kilometres in from the east coast of Australia, by road 280 kilometres from Sydney, 660 kilometres from Melbourne. The average maximum and minimum temperatures in summer are 27 degrees Celsius and 12 degrees respectively, in winter 20 degrees and 0 degrees.

Although Australia became a Federation in 1901, the site for the new capital was not decided upon until 1908, ratified in Parliament in 1911. Later that year a competition to design the city attracted entrants worldwide, the winner being the American architect Walter Burley Griffin.

He arrived in Australia in 1913, and construction began. It was also in 1913 that the city was actually officially named Canberra, which was the existing name of the district since the early days of European settlement.

Parliament did not sit in Canberra until 1927, and there was little real progress building-wise until 1954. Burley Griffin's original plans were consulted, resulting in the establishment of his concept of the Parliamentary Triangle, a collection of buildings and bridges plotted about Capital Hill, suburbs such as Woden, Belconnen and Tuggeranong, and the man-made body of water at the centre of the city, Lake Burley Griffin.

In 1988 the new Parliament House was opened, a commanding structure on and of Capital Hill, replacing the provisional building that had been in use since 1927.

There are many things to do and see in Canberra, navigable by the city's wide boulevards, with many of the main attractions clustered about Lake Burley Griffin, such as:

  • Parliament House - free guided tours, observation of Parliament from the public gallery, art collection.
  • Old Parliament House - guided tours, a sound and light presentation depicting the life and times of the building, the National Portrait Gallery.
  • National Library of Australia - more than 7 million books, magazines, journals, newspapers, manuscripts, maps, music, pictures, photographs, films, videos and oral history tapes, plus touring special interest exhibitions.
  • National Archives of Australia - a treasure trove of documents, ranging from the important to the unusual, such as Australia's birth certificate, Queen Victoria's Royal Commission of Assent, trademark designs, theatrical scripts and flag designs.
  • Questacon - interactive exploration of the world of science: experience an earthquake, submit to the guillotine, race against Cathy Freeman, and much more.
  • National Gallery of Australia - admission to the permanent collection, numbering more than 100,000 works, is free, and the gallery often hosts touring blockbuster exhibitions.
  • High Court of Australia - attendants are on hand to explain the Court's operation and history.
  • National Capital Exhibition - the story of the area and development of the capital, using audiovisual displays, photographs, artefacts and a laser-lit model of Walter Burley Griffin's original design.
  • Australian War Memorial - twenty galleries of exhibits depicting the Australian experience of war, plus fighter planes, dioramas and the commemorative courtyard with the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier.
  • National Museum of Australia - state-of-the-art technology and hands-on interactive exhibitions, including areas specially intended for children, allowing visitors to experience the stories of Australia.

Attractions a little out from the lake, yet not far away from the city centre include:

  • Australian Institute of Sport - interactive sports displays, videos and tributes, plus many of the facilities are open to the public.
  • CSIRO Discovery - a unique centre showcasing Australian science and technology, set adjacent to working biotechnology laboratories. Attractions include an exhibition hall and virtual reality theatre, spectacular atrium and the Green Machine science education centre.
  • Telstra Tower - offers spectacular views of the city, plus the lower floor contains "Making Connections", an exhibition tracing the history of Australian telecommunications.
  • Australian National Botanic Gardens - located at the foot of Black Mountain, exhibiting plants of the rainforest, the desert, the mountains and more, in specially created climatic zones.
  • Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex - 35 kilometres south of the city, an important link in tracking and the relaying of signals from NASA missions. Exhibits include space memorabilia, videos and interactive displays.

Also worth a look is Floriade, an annual festival taking place over 30 days in September and October. The city comes alive with colourful and fragrant flowers, each year displaying a theme.


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