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Route 58 City to Woden

Date: 16 June 2023

Route: 58 City to Woden

Sights: Parliamentary Triangle, Albert Hall, The Mint

Weather: 3 - 14 misty cool clearing cloud to sunny

Time taken: 4 hours round trip including lunch at Parliament House

The days are shorter and much colder, but there is usually some sun to be had at some stage during the day. The temperature difference can be as much as 15 degrees, in and out of the shade. The deciduous trees have seen the last of their leaves fall off and now there are banks of bare trees all around Canberra, looking just as spectacular nude as with the leaves.

As I set off through the city from Northbourne Avenue on the 58, and get to the other side of Vernon Circle, the flag on top of Parliament House is in the mist. The four steel struts that hold the enormous flag pole disappear into the sky that has descended.


My day had started off with energy and deliberation; get the 57, go for the ride to Woden, back to Parliament House, get off, walk around, have lunch, hop back on the 57 and then back to the city. Once in the city the plans changed. The scheduled 57 did not show up, so I got on the 58; similar route but does not travel around Yarralumla, the route is around Deakin the other side of Adelaide Ave, then crosses Yarra Glen to do a loop around Curtin then on to Woden. I will save the pleasures of 57 and Yarralumla for another day. Both buses stop at Parliament House.

The way to Woden, once on the bus that did arrive, was uneventful. The sun was shining thinly through the mist but with the promise of clearing any minute. A new sight has appeared on this bit of the journey, which I take regularly; the Albert Hall. Up until a few weeks ago this building was hidden behind a forest of cedar trees. I had heard talk of this place but the trees obscured the view so it was impossible to know exactly its location. Now it stands out, its “Federal Capital” style of the 1920s there for all to see. Unlike the original Albert Hall in London (1867) this one is not round. Strange, as everything else in Canberra is round; buildings, the many roundabouts, bus shelters, the entire road system. The Hall seats 450, the Gallery, 140, with the ACT Government, its owner and manager, offering the venue as a site with a difference for hire. Features include arched windows with the heating in the arch, original facade and a Roman tiled roof. If I were ever to get married again I am sure I would consider it.

At Deakin a man with a full-on, green Mohican hairdo gets out of a van with “Painters of all colours” emblazoned on the side. This is not something seen often in Canberra; people with tattoos, piercings and large holes in their ears, but wild hair that belongs in the early 80s is not a prominent feature. We are more modern here.

We are on the edge of the diplomatic area; Yarralumla hosts most, but not all, of the embassies. The High Commission of Botswana sits at the intersection of Denison and Carruthers Streets. It sports a brightly coloured entrance way reminiscent of the colourful fabrics in that part of Africa.

As the bus crosses Yarra Glen into Curtin the design of the streets changes a little. Curtin, named after the Prime Minister John Curtin, with its streets named after state premiers, was designed on the Redburn design method. A development from Garden City Design, Redburn housing typically sees houses facing each other with common gardens, laneways connecting common areas between houses. This design is good for energy conservation; shorter trips to the shops, usually on foot, but this design experiment is ultimately seen as a failure as it encourages criminal behaviour with its design. Villawood, in Sydney, was described by Phillip Cox, the architect who brought Redburn to public housing in NSW, as "Everything that could go wrong in a society went wrong.... It became the centre of drugs, it became the centre of violence and, eventually, the police refused to go into it. It was hell."

Not all of Curtin is designed with the Redburn model; most of it looks and feels like many suburbs in the inner south developed in the 1960s onwards. The older houses are being knocked down by new owners who want more modern, environmentally friendly houses that can accommodate grown offspring.

Photo: Parliamentary Education Office

On the return trip from Woden I hop off the bus to have a visit to Parliament House. This place always, always, impresses me: the design, the feel of it, the welcome and the number of visitors. There are always school groups, family groups, individuals. People catching up with friends in the Queen’s Terrace cafe, and of course the business of Parliament. This is a sitting day so the place is humming. I expect if I went to the car park it would be full. I take a quick trip along the portraits of past Prime Ministers, stopping to pay homage at Julia Gillard’s; first female PM, most amount of legislation passed while in office, including tobacco plain packaging, Misogyny Speech, Child Abuse Royal Commission, National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), and Gonski Reforms to Education Report, and then on my way to the cafe with the best views in Canberra.

The Queen Elizabeth Terrace Cafe is located above the Forecourt with a straight line to the War Memorial.

The pillars of the building frame the view. The terrace is sheltered from the wind and designed to catch any sun. And they do great food. There is another place to eat for the politicians, media and staff in the Executive wing but this area serves the people and any staff who have people visiting them.

Looking towards the War Memorial my eyes are caught by action much closer to me; a flock of galahs are feasting on the lawns on the sides of the building and a small group of pigeons are clinging onto the wall of the arms that wrap the Forecourt. A place for people and birds it seems.

Before I leave I have a quick walk around the Lego display of Parliament House. This always makes me laugh. It is a model of half the House, with Lego people doing all the things people do here: sit in the Chambers, interact with media, roll down the lawns, use the toilets, cut the grass and mill about in groups. It is sheer delight.

Waiting for the 57 to take me back into the city, I am given the opportunity to sit and look at this magnificent building, to look at the vistas, to reflect on how wonderful planned cities can be.


Parliament House

Opened in 1988, the Bi-centennial year of European settlement, by Elizabeth II, this House had always been part of the plan for Canberra. The original Burley Griffin plan made a space for the new building on Camp Hill, slightly below where it stands now. The problem with this site was the Provisional Parliament House, now called Old Parliament House, would have to be demolished. Capital Hill, where Parliament sits, was designed by Burley Griffin to be a place of ceremony for the people, and a place for the people to stand above their representatives. The architects of Parliament House, Mitchell/Giurgola & Thorp, incorporated many features of the Burley Griffin vision into the plan, including the idea of the

Photo: Parliamentary Education Office

people being above the representatives. The sides of Parliament are covered in grass so anyone could walk from the base to its height, under the flag pole. (This is no longer possible as a fence has been put in place.) Parliament House sits behind and above Old Parliament House, with the two nestled together beautifully in some views.

The idea of the hill is not the only nod to Burley Griffin. Many of the inside features are Art Deco looking: the light fittings, the shape of the Grand Hall, the design of the main staircase. There are also many courtyards through the building that allow light into office space but also allow for the many workers to be able to get outside. They also offer a pleasant place for press stops.

The planting within the courtyards is thoughtful and pleasant; art and water features incorporated into the designs. On a tour of the Courtyards in Autumn I was told that water features are to disguise and cover conversations taking place within the walls. The difficulty in the plantings is that there is not much soil under the trees. The building has car parks and a labyrinth of tunnels under it. The trees may only have shallow soil but some of them do very well; The Budget Tree, the tree where traditionally, the press interview the Treasurer about the Budget each year, is doing very well. It was a stunning red, hence the name, when the Budget presser was given this year.

Why a New Parliament House?

In the early 20th Century the planners and politicians for Australia knew this was a young country in European terms. It was going to grow. The building now known as Old Parliament House was built to accommodate the politicians, bureaucrats and the people who worked for them; a bigger building was always going to be needed. When the building opened it housed 101 MPs. By the time New Parliament House was opened this number had doubled to 224. New Parliament has seats in the House of Representatives for up to 240 making it roomy for the 151 who currently sit there. The Senate also has room to grow: 120 spots with 76 currently used.

There are other improvements: female toilets (!), spaces for events, and larger galleries for the populace to watch their representatives in action. There is also a large number of seats for the press with studios built into the design.

The Australian political system is based on both the US and the British systems: the Westminster system with federated states. MPs have constituencies in a geographic area decided by population numbers. MPs represent the people of that area. The states and territories all have the same representation: 12 for states and two for each territory. Senators represent every person in their state or territory. The colours in the chambers of parliament are based on the British system: green for House of Reps and red for the Senate, but they have been given a hue of the Australian bush. The colour is darker and more vivid on the floor and lightens and fades towards the skylights above the chambers; a metaphor for a free and open society.

A Place for the people

'We built an example of democracy where the people who visit the place are as important as the politicians within.' Richard Thorp, architect.

The forecourt has two extended walls that wrap the space in a gesture of welcome to any visitor. The mosaic in the centre of the pool by artist Michael Nelson Jagamara, represents Australia as an island. The Great Verandah is a nod to the verandahs on Australian homes that give shelter from the weather and are the place to welcome and farewell people.

The Foyer is designed to be light and cool, in contrast to the Forecourt which is often drenched in sun. The columns represent trees. The area around the Foyer has wooden panels with native flora. The inlay in the floor is of Australian native trees. The two staircases lead to the first floor with access to the Chambers.

The Great Hall is also made of wood, with a skylight that allows light to highlight the hues and subtleties. At the far end, a tapestry based on an Arthur Boyd painting of the Shoalhaven area where he lived. Made by the Victorian Tapestry Workshop, it took nearly two years to complete; the weavers worked with Boyd to interpret the original work which is also at Parliament House.

Photo: Sydney Morning Herald March 2023

The Flag marks the centre of the building and is the most often seen and recognised part of the whole design. The flag itself is huge and has to be changed every 4-6 weeks as it deteriorates very quickly. In March the weather was extremely bad and the people who, bravely, in my opinion, change the flag could not operate the Alimak which glides up the 45 degree struts to the pole. The flag looked tattered with the Opposition citing this as the woeful state of leaders in the country, and the press using it as a metaphor for the economy, (under Labor).

Other Interesting Facts

  • 2700 clocks with an audible tick and lights that flash to allow MPs and senators to know about votes, sessions sitting or if their attention is needed for other things.

  • The Cabinet Room has no natural light

  • Hidden in the decor of the Cabinet Room are dragonflies, cicadas and a blowfly; bugs.

  • Granny Smith apple trees have been planted outside the windows of the Greens offices

  • 19 Committee Rooms: the only area in the Executive Wing that is open to the public

  • Forecourt mosaic measures 15 X 15 m and is made from 90,000 hand-cut granite pieces in 7 colours

  • The limestone in the Foyer is 345 million years old and has marine fossils embedded in it.

  • The Great Hall Tapestry took 14 weavers 2 years to complete. On average each weaver completed 1 square meter every 5 weeks.

  • The flag measures 12.4 X 6.4 m about the size of a double decker bus

  • The flag mast is 81 m high and weighs 220 tonnes


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