Canberra Centenary celebrations

15 Mar

Mixed opinions abound about the celebrations for Canberra’s centenary on 11 March. Here’s my take (another mega post!).

There’s a lot of hype leading up to the event – and understandably, given we’re only going to turn 100 once. I’ve seen the ads on TV, and know that I should be reading the lift out in The Canberra Times to plan my day because there’ll be so much happening, but I don’t read any of it. I don’t even head to the website. I know there’s going to be gourmet food and I’m attending the Bubbly Bar, but other than that, I just want to stumble across the delights.

Bubbly Bar attendees get some information via e-mail about where the bars will be – long and short stay bars will be segregated, but they’re on the Parliamentary side of the lake. I assume that the rest of the activities will be on the same side, so we plan to park there. It’s only when we’re approaching Commonwealth Bridge at 2pm that I see a huge amount of people not on the bridge walking towards Parliament House, but going towards Regatta Point. I feel a bit stupid, and instantly regret not having thought this through, or at least bringing a program. Never mind, there’ll be plenty available.

But there aren’t. We spend a significant amount of time asking people where they got their programs (at the entrance on the other side of the lake), asking security who are holding programs where we can now get them (try any of the volunteers in yellow), asking the volunteers in yellow (who don’t have any; try the ticket desk for the Bubbly Bars), asking the Bubbly Bar ticket desk (no, we’ve run out. Sorry) before eventually spying a volunteer with a handful in the distance and literally running after her. Even then, the program doesn’t reveal a great deal. We can hear the entertainment starting and the program gives a good deal of information on that. But, what’s actually over the other side of the lake? Is it a replica of what’s on this side? Is it something different? Is it worthwhile going over there? We’re not sure. Regardless, there’s only a little bit of time before our entrance into the Bubbly Bar, so we opt to stay on the one side – for now.

We’re hungry, and make a beeline for the gourmet food stands. I’m really impressed with the offerings of ‘street food’ from some of our best operators. Morks starts off with the longest line, and Elk and Pea’s jerk chicken sells out quickly. Sage is there, too, and so is Frugii, to my delight (I’d been disappointed that he wasn’t a feature at the cricket).

2013-03-11 14.08.23

Looong lines

Looong lines

We wait for a decent while in line for Elk and Pea, and finally I get to see what the fuss is about with their goat servings – this time as a goat taco ($7). It really is tasty, and tender.

Goat taco

Goat taco

Boyfriend orders their jerk chicken ($12 with salad) just before it runs out, and WOW. An absolute taste explosion. I’ve only been to Elk and Pea for breakfast, and this has me sold on going there for lunch or dinner. Delicious. (Yes, I do end up eating about half of Boyfriend’s meal.)

Jerk chicken. Amazing.

Jerk chicken. Amazing.

We then join the long, long line for Frugii. It’s really very long, and doesn’t move very fast at all. So much so that we split apart and see what Pulp Kitchen is offering. While I was really disappointed with our restaurant experience earlier this year, they have a short line, and I can see it’s not because of lack of interest, but because they’re pumping out food so quickly. That’s good enough reason to give them another go. Weirdly, they serve McDonald’s-esque chips (with lots of salt) but I opt for their ricotta doughnuts. They’re small, but there are a lot of them, and they’re covered in a gorgeous chocolate sauce. Maybe they’re forgiven for the January experience.

Standing in line eating is a lot more enjoyable than just standing in line. We get to Frugii and then there’s the first really big issue of the day – what flavour? I really want raspberry, but it’s just been replaced with blood orange, so I opt for the morello cherry sorbet instead. It’s truly delicious. Light and sweet and cold. Boyfriend finds the lemon myrtle a little lacking – like vanilla ice cream with just a hint of lemon flavour.

Morello cherry ice cream from Frugii. Delicious.

Morello cherry ice cream from Frugii. Delicious.

I swear I read in the program that there are going to be a number of Canberra’s wineries on show as well, but Pankhurst seems to be the only provider. The gourmet food stands are a good idea, but they just weren’t well executed. I think I would have improved the gourmet food stands by encouraging a huge market style celebration. Combine the Kingston Markets and the Capital Region Farmers’ Markets with a few more of our extraordinary wineries (who are wonderful hosts themselves). Having a huge amount of options instead of just a few gives people choice, as well as really allowing Canberra to showcase itself. Instead of just encouraging people to bring a picnic, give people all they need to create their own. Allow them to rent a picnic basket and blanket (could charge a high price but make it fully refundable on their safe return), and encourage them to buy from a showcase of wines. Place our region’s distinct jams and honeys next to bakeries so people can come up with their own flavour combinations. What do you think? Am I crazy?

What I assume are lights shaped as the special Canberra centenary correa

What I assume are lights shaped as the special Canberra centenary correa

It’s time for the Bubbly Bar! We walk a long, long way (it is the longest in the world, right?) to the entrance and wait with plenty of other excited Canberrans.

Skywriting while we wait in line

Skywriting while we wait in line

Vegetarian options are available but it’s not clear what they are. Our tickets are scanned, we get arm bands (to show we’re both over 18 and which session we are a part of), and we get A3 paper placemats describing the food and wine we’re about to get. We’re let in pretty smack bang on 4.15pm, and are handed our first glass of Centenary Sparkling on the way in. There’s a bit of confusion about where to sit. Plenty of people start to sit wherever to take advantage of the shade, and the organisers gently encourage them to go right to the end and fill up from there. Even then, there’s a huge gap left right at the end (smack bang in the sun), and organisers ask a group of us if we’d like to take our seats there and get the added advantage of being served first. We figure why not.

More correa lights at the Bubbly Bar

More correa lights at the Bubbly Bar

They’re not joking about being served first. The meals are already on the table. I’d expected each tapas to come out separately for some reason, but everything we’re tasting is there on the plate. The sparkling is a bit warm from having been pre-poured while we all waited in line, so my first taste of it isn’t as complimentary as I would have hoped. Meanwhile, the eight or so of us who bravely accepted the sun are all alone, and there’s a big gap between us and the rest of the bar under the shade. It is warm, but it’s also lovely.

Big gap makes for good photo

Big gap makes for good photo (these dishes were eventually re-distributed)

The smoked ocean trout parfait from the Snowy Mountain Trout Farm is served with brioche from Flute, and it’s great– too easy to eat. The pork belly is probably a touch too bland for me, but it doesn’t stop me eating mine (and Boyfriend’s, who doesn’t eat pork). The oysters are my favourite. The lime jelly accompanying them is delicious, and of course it goes well with the sparkling.

2013-03-11 16.24.58

I find the local Canberra fruit (from Kerrison’s Orchard) in the Centenary Sparkling jelly a little boring, but it’s Boyfriend’s favourite dish of the day.

Yum yum Bubbly Bar tapas

Yum yum Bubbly Bar tapas

With it being so hot, we down the Centenary Sparkling quickly. Because of the media that the Bubbly Bars would be run with ‘military precision’, I had thought we would get served another glass, or be asked whether we’d like to try the Centenary Ale (a Wig and Pen creation) but there are no waiters in sight. We’ve been given small paper tokens which is the ticket for our next drink. To my horror, I momentarily lose mine because it’s so small, but all is well when I find it on the ground, precariously close to the lake. The ticket only grants us another Centenary Sparkling. I enjoy it and am happy to be served it, but am a little disappointed that we don’t have a choice. Again, I think this is my own fault for not reading ahead.

2013-03-11 16.19.58

We do eventually buy a Centenary Ale ($8 in a pint). It’s a great beer (even the plastic cups it’s served in are good). It’s full of flavour and yet easy to drink. I really urge all Canberrans to try it if you ever get the chance.

Centenary Ale, Lake Burley Griffin, and a small regatta. Perfect.

Centenary Ale, Lake Burley Griffin, and a small regatta. Perfect.

It’s a truly fantastic venue, and once we cave and move under a bit of shade it’s even better. It’s both the perfect time of day and the perfect day for it. A small regatta starts and with all the waving to the people on the boats and the heady mix of great food and drink, it’s really pleasant, and tough to leave when our time comes to an end at 5.45.

2013-03-11 17.29.24

Dragonboat race

Dragonboat race

Overall, the experience isn’t quite what I expected, but it’s still enjoyable. We remark numerous times how silly we were not to get Bubbly Bar tickets for the fireworks. We need a Bubbly Bar at least once a year.

2013-03-11 16.19.34

Regatta at the Bubbly Bar

Regatta at the Bubbly Bar

More please.

More please.

What next? After some people-watching on the lovely lawns, we grab a beer (there’s a stand near Questacon, which doesn’t seem to have moved from the Enlighten Festival) and begin to make our way to the other side of the lake. We run into our friend who advises us that there’s not a lot going on over the other side, with very few food options, so we turn back. So, I simply can’t report on – and don’t even know – what was on the other side of the lake. Instead, we agree to join our friend’s friends for the Canberra symphony. There’re a lot of great places to sit, provided you’re not behind someone on a fold up chair. First, we head back to the Gourmet Food stalls (as if we hadn’t already eaten enough) and indulge in some Pankhurst wines and order the only thing that’s still going at Sage – the chicken wrap. Everywhere else is beginning to or has shut up shop, even though it’s still relatively early evening. We wait in line for a very long time at each (concurrently), and even after ordering the Sage food it’s a long wait to receive the order.

But so worth it. I genuinely don’t know what we ate, but it was amazing.

Not sure what it is, but it's awesome.

Not sure what it is, but it’s awesome.

As night falls, it’s fun to twist around and see what words are being lit up on each of the buildings (and joking what they otherwise could be).

And, then, the fireworks. We make another smart decision to settle in with a Frugii ice cream (yes, again) – the line is now much smaller. The fireworks start very slowly, and the gap between some of the blasts is just long enough to be awkward. But the final two minutes are great. I don’t find fireworks particularly interesting or impressive at the best of times, but I say ‘wow’ numerous times. The fireworks end with what looks like raining gold, and it’s truly a marvel.

Postscript: Overall, I think the celebrations were like an ambitious story which was a little bit too academic and without a narrative. I agree it was too spread out. With the benefit of hindsight, it seems like it was partly designed for Canberrans to undertake the bridge to bridge walk: start at Regatta Point, and then make your way around to the other side of the lake for the afternoon/evening celebrations. If that had been the concerted design, and it was clear exactly what was available at each ‘stop’ of the walk so those who had accessibility issues or tired children could target those areas instead of having to do the whole 5km walk, it would have worked better as a ‘big’ venue. The Bubbly Bar was fantastic, and it needs to make an appearance again. I think people who got the most out of the day had a bit of a wander and then settled themselves down with some food, drink and some live entertainment. The layout idea (ie walk to each, separate activity centre) isn’t bad, but the problem was that it was between 500m and 3km between activity centres. I really think a ‘Canberra market showcase’ – allowing for people to have a picnic without the planning, showing off the best of food and produce with some great entertainment, and some activities at different parts of a large picnic area – could have been a winner. What do you think?

Date: Monday, 11 March

Attendees: T1 and Boyfriend

Cost: Bubbly Bar was $25 each (including tapas and two sparklings), ice cream was $4 each, gourmet food varied

Worthwhile factor: Worthwhile


20 Responses to “Canberra Centenary celebrations”

  1. Gary Lum March 15, 2013 at 6:18 pm #

    Great post as always. I didn’t do anything but go to work so I’m happy I loved through you for the experiences.

    • inthetaratory March 15, 2013 at 6:20 pm #

      That’s such a shame, Gary! I reckon you would have loved the gourmet food stalls.

      • Gary Lum March 15, 2013 at 6:21 pm #

        Yeah I know. I just needed to get stuff done and a long weekend was the perfect way to get through it all.

  2. Rob March 15, 2013 at 6:58 pm #

    We didn’t make to the parliamentary Side of the lake but I found with the two kids in tow we had a lot of fun in that regatta point side. Plenty of activities hidden away in commonwealth park made for quite an adventure. Kids were disappointed in the lineup for the fairy but still a great day!

    • inthetaratory March 15, 2013 at 7:08 pm #

      Great to hear about the other side! From the little I have read it does seem like there were some curious and entertaining things on that side.

  3. jude March 15, 2013 at 7:36 pm #

    Excellent post Tara, thanks. We’d gone to the Imagining Canberra archival movies (5 stars!) the night before, then got up at 5 am monday to do the balloons, so didn’t do much on the monday apart from the gourmet food and a wander on the parliamentary side. I thought the whole weekend was amazing. Could have done with more food, but otherwise fabulous. Great to hear all about the Bubbly bar, as it was hard to get an idea of what was happening just from the Twitter feed. I’ll be lining up for it if it ever happens again!

    • inthetaratory March 15, 2013 at 10:20 pm #

      I think you had a perfect weekend Jude! I appreciated your tweets on the day about the food stalls – got me excited. I think now that people really have an idea about the Bubbly Bars (apparently not much advertising outside of online so there wasn’t a huge understanding of what it was about) they will be even more popular if held again. Hope so. Clever idea, got people in one place enjoying everything great about canberra etc

  4. Betty March 15, 2013 at 8:15 pm #

    A group of friends and I did the bridge to bridge walk from Regatta Point and indulged and enjoyed in all the activities. We also had tickets to the Premium Session of the Bubbly Bar which was fantastic! Found the fireworks display very intimate and different from other displays which was great! I can say that it is one of my favourite weekends spent in Canberra and a big well done to the organisers 🙂 xo

    • inthetaratory March 15, 2013 at 10:21 pm #

      Great to hear you enjoyed! What did you get to experience on the regatta point side of the lake?

  5. Ian (@Ian__P) March 16, 2013 at 9:43 pm #

    I really just went for the bands at the Regatta Pt stage,but had a walk around on the Commonwealth Park side for about an hour beforehand. The only food available seemed to be pizza, kebabs and chips from the greasy food vans you find at the show, and the lines were long enough to discourage us from bothering to get either food or drink. There wasn’t much happening either to keep people interested/entertained. Still it was a nice walk in the sun.

    I really enjoyed The Church and Falling Joys, so they made going worthwhile.

    Otherwise, meh!

  6. Bells March 18, 2013 at 11:39 am #

    Good assessment of a day that had all great intentions and was in many ways good but also a bit patchy. I like your take on it being a bit too academic. I remember walking around thinking it was so very Canberra in its intentions – it was never going to reach or appeal to everyone.
    I’m really glad we ate lunch in Civic first. We just knew better than to rely on food vans – but we knew the bubbly bar was looming for us so had that to look forward to. I know the people who had to rely on food vans had a much more disappointing experience.


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