Thursday, 29 November 2012

Australian Capital Territory

When we told people we were going to Canberra, the response - almost universally - was "why?" Australians are hardly in love with their capital and most foreigners probably couldn't tell you what, or where, it is. In spite of all this, we felt a year Down Under was incomplete without a trip into Australian Capital Territory (ACT).

Our travel partner on this occasion was Ben Grilli, pictured here at the top of Monument Hill in Albury. Ben and I spent many hours traversing England in the Woking FC supporters coach, so I knew he'd be ready to rise early and hit the road to Canberra.

Before entering the city itself, we headed to the outskirts, where one of Rachel's colleagues, Adrian Fury (in pink), was competing in the Queanbeyan Gift race meeting. Like lots of athletics in Australia, the event was held on grass rather than a track. However, the illusion of a school sports day vanished when we heard the 120m final carried prize money of $16,000. We left sun-drenched Queanbeyan Park with the heats still in progress.

First stop in Canberra was the War Memorial, a fine tribute to those who killed in conflicts all across the globe. It was fittingly tranquil and the tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier in the Hall of Memory (through the doorway at the back of shot, above) was especially poignant.

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

Here we are on the roof of Parliament House, the centre of Australian politics. We did have to pass through an airport-style security scanner to get in, but beyond that we were free to roam wherever we wanted...

...including right into the House of Representatives. I have zero interest in the squabblings of Julia Gillard, Tony Abbott & Co but to sit in the 'inner sanctum' was still a moment worth savouring.

Rachel liked these chairs.

Canberra is also home to the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS), where the country's elite athletes train.

We took an AIS tour, led by Australian race walker Rachel Tallent (above). She certainly knew her stuff and answered every question our group could throw at her.

From the basketball arena... the volleyball courts...

...and past much more to the swimming pools, we got a glimpse of the facilities available to Australia's best.

The AIS was set up in response to a dismal showing by Australia at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. As we stood poolside, I resisted the overwhelming urge to comment on their swimming performance at London 2012.

We were almost the last people to leave the AIS, a fascinating place and a decent way to end our whistle-stop tour of Canberra. Although the capital may not be in the same league as Melbourne or Sydney, that doesn't mean it's not worth visiting.

Why go? So you can make your own mind up.

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