"The Bush Capital..or..a good sheep paddock wasted?" Top 5 Page for this destination Canberra by tiabunna
Canberra Travel Guide: 996 reviews and 2,827 photos
Australians have an ambivalent view of our National Capital: of national and civic pride from those who actually know it; of derision from people who consider it 'boring' (presumably because either they do not understand it or because it is not noisy, crowded, congested and polluted like other cities); and of contempt from those who see it as simply a politicians' paradise. If you are a visitor to our shores, how can you be expected to make sense of these conflicting viewpoints? We lived in Canberra for many years and strongly endorse the first option - it is a beautiful and very liveable city. Do visit with an open mind, and make the effort to understand a slightly different place. NB though that the city spreads. The distances within the Parliamentary Triangle (see tip) are suitable for walking but I recommend that you have some form of transport for any further travels.
A short explanatory background is needed. Rivalries between Australia's colonies necessitated a new and 'neutral' capital city following federation (1901). Its site had to meet certain conditions: it had to be somewhere between Sydney and Melbourne but one of the other requirements was to be beyond the range of naval gunfire (which seems quaint these days)! Finally, the area was chosen in 1908. The Australian Capital Territory was inaugurated in 1911 and an international competition was held to design the city, which was officially founded and named Canberra on 12 March 1913 (still a yearly local holiday Canberra Day).
Unfortunately, from the start, politicians of all parties set out to score cheap points with their local electorates at the expense of Canberra, as sections of the media also sometimes do when news is short. One of the earliest and most original lines came from the marvellously named King O'Malley MP, who was instrumental in choosing the site but declared that it would be a good sheep paddock wasted.
Over the years, because of its setting and because of extensive tree plantings, Canberra has often been known (in an affectionate way) as The Bush Capital. There now are many more trees than when it was 'a sheep paddock' , though that proved a liability when bushfires ravaged suburbs and destroyed about 500 houses in 2003. We had previously retired to a rural lifestyle some 60km from Canberra, but were staggered by the volume of smoke which blackened the sky at our property.
Apart from its own merits, Canberra's central siting makes it an ideal base for trips to adjacent towns and areas. I shall try to give some idea of possible tours and travel times in the accompanying tips - I strongly recommend that you start from the 'General' tips to help you understand the city. For now, may I suggest you start planning a visit - you will be doing yourself a favour.
Update 6 April 2009 to add a new "To Do" tip on the National Portrait Gallery, now in its own new building.
- Pros:Australia can be proud of its National Capital
- Cons:I liked it better when it was smaller (but that's just me)
- In a nutshell:Still a capital city to live in or to visit
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