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Canberra Calling

It was a frosty twelve degrees as we passed by the Southern Highlands of New South Wales. The rain was misting down and on the top of the hill in the distance we could see the stationary blades of the wind turbines. Heading further south past Goulburn, Lake George, which had been parched for many years, was filled to the brim with water reaching out and almost touching the edge of the Federal Highway. Fence posts that normally kept the sheep contained were jutting out of the water. The lake covered an expansive area and the view from the road was magnificent.

As we drove into the city of Canberra in the early afternoon we were pleasantly surprised by the warm temperatures and blue skies. Eager to get out of the car and stretch our legs we decided to head into the precinct of New Acton for a bite to eat at the cosy cafe, Mocan and Green Grout. Seated at the rustic copper bench just inside the door it wasn’t long before a warm pot of chai was placed down in front of us. The small Japanese style ceramic pot poured beautifully which led to a discussion about what makes a good teapot. My significant other and I decided that it was all to do with the height and angle of the spout that allowed the liquid to flow gently from the pot. Without a dribble to be found, today's teapot ticked all the boxes.

After checking in at the Kurrajong Hotel we went for a stroll through the serene and peaceful Lennox Gardens located on the southern end of Lake Burley Griffin. Situated within the garden is the Imperial style Beijing Garden and the Japanese inspired Canberra Nara Peace Park housing the Rotary Peace Bell, one of twenty four bells located around the world to encourage peace between nations. Both the Imperial Garden and Nara Peace Park offered a beautiful outdoor space to relax and reflect upon the state of the world and its people as the sepia toned autumn leaves danced from the tree branches above and floated to the ground.

Canberra Rotary World Peace Bell, Lennox Gardens, Canberra

It was at dusk that we found ourselves on the doorstep of the stylish Ovolo Nishi boutique hotel and with the sun fading and temperatures dropping I had a sudden yearning for some hot polenta chips. We climbed the architecturally beautiful wooden staircase where we were met at the door by an enthusiastic waiter who escorted us inside to the Monster Kitchen and Bar. It was not long before we had a drink in hand, a ceramic bowl overflowing with salty and rosemary dusted thick cut and golden potato chips, and an assortment of warm tapas dishes to share that warmed and satisfied our cravings.

Leaving from the hotel the next morning we headed off to the National Portrait Gallery to see a special exhibition, Shakespeare to Winehouse containing portraits on loan from the London Portrait Gallery, temporarily closed whilst undertaking a major refurbishment.

A rare opportunity to see a collection of portraits that seldom, if ever leave the London gallery walls, was an opportunity too good to pass up. The collection contained some eighty four portraits from the famous, including William Shakespeare, the first portrait acquired by the London Portrait Gallery, legendary soccer player, David Beckham, to musician and songwriter Ed Sheeran, who was introduced to Irish portraitist Colin Davidson by his father, an art historian and curator, and captured in a painting during a moment of quiet reflection. A brooding and pensive image of the handsome and talented calypso singer Harry Belafonte was captured at a time when he was grappling with his dual heritage and racial identity, and an oil painting of Beatrix Potter, most famously known as a children's author of The Tales of Peter Rabbit, was painted by her neighbour Delmar Banner depicting her as a respected breeder and judge of Herdwick sheep, as Potter actually spent more of her life farming than she did writing.

The portrait of English novelists Anne, Emily and Charlotte Brontë painted by their brother Branwell, when he was just seventeen, was thought to have been lost until it was discovered folded up on top of a cupboard in 1914. Following the portrait’s acquisition, the National Portrait Gallery made the unusual decision not to restore it, but to retain the fold marks and paint losses that evidenced the neglect it had suffered and proved to be integral to the portraits enduring appeal.

A more recent addition to the gallery collection, an ink portrait of human rights activist for female education, Malala Yousafzai, Iranian born artist Shirin Neshat has used calligraphy to inscribe a poem written about Pashtun heroine Malala of Maiwand to draw connections between the two formidable young women. The combination of art and biography depicted in this exhibition facilitated a form of connection with the lives of others and enabled a more resonant means of learning about history and the personal narrative of those that have shaped it. An exhibition well worth travelling to Canberra for.

Malala Yousafzai 2018, archival ink on gelatin silver print by Shirin Neshat, NPG, London

After leaving the exhibition we moved on the Kingston foreshore where we enjoyed a pub lunch with our much respected and loved uncle, aunt and cousins before heading to Yarralumla for a leisurely walk through the neighbourhood. The fallen leaves crunched and crackled beneath our feet and the sun gleamed through the kaleidoscope of deep brown, fire orange, fir silver, golden yellow and wine red leaves. It was exquisite.

Autumn glory in Yarralumla, Canberra

Never has there been a more appropriate time to remind ourselves of the respect that those who fought for the freedoms our country enjoys today deserve. Never in my life has ANZAC day been more relevant than at a time when thousands of young Ukrainians are bravely resisting the Russian invaders, defending their homeland and courageously standing up for democracy against the egotistical and evil despot Putin. On ANZAC Day, at a moving Dawn service at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, we listened to letters being read out that had been sent by young men to their families from war zones, men that we considered heroes showing humility and grace, bravely standing up and fearlessly fighting in the face of potential death whilst looking out for their mates, and in letters communicating back home displaying raw emotions depicting love and a selfless belief that it was not them that were making sacrifices, but the mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends that they were leaving behind.

As the dawn lit up, the sky was stained pink on one side of the memorial dome and was ominously dark on the other side, the names of fallen soldiers including Fitzgerald and Geoghegan were projected onto the building, the deep drone of a lone didgeridoo player echoed through the dark, followed by the enchanting sound of the bagpipes before the bugler had the hairs on the back of my neck standing up as he played The Last Post. The solemnity of a minute's silence was only broken by the sniffles of those who had come out to pay their respects and the piercing trill of a few sweet birds that hadn’t received the memo. There is something cathartic and healing about nature. Lest we forget.

The Australian War Memorial at Dawn, ANZAC DAY, 2022, Canberra

Anzac Biscuits, not traditional, recipe by Lewis Road Creamery.

Until next time may your days be both serendipitous and enjoyable.


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