Come and see where all the big decisions are made in the land down under!
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My family and I were on a short break in Canberra, and had just finished looking around the Portrait Gallery. Our next stop was Parliament House, where we were booked in for a tour that started in fifteen minutes. We thought it might be nice to walk there instead of drive as Google Maps said that it was just a ‘short stroll’ away through a pleasant park, where we would also get the opportunity to meander past Old Parliament House. Just after we set off, we remembered that Aria was currently going through a refusing-to-walk-anywhere phase, which resulted in her insisting on being carried the whole way. Oh well! It’s not that far, right? A mere 10-minute walk. IN THE BLISTERING HEAT. UP. HILL! Sadly for Zac, it was he who was stuck with carrying her most of the way, while I, blissfully unaware, stopped around fifty times to take photos.
As mentioned, we did walk past Old Parliament House, where the Australian government ran the country before upgrading to their rather swanky-looking new building. There’s no way you can miss it! Its colonial design and bright shade of white make it look very parliamentarian and clinical.
Just after we passed the building, I agreed to take my turn carrying Aria. Unfortunately for me, just around the corner, I discovered that the remainder of the walk consisted of a mammoth hill. With what little strength he had left, Zac handed her over to me, and the three of us trudged our way through the afternoon sun and several mirages until we arrived at the front of Parliament House, where we all collapsed in a collective heap. All I ask is that you reserve judgment until you’ve carried a three-year-old up a hill for 15-20 minutes, through conditions that rivaled that of the Sahara desert! You know you’re getting closer to the new building when you spot the huge flagpole positioned on top of the building.
The staff quickly realised that our big pile of sweaty bodies was ruining the area’s aesthetic, so they started coxing us inside with promises of air conditioning! Before we could enter, we were given the ‘covid talk,’ where we were advised that no tours were actually running at the minute due to the pandemic, and it’s just a self-guided walk-around instead. I was gutted, as I really wanted a guided tour. I kind of wish that this had been made clear when booking, as we had no idea.
Upon entry, you will be required to go through airport-style metal detectors, as well as have all of your other goods x-rayed. It was pretty clear that even if some crazy tried to ambush the place, they would be vastly out-gunned! I certainly felt safe with all of the visible security.
After breezing through security, we entered the huge reception area with its grand marble pillars made from forest green and golden yellow marble, the colours of Australia. There was not one, but two grand staircases to take you up to the first floor. After our walk, we totally had to wimp out and ask where the nearest lift was! By the time we arrived on the upper level, Aria had decided that she wasn’t interested in Parliament House anymore and thought that it would be much more fun to start screaming, making lots of noise and running around. If your kid is as loud as mine, it’s not a good idea to take them in the afternoon after a long hike up a hill. I would try and take them first thing in the morning when they are more willing to listen and learn. She does enjoy looking around museums and galleries, but not on this occasion.
Still feeling pretty hot and sweaty, we headed over to a rather posh-looking couch and dumped all of our stuff down. A lady guide came over and asked if we were okay. I think she could tell that we needed to sit for a minute. She said we’d be much more comfortable in one of the back rooms so that we could sort ourselves out. However, as soon as Aria walked in and saw the awesome model of the Parliament House building made from LEGO, she started acting like we’d stuffed her full of sugar. She began running around the room and jumping all over the furniture as she tried to escape the clutches of her evil parents (seriously, who is this child’s mother!?). The guide loved this child-like display of enthusiasm so much so that she took it upon herself to give Aria a rather stern warning to ‘be a good girl!’ Wowzers! Clearly not a family-friendly establishment!
As we started looking around at the other exhibits, our little terror wasn’t getting any quieter. Zac began talking to one of the other guides stationed throughout Parliament House. I think he could tell that we were in desperate need of fluids, so he took us around the corner to where the staff kept their fresh filtered water. We were so grateful, and this really restored our spirits. A few minutes later, the first guide we’d encountered seemed unsatisfied with chastising our three-year-old girl and decided instead to sink her teeth into our newfound friend, all the while complaining that she didn’t want everyone knowing about where her secret water station was!!! What a snob! We were a family in need of a drink, for goodness sake! I should write to the PM Sco-Mo (Scott Morrison), lol!
The next exhibit we came across was the portraits of the past Prime Minister of Australia, which I really enjoyed. Some were painted in your standard I’ve-been-stood-here-for-six-hours pose, but others were a lot more relaxed. I didn’t think I would know who any of them were, as I’ve only lived in Australia for a few years. One portrait I recognised straight away was that of John Howard. He was the PM when I first arrived in Australia as a backpacker fifteen years ago. I used to work at Milsons Point in Sydney, and one morning, as I was heading to the office, he jogged right past me, with all of his minders trailing behind him! I also really enjoyed the painting of Julia Gillard. It’s a close-up of her face, that upon closer inspection shows just an inkling of a mischievous smile. Julia was Australia’s first female PM, and I like to think that smile is because a woman finally landed the top job! I was expecting to see Sco-Mo’s portrait, but it wasn’t up yet. Maybe next time.
Readers of my previous Australian posts will know that I am a huge fan of Aboriginal art. I loved seeing the indigenous paintings dotted throughout the area. They contain so much detail, with every element being filled with different colours and patterns. This always seems to give their artworks a significant contrast, which makes the pieces more vibrant. Be sure to check out the amazing artwork accompanying The Barunga Statement. The painting surrounding this document consists of shapes and patterns in earthy colours, with images of animals and fish drawn using traditional line and dot patterns. This statement is hugely significant, as it outlines the Australian Government’s recompense for the terrible way in which Aboriginals were treated in the past. It’s a very interesting document and one of the first items you’ll come across in the portrait area.
While I was here, I took the time to learn a bit about the history of parliament from the articles on display. Originally being a British colony, I was interested in discovering how Australia become independent. This became a reality on January 1, 1901, when Governor-General Lord Hopetoun invoked the Federal Constitution, which declared all states, except Western Australia, were to become the Commonwealth of Australia. Two months later, Federal elections were held, and the Protectionist Party won by a narrow majority. Labour then offered their support, and a Government was formed. Not long after, Edmund Barton was elected Australia’s first Prime Minister, and, within the year, Western Australia also joined the Commonwealth. Parliament’s next big move was to decide which city should be the capital – Sydney or Melbourne. However, a decision couldn’t be made, so a new city was created in the middle of the two. Thus Canberra, the seat of parliament, was born.
After getting my history down pat, I decided to go and see where all the politicians like to shout at each other. The Senate Hall was just a short walk away. As I entered, I was keen to learn what the Senate actually does besides arguing. I found out that the Senate is there to represent Australia’s people, but maybe even more importantly, I finally found out what a Whip is! No, not the seedy, kinky type, but the (political) Party Whips. They are the people responsible for arranging MPs to participate in debates and ensure everyone is in attendance in the chamber when it’s time to vote. I guess you could say that they were the ones in charge of all the yelling. I’ve heard this word used so many times and often wondered what their job was, so now I know. But seriously, though? A Party Whip? What a daft name for a job title!
The senate was empty, so I had the whole place to myself; however, you can still only walk around the top viewing gallery and look at it from above. It is decorated mainly in red with maroon coloured chairs, and a big table in the middle where the parties sit and argue. I really felt the urge to shout at the top of my lungs,” Excuse me, Mr. Speaker,” and, “Order! Order!” But I figured Aria had already made enough noise for the three of us today, so I thought better of it.
As I finished up looking around here, I headed into another gallery where I got to gaze upon some great portraits of Aboriginal MPs. It was great to see them represented here, after having just read The Barunga Statement. One of the grievances was that they wanted Aboriginal MP’s in Parliament to have their culture represented and to make sure they had a voice that would be heard. Just as I finished reading up on who the MP’s were, Zac called me saying that he was downstairs in the foyer and Aria was now past the point of crankiness, and it was time for us to make an exit.
As I headed in that direction, I did have a sneaky look at an exhibition of Australia’s first-ever prime minister, Edmund Barton, who was elected PM in 1901 after officially becoming independent from British rule. There was also an interesting image of all the MP’s present in May 1901, during the first parliament. I’ll definitely be heading back to Parliament House in the future, as I’d love to have a proper tour and see more of the interior. Also, the building has a grass roof which you can walk on, and I won’t feel as though I’ve seen everything until I’ve walked across it.
Thanks for reading my post today on Parliament House in Canberra. A few years ago, I have to admit that I would have snubbed the capital at all costs due to hearing such negative comments about how boring it was, with little to see and do. That really is the total opposite of my experience here, and I can’t wait to go back and see more of this amazing city! Are you planning on visiting Canberra in the future? Will you be adding Parliament House to your Australian Bucket List? Let me know in the comments section below.
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