Friday, February 22, 2013


We've just returned from a long weekend in Canberra kindly hosted by Australian Capital Tourism as part of its intriguing Human Brochure project. And, to be honest, we were blown away. Exploring some of the capital's gems, places with deep national significance, and some that were just plain fun, was an all-round positive, double thumbs-up experience.

It all seemed sort of counter-intuitive. I mean, how were we having such a good time in a place renowned for being irreparably dull with few redeeming features?

The penny dropped, really, when it was pointed out by Robyn Archer - Creative Director for the Centenary of Canberra -  that your average garden-variety reference to Canberra from our media is a negative one.

Canberra's done's cut funding to that...Canberra hasn't stopped the's broken another election promise...Canberra has dudded us again...bloody Canberra!

That had never occurred to me before.

Destinations wrestle relentlessly for the attention of prospective holiday makers, and have an insatiable appetite for PR. But not Canberra's kind. This is not good PR. This doesn't make you think "Hey Honey, forget (insert your favourite place here) how about we go to Canberra next holidays?"

It's a tough handle to shake.

But that's not Canberra. As we discovered, the real Canberra is a fascinating place. Home to real Canberrans (yes, they do exist) who enjoy the fruits of fresh local fare and fine dining, an active outdoor lifestyle 90 minutes from both the snowfields and the coast, and a cultural scene probably unmatched anywhere in the country.

The Roll of Honour: Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
Australian War Memorial, Canberra.
With Gurrumul: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra.

Getting up-close and personal with James Angus's Geo Face Distributor outside the National Portrait Gallery entrance.

Interpretive workshops for kids at the National Portrait Gallery

Morning tea in the courtyard of Old Parliament House

In the Senate - Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House

In the House of Reps at the Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House

Q&A with Philippe Rizzo - Australian gymnast and Australian Institute of Sport scholarship holder.

Shooting hoops with the future stars of Australian basketball - Australian Institute of Sport

Getting papped on the steps of Old Parliament House
Scratch the surface and you find a place whose existence is the result of an extraordinary set of events culminating with an international design competition won by an American husband-and-wife team who came up with a noble, aspirational design combining democratic principles, a sacred geometry placed gently on the landscape, and an extraordinary set of drawings that enchanted the design jury.

The Burley-Griffin's masterplan for the design of Canberra
In the time since Canberra was but a set of sketches (albeit beautiful ones), it has quietly gone about becoming the genuine article very much fulfilling the vision of its designer who claimed, "I have planned a city that is not like any other in the world. I have planned it not in a way that I expected any government authorities in the world would accept. I have planned an ideal city - a city that meets my ideal of the city of the future."

I'm starting to think Walter might have nailed it.

Canberra is where it is because of a spat between Melbourne and Sydney. And for many, I think that's the's a bit neither here nor there. Sure, it's in the middle of nowhere but, for mine, that's part of the magic. Approaching by air or road it just kind of slowly appears, nestled comfortably in the landscape, Lake Burley Griffin sparkling, a striking geometry revealing itself with each crossing of the dramatic avenues and axes that more than hint at the significance of this place.

Our long weekend there was a cracker. We did and saw lots but I reckon we could have done with another day or two to see some of the rest of it.

We're going to have to go back.

Bloody Canberra.

Further Reading:

> The Human Brochure


  1. I love this post and the photos are stunning. I think this is something every potential Canberra tourist should read.

    1. Thanks so much, LaLa.

      It must have been really interesting for you to experience Canberra as a tourist after having lived there.

      Happy travels!


    2. Hahaha, I just realised my comment sounded quite spammy! Quite accidental!

      It was great to experience Canbs as a tourist and, even better, get to be with others who were experiencing it for the first time :)

  2. I was surprised too not having been a tourist in Canberra since the age of 12. What an eye and heart opener of a weekend, loved every minute!

    1. Same. I think we've all done the primary school excursion, haven't we?

      I remember being really jealous of the class that went to the snow, while mine went to Parliament House.

      Love the idea of the Human Brochure weekend being a "heart opener"...nice description.

      We also loved every minute.

      Happy travels, Danielle!


  3. Great post.
    I'm glad that the comment about the media was not lost on people, because even though we may not realise, I think it makes a big difference to the perception of Canberra.
    I lived in Canberra for 24 years and recently left, only to come back again as part of this initiative. It made me smile to see some many people realise that Canberra is not just about pollies and porn.

    1. Indeed.

      Really interesting that the game "Canberra" plays with the media is all about word association and perception...getting labels (usually unfavourable) to stick.

      I really hadn't ever thought about the effect this has on our perception of the place itself.

      Being an ex-resident it must have been very satisfying watching perceptions being cracked apart.

      Kudos to ACTourism, non?

  4. You captured some great moments on your trip through these photos. I didn't know much about the perception of Canberra either.

  5. I reckon any new place you visit is what you make it of and I have always enjoyed my time in Canberra.