Sunday, April 28, 2013

#85: Parliament House!

No trip to Canberra would be complete with a stop at Australia’s Parliament and checking this item off my list of 103 Things was the primary purpose of my little adventure to the nation’s capital. 

Travel buddy Cade was a trooper and allowed me to wander around aimlessly for quite some time after our tour so I could get extra photos to mark the crossing off of another item from my list.

The capital building itself is only 25 years old and is in the shape of 2 boomerangs, with the building itself in the middle.  Built atop a hill, the architects kept the grass on top and put most of the building under the hill, though there was a ton of light inside.  This photo of a photo of the construction illustrates it best:

Aside from the boomerang shape, Parliament House also had quite a bit of indigenous art both inside and outside, including on the pathway leading up to Parliament.

Inside there was a small exhibit of how Parliament works and it really did a good job of making it very simple and understandable for those of us still familiarizing ourselves with the Parliamentary system.

The Great Hall hosts lavish receptions for diplomats and even weddings (and maybe a bar mitzvah if the price is right!) and is backed up with a heavy tapestry.  The tapestry is based on a painting of bushland near Shoalhaven, New South Wales.

The balcony above the Members’ Hall features portraits of important people including most of Australia’s Prime Ministers.  The hall even includes Prime Minister Harold Holt, who in 1967 went for a swim and just disappeared.  He was presumed drowned.  These things only happen in Australia…

Of course, there is also a prominent portrait of Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia:

We visited both chambers on our tour of Parliament House.  Just like in the United States, Australia’s Parliament has a House of Representatives and a Senate.

The Senate is various shades of red which where were taken from the ochres of native Australian plants.  Notice how the red shading changes as you go up the rows.  Similarly, the green shades of the House of Representatives were taken from a variety of eucalypts and other native plants.

The roof of the building is covered in grass and contains an 81 metre flag pole.

Just don’t trust a German tourist to get a photo of you and your mate with said flagpole.  Far too difficult apparently…

After our time at Parliament, we made a quick pit stop at Old Parliament House.  The Old Parliament House was completed in 1927 and was fully intended to be a provisional or temporary Parliament House until Australia had enough money to build a proper one.  The was evidenced by the building not being constructed on the site for Parliament House originally selected by Walter Burley Griffin, Canberra’s original architect.  The site he selected is where the current Parliament House sits.

As Australia outgrew the Provisional Parliament House, several extensions were added to expand the building’s lifespan.  It became apparent in the 1980’s that further repairs and renovations weren’t the way to go and plans were set into motion to construct the current Parliament House.  After much debate as to whether the building should be preserved or demolished, the government finally decided to turn it into a museum.  Inside you can visit the old Prime Minister’s office, press galleries, and chambers.  The red of the Senate is pretty old school compared to the new, more-Australian red found in the new Parliament House.

The green of the House of Representatives is equally as bad.  The Old Parliament House also features The Museum of Australian Democracy which features a few interesting exhibits.  There was even a shout out to America.  Woohoo!

A little blurb also mentioned that even “when George Washington died, there were 316 slaves living on his estate and women did not have the vote.  Democracy, as defined by today’s terms, still had a long way to go.”  They giveth and they taketh away.  Did they need to remind us of that?

Of course, the museum is called the Museum of Australian Democracy and Australia was heavily featured.  Did you know that Australia has no Bill of Rights?  I’m not quite sure what to think of that, but I’m going to do some research and ponder and get back to you at a later date.

The best part of Old Parliament House, however, had nothing to do with the old Parliament or a museum.  It was cartoons.  Cartoons!  The museum has a special exhibition on political cartoons from year 2012.  There were heaps of cartoons – probably hundreds – covering the whole spectrum of political discourse.  The largest bunch had to do with Prime Minster Julia Gillard and Opposition Leader Tony Abbott – both of whom are pretty shitty.

Others focused on the perception that Australia is turning into a “nanny state”:

My favourite, however, was this one:

I’d totally vote for Morgan Freeman to be Prime Minister of Australia.  Can that happen?  Please?

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