Monday, February 25, 2013

Visit the Museum of Australian Democracy, Old Parliament House, Canberra

On a very rainy day this weekend, we decided to brace ourselves and take the KTNTM (kids too numerous to mention) to the Museum of Australian Democracy (MOAD).  Hubby and I had been wanting to visit the ol' wedding cake for some time, but were unsure on how the kids would handle it i.e. we feared they would be bored out of their brains and muck up famously.

Anyway, it was a blast!  One of our 4 year olds declared MOAD 'the best thing I've ever been too; it had everything'.  I kid you not.

Upon entering and paying our very reasonable $5 family fee, the kids collected a map with questions to answer at certain sites along the way.  Hubby took off after the boys, while I pondered the front steps of the white building, made famous when Gough Whitlam addressed the media after being sacked by the Governor-General in 1975.  I was only an infant at the time, but the grainy television images have become part of me. 

There is a grandish entry hall embellished by a statue of King George and portraits of past Prime Ministers.  The portraits of Paul Keating and Malcolm Fraser and particularly wonderful.  Interestingly, the fleeting Kevin Rudd is yet to make the hall.  To the left of the hall is the old House of Representatives (green) and to the right is the old Senate (glorious in red).  My daughter and I sat for a while in the Senate, admiring its comfy red leather seats and the stunning timber sourced from Queensland while a kindly guide pointed out the features.

Next we began to traverse the museum proper, including exhibits detailing the history of Australian democracy, the building of the parliament houses old and new, and the history of democracy itself. 

There is a wonderful section that features old original movie posters (including Mad Max!) of a political theme, as well as politically themed display of paperback fiction.

Upstairs you can visit the press gallery and media quarters, still equipped with typewriters and radio equipment.  The kids all had a go interviewing a politician and listening to the playback.  One of the imaginary pollies was mocked for being a 'poo-head' by my astute 4 year old.

Going back downstairs we visited the four corners of the building that housed the Prime Ministers suite, the opposition suite, cabinet room and party rooms.  There is also a whole quarter now devoted to children, with historical dress ups, picture books and paper leaves on which the kids can write politically inspired messages and hang on a wooden tree for all to see.  It was delightful to see my daughter participate in this activity when earlier I had asked her the question 'do you think your voice can be heard?' and she answered in the negative.  Children are the future and deserve to be heard.

I don't really know what it was about the MOAD that captured my children's imagination.  Maybe it was the long palatial corridoors to run down or the rabbit warren suites of rooms to get lost in.  I felt proud and encouraged by my children's enthusiasm and the gentle inspiration found in the considered displays.

The MOAD is an art deco/neo-classical marvel not to be missed.


In a beautiful coincidence, Julia Gillard visited my daughter's school on the same day I wrote the above post.  Today's print media covered the visit, in which the PM announced the appointment of the new National Children's Commissioner.  The Prime Minister is quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald as having told the children: 'We've listened to you and we've come up with having a national children's commissioner and we've consulted with you about what that person should do to make sure that government is responsive to the needs of young people.  We've been thinking about what's a way of ensuring that the voices of children are heard as government goes about making decisions'. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Camp at Woods Reserve, ACT

We recently took the family on our first camping trip in the ACT.  After a bit of research, we decided to try out Woods Reserve, close to the Tidbinbilla nature reserve, in Canberra's southernmost vales.  Our decision was heavily influenced by the ability to take dogs to Woods Reserve.

Following weeks of 'persuasion' by Miss 8, we agreed to go for one night only, as we are not really equipped for longer camps and rain was forecast.

After stuffing the car full of gear, we made it down and got our huge four room tent - aka 'the palace' - up.  A few minutes later, a huge storm rolled in over the mountains and we all bundled into the tent to batten down the hatches.  While it hailed the size of peanut M&Ms and poured down outside, the kids bounced off the walls and the beds inside.  DH and I found ourselves in camping hell.

An hour or so later we emerged a bit moist but unscathed, congratulating ourselves for having set up camp at the top of a hill.  However, a creek had sprung up within centimetres of our tent, and the kids quickly got wet.  We got our gas stove out and cooked some bacon and eggs under the tent flap as it was still drizzly.  Not too long after it started to get dark and we tried to settle the kids down for an early night.

I was awoken at 6 am the next morning by a hysterical kookaburra, obviously finding mirth in my night of wobbling around on a cheap airbed.  The kids woke up soon after and within long were tearing around the shared campsite and talking in very LOUD voices.

After breakfast we finally had an opportunity to explore our surrounds, and how wonderful they were.  Situated in a deep in a valley, with a river running through it, Woods Reserve really does feel remote.  Kangaroos grazed behind our tent, much to the chagrin our tethered dog (dogs must be on leads at all times).  The creek/river, fed from the towering Gibraltar Falls, could have been taken straight out of a Tasmania calendar it was so perfect.  I also saw the biggest moth of my life in the toilet block (we're talking inches), which I guessed to be that tasty bush tucker morsel known as the Bogong moth.

The campsite itself features fire pits, picnic tables, a toilet block with free hot showers and washing up facilities.  To me, it was the ideal mix of roughing it and essential creature comforts like toilets and hot water.

The friendly rangers came by a bit later, eager to see how the campers had fared in the storm.  I paid the $8.50 per adult nightly fee before they went about their business stocking up toilet paper etc.  It was encouraging to see that we daft campers weren't completely alone in the bush!

It didn't take us too long to pack up and jam everything back in the car, although we had to dry the tent out back at home before packing it up properly.  Needless to say, I was pleased to be home after one very long night in the ACT wilderness!

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Visit the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra

I have visited the National Gallery of Australia on several occasions.  Tagging along after a volunteer guide, carrying my stool, as a sullen high school student; as a young university student with boyfriend, and late last year to celebrate my tenth anniversary with my husband (yes, the same boyfriend).  The National Gallery rocks.

You cannot get bored at the gallery.  You can spend minutes staring at Jackson Pollock's "Blue Poles", for example.  I was upset that I could not find the square block of black painting that mesmerised me as a teenager.  I tell you, there were shapes in that seeming simple block of black.  I am not being facetious here.

Highlights of my recent visit with hubby were the colonial art, and the brilliant photographic exhibition tucked away at the back by an Australian woman, Carol Jerrems.  There is a lot of post-modernism and pop art that can be a little tiresome.  However the Aboriginal art is compulsory.

The gallery is large enough that you can look over everything thoroughly in several visits, or flit through and see everything that catches your eye in one.  There is also a delightful sculpture garden between the gallery and Lake Burley Griffin.  Facing out to the gardens and onto a pond with disconcerting heads poking up out of it (purposely so to bring about an emotional response to a massacre that occurred in Indonesia), is the restaurant.

Fittingly, the gardens are native and are designed around a four seasons theme, although I couldn't pick it.  The kids are free to roam, but not touch or climb on the sculptures.  The experience was stimulating for the KTNM, who don't really need any more stimulation - but what the heck, it is art. The native gardens are a superb example of how attractive and sustainable an Australian native garden can be.  The resident flocks of blue wrens have to be seen to be believed.  I also saw several groups picnicking on the lawns, which is an idea I have tucked away for future reference.

Do visit the NGA.

PS - Toulouse-Lautrec has just arrived and OMG Turner is coming in 2013!!!

Monday, January 7, 2013

Swim The Cotter, ACT

When the weather turns hot in Canberra - 40 degrees celcius hot - one must find some water in which to cool down. This weekend we chose to visit The Cotter, an estuary near the newly completed Cotter Dam, to the West of the city past Mt Stromlo.

Our family and numerous other Canberra-ites had the same idea - to swim in the beautiful surrounds of the Casuarina Sands recreation area, and a picnic lunch on the shady riverbank.

The Cotter appears to be partially dammed or is a very slow moving river. The water is brownish, but not unpleasant to swim in, as it has no odour. The banks are steep, but if the kids are decked out in PFDs or confident swimmers or tall (or a combination of the three) you will find it a fairly safe environment (closely supervise children at all times in the water).

The Kids Too Numerous To Mention (KTNTM) had an absolute ball. Taking a ride on their father's back to the other side, borrowing a kindly person's blow-up kayak, and making friends with a little boy named Jasper, they loved every minute. Lunch was simple sandwiches and fruit, but boy did it taste awesome down by the river.

I strongly considered not sharing this oasis on the interwebz. The Cotter is THAT good. But it would be downright mean not to share. Anyway Canberrans are just so nice to share with.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Visit the National Museum of Australia, Canberra

Today I took 3 of the KTNTM (kids too numerous to mention) to the National Museum of Australia, Canberra. 

After spending an extra ten minutes or so driving around ANU and trying to find the Museum (not actually part of the University but accessible from it) we found it on a peninsula on Lake Burley Griffin's northern shores.

The Museum, also known as Canberra's 'rollercoaster', has a striking, colourful and fun exterior.  On the inside it is made up of large, light-filled atriums.  It looks huge, but its collection can be traversed in an hour or two.

The kids enjoyed the entry foyer which was based on a transport theme, including steam engine, old coach, model train collection, aeroplane, tinker's trailer, malvern star bicycle, vintage Holden etc.

Other collections include Australian animals, Australian popular culture, white Australian history, Australian industry and farming, Aboriginals, and Torres Strait Islanders. 

In K-Space, kids can design their own futuristic homes and vehicles then watch the resulting 3D movie, with their photos included.  The take away message is that our choices will affect our history.

There is an outdoor area that kids like to explore, featuring tunnels, waterways and sculptural aspects.

All in all, we had a nice time as the museum kept the kids interested.  The first time I visited the museum I didn't think it had a lot for me, and seemed geared towards people with little knowledge of Australian history.  Still, the exhibits are bound to contain something new for everyone.  And frankly I will never tire of looking at the stuffed platypus and thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger) skeleton, or putting my kids in the convict leg-irons. 

As a bonus we also bought some historical kids stories in chapter books reduced to $1 each at the museum shop.

National Museum of Australia website

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Visit Lake Ginninderra, Western Shores

When the KTNTM (kids too numerous to mention) want to go for a swim, and we can't afford to go to an indoor pool, Lake Ginnindera's beaches beckon.

Situated at the foot of the Belconnen Mall, Lake Ginninderra is a popular place to visit for its picnic/BBQ areas, playgrounds, bike and walking tracks.  There is even a fenced dog park that you can take your furry pal to for loads of butt-sniffing, if this is what he is into.

On the Western Shores of the lake there is a playground suitable for smaller kids, a boat ramp, a flying fox, and climbing frame suitable for larger kids.  There are also several coves that are good for dog and human swimming alike.  The lake is really quite shallow in these areas, and fairly safe for kids who have water confidence.  Older kids can swim out to sun themselves on a floating diving platform. 

The lake is a bit slimy and yes, ducks poo in it, but it is currently safe for swimming.  Just encourage the little blighters not to put their face in it, or drink it, and all should be fine.

We took our non-swimming dogs for a walk on sunny Sunday, then let the kids strip off to their swimmers and after applying sunscreen, hop in for a paddle.

DH and I lazed under the shade of the tree while supervising the KTNTM, and for a moment life was beautiful.  The secret is to find a spot that is sunny and sheltered because the lake can be quite breezy, and the water freezing.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Visit Burrinjuck Dam, NSW

On the long weekend, friends asked us to go camping at Burrinjack Dam, about 30km south of Yass, NSW.  Burrinjack Dam is an easy 1.5 hr drive from Canberra.

Because the weather was wetish and storms were forecast, we chose to do a daytrip rather than attempt camping with the Kids Too Numerous to Mention (KTNTM).  We packed our chairs and picnic lunch and set off, arriving mid-morning.

Once off the Hume Highway, the road to Burrinjuck takes you through lush farmland (think 'Babe' the movie) and then down a steep descent through the most beautiful and dense mountain fauna I have ever seen.  Wildflowers abounded as it is Springtime here in Oz. 

Once down the occassionally treacherous and narrow road, you reach the NSW State Park Office, where you pay your $10 entry fee to the park and camp fees if applicable.  There are maps available and the rangers are very knowledgable and helpful to boot.

The camping area consists of bungalows, cabins, powered and unpowered camping sites.  The accommodation varies in price and in terms of facilities.  However, I was pleased to find that the toilet and shower blocks were spotless.

The first thing that strikes you once in the park are the huge numbers of kangaroos that congegrate on the grassed areas, mooching around, scavenging for food, and resting.  Many of the roos we saw were heavy with child or already carting their joeys around in their pouches.  Joeys could be seen gawking out of their mother's pouches with feet and tail poking out too!  They would try to nibble food from the ground while their mothers foraged above them.

While waiting for the others to arrive, we checked out the lake.  The lake is man-made; a confluence of several rivers, notably the Murrumbidgee.  The lake is dammed, but access was not allowed to the dam on our visit.  The lake appears and indeed smelt, very clean.  Some of the families that were camping went fishing, but no fish were caught this time!

There was plenty of (fishing) boat action on the lake, but because of the cooler weather, people were turning in early.  I can imagine that in the height of summer the lake would be a very popular destination for skiing, rubber-tubing and wakeboarding too.

After enjoying our picnic at one of the picnic/BBQ areas available, we decided to feed the kangaroo.  We bought several bags of roo food for $2 ea from the park general store.  We also bought bags of bird food for the same price.  The general store appeared to sell everything but the kitchen sink, but staff advised that they were almost cleaned out by holiday-makers and the weekend was only beginning.  So bring your own food to avoid paying a premium or missing out completely if heading to Burrinjuck.  Firewood and ice is also available.

Feeding the roos was a delight for young and old.  Some of the males were a little aggressive, but the kids held their own.  We did not feed the parrots, although we did see them in the trees above.  I understand that they come down to feed in the morning so we gave our bird food to the campers to use the next day.

We also went for a short bushwalk along the perimeter of the lake.  It was simply magical in the forest and I wish we could have gone further, but the rain started to set in.

We piled the very tired KTNTM into the car and made our way back to Canberra.  It was a great day for all at the awesome getaway that is Burrinjuck Dam.