xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#' The Font of Noelage: Crossing to Canberra.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Crossing to Canberra.



And now we are crossing to Canberra. No, that is not the ABC informing of an upcoming parliamentary radio broadcast from our national capital, but an indication of our driving destination out of Katoomba. Navigator Lesley soon had us back on the great Western Highway and then turning south towards the famous Jenolan caves.

The Jenolan caves are about 150 kilometres south of Katoomba and 175 kilometres east of Sydney. They are in fact the oldest open caves in the world. Geologists say that the Jenolan rock formations are about 360 million years old. That’s even a bit before my time.
The approach to Jenolan caves
The mouth of the entry cave. That is not a petrified polar bear at the entrance
Driving into the dark, narrow tunnel.
Looking back towards the entrance.

Although they are part of the Blue Mountains, the drive to Jenolan seems to be mainly downhill, along steep slopes, with very sharp hairpin bends through amazing scenery.When you arrive at Jenolan you drive through the mouth of an enormous cave, then along a narrow tunnel. You emerge into a clearing to gaze upon a picture perfect chalet that would not be out of place on a Swiss postcard. It is beautiful. Coming out of the darkness into the sunlit view of the chalet is like that magic moment in “The Wizard of Oz” when it changes from black and white to technicolour and Dorothy says, “I guess we aren’t in Kansas anymore, Toto.” It certainly does seem as if you have come into a different world.
Caves House at Jenolan. Built 1898.

Of course, the Jenolan caves were well known to the indigenous people, but were first discovered by Europeans around 1840, about 27 years after Blaxland, Wentworth and Lawson first ventured over the Blue Mountains. Jenolan’s caves quickly became a place of interest and the chalet was built there in 1898. One can only wonder with what difficulty the building materials were delivered to a location so difficult to reach, along such winding and precipitous roads. Apparently, the building supplies came in on a track hewn out of the very thick eucalyptus forest. In those early days it was a 10 day trek by horse and cart from Katoomba to Jenolan.

We walked around the settlement quite a bit and took many photos. We had a very interesting conversation with a young guide and his father who was there on holiday. The guide gave a great deal of information about the area. However, we did not go on any caves tours as they all took well over an hour and involved quite a bit of walking.
Walking in Spring sunshine around the beautiful Jenolan caves.

We headed for Goulburn and en route had lunch at a very nice little farming town called Tarango. We both had a ham and salad sandwich that was filled with more salads than you find in the average grocer's shop.

]In the late afternoon we arrived in Canberra and, after a pleasant drive around our national capital, we checked into our motel at 4-00pm, seven hours after we set off. In the early evening we took a stroll to the busy shopping mall in Dickson, a suburb of Canberra. After a drink at O'Neill's pub, we settled on a meal at a Malay/Chinese restaurant. Very nice. As was the case in Katoomba, we were struck by the great number of Chinese, Japanese, Thai and Vietnamese restaurants.
Our car in front of our very comfortable motel room in Canberra.

O’Neill’s pub was quite interesting. It was balmy afternoon and we sat outside the pub in a small area that was roped off from the main footpath. At first we were alone, but after about five minutes a group of six young men came and stood on the footpath quite close to where we were. I quickly realised that they were all smokers and had come to the outside drinking area because smoking in the bar was prohibited. Apparently, Mr O’Neill, the publican, has also banned smoking in the little roped off drinking area as well, because these young fellows all stood outside the roped off area but placed their pots of beer on a table that was conveniently located just inside it.

They smoked and joked their way into the early evening of what seemed sure for them, to become a very enjoyable weekend. Occasionally they leaned  over the rope to claim their glass of beer and they also interacted with the home bound workers who did not have the time, or the inclination, to drop into O’Neill’s for a reviver on their weary way home.

After a while a smoker would finish his fag and move back into the bar. Soon afterwards one or two other smokers would wander out to light up their own particular cancer capsules. However, it was obvious that some of the young men preferred their al fresco drinking arrangements. Even after their last puff, they lingered. It was not only an opportunity for them to view and even talk with the many young ladies on their way home, but it also gave them an audience for their high spirited but good natured camaraderie.

The next morning we visited the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery. A feast of culture, especially to see Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles once again and then to see all of Sidney Nolan’s 19 iconic pictures of Ned Kelly and his gang. We also visited an exhibition of authentic aboriginal art, some of it dating back to the very earliest times. The art work was fascinating, using the materials available to aborigines at the time, and in contrast to much of the manufactured, commercialised aboriginal art of the present day.
Entry to the National gallery in Canberra.
Navigator Lesley outside the National Portrait Gallery. No doubt somebody was paid huge dollars to produce the orange whatever it is.

And on that subject, I remember when I was teaching at Tranby Primary School in the mid to late 1960s, I asked the Year Seven children to produce some aboriginal art. To make it more interesting I told them that they were not use their coloured pencils, powder paints or crayons. They could only use the colours available to aboriginals in ancient times. 

I gave the children some charcoal to start off their drawing. There was a large bushland block next to the school and I told the children that they may find leaves, sticks, soils or stones there that may be useful with their painting. They had all of their lunch time to wander the bush block and work on their painting. 

After lunch I viewed their efforts and gave great praise to one young fellow. When I asked how he had managed to get such rich ruddy, brown colours into his landscape he told me that he had slit his arm with a sharp piece of quartz that he had found and used his blood to colour his painting. He quickly pointed out that this was what an aboriginal artist could have done. Naturally, I was horrified, and after warning all the children against doing anything similar in the future, I took him to the sick bay, dressed his wound and put a large band aid on it. I came to school the next morning expecting to face his understandably irate parents but, either he did not bother to mention it, they did not notice the band aid on his arm, or they did not mind. Whatever, I was very grateful. Maybe he realised I could have been in some trouble regarding my Duty of Care and gave his parents a less dramatic explanation for the band aid on his arm.

Canberra was purpose built to be Australia's political capital and the federal parliament moved their from Melbourne in 1927. It was designed by an  American, Walter Burley Griffin, who won a competition to see who would have the honour and responsibility of designing, from scratch in the Australian bush, a city that would house the Federal Parliament. The first Federal parliament was opened in the Great Exhibition building in Melbourne on January the 1st, 1901, the very first day of the twentieth century. The Federal  parliament continued to sit in the Treasury Building in Melbourne until Canberra was completed. Canberra is an indigenous word meaning twin hills. 

In 1988 a brand new parliament house was opened in Canberra, commemorating 200 years of European settlement. Canberra is now quite an impressive city with a fine array of architecturally interesting buildings that cater very well indeed for political, cultural, scientific, recreational, entertainment and historical pursuits. It is a busy national capital in a picturesque setting in which all Australians can take great pride. This has not always been the case.

I first visited Canberra on New Year’s Eve, 1960. I was driving from Perth to Sydney with two friends and we had booked for a night at a local caravan park. We had no caravan and our idea of camping was to throw a tarpaulin on the ground and sleep on it.  It was December, but we had sleeping bags if the weather turned cold overnight.  In those days Canberra was just a large country town. Lake Burley Griffin, which is now a beautiful and predominant feature of the city, was just a long ditch waiting to be flooded with water.

As it was New Year’s Eve we spruced ourselves up as best we could and hit the national capital for a night on the town. After a meal in a small cafĂ©, we found a dance hall in a nearby suburb. The music was feeble and the girls that we thought worth dancing with only wanted to dance with local boys whom they knew. I can understand that to some extent. We had driven across the Nullarbor from Perth, including a rugged stretch of corrugated dirt road from just outside Norseman in WA, to Port Augusta in South Australia about 2800 kilometres away. We had slept rough every night and perhaps did not look too flash in the eyes of the Canberra belles, even though we had showered, shaved and put on reasonably clean clothes.

Deciding the dance was going to be dead loss, we headed back into central Canberra to where, earlier that evening, we had noticed an establishment that advertised that it was Canberra’s finest night club; a place to wine, dine and dance the night away. You entered this palace of pleasure by going down a dimly lit, red lit stairway that added to the mysterious aura of the occasion.

We arrived around about 9-00pm and, as we descended the stairs, we were met by a harried looking middle aged Italian gentleman who said, “We are closed. We are closed. Go back. Go back.”

 “But it is New Year’s Eve” we cried out incredulously.

“That is why we are closed,” he replied as he herded  us back up the stairs. To this day I am not sure if he really was closing, or if the place was fully booked out and not taking any more customers. It was also possible he thought we looked like three young larrikins about to cause some mischief on New year's Eve. We finished up back on the empty Canberra street with no other plans for the night.

In those days in Canberra hotels closed at 9-00pm, so with nothing better to do, we headed back to our camping area which we found to be almost in complete darkness. It was like a wartime blackout. Apparently, celebrating New Year’s Eve was against the law in Canberra in 1960. Or so it seemed.

Just then it started to rain. Not just a gentle drizzle, but good solid soaking rain. And that is how I came to celebrate the arrival of New Year, 1961, in Canberra; huddled against the side of my car at the stroke of midnight, a weak torchlight highlighting shadowed images of my two travelling companions. We sheltered under a well soaked, dripping tarpaulin, taking sips from a a couple of warm bottles of beer.

I have been to Canberra many times since then and I am so pleased to note that Canberra is now a modern city that is  well worth visiting. Especially so, when you are travelling with the beautiful Navigator Lesley. In which case, I am certain, this trip would have been just as much fun under a dripping tarpaulin.





















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