Australia’s House of Representatives: Canberra

One of the joys of travel is an opportunity to reconnect with old but distant friends. My travel buddy and I were doing a road trip from Adelaide to Sydney that allowed us to pass through Canberra, where both my he and I had friends. While there, my friend suggested that we attend go to the Parliament House and attend a session of the House of Representatives, which I was thrilled to do.IMG_8797.jpgThe building above is actually the NEW house of Representatives building, (opened in 1988 and cost 1.1 Billion Australian dollars to build — wiki) according to my friend. The Old Parliament House (below, built in 1927) sits directly across a green divide from the new one, with the two buildings facing each other.

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A picture of the old building from the opposite side, but you get the idea

My travel partner, Mik, had said to me that he couldn’t understand why they’d built the new building, when the old one still seemed perfectly good. I, however, have a theory. The old building has a stripped classicism style (the “rational architecture” style preferred in the 1920’s, and particularly embraced in Nazi Germany, that tends to reflect power the way a football linebacker reflects power); the new one reflects the old (both geographically and thematically, note the white pillars) while having a lot of “touches” that ‘honor’ aboriginal culture. [As I discussed in the blog post about the protest march I took part in the day of my accident, there seems to be a focus on appearances in how Australia addresses the political problem — on the world stage — of their relationship to their aboriginal population that eclipses the import of actions … and I think the new building intentionally includes these surface touches to show their ‘deep abiding respect’ for their native populations, without having to actually address the very real and substantive insults still happening today (see later in this piece).]

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Note the Aboriginal art in front of the main entrance for the building

Below is the front entrance of the new building… note how on thematic level it reflects the shape of the old building; note the up down and the negative/dark versus light working of the shapes; but is less about brutish power (like the old building)… and more delicate, and hence also reflective of the “pillars of democracy” appearance — that you tend to see in the greek revival preferred in American Government buildings.

IMG_2159also pay attention to how while the old building looks from this angle as though it is embedded in a mountain (photo above, entrance is just to the left of the photo); so that the new building is actually built into the side of a man-made hill, with the elevated flag sitting on the top of its peak. So ULTRA modern while still reflecting the old building and the “Natural” elements. (Why yes, I do have an undergraduate degree … a BFA… in Art from the Art Institute of Chicago, and yes I did also attend the Royal College of Art in London … why do you ask?)

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Got to love Aussie humor, I bought a box of the “Parlimints”

The interior of building is full of pillars decorated so as to bring to mind a grove of Eucalyptus trees … the one of the most common native of the Australian continent/country (so again, shifting the focus to the natural and native)

IMG_2161So for example consider the pictures of the tree on this website, and then compare it to the columns, and you’ll see what I mean. Once inside, we picked up our pre-reserved tickets to view the debates, and since we had time, so we explored the gift store at length, and then we went to have a snack at their cafeteria (which is REALLY nice and worth checking out.fullsizeoutput_4183.jpeg

THIS was my very first Lamington. One of the purposes of travel is eating new foods, and back when I was in Ballarat, my friend there had said that I needed to try a Lamington while in Australia. That said… when I saw they had one I ordered it for my tea, and had my travel buddy for this trip, Mik — an Aussie native, try it, and he deemed it to be a good Lamington …Not outstanding but good … I wasn’t impressed. 

When it was time, we joined the group booked to attended the House of representatives question time, and passed through a security check… unfortunately we were not allowed to take out our phones for any reason while in the observation deck, and there were staff member posted at the front of every aisle to make sure we didn’t… they even would come talk to us if we were sitting “properly” (no putting your feet up, etc)…. I did find a YouTube video of the actual debate we watched (released by the government), but it said these videos are only up for 6 months at a time, so I didn’t bother.IMG_2166.JPGAfter we were released from the  we did a guided tour of the building, as well as some free range wandering around … above the chamber there was the symbol of Australia but it was too small to see in the photo, so my travel buddy noted it was also on their $0.50 coin.IMG_2162At the back of one of the big rooms, there is a mural that the tour guide told us was actually very important, but because of a dinner event planned for that evening it was being blocked by a black curtain, the gold triangles, and the two projection screens hanging from the ceiling… I was however able to get a glimpse of it from behind the curtain… again, it looks like a natural Australian forest, and in it I spotted a Cockatoo (the white ones with the yellow plumage on top of their heads).IMG_2165

One of the amusing things the tour guide pointed out were these stickers across doorways,

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According to the tour guid they’d been put there by the U.S. President’s secret service when he came for a visit… they go through, made sure the place was safe, and then placed these stickers across all the various doorways and closets along his path to make sure that they weren’t accessed between the inspection and his arrival.

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after this we took an elevator to the roof of the building … in part because the building has that very interesting lawn roof, which is what makes the building look like it’s embedded into a mountain.

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According to my friend, when the building first opened up you used to have full access to the lawn and kids used to use it for fun (rolling down the hill of soft manured lawn). After this, as we were heading home, my friend took a route that brought us by the back of the Old Parliament building (picture above), and pointed out to me the Aboriginal Embassy encampment located in the park just across from it. I asked him if we could park and visit it… which I got the impression is something he’d never done before based on his response (he seemed a bit intimidated by the thought) but he agreed.

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So we walked into the encampment, while there we were called over to come sit with some of them who talked with my friend, while I listened from the edge, before hitting him up for money. To be honest they reminded me of my months on the Navajo reservation, where I was doing research on economic development there; it was just like any of the times I was around the alcoholic, out of work, vagrant Navajo who the were a source of anger and embarrassment to the other tribal members, the ones I was interviewing; these latter were the ones who were actually getting on with their lives and making something of themselves and trying to make life better for their people, rather than doing nothing while blaming others for their condition, well, nothing other than coming hands out and hitting up their more driven relatives for cash.

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… although I am guessing the movers and shakers do need to enlist someone to just sit there and do nothing (and who better?). After this, my friend seemed pretty deep in his thoughts as we headed home… we couldn’t really do much more at that point because I was utterly exhausted

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View of the Parliament building from across the river
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The view from our Airbnb

 

…..

The next day is when we went to have dinner with a very old friend of mine, Tat, whom I have not seen since my undergraduate days at the Royal College of Art, 30 odd years ago … which is where he and I met first while sharing a vat of photo chemicals in the dark rooms of the college. Yes, we’re that old…

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That said, somewhere in his files he has naked photos of me, because like the mutual friend of ours in the image behind us (we sent this photo to her), I also was one of his models — only no one ever wanted to put the pics of my body on a wine bottle like they did with hers (which is ultimately what made his career). Lumpy fertility goddesses don’t make for good advertising campaigns. That said we had a really nice meal together … with many of its ingredients coming from his own garden… and then we walked around his neighborhood (A Canberra suburb).

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My friend Mik petting one of Tat’s pet fish

This was a video I took of some cockatoos we passed on our walk

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