Canberra with Kids – Part 1

What an outrageously awesome whirlwind tour of the ACT! That would be Australian Capital Territory. Here’s a quiz for a few of you Canadians out there reading this… Did you know that Australia is six states and two territories? Still don’t really know about state/province vs. territory here or at home, but now a bit more intruiged to learn more. Did you know that Canberra is the capital? And that it has its own “territory” – kinda like DC maybe????? (I learned a lot last week, but maybe not quite everything yet). Or did you know it was completely designed and planned ahead of time to be the capital? Right down to the location and the name? This isn’t just some fort that popped up along a river trade route and grew into the capital. It was a worldwide competition to design Australia’s capital city. Bizarre. And kind of terrific!

I’m going to ATTEMPT to intersperse photos within this post, so cross your fingers now (as in, three days before you actually read it since it will probably take me that long to work my way through it all!) Also, it’s going to be a long one; pour a drink, grab a snack, and settle in.

First of all, thanks to Karen who thought I would benefit from a great experience of going to Canberra with the Year 7s and to her and Jeff and Mark and whoever else that made it happen! And thanks to whomever missed out so I wouldn’t!

Sunday morning we flew out of Adelaide with 70 12 and 13 year olds – along with the Carlton football team (some passing my seat were quite delicious, I might add, and so I didn’t really question Karen’s repeated trips up and down the aisle of the plane to “check” on the kids’ seatbelts, cell phones, noise levels, and so on) – and landed at Melbourne airport a short hour later. I’d taken their photo library cards as they boarded and had nearly all of their names memorized and locked in by that time so was feeling a bit better knowing I wouldn’t have to spend the next five days saying, “Hey you! No, you, … no, you over THERE,” anytime I needed to get someone’s attention! Especially since 90% of them were my height or taller – I figured it was important to have at least the one-time shock value of knowing their names despite never having spoken to them ever before!

So, I’d learned their names, and had an itinerary for the week, but other than that, was really just along for the ride and pretending to be authoritative and know what was coming next. Needless to say, Donna (the one parent on the trip and also ‘along for the ride’) and I became fast friends waiting for the two flights and on bus ride over to Canberra and the AIS (Australia Institute of Sport) where we’d be housed all week.

Donna and I were assigned to Block 22 with 14 girls on the top floor and Mark had about the same number of boys on the bottom floor. We helped the girls scan their key cards and get their suitcases into their dorm rooms with two single beds and a night table squished in between. Upon seeing the size of the rooms I thought, “Okay, I was feeling a little guilty about having my own room before but now I will be glad to,” and carried on down the hall to suss out the showers. There were doors that locked – not just a curtain – and a shelf for clothes, etc. Perfect, I can handle this.

Pffffttttt. Forget that. Seconds after scanning my own key card and opening the door I was leaping down the hall towards Donna’s room – and she to mine – for teenage-like jumps and hugs of excitement as if the cute boy we liked had just walked past and smiled. And then of course crumpled into laughter at our sense of timing and completely child-like reaction. Like I said, fast friends. Compared to my expectations of what I’d have (and have been perfectly content with) it was like we’d scored rooms in a palace!

Yes, my own “dining room” and side table even.

Two couches and TV for my 10 minutes of alone time each day.

Complete with kettle and tea!

Really and truly the best part though, was that I had my own bathroom and shower!

We headed to the dining hall where meal after meal all week I battled over which dish I would have to leave behind. The endless buffet of deliciousness prepared for elite athletes in constant training was outstanding. I don’t even want to imagine the TERRIBLE ratio of calories ingested to calories burned that five days. Walking from the building to the bus and the slow meander through the sites we visited hardly counts as exercise with even the furthest stretch of the imagination. Don’t forget they also provided a miraculous dessert each night. First dinner and I knew I’d gain weight this week. And I did. It was actually a relief the night they only provided fruit – I was able to stop at 3 slices of pineapple only because of prior experience with pineapple ravaged mouth with Bev in Hawaii. Dangerous.

National Capital Exhibition Centre

Day 2 began with fog and drizzle. An excellent first stop went through the whys, hows, whats, wheres, and whos of Canberra’s development. As cool as the photo of the model below is, the commentary and lights that emphasised the significance of each feature of the city was much more impressive. The highlight of each site we visited was most certainly the commentary, guided tour, or demonstration. With so much to see, do, and read it was overwhelming, to say the least, and the guides did a fantastic job of getting to the meat of everything so we could get the best out of each experience.

Canberra’s man-made lake, triangles, circles, sights.

My second visit to the Australian War Memorial awed me as much as the first (on my bus tour from Sydney to Melbourne) just by looking and reading. The added bonus of this trip was to discover ANZAC Hall with documentary video clips and an hour with a guide that managed to depict the horrors of war without getting into really ANY details of actual fighting. Just the reality of the conditions of daily life, communications (or lack of), and the impacts of war to Australian on both the small and large scale of the country. While I am certain much of the reality of what it truly was to live at home or on the battlefield of war did not reach many of the Year 7s (it hardly reaches many adults) they demonstrated appropriate reverence when taking in the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier and didn’t utter a peep.

From the students to the wall was the distance between opposing sides during one battle of Gallipoli. Excellent guide for our tour.

After our lunch in the neglected-looking Rose Gardens of Old Parliament House we donned white gloves (Tegan, I was waiting for someone to pass me a handbell to play) to protect the historic building and had an interactive scavenger hunt ‘tour’ of democracy. I’d have liked to do it myself with a longer period of time! We visited the House of Representatives and gazed upon the Speaker of the House’s chair – now let’s see if I can remember the history correctly. I believe that England sent the chair with their coat of arms on the top (yes, I know, terrible photo) made from wood native to England, etc., and so on. The original chair that matches in Britain was bombed during the war and no longer exists. There is, however, another chair just like this one somewhere… You guessed it – in Canada’s parliament! Don’t quote me on the exact details of this information.

We also saw the rather bland and VERY wood panelled Prime Minister’s office left just as it was when they moved to the new building.

Around the other side of the building we watched a video along with holographic models to learn about the process of how voting came to be. We got to do another scavenger hunt/station exploration of the voting process – mandatory in Australia – and into a third room to re-enact the entire process of voting stations, ballot counting, and so on. Loved it! Although, if I remember correctly, Apple won the seat and Peach had the lowest number of votes – how is that even possible?? Who likes apples better than peaches?

After dinner back at AIS, we hopped back on the bus to the National Dinosaur Museum which we had all to ourselves – tour guide included.

Dinos in the dark.

Our 10:00 return to the dorms meant pretty much immediate sleep. Yes, that was only the completion of our first full day!!

Day 3 was socked in with fog so there was little sightseeing for our nearly hour drive out to Tidbinbilla to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Centre placed right in the middle of farm/ranch land. A few students… and myself? … caught a few extra winks of sleep on the way out. Hey… like I said, it was foggy. Nothing to see…

We huddled outside the bus in the wind and slowly dissipating fog to inhale our lunch before checking out Government House where the Governor General lives. The room in the photo below is where all the major functions occur including presenting medals and awards. Donna, Mark, and I even got to sit on the couches. Quite comfy and really hard to convince myself to get up out of.

Check out the gorgeous piano!

All Victoria Cross medals contain bronze from a cannon from the Crimean War. There’s enough left for about 80 more medals. Further research tells me that while Canadian Victoria Cross medals do have the bronze from the cannon in them, they also have metals from all regions of Canada.

I’ll leave it there for today and we’ll explore the rest of the house and NEW Parliament House next! (Aren’t you just so excited?!?!)

One response to “Canberra with Kids – Part 1

  1. 70 almost teenagers?! Craziness. Sounds like it well though! I am just catching up on your posts, how is your tooth? What happened to it? Did you managed to get it fixed?

    Hope all is well!

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