Saturday 4 June 2011 – Around the bridges

Dac came up with a plan for a walk around the lake. Right around the lake is about 21 km, and not on my agenda. What people usually mean by “a walk around the lake” is a walk around the circuit provided by Commonwealth Avenue Bridge and Kings Avenue Bridge, a distance of about 5 km.

This is quite a bit further than I’ve walked in recent years, so we decided to go round from Regatta Point to the Gallery and stop for lunch, doing the second, rather shorter “half” after we’d rested. As it turned out, I didn’t make it past the Gallery, but I do think there’s a prospect I will one day.

Black Mountain Tower from the north side of Lake Burley Griffin

The path along the northern shore of Lake Burley Griffin is known as the R G Menzies Walk. Opened in 2009, and a spacious 4.5 m wide, it’s a very popular place for flâneurs, wheelchair owners, cyclists, and dog walkers. (There were so many dogs that I’ve made a separate gallery for them.) You don’t feel as if you’re about to be mown down by anyone on a path that wide. Strolling along is very relaxing.

The path is festooned with memorials, plaques and signs, many of which contain information about Sir Robert Menzies (1894-1978).

R G Menzies, 1941

When I was 16, he had been conservative Prime Minister for my whole life. His booming, rather anglicised voice was everywhere (my mother listened to Parliament on the radio all day) as were his eyebrows – in cartoons and photos and eventually on television. My family worshipped him but he wasn’t exactly a pinup of mine, what with committing us to the Vietnam War and conscripting 20-year-olds, who at that stage didn’t have the vote.

I did develop a softer spot for him when I was working on the Review of the National Capital Development Commission (NCDC) and learned that he’d been instrumental in making Canberra happen. My family never mentioned that, perhaps because it’s hard to square with the standard Australian view of Canberra as a dreadful place where wicked decisions are made. (A big thankyou to the media for using “Canberra” as shorthand for “the federal government”!)

I developed a yet softer spot when I eventually took in the enormous difference Menzies’ Commonwealth tertiary education scholarships made to Australian women. Possibly as great a difference as the advent of the contraceptive pill, according to GRim in LTUAE.

Menzies just assumed that women should be educated. There wasn’t a lot of that about in Australia in the 1950s, except perhaps in the context of motherhood: women should be educated so they didn’t make “their” children dumb.

My family wouldn’t have let me go to university if I hadn’t got a Commonwealth scholarship to pay my fees: thank you, Mr Menzies. And they wouldn’t have let me go to the ANU if I hadn’t also got an Oriental Studies Scholarship which paid for accommodation in a hall of residence, and provided fares home twice a year and a small living allowance. I can’t find any history of OS scholarships online, so I don’t know who to thank.

Presumably their purpose was to populate the Faculty of Oriental Studies. (It became the Faculty of Asian Studies in 1970, and is now something else altogether.) They were equivalent in every way to National Undergraduate Scholarships except that good results in general had to be supported by really, really good results in languages. Oh, those were the days! Anyway, I’ll achieve balance by thanking Mr Chifley, the Labor Prime Minister whose government passed the ANU’s enabling legislation.

A sign about Menzies from the lakeside

R G Menzies Walk - Sign 2

On a separate page, I’ve transcribed the first sign, with biographical information about Menzies, but here’s the text of the second, because I find it amusing. The emphases are mine:

The city has grown, but its main features are wide open spaces that serve to puzzle tourists and uninformed residents alike, while the Molonglo River still winds its way along its shallow bed. After 40 years of city development, the important planned areas stand out, not as monumental regions symbolising the character of a national capital, but more as graveyards where departed spirits await a resurrection of national pride.

-Senate Select Committee Report, ‘Development of Canberra’, September 1955

I cannot honestly say that I liked Canberra very much; it was to me a place of exile; but I soon began to realize that the decision had been taken, that Canberra was and would continue to be the capital of the nation, and that it was therefore imperative to make it a worthy capital; something that the Australian people would come to admire and respect; something that would be a focal point for national pride and sentiment. Once I had converted myself to this faith, I became an apostle…

-Sir Robert Menzies, The Measure of the Years, 1970

But the problem [for Canberra] is urgent and is becoming more so. Our difficulties are partly the result of timidity, lack of imagination and pre-occupation with purely departmental problems in the past…the Government must assert its position or surrender it. The problems will not be solved if left untouched. The nation has reached a stage of development when it deserves and demands a national capital.

-Senate Select Committee Report, ‘Development of Canberra’, September 1955

When I remember how every penny spent on Canberra used to be grudged and how many arguments I had to engage in when travelling from State to State, I am delighted in my old age to think that Australia’s capital has now become an object of pride and pleasure. This was always a national conclusion devoutly to be wished.

-Sir Robert Menzies, The Measure of the Years, 1970

What does he mean, “used to be grudged”?? The persistent negativity has one advantage: the loveliness of Canberra (a city which, as a matter of fact, is not surrounded by a high wall pour décourager les autres) remains a well-kept secret.

One of the big distractions in writing up this walk has been the temptation to wander (once again) through the planning history of Canberra. I am ever more strongly reminded of the year I spent helping to write Canberra: Planning and Development, a review of the NCDC. Not many years after the review (never properly responded to, as far as I can discover) which came to the conclusion that the NCDC rooled, and should be allowed to continue to do so, the NCDC was abolished.

Anyway. We got the last parking spot at Regatta Point, and I had to stop almost immediately to say hello to some ducks.

Ducks with a commemorative stone

Fortunately, 40 years on from my degree in Japanese, it was not necessary for me to puzzle over the kanji and kana above. The other side of the stone reads:

The cherry trees in this grove were presented to the city of Canberra by the Government of Japan on the occasion of the visit of Prime Minister Ohira to Australia in January 1980.

Here’s another former workplace of mine:

Ducks with National Library

Working there as a base grade clerk years ago is probably what took away the lift of the heart I used to get from seeing the National Library building. Especially lit up at night, especially as one drove past on the bridge and caused the flock of seagulls sleeping on the grass by the library to rise into the air. What, I always wondered, were those seagulls doing, so far from the sea?

The weather was improving – it had actually been raining when we left Regatta Point – but was still overcast and decidedly nippy. We staggered on.

A jetty near Gallipoli Reach, with a view of the new ASIO building

This photo was taken during our one little rest, actually as the background to a doggo. Looking at it now, I regret the bin but appreciate the seagulls, sitting on the mooring posts like fairies on Christmas trees. The sight, on the left, of the vast ASIO building going up reminds me: a friend was lamenting the proposal to build giant columns at Rond Pond to commemorate the two World Wars, which surely are already copiously remembered by means of Anzac Parade and the War Memorial. She went on to say words to the effect that we now have Parliament House being faced down, across the lake, by the Secret Police. Signs of the times.

The R G Menzies walk ends at Kings Avenue Bridge. There’s a track up to the footpath over the bridge. Having crossed the bridge, we found getting back to the lake shore tricky. You have to walk a fair way past the end of the bridge, then strike out overland. Crossing Bowen Drive is scary: there are three lanes of traffic, cars are travelling quite fast (speed limit 70, so most of them are doing 80 at least), and you can’t see them coming till they’re on top of you.

Eventually we managed to cross, whereupon there were decisions to be made about how to reach the Gallery. Fortunately I found the way, even though I was distracted by excruciating ankle pain every time I put my right foot down. (Last time I had this problem on a walk was Gordon, and there was a reason then.) We entered through the Sculpture Garden and made our way to the Members’ Lounge, where I am able to go thanks to my sister’s good ideas for birthday presents. It’s very pleasant: not as crowded as the public cafe, and therefore easy to get seats with a view. I had a lovely pot of tea, and we both had an excellent beef stew for lunch. And then we decided to catch a taxi back to the car.

Dac admiring the fountain outside the Gallery

The National Gallery has a taxi phone in the foyer! We’d barely had time to get cold again when the taxi rolled up.

I will conclude with one of my favourite sights at the Gallery:

Pears

I have the fridge magnet. 🙂

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One Response to Saturday 4 June 2011 – Around the bridges

  1. dac says:

    That National Gallery Members Lounge lunch was fantastic. 🙂
    Currently you’re out at dinner, and I’m trying to get my FreeBSD box to behave.
    Oh, this is just like facebook.

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