Australia’s Capital Treasures – National Gallery of Australia

National Gallery of AustraliaProbably the most controversial art purchase by any Australian Federal Government occurred in 1974 when the Whitlam Government bought Jackson Pollock’s Number 11, 1952. Known to Australians as Blue Poles, the painting is an abstract masterpiece to the art world but as one wag said, ‘It looks like the painters drop cloth.’ Originally hung in Parliament House, it languished in obscurity for many years until transferred to the National Gallery of Australia. Pollock’s paintings are frequently unnamed and unexplained by the artist, leaving us to interpret their meaning within our own experience. I have heard guides describe Blue Poles as bamboo or sail masts waving in a storm, and either could be right. For me, the mish mash of colour is pleasing to the eye but evokes little feeling or inspiration, perhaps I have no eye for this art form. Visitors to Canberra can judge for themselves, Blue Poles greets visitors as they enter the main galleries.

Throughout the gallery, you will find paintings and sculptures by Australia’s most celebrated artists, from the classic landscapes of Arthur Streeton to the modern brilliance of Brett Whiteley. A large collection of Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series is displayed with the quotes that inspired each painting. These iconic images represent a special place in Australian art history and whether you love or hate Ned Kelly, his story is woven into the Australian consciousness. Nolan’s interpretation appears sympathetic to the bushranger but I think it shows the struggle between imperfect law enforcement and principled lawlessness. Neither side is perfect nor absolutely at fault, they both just stumbled through the events to their inevitable end.

Entry to the National Gallery is free except for some special exhibitions like the current ‘Turner to Monet: the triumph of landscape‘ exhibition. It also hosts regular free talks and lectures to enhance your appreciation of the art in the galleries. Bookings are essential, either by email or phone. Look at the National Gallery website for a list of future events. For locals, membership provides you with discounts, a quarterly magazine (artonview) and invitations to Members-only events, a reasonable return for your yearly $50 investment (families $60, discounts for concession holders).

Next in this series, we take a tour of the Australian War Memorial as Australians and New Zealanders prepare to remember the fallen on ANZAC Day.


Australia’s Capital Treasures

National Museum of Australia

Thirty years ago, growing up in Australia meant a Holden in the garage, a Hills hoist clothesline out the back and Victor lawn mower in the shed. Australia’s unique past and character is encapsulated in the displays of the National Museum of Australia in Canberra.

Divided into four regions the National Museum celebrates the land, its indigenous peoples, the national identity and enduring icons. The history of the Aboriginal people honours their culture and traditions, and details their struggles with the European occupation. A massive painting (10×8 metres) details the land claim of the Ngurrara people, telling the stories of their travels through the land over the centuries. The painting formed the evidence provided to the courts and helped to win their land claim.

All the modern icons of Australian life are represented in the displays, an immaculate FJ Holden car, the Hills hoist and Victor lawn mower sit comfortably alongside the woomeras, spear points and possum cloak. If a visitor to Australia wanted to reflect on what makes us Australian, this museum makes a good mirror. Best of all, its free. Open daily (closed Christmas Day) from 9am to 5pm. Photography is permitted throughout the museum but no tripods or large bags are permitted inside, use the cloakroom rather than leaving valuables in the car (Free parking). Your visit starts in the Circa rotating theatre where you receive a brief orientation of the museum artifacts before starting your own exploration of Australian history.

This is the first article of new series, Australia’s Capital Treasures, that will focus on the museums and attractions of the Australian Capital, Canberra.


Save a Whale on Your Japanese Holiday

Australia is spearheading efforts to stop whaling by the Japanese in the Great Southern Ocean, and I noticed this message behind an activist interviewed on television tonight:

I love Japan but I am concerned about your whaling.

I like the positive message combined with an issue of concern to both countries and travellers can use it to help curtail this unnecessary activity. If you are in Japan this year find an opportunity to raise your concerns about whaling with the locals. Not by pouring blood on their streets or flag (would you like seeing your flag desecrated) but with a personal interaction with just one person you meet.

Ask someone at dinner if they enjoy whale meat, and you’ll find most have not even tasted it. By voicing your concerns politely, you can encourage them to voice their opposition. A movement within Japan is going to end whaling sooner than any action taken on the high seas. Give it a go.


Around the World in an Amphibious Jeep – A Half Safe Adventure

All travellers have a round the world trip plan in their back pocket but the journey Australian Ben Carlin completed in 1958.

Ben modified an Amphibious Jeep by enclosing the cabin to provide rudimentary accommodation and adding a streamlined nose to smooth out the sea handling. Ben and his wife Elinore set out from Montreal, Canada in 1950 driving to the Atlantic coast then plunging into the ocean bound for North Africa and eventually reaching England. Find a copy of Ben’s book, Half-Safe: Across the Atlantic by Jeep, to read about this first leg.

Elinore left the venture in England but Ben pressed on with several different travel partners working with him over several years. He rolled into Montreal on 12 May 1958 to complete his unique circumnavigation of the planet. His vehicle, Half Safe, is proudly displayed at Ben’s High School, Guildford Grammar School in Victoria.

What is your plan for a round the world trip?

Would you consider repeating this epic journey?


Make the Great Escape

I’ve written recently about Frugal Travel – Vacationing at Home and Five Reasons to Travel Home this Holiday Season, and along those same pennywise lines a new blog emerged called Make the Great Escape. Sam, Jeff and Steph decided to stop existing and start living by escaping their surrounds for short trips on meagre budgets ($50/person), a moment of sheer inspiration for us all:

Sitting at Hard Times, nursing a beer and waiting for their chili mac, Stephanie and Jeff pondered what to do for the night. That was the downside to living in a place where you had been for most of your life, everything is so overdone and played out. They threw out some bar names, but then inspiration struck.

“Jeff, we should goto Virginia beach!” Stephanie said.

Where could you go this weekend with your mates?