March 2011

Just when I thought that the most interesting thing about Canberra was the beautifully rugged landscape that surrounded it…

B from GRDC offered up the ‘tour guide’ services of her husband, L, to ferry me around Canberra. B was still in Adelaide. And, after my late Friday afternoon meetings at GRDC, I was free!!

L and I headed directly to the National Art Gallery I was most interested in seeing the Ballet Russe exhibition, a collection of early 20th century ballet costumes. By the time we got there at the end of the day, there was only 30-40 minutes to take in the entire display. It was quick but the collection was brilliant! The evolution of the craftsmanship was evident in both in the materials used and how the costumes were constructed. Many were quite cumbersome which made me wonder how the dancers could actually navigate around the stage in such elaborate, heavy ensembles.

The Sidney Nolan collection – a montage of paintings that illustrate the story of Ned Kelly, Australian outlaw, was interesting. At first, I found Nolan’s style uncomfortably child-like and cartoonish — I was surprised that this artist and his works were so famous in Australia. But after I spent some time walking through the story-board style display and read the accompanying story-line, I found myself entranced by Nolan’s whimsical style. Nolan and Ned Kelly – together they grew on me.

Then, L took me into the spectacular display of aboriginal art. These colorful, detailed, and remarkably well preserved pieces are representative of art stylings by ‘families’ (as opposed to ‘tribes’) from all over Australia. Most pieces are painted on large pieces of eucalyptus bark. This artwork is quite impressive, especially on such a grand scale.

Jackson Pollock’s “Blue Poles” is a cornerstone piece in the Gallery’s collection. It was purchased in the early 70s from a collector in New York for well over the million dollar mark. Sadly, I was not able to get a glimpse of the Pollack. We just ran out of time. But we were able to view the Gallery’s gardens which were surprisingly breathtaking. When you first approach, they look rather plain and non-descript…but this first impression is so deceiving! A “yank” by the name of James Turrell came up with a remarkable design. It incorporates illusion water features, unique architectural elements as well as native plant materials. There are no words to describe this remarkable landscaping feat. Check it out here:

L and I then took a long walk along Canberra’s man-made lake, stopping at several of the “Australian of the Year” commemorative pedestals that lined the dock. We took advantage of ‘happy hour’ at the back of the Gallery and enjoyed a couple of Coopers Pale Ale as we listened to the rumble and rhythmic hum of recorded and live jazz music playing in the background. The ebony presence of Rodin’s life size gestural statues stood in silent-sentry contrast to the crowd of colorful, cotton-khaki folk that gathered around; abuzz with gossip, everyone celebrating the end of yet another Canberra work-week. The only downside to this otherwise pleasant day was that we were repeatedly dive-bombed by Australian mosquitoes as we sat in the grass in the Gallery’s rear gardens. The battle was a bit one-sided, though as I am a master at man-to-mosquito combat. And these buggers were small and relatively innocuous compared to their Canadian counterparts. Towanda!!!!

B did fly in from Adelaide later that evening so I was able to enjoy a late dinner, some good Australian wine and coffee in Manuka with both B and L. Prior to retiring, they gave me a night tour of the Parliament buildings. The collective design of the buildings, in context, is quite an engineering feat. And, if I recall, the overall civic design and planning was the brainchild of a Canadian couple, decades ago.

It was a short stay in Canberra. Sadly, there was so much I missed seeing. The National Portrait Gallery for one. A more in depth tour of the Parliament Buildings, a number of museums and the countryside.

Something to look forward to for the next trip??? *grin*

TOAST TO CANBERRA AIRPORT: you get full marks for having free Internet!

Leave a Reply