We spent Tuesday and Wednesday traveling by train and coach to get to Canberra via Sydney. We stayed over one night in Sydney, near the railway station, and on the train watched a lot of TV and saw a lot of scenery go by to finally get into the capital of Australia, Canberra.
Despite sitting on the train for the better part of two days, Thursday we felt quite lazy and stayed at the hostel for the day. We spent the day researching and planning the next leg of our trip to Melbourne and the Southern Coast. I finally put some shoes on to walk out to the supermarket to get a few things for dinner.
Friday, we finally got out to do some exploring of Canberra. We rented bikes from the hostel and rode over to the Australian War Memorial Museum. This is a huge and sad and moving museum documenting the participation of Australian men and women in war from World War I and II to Afghanistan. One thing I’ve noticed about Australia (and New Zealand, as well) is how conscious it is, as a nation, of the losses of war. There are countless war memorials around the country, in every town, it seems, and this museum started as a large memorial to the men who died in World War I. This is not to say Americans don’t recognize or suffer loss, but we have a different culture of expressing grief over the loss of so many men. The museum gives a very real sense of the tremendous loss of Australian lives in war from the exhibits on World War I and World War II. Seeing this history from the Australian point of view is an interesting contrast to what I learned in American History class.
After touring the museum, we biked over to Parliament across Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra is a completely planned city, built for the express purpose of government. Kind of like Washington, D.C., but with far fewer people. Certainly people live here, but its neatly laid out, with the modern Parliament building at the center of a hub of government buildings. Parliament is on break for a few more days, so the Senate and House of Representatives chambers were all quiet. The lobby is filled with light blue marble pillars that are quite evocative of the ubiquitous gum trees we have seen all over Australia.
After having a snack in the cafe and mailing some postcards from the Parliament post office, we biked back across Lake Burley Griffin towards the hostel. On the way, we biked through Commonwealth Park and found a huge colony of grey-headed flying fox bats. These are the biggest bats I have ever seen, and they were quite noisy, hanging in the trees in broad daylight, chattering and fighting a bit.