Monday, January 26, 2009

We had a 3-day weekend and you didn't: Australia Day

This weekend was our first Australia Day weekend. For a little background, I turned to Wikipedia:

Australia Dayis the official national day of Australia. Celebrated annually on 26 January, the day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet in 1788, the unfurling of the British flag at Sydney Cove and the proclamation of British sovereignty over the eastern seaboard of Australia. There have been significant protests from the Indigenous Australian community. Many Indigenous Australians see Australia Day as a celebration of the destruction of Indigenous culture by British colonialism. Since 1988, "Invasion Day" protests have been held supporting this view.

Fascinating - and we thought it was just an excuse not to go to work!

Friday night, Eric and I went to one of his co-worker's birthday celebration at a local pub. While no one can really explain why, schnitzel is on the menu at just about every restaurant in Sydney. Schnitzel, by the way, is basically just meat beat until it is very flat, breaded, and fried. This pub was famous for its large schnitzel portions, so Eric and I decided to have a go at the cheesy schnitzel. I wanted to have Eric hold his hand next to the schnitzel in the picture below for reference, but he was already sufficiently embarassed that I was photographing our dinner. I believe the cheesy chicken schnitzel below actually served as six meals by the time all was said and done. At $18, this is the best value in Sydney. I think there's a reason that Australia has just overtaken the US as the fattest country in the world, although the Australians still like to make fun of fat Americans and our gargantuan meal sizes.
Saturday morning, Eric and I drove the 3.5 hours to Canberra, a really lovely drive through the countryside. Amazingly, we only saw a couple of dead kangaroos. After arriving, we visited the National Australia Museum and then went to the National Film and Sound Archives for a movie in their courtyard under the stars. The courtyard was filled with fresh lavendar, we had really comfy deck chairs, and the bar supplied us with wine and cheese -- it was devine.
Sunday we visited the markets in the old bus terminal, where I bought a sweater made from leftover yarn in cotton factories for $40 (second best value in Australia). Then we went to the visiting Degas exhibit at the National Gallery, which was about 1,000X better than the visiting Monet exhibit I saw at the art museum here in Sydney. For $18, the Monet exhibit in Sydney had two small rooms of paintinings. For $20, the National Gallery had a full-size Degas exhibit. To be clear, all of the museums themselves are free; the only fees are for the special exhibits. This is really nice because it allows you to pop in for an hour without feeling guilty if you don't see the entire museum. Following that, we visited the Old Parliament House and the National Portrait Gallery, but our brains were a little too full from all of the learning. I did learn, though, that Kevin Rudd's ancestors were both convicts who came over with the First Fleet. His great-great-great-great grandmother (or whatever) was convicted of some crime so heinous at age 10 that she was sentenced to death. At the last minute, her sentence was commuted to deportation to Australia, which was pretty much seen as the same thing.
Clearly it was time for beer, so we moved on to the lawn of the New Parliament House for the Australia Day Live festival. Canberra is a very small city, but almost 30,000 people turned out to demonstrate their patriotism and love of bad pop music played live. Before the music, though, K-Rudd was onhand to present the Australian of the Year Awards: Young Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, and just plain ol' Australian of the Year. It was kind of surreal to realise that the head of state was up on the stage at what was essentially a holiday celebration in the middle of nowhere. It's surprising how much access Australians have to their Prime Minister. He's on the news all the time taking unscripted, pointed questions, and apparently he walks around Canberra every morning and allows people to come up and chat with him. I got within about 30 feet of him to take the picture below. Behind him you can see my favourite newscaster, who made fun of the Pope's shoes on live television.

On Monday, which was actually Australia Day, Eric and I hit the War Memorial before driving back to Sydney. The memorial itself is quite impressive, as is the museum housed within the memorial, and the view is one of the best in Canberra. In the bottom picture, you can see down the Mall to the Old and New Parliament Houses. The Old Parliament House is the white building in front, while the New Parliament House and it's weird metal arch sits just behind it. The little bit of water that you see between the War Memorial and the Parliament Houses is an arm of Lake Burley-Griffin, the lake around which much of downtown Canberra is built.

No comments: