Canberra is no longer the musty and boring capital city of Australia. Canberra’s orderly streets may be filled with politicians, public servants and roundabouts. But its theatres, museums, galleries and cultural centres are high tech and hands on. These days, Canberra is high tech and hip. Here are some things to do in Canberra that you will love.
National Film & Sound Archive
You can lift yourself off the ground with a machine, generate an optical illusion, race a horse or play an electronic version of a game at Questacon.
Watch a classic film at Canberra’s National Film & Sound Archive in a state-of-the-art cinema or track military history at Australian War Memorial’s multimedia exhibits.
Located in the capital’s oldest permanent public building – the Kingston Powerhouse – Canberra Glassworks offers Off-the-Street programs that allow novices to make their own glass art under the watchful eye of an experienced artist.
The powerhouse supplied Canberra with coal-generated electricity between 1915 and 1957. It was designed by John Smith Murdoch, who was responsible for many of Canberra’s grand buildings such as Old Parliament House, Gorman House and Hotel Canberra (now the Hyatt Hotel).
Perspiring with concentration and heat from the furnace, my lump of glass is gradually looking more like the bird I’ve chosen to make.
I’m kitted up with safety glasses, heavy weight gloves and an apron as I turn a molten lump of glass into a masterpiece.
My tutor thrusts a pair of tweezers into my hands and instructs me on how to flatten and pull a bird’s tail out of the glass.
Museum of Australian Democracy
One of Canberra’s museums is located in Old Parliament House, which was home of the Federal Parliament from 1927 to 1988.
A guided tour of the Museum of Australian Democracy takes me on a journey through the 1920s art deco heritage-listed building and down memory lane through history’s corridors of power.
We wander through chambers, party rooms and the grand Senate.
The House of Representatives Chambers was where debates and decisions which shaped our nation were made.
The Prime Minister’s Suite of Offices was last occupied by Bob Hawke.
The former Parliamentary Library has an exhibition on democracy.
The subject of democracy might sound intellectual but it’s worth taking a look at the museum as the exhibition is highly interactive and thought-provoking.
Kids can dress up in historical costumes and act out our nation’s history. And there’s an interactive section for families to consider our democratic way of life together.
National Museum of Australia
Another museum that should not be missed is the National Museum of Australia.
The museum is devoted to telling great stories about Australia and Australians. And it is is done using technology that makes it feel more like a technology centre than a museum.
I begin by watching the introductory films in the rotating theatre, Circa, and lose myself in Eternity.
The multimedia exhibitions bring to life personal stories of 50 ordinary and extraordinary Australians.
From Australian aviator Nancy Bird to Arthur Stace, a reformed alcoholic who was inspired to write the word ‘Eternity’ on the streets of Sydney for 35 years, the Eternity gallery is a reminder that Australians are a diverse lot.
National Portrait Museum
One of my favourite things to do in Canberra is a museum crawl.
At the top of the list is the National Portrait Museum, which has many video, multimedia and sound installations.
These displays convey fascinating stories about the lives of the artists and their subjects.
You could spend hours wandering around the National Portrait Museum looking at portraits of great Australians.
Of course, the most comprehensive collection of art in Canberra is in the National Gallery.
The National Gallery has 150,000 pieces of art including a strong Australian, Asian and American contemporary art collection.
Famous works are Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles, Constantin Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculpture, Monet’s waterlilies and haystacks, and the Ned Kelly series.
There’s a section with 10 indigenous art galleries that has the largest collection of indigenous art in Australia.
There’s so much to see and exhibitions are constantly changing.
The gallery’s highly successful Masterpieces of Paris exhibition a few years ago attracted art lovers from all over the country.
However, it’s not about doing blockbusters all the time. The National Gallery has a fabulous existing collection too.
After a weekend wandering through Canberra’s museums, galleries and cultural centres, I realise just how many things to do in Canberra there are for everyone. Canberra has so much art, culture and history to offer.
To me, Canberra is about discovering your identity. A visit to Canberra is something every Australian should do.
You won’t be bored, trust me.
Christina Pfeiffer was a guest of Visit Canberra
More things to do in Canberra
Where to shop
Shop handmade, Shop 20 Allara Street, City Walk, is a retail area where local designers can rent space to sell their works such as hand-made jewellery, artwork, crafts and children’s clothes wear.
Where to eat
Hyatt Hotel, Commonwealth Avenue, ph (02) 6270 1234. The Afternoon Tea buffet (2.30 to 5pm) in the Tea Lounge is a treat.
Flint Dining Room & Bar for modern Australian dining and art.
Courgette in Canberra City for French-inspired dining.
Where to stay