From Canberra — Australia’s National Capital by Crispin Hull
Ch 7 — Cultural Heritage
Canberra is home to some inspirational cultural institutions outside Parliament House. These include the Australian War Memorial, the National Museum of Australia, the National Gallery of Australia, the Australian National Botanic Gardens, the National Library, the Australian National Archive, Screensound Australia, the Royal Australian Mint and others mentioned elsewhere in this book. And there are some other cultural gems, like the Carillon, Calthorpe’s House, the National Capital Exhibition and Manning Clark House.
The Australian War Memorial
After Parliament House, the memorial receives more visitors of any Canberra attraction.
After World War I, the official war historian, Charles Bean, took up residence in Tuggeranong Homestead in the Federal Territory where he wrote the Anzac story. He also put forward his vision of a national war memorial in the national capital, which at that stage was little more than a construction site for Parliament House. Bean had seen the horror of war at Gallipoli and elsewhere, as had many of his compatriots, so he got support for his worthy cause. The foundation stone was laid on Anzac Day, 1929, but the Depression and wrangles over architects meant construction was drawn out over 12 years. It meant that the Second World War was still be fought when the Australian War Memorial was opened on Anzac Day, 1941. Every Anzac Day since it has been a special place in the life of the nation. Its place in the capital and the nation has grown in significance as other wars have been fought and helped instill a sense of pride in Australians about their capital.
Two major events in national capital in the early 1990s helped the nation mature and evolve in the way it marks past sacrifice. On October 3, 1992, Vietnam veterans were “”welcomed home”, more than 20 years after they actually came home, with the dedication of the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on Anzac Parade. Twenty thousand of the 50,000 who served in Vietnam came to Canberra and marched and remember the 508 who were killed. It was a reconciliation and recognition and putting aside of politics. Those who had opposed the war recognised the sacrifice and honour of those who served. It was done in the only place where it could be done — in the national capital.
A year later, on November 11, 1993, 75 years after the armistice that ended World War I, Australia brought home an unknown soldier from the battlefields and at a ceremony entombed the unknown soldier to represent all Australian dead – some 102,000 — in all wars. With the passing of those who served, younger generations are becoming increasingly interested and aware of the need to mark the sacrifice. Nowhere else is that more evident than in the national capital.
The solid, unchanging exterior of the memorial and the simple grace of the Hall of Remembrance marks the permanence of its function as a memorial. But within, the memorial undergoes constant change as technology enables a different and more dramatic bringing of the war and peace-keeping experience to visitors.
The memorial also houses one of the most extensive and highest quality war museums in the world with many real and replica aircraft and tanks and smaller exhibits to help visitors understand the experience and horror of war. The memorial also covers Australian soldiers’ role as peace-keepers under the auspices of the United Nations. The genius of the museum element of the Australian War Memorial is its capacity to renew and revitalise exhibits. For example, ANZAC Hall, designed to house large technology objects such as planes and tanks – with exhibits including a Japanese midget submarine, a Mark 4 tank and an Iroquois helicopter – opened on ANZAC Day 2001. Some who visited the memorial just five years ago might well experience the same reverential elements today, but would get a different and more rewarding view from the renewed exhibits.
Outside the memorial, along Anzac Parade, are separate memorials encompassing different elements of the armed forces and different campaigns – each stark in its expression of the Australian experience in conflict.
The National Gallery of Australia
The director of the gallery, Brian Kennedy, has lamented that the gallery is best known in wider Australia as the place that houses American abstract expressionist Jackson Pollack’s Blue Poles – the painting that everyone’s five-year old could do that was bought by the new Whitlam Labor Government in 1973 for $1.1 million, to the chagrin of many. It was perhaps the most economically wise purchase ever made by an Australian Government – almost doubling in value every five years. But its value is not economic. The gallery aims to have a good representation of major world art – classical, French Impressionist, Modern, and so on — and the best collection of Australian art. Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, however, was bought before there was a gallery to put it in. The gallery was opened in 1981, 69 years after the Commonwealth Art Advisory Board began buying works of art for the national collection. The collection was almost totally Australian until the early 1970s.
These works were, in the main, portraits of Australians renowned in politics, art, literature and science. These acquisitions continued throughout the following decades, with serious collecting of Australian art increasing in the late 1960s, followed by acquisitions of international art in the early 1970s.
The gallery – opened in 1982 — includes a sculpture garden to display important monumental sculptures from many countries within outdoor galleries amid plantings of native Australian plants.
Inside, the gallery has 20,000 square metres of space, a third of which is devoted to exhibition space in a controlled environment of 22 to 23 degrees at 55 per cent relative humidity.
The gallery has more than 100,000 works of art and attracts about 600,000 visitors a year – and a further 300,000 visit its travelling exhibitions in Australia and overseas.
The National Museum of Australia
The National Museum of Australia — which was opened in 2001 — is on Black Mountain peninsula, jutting out into Lake Burley Griffin. It does not attempt to replicate the great museums of the world. It is uniquely Australian, concentrating on the Australian land, people and nation. The museum holds a collection of 80,000 stone tools and the nation’s largest collection of bark paintings — 1,600 works by numerous artists, spanning two centuries and the width and breadth of Australia. Paintings were executed on bark by Aborigines in Arnhem Land from early last century, producing one of the first commodities in Aboriginal art that could be bought or sold. Visiting anthropologists also assembled art collections which were significant in promoting Aboriginal culture. Collections were deposited in museums and art galleries, including Canberra’s Australian Institute of Anatomy. The museum’s collection includes paintings from the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Institute of Anatomy. The paintings were collected between 1930 and 1980.
Other items in the collection include: convict clothing, leg irons and tickets of leave; material illustrating the migrant experience; displays and material from ceremonies marking Federation in 1901 and the opening of the first Federal Parliament; displays on domestic life and “”‘making do” in rural Australia; and material from more recent times illustrating the Australian experience such as protective clothing and equipment used in the 1994 Sydney bushfires; a skidoo snowmobile associated with the development of commercial tourism in the Kosciuszko region; an early ABC television outside broadcast van fully restored by the museum’s volunteers; and clothing worn by baby Azaria Chamberlain, the subject of one of Australia’s most controversial criminal cases.
The National Library of Australia
The National Library of Australia began its life as Commonwealth Parliamentary Library. With the move to Canberra, the need for extra storage soon became apparent. In 1935 a new building next to Parliament House was completed that would serve at once as a national library, a Parliamentary library, a public library and a lending library ministering to the needs of the local citizens.
From the late 1930s through to the late 1960s the Library’s collections were housed in numerous annexes, huts, temporary and government buildings and basements around Canberra and Queanbeyan.
The impetus for a separate national institution came after town planner William Holford recommended a national library as one of three major buildings in a ‘parliamentary triangle’ in his 1957 report on the development of Canberra. In 1966 Prime Minister Robert Menzies laid the foundation stone for the new building on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin and in 1968 Prime Minister John Gorton opened the new National Library building.
Today, the library contains six million items, of which two and a half million are books. The rest are serials, manuscripts, music scores, paintings, posters, drawings, prints, photographs, maps, oral history recordings, ephemera, as well as electronic documents.
The library acquires Australian material mainly through legal deposit, purchase (direct from publishers or through library suppliers), exchange, gift or donation. Copies of all works published in Australia are received by the library under the legal deposit provisions of the Copyright Act, 1968 — which require publishers of all books, journals, maps, newspapers and printed music published in Australia to deliver a copy to the National Library of Australia. The library has also acquired materials from events such as federal elections, the Sydney Olympics, the Australian bicentenary and centenary of federation which generated a vast range of publications — including flyers, posters, leaflets, memorabilia and stickers. The library maintains an extensive electronic catalog and a range of electronic material.
There has been extensive debate over the acquisitions policy of the library – over the balance between monographs and periodicals and between overseas and Australian material.
Screensound, the National Film and Sound Archive
ScreenSound Australia, the National Screen and Sound Archive, is dedicated to the collection, preservation and sharing of Australia’s screen and sound heritage – everything from early film to the latest Top 40 hits. The collection of 480,000 items spans 100 years of Australia’s film, television, radio and recorded sound heritage.
The collection – stored at ScreenSound’s building in Acton — began with the National Historical Film and Speaking Record Library (part of the Commonwealth National Library), which was established by a Cabinet decision in 1935. The National Film and Sound Archive was created as a separate Commonwealth collecting institution in 1984 and renamed in 1999. , the organisation received a new identity: ScreenSound Australia, the National Screen and Sound Archive.
The Australian National Botanic Gardens
Unlike older gardens which were originally places of recreation and relaxation, the Australian National Botanic Gardens are primarily a scientific collection of some 90,000 native plants (all labelled) representing more than 5500 species from all parts of Australia. The plants are displayed for the enjoyment and education of visitors and are used for research into plant classification and biology and to cultivate plants threatened in the wild.
The gardens are on a 90-hectare site (with 40 hectares developed) at the foot of Black Mountain a few kilometres from the city centre. The first trees at the Gardens were planted in 1945 and the gardens opened to the public in 1967.
In addition to decorative plantings, the gardens’ plant displays are organised into taxonomic or ecological groups. Taxonomic displays feature related plants, such as wattles (Acacia species); ecological displays contain plants which grow in similar environments, such as rainforests or the mallee. The Gardens has an Aboriginal Trail explaining how Aborigines use plant species for food and shelter. Most plants in the Gardens are propagated in the nursery, usually from cuttings collected from the wild. Special collections of frost-sensitive species are kept in glasshouses.
A herbarium of preserved plants is operated jointly with CSIRO Plant Industry as part of a joint research facility, the Centre for Plant Biodiversity Research. The gardens also has an extensive library and photographic collection.
The High Court
The High Court of Australia is the highest court in the Australian judicial system. It is located in the Parliamentary Triangle on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin. The building has a dramatic interior with a public hall seven storeys high. Impressive murals by Jan Sebergs depict the history and role of a Court. There are three courtrooms, an administrative wing, and Justices’ chambers. Court Attendants are on hand to explain the operation of the Court, its history, and to guide you through the building. Court hearings, like nearly all court hearings in Australia, are open to the public.
The Royal Australian Mint
The Royal Australian Mint was opened in February 1965. It had been commissioned with the task of producing Australia’s decimal coinage, which was to be introduced on 14 February, 1966. Since then it has produced more than eleven billion circulating coins. It has the capacity to produce two million coins per day. It has struck coins for New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Tonga, Western Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Malaysia, Thailand, Nepal, Bangladesh, Israel and Tokelau and also manufactures medals, medallions, seals and tokens for private and public sectors and sporting and tourism groups, including such diverse things as the Order of Australia and the tokens for Jupiter’s Casino in Queensland. The mint is open to the pubic for guided or unguided tours of displays and to see coins being produced.
The Carillon on Aspen Island, Lake Burley Griffin, was a gift from the British Government to mark the 50th anniversary of Canberra in 1963. It was accepted by the Queen on behalf of Australians on 26 April, 1970. The carillon, with 53 bronze bells, is large by world standards. The 50-metre tower, designed by Western Australian architects Cameron, Chisholm & Nicol, comprises three angular columns clad in quartz and opal chip. The tower is lit at night, providing a striking landmark. Carillonists play the suspended bells from a keyboard of wooden batons and pedals, called a clavier. A system of cables and wire linkages draw soft iron clappers on to the bells as each wooden baton or pedal is struck by the carillonist. The carillon is played most lunchtimes throughout the year. It can be booked for private functions, such as weddings and anniversaries.
Calthorpes’ House is one of Canberra’s earliest private residences. It was built in 1927 and contains much of its original furniture, carpets and household items and remains as a record of one family’s life in Canberra as the city developed. It is open to the public and shows the lifestyle of a typical family among the first to come to the capital to live. It is at 24 Mugga Way, Red Hill.
Mugga-Mugga, a 17-hectare property originally part of the Duntroon estate, is now an environmental educational facility and a museum of the lives of early rural workers in the Canberra region. The 1830s stone cottage and slab kitchen contain furniture and other possessions of the Curley family who have been associated with Mugga-Mugga since the 1860s. Mugga-Mugga is at 8 Narrabundah Lane, Symonston, and is open the first Sunday afternoon of each month between 1.00 pm and 5.00 pm.
The National Capital Exhibition
The National Capital Exhibition features interactive displays, laser models and innovative audio visual demonstrations, telling the story of the making of the National Capital, from aboriginal occupation to the arrival of European settlers. It is one of the best places to start a tour around Canberra. It takes the visitor through the controversial selection of the Limestone Plains site nearly 100 years ago, Walter Burley Griffin’s unique design and traces Canberra’s rapid growth into one of the worlds truly great landscaped cities.
From Canberra — Australia’s National Capital by Crispin Hull