Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Travelling in Australia, part 7

Visiting the past

Canberra is the capital city of Australia. With a population of 367,000, it is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The city is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), 280 km south-west of Sydney, and 660 km north-east of Melbourne.

Canberra is very much a city constructed to plan. Canberra became the site for the newly federated nation of Australia in 1908 by a ballot in Parliament after extensive searching and as a compromise between rival cities Sydney and Melbourne. The Indigenous peoples have lived there for over 20,000 years, so it had proved itself to be a good place.  It is, however, unusual among Australian cities, being an entirely planned city outside of any state. Following an international contest for the city's design, a blueprint by the Chicago architects Walter Burley Griffin and Marion Mahony Griffin was selected and construction commenced in 1913. In fact, this year marks 100 years since the naming of the city, which has been and will be duly celebrated in Canberra. The Griffins' plan featured geometric motifs such as circles, hexagons and triangles, and was centred around axes aligned with significant topographical landmarks in the Australian Capital Territory. All this makes it very easy for a tourist to get lost in the city. It is too geometrical for its own good – lacking in routes that a person would naturally and instinctively choose. We had a SatNav with us but even so we found ourselves circling the same route and routes unknown in our quest to find the interesting places we wanted to visit.

As the seat of the government of Australia, Canberra is the site of Parliament House, the High Court and numerous government departments and agencies. It is also the location of many social and cultural institutions of national significance, such as the Australian War Memorial, Australian National University, Australian Institute of Sport, National Gallery, National Museum and the National Library.

The National Museum of Australia is an amazing place. As you can see in the picture below the architecture steers away from the conventional. As designed by architects Ashton Raggatt McDougall and Robert Peck von Hartel Trethowan the museum building is based on a theme of knotted ropes, symbolically bringing together the stories of Australians. It sits on an 11 hectare site on the Acton Peninsula, edging Lake Burley Griffin.  It was opened in March 2001. Never has a museum looked less like a museum. It is simply a place that wants you to come and explore and when you enter, you don´t want to leave the place; there is just SO much to see. We spent quite a few hours there totally fascinated by everything we saw.

The exhibits are interesting even to a non-Aussie visitor and contain a lot of human interest stuff as is the case of the Saw Doctor.

Another very interesting place in the museum is the workshops´ area. Unfortunately you cannot take photos there but you CAN talk to the people working there. There are conservators, seamstresses, shoemakers, upholsterers, engineers, and car mechanics, just to mention a few, hard at work repairing the artefacts that will be added to the museum´s collections and displays later. We talked to a pair of car mechanics doing work on a car used by Queen Elizabeth during her visit to Australia in the 1950s. They told us how the car had been found in a barn in a fairly nasty condition with the upholstering partly destroyed by rats and mice wanting to make it their posh home, tyres flat and the engine missing a few parts, and body with a few dents and scratches, and in need of a lick of paint but the chassis in a relatively good condition. There were two of them working on the car, the other man being a senior member of the staff, Mike. His younger mate told us how valuable Mike´s contribution was to the whole project, as the missing spare parts could not be just ordered in but had to be made in situ  by hand with the help of old tools and the know-how to do so. Restoring something like a car to what it was in its days of glory takes many years. Also their aim is not just to make the car look what it looked like before but to make it run as smoothly as it once did. They told us that all the cars in the museum get driven at least once a year to keep them in running order.




Surrounded by the Museum was the almost ´secret` garden. It took some time to figure out what everything meant and to fully understand it we had to go online.

The Garden of Australian Dreams' design is based on a slice of central Australia. A concrete surface depicts a highly coloured, stylised 'map' of the area; take one step and you travel the equivalent of 100 kilometres across the real landmass of the country.

The words on the undulating surface of the map identify place and country – 'home' is repeated in 100 different languages. The lines that crisscross the map include surveyors' reference marks, road maps, the dingo fence, and Indigenous nation and language boundaries.

Pictures above and below.



Not at all the stuffy interior you have come to expect from a museum. Everything is beautifully displayed.


Below you find the Saw Doctor’s Wagon and the text provided by the Museum.

During the Depression of the 1930s national unemployment figures reached over 30 per cent and many people travelled as itinerant workers to survive. After migrating from England to Australia in 1930, Harold Wright began walking Queensland roads to find work. In 1935, he constructed this wagon as his home and workshop. For 34 years he travelled throughout north-west Victoria and New South Wales, promoting himself as “the Saw Doctor”.

Wright travelled with his wife, Dorothy, whom he met in Queensland, and their daughter Evelyn, as well as dogs, cats, and chickens. They rarely spent more than a few days in one place. Wright attracted business by decorating his wagon, which he affectionately named the Road Urchin, with signs, trinkets and bright paint. He used a variety of grinding wheels and files to sharpen all manner of items, including saws, knives and shears. Moving with the times and the economy, Wright refurbished and enlarged the original horse drawn wagon, fitting it onto a chassis of a truck, towing it with several different tractors and, when rising fuel costs and shortages started to bite, hitching it back to a horse.

Wright continued to live and work in this wagon until his death 1969. Soon after, Dorothy sold the wagon and tractor to a second-hand goods dealer in Wangaratta. Eight years later the wagon was saved from obscurity and the scrapheap collector Peter Harry, who recognized the remarkable vehicle that had trundled through his town during his childhood. The Museum bought the wagon and tractor from Peter and Wyn Harry in 2002, ensuring that this extraordinary piece of history is preserved.

It would have been marvellous to see this wagon travel your way, don´t you think? What an ingenious man Harold Wright was. Everything had its place in his ´home`, so a lot of time and thought had gone into the planning and building this practical piece of art. Just take a minute to look at the details.






This fellow here is a platypus and below its hatching young. Together with the four species of echidna (of which you find a picture in my earlier blog), it is one of the five extant species of monotremes, the only mammals that lay eggs instead of giving birth. It is the sole living representative of its family (Ornithorhynchidae) and genus (Ornithorhynchus), though a number of related species have been found in the fossil record.

So think about it. A mammal - like you and me - who lays eggs, has a tail of a beaver and a beak of a duck and webbed feet! No wonder its unusual appearance baffled European naturalists when they first encountered it, with some considering it an elaborate fraud.

It is also one of the few venomous mammals, the male platypus having a spur on the hind foot that delivers a venom capable of causing severe pain to humans. The unique features of the platypus make it an important subject in the study of evolutionary biology and a recognisable and iconic symbol of Australia.


We did not get here in time to see this skeleton with flesh and fur but at least we got see what is left of it.

Meet what once was the Tasmanian tiger (or rather the skeleton of one)

Thylacines were once widespread over mainland Australia, extending to Papua New Guinea and south to Tasmania. They are depicted in ancient Aboriginal rock art and engravings. When dingoes were brought to Australia by humans about 4000 years ago, it is likely they competed with native predators. This led to the eventual extinction of thylacines on the mainland 3000 years ago.

Fossil evidence of thylacines has been found in every Australian state.


HMB Endeavours´s cannon salvaged from the bottom of the sea. Below you find the story how it got there in the first place.

On 10 June 1770, HMB Endeavour under the command of Captain James Cook was sailing along the east coast of Australia. At 11 o´clock at night it struck a reef and started taking in water. Desperate to lighten the ship, the crew heaved nearly 48 tonnes of material over the side, including this cannon and piece of ballast. 24 hours later, at the next high tide, the Endeavour pulled free. The crew spent the next six weeks repairing the ship at what became known as Endeavour River.



Captain Cook´s magnifying glass

This magnifier came into the possession of astronomer William Bayly on James Cook´s last voyage.

Despite what the inscription on the silver case says, the magnifier may not have been a gift. After Cook was killed in Hawaii in 1799, his possessions were auctioned ´before the mast` and Bayly may have bought the memento then. This was a common way of raising money for a dead sailor´s family.


If you can´t grow trees, grow poles.


Holden, the truly Australian car


The modern day medicine Buscopan is said to contain the same ingredients that the aboriginals had already successfully used for centuries. How ingenious of them!


Here you find another thing of the past. This time they have given it a body with the help of modern technology, so you can see what it actually looked like. But only the skeleton found in 1893 in a dry inland lake Callabonna was what they had to go by.

Diprotodon was also a marsupial, albeit a giant one, like so many animals found only in Oz. it was the largest of them all. It took 13 years to reconstruct the animal and make a complete cast, so no work for the hasty.



The Little Red Riding Hood, a wall-hanging made by a Ukrainian woman. The embroidery is made on a blanket in a Displaced persons´ camp.



Did you know that there were camels in Australia? I did not.

The first Camel in Australia was imported from the Canary Islands in 1840. The next major group of Camels came out in 1860 to be used in an expedition.

Many expeditions after that used camels because they could carry heavy loads and needed very little water which was always in short supply in the long travels in the uncharted Australian continent.

Stud camel farms were set up in 1866, by Sir Thomas Elder. These studs operated for about 50 years and provided high-class breeders for the general population of Australian Camels. 

Working Camels bred in Australia were of superior quality to those imported. Imports continued until 1907, from India and Pakistan, as there was a need for large numbers of cheap Camels.

An estimated 10,000 to 12,000 Camels, imported into Australia between 1860 and 1907, were used as draft and riding animals by people pioneering the dry interior.

Camels were used in Australia in the construction of the Overland Telegraph Line, carried pipe sections for the Goldfields Water Supply, the supply of goods to Inland Towns, Mining Camps, Sheep and Cattle Stations and Aboriginal Communities. Wagons hauled by Camels moved wool from Sheep Stations to Railheads, pulled, scoops in the construction of dams and ploughs and other implements on farms. The use of Camels was mainly used in the "Dry Areas" of Australia.

With the introduction of motorized transport in the 1920's, the days of "Working Camels" were numbered. Large herds of Camels were released and they have established "Free-range" herds in the semi-arid desert areas of Australia. The estimated population of camels in Australia is 150,000 and 200,000.



Although very miscellaneous the picks I have chosen make use of from our vast collection of Oz photos, they do convey the same thought, I hope, that was written on the museum wall: