Why is Canberra the capital of Australia? If you only visit one sight while in Canberra, make it the Old Parliament. More specifically take the tour explaining the history of the building and the city. It raises a lot more questions than it answers, like Why did anyone think this was a good idea? or How have they managed to keep the place running for so long? and Yes, I understand that Melbourne and Sydney couldn’t agree on which city should be the capital, so they decided to build one half way in between, but was there really no better solution? Really?
Australians don’t seem to care a whole lot about Canberra, most tourists give it a wide berth, and the infrastructure reflects that weird disconnect between a country and its capital. There is no direct train connection between Melbourne and Canberra. There are no international flights and even domestic flights are not as plentiful as they should be.
Why: because Canberra was, quite literally, built in the middle of nowhere. In 1911, the entire Australian Capital Territory was home to 1,714 humans, 8,400 cattle and 225.000 sheep. In 1913, the location of the future capital was officially marked. As of 1927, the Australian Parliament was housed in a building perched atop a hill in the middle of a sheep paddock, with no surrounding city to be seen. I kind of knew all this before visiting and yet the facts and historical images, coupled with anecdotal evidence of the lunacy of this project make the mind boggle.
The result is a strange, planned city, as pompous as it is provincial. The monumentalist architecture is clearly not built to accommodate real, living humans (yes, there are pretty suburbs, but to judge the merits of a city based on its suburbs seems a bit absurd). Case in point: You know you’re in trouble when not even the prime minister wants to live in the capital!
When I visited Canberra in 2013, it was celebrating it centenary.The reaction was a resounding Meh? which sums up my feelings about the place quite well. I felt like I couldn’t not visit the capital, but it’s certainly the one place I could happily have skipped.