Around the Monaro


In the 1960’s and 70’s I used to wander off to the lakes on the Snowy mountains and seeing that it was around 1000 miles to get there from Brisbane, I had a stop-over in Canberra. Unlike state government politicians who keep forever complaining about the place – I like it.

The Monaro is a region of Southern NSW from the Snowy Mountains to Canberra and I remember it for its “yellow” tone, which comes from the drying grassland, except for the period to March 1983 – it became a “black” tone country, as the remaining stubble was quite burned off because of a prolonged drought, and all you saw was black soil. This all changed as if by magic in March 1983 when the electors were rewarded. A day after Bob Hawke took the reins of power from Malcolm Fraser – it just poured. Don’t take this as my political bias – it did happen.

This time I am talking about my stop at the National Gallery of Australia in the Seventies. I had to check out Gough Whitlam’s recent purchase of some paint splashed on a canvas which was allegedly ridden upon by the artist on a bike. It was Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles. The art gallery director had an authority to spend up to $1 million, but the price was $1.3 million and the director had to ask the Prime Minister of the day Gough Whitlam for his permission to spend that extra money. He got it, but Gough was roundly condemned.

 Not having progressed much from impressionist and the like, Pollock, whose style is described as abstract expressionism, did not do much for me – but the colours, at least, were pleasant. What concerned me was the fact that Australia paid so much for it. It did pass the test though, because in no time flat it became worth about seventy times as much (It makes one wonder if this country would have become  much richer had we kept Gough there longer).Even the Encyclopaedias decreed that Pollock was some sort of an artistic trendsetter.

 I then meandered around the garden behind the Gallery and discovered some well known statue of a man supporting his head with his hand. It was really The Thinker, by Rodin. I wondered how we could afford it (actually you can find an advertisement in Google that invites you to buy a 37cm replica for $2,499 – you can replicate sculptures but not paintings) That reminded me of the time when somebody brought Michelangelo’s David to Bourke St - that must have been a replica too – and would you believe that some burgers campaigned to have a fig-leaf placed – in a strategic positions.

 Having had a little think about that, I walked to the edge of the lake named after Walter Burleigh Griffin – the man who designed Canberra. He was an American, who was maltreated by local bureaucrats just like Utzon was when building the Sydney Opera House. Both these men were crucified by bitchy officials. Burleigh Griffin by a man who was found to tell lies to Griffin while he was then working on implementing his plan for the City. When the same man was appointed to the planning commission, Griffin called it quits and went designing towns in the Riverina and, of all things, incinerators. One is still in existence in Ipswich and now serves as a small theatre.

One of the most attractive venues in Canberra can be viewed from the top of Mt.Ainslie. Looking downhill in a straight line over the top of the War Memorial down Anzac Avenue, across the Lake, across the old Parliament House (now a Portrait Gallery) is the gorgeous new Parliament on top of Capital Hill.

Whether you are interested in things military or not – the War Memorial is quite exceptional. On one of my 5 day stays in Canberra I spent fully two and a half days there. The mosaics and panoramic depiction of battlefield – called dioramas - are amazing.


I took time to have a look at the National Library of Australia, which has three interesting tapestries by Mathieu Matégot representing flora, fauna, scientific discoveries and a variety of Australian motifs. I could understand what the artist was depicting – which must mean that I am old-fashioned. A publication distributed in the very same library quotes an art critic “….the tapestries are too obviously symbolical to be truly successful ….. it is a pity that these designs aren’t a little less representational and …..It is a shame because without these banal images the colours and forms would be so satisfying (what rubbish).  The tapestries are best watched from the balcony on the upper floor.

The Library always has an exhibition of some rare books or publications.

 The High Court has some interesting woodwork inside and an amusing cascade, which any boy would delight (well at least you know that they were not from rich families)“cascading” down it. When I was there they had pictures of judges displayed all of whom could have done with some orthodontic attention!

If one can ever manage it the Floreade is the thing to see. It is a huge exhibition of flowers I saw it twice. There are millions (well at least two) of flowers – you don’t have to go to Holland to see beautiful flowers. A million tulips alone. To make things more interesting they plant some scary themes in the gardens – spiders, demons and other nasties. When the show is finished – they just plough up all the flowers.

On my usual way south to Cooma I came to a huge round-about. Twice in my travels did I make the same mistake, I kept going round and round until I thought I had surely gone around far enough; and I turned left. Well, I did not go far enough and I finished up in Queanbeyan instead. Luckily, there is another road from there to Cooma. No problems getting into Canberra, but out….?

Good bye for now from Nambri.( The original tribal name of the Canberra area.) It is time to go fishing.