Canberra – a review by my parents

16 Mar

My parents don’t live in Canberra, but they come here at least once a year. They love this city, and often remark on how much there is to do – on occasion they seem to have a better idea of events and activities going on than I do! I love hearing their ‘outsider’ perspective, and thought you’d love to, too.

Me with mum and dad when they were visiting last year (during Floriade)

1. Who are you, and what were you doing in Canberra?

We are a couple from Central Queensland visiting our daughter and her partner.  We were in town during 4-11 March – it was an excellent week to visit as there was so much happening to suit all tastes.

2. What did you get up to in Canberra during your seven-day visit?


Because of flight connections it took nearly all day to travel from our home in CQ.  Thankfully it was much quicker on our return with a 40 minute changeover in Brisbane.

Sunset from John Knight Memorial Park

Sunset from John Knight Memorial Park

Our daughter collected us from the airport and we drove to home in Belconnen to be greeted by pampered pooch, Cooper – a highly intelligent Whippet who has morning, day and evening beds in the apartment – truly a guard dog extraordinaire during the week.



He was waiting patiently for his afternoon walk so we set off for the dog park approximately 3 km distance – a pleasant walk along the pathways of Lake Ginninderra and through the John Knight Memorial Park.



On our second day in Canberra we took it easy doing shopping and taking in the sights of Belconnen.  The Westfield Shopping Centre is close by and has an enormous range of shops.  That evening we attended the Sammy J – Sammy J Songbook as part of the Canberra Comedy Festival.  This event was sold out on the night and it’s easy to understand why!  Sammy J is one very funny man who makes crude and rude hilarious.  Neither of us has been to a comedy festival before so this was a treat of a different kind which we loved.


Thursday saw us manoeuvring the motorways and roundabouts as we headed to the National Library of Australia for the guided tour of Mapping Our World- Terra Incognita To Australia.  This once-in-a-lifetime exhibition (7 November 2013 to 10 March 2014) was truly spectacular.  There were many unique treasures from around the world but the two stand-outs for us were the amazing Fra Mauro medieval map (c. 1450) which is over 2 metres by 2 metres  and had never left Italy before, and the first complete chart of ‘Terra Australis or Australia’ (1814) by Matthew Flinders which he completed with such accuracy.

Mapping our World (image courtesy of

Mapping our World (image courtesy of

In the evening we all climbed into the car (Cooper included) to visit Enlighten – architectural projections which visually transform the buildings of the Parliamentary Triangle.  My words cannot accurately describe Enlighten so check it out at the official website.  [Ed – or my post.] The ‘shows’ at the National Library and Old Parliament House caught my eye.

Guys and Polls at Old Parliament House

Guys and Polls at Old Parliament House

Everyone's favourite

Everyone’s favourite, it seems


As baby boomers, Elvis’s music was part of our teenage and adult years.  The opportunity to see an exhibition of photos chronicling his life at 21 was one not to be missed.  After lunch at the National Portrait Gallery Cafe (very nice burgers!) we went inside to view Elvis At 21.  Perhaps we expected more… but both found it disappointing.  It was also difficult to hear the commentary on the video due to the tour guide’s loud voice.  Overall, this was just not worth the entrance fee ($15 adult and $12 concession).  The rest of the Portrait Gallery is first class as was the exhibition of works by Judy Cassab.

Another ‘must-see’ on our list was the Old Masters (Australia’s Great Bark Artists) an exhibition at the National Museum of Australia until 20 July 2014.  As it was late on Friday afternoon we virtually had the exhibition to ourselves, allowing plenty of up-close viewing.  As the exhibition pamphlet outlines, ‘Bark painting, as practised by Aboriginal artists for millennia, is one of the great traditions of world art.  Yet it was only recognised as such late in the 20th Century’.  The exhibition features paintings made between 1948 and 1988 by artists of high ritual, ceremonial and clan standing from Arnhem Land.  I’m embarrassed I didn’t know the names of any of the Old Masters – a large gap in my education.  But that didn’t prevent us from enjoying and learning about our rich cultural heritage.  These are beautiful works and I highly recommend a visit.

Arancini balls with porcini mushrooms at the Delicious AfterDARK dinner

Arancini balls with porcini mushrooms at the Delicious AfterDARK dinner

That night we attended a function at the Botanical Gardens – Delicious AfterDARK dinner and tour.  Despite there being no allocated seating (and no table for the four of us) it was resolved quickly and we sat down to enjoy some interesting and very tasty food and wines.  I understand this was the last of many similar evenings so couldn’t understand why it seemed so disjointed.  The wines didn’t always match the food; the food was served piece-by-piece on large trays; and the venue was cramped and lacked decoration.  The tour of the gardens was plain weird!  We were allocated to a large group and instructed to follow a Ranger (single file due to narrow pathways).  There were torches at the front and back of the group.  It was impossible to hear the Ranger’s commentary and it became amusing when the ‘highlights’ of the tour included a possum and a small trapdoor spider.  Perhaps I’ve lived in the bush for too long.  Overall comment:  Bring your sense of humour.


One of the exhibitions that had drawn us to Canberra was Gold and the Incas (Lost Worlds of Peru).  The National Gallery of Australia is hosting this exhibition from 6 December 2013 to 21 April 2014.  We booked tickets which included breakfast at the Sculpture Garden Restaurant – a beautiful setting which had been styled especially for the exhibition.  The Peruvian breakfast was tasty and plentiful but I struggled to see the $30 value.  Our entrance for the exhibition was opening time, 10 am.  We were some of the first visitors which allowed us ample space to see the 200 works of gold, silver, turquoise, shell, stone, textiles and ceramics.  These are remarkable art works highlighting the craftsmanship of ancient cultures.  There are guided tours and a family activity room.  Simply stunning!

Cold dishes from the Peruvian breakfast

Cold dishes from the Peruvian breakfast

Hot dishes from the Peruvian breakfast

Hot dishes from the Peruvian breakfast

A quick trip to the Handmade Exhibition resulted in a new bed for our own pampered pooch and the opportunity to taste some of the best ice-cream at Frugii.  We also sampled some Disaster Bay Chilli fares and purchased Indian chutney (still to be tried) and Lemon Chilli Marmalade – yum!


On Sunday we visited a number of wineries in the district (Gallagher, Jeir Creek and Surveyor’s Hill).  As I was the designated driver I can’t comment on the quality of the wines.  Each of the places we visited offered friendly service and it was an opportunity to see the countryside around Canberra.


I couldn’t leave Canberra without visiting the National Arboretum again.  This is a beautiful place which is home to 94 forests of rare, endangered and symbolic trees from Australia and around the world.  It has stunning views over the city; activities and displays for children and adults; a restaurant and gift shop.  Knowledgeable volunteers add a special touch to the bonsai collection.

National Arboretum

National Arboretum

3. How did you find out about things to do in Canberra?

Qantas Magazine; In The Taratory; Internet

4. What was your favourite activity or event during your stay, and why?

Mapping Our World – a once-in-a-lifetime event.

5. What was your favourite food experience?

While we didn’t visit any fine dining restaurants during our stay [Ed – shocking, right! Must fix this during future visits], we did experience some very good and different experiences.  Chatterbox Espresso Cafe in Belconnen cooks a great breakfast.  We loved the Smashed Avocado and Eggs Benedict.  A breakfast and coffee costs $17-20 which makes it very reasonably priced.  A fun experience was the Hero Sushi Train.  The food is stacked up on a small conveyor which travels past diners who then choose dishes which are priced according to the colour of the plate.  For Indian takeaway Taj Agra in Belconnen hits the mark.  We shared Lamb Korma, Butter Chicken, Palak Paneer and garlic Naan.  The National Portrait Gallery Cafe serves delicious $10 burgers and finally, the quirky dinner at the Botanical Gardens must also rate a mention.

6. Did any activity or event surprise you with how good it was?

We loved Sammy J at the Comedy Festival but the standout was Mapping Our World.  I understand over 118,000 people visited this exhibition and I hope they enjoyed it as much as we did.

7. Did any activity or event disappoint you?

Elvis at 21 – see notes above.

8. What strikes you as different between Canberra and Central Queensland?

We love visiting Canberra.  The differences between the two places are huge.  In CQ the road where we live doesn’t have curbing let alone a footpath and we live 4 km from the post office in a town of 15,000 residents.  We can’t get ADSL and have to rely on poor reception with mobile and wireless.  Despite CQ providing some of Australia’s largest export wealth (beef cattle & coal) our roads and services are of an inferior quality.

Canberrans seem to make the most of their outdoor facilities – parks, gardens, walking & cycling tracks, lakes, and dog parks – probably due to the temperate climate.  In CQ it’s often too hot for 6-8 months of the year so people tend to stay indoors in air-conditioning.

Having visited Canberra a number of times, there is ALWAYS something different to do and some events are free to attend.  The galleries, museums, wineries, markets, festivals, etc. set Canberra apart and make it one of Australia’s most liveable cities.

Popular sight in CQ

9. Is there anything Canberra could do better?

Cities, including Canberra just aren’t as friendly as rural areas of Australia.  While out walking in Canberra if one doesn’t acknowledge another walker first, then they pass by in silence.  In CQ most people say hello or nod or smile (and some still wave when passing in a car).

CQ town where my parents are from

10. Finally, what’s the un-missable place, thing or event for anyone visiting Canberra?

Mapping Our World – sorry but you’ve missed it!

Thanks mum and dad! Looking forward to having you back here soon.


11 Responses to “Canberra – a review by my parents”

  1. Gary Lum March 16, 2014 at 9:27 pm #

    Fantastic blog post Tara’s Mum and Dad 🙂

  2. whisperinggums March 16, 2014 at 10:42 pm #

    Lovely post. Enjoyed their perspective greatly. What a shame you live on the wrong side of town. I would love to have read what they thought of our lovely south-side!

    Just for interest, but don’t say if you’d rather not, what part of Central Queensland?

    • inthetaratory March 16, 2014 at 10:44 pm #

      Thanks so much! They will be pleased to hear that. I will have to take them on a south side tour next time!

      They’re from a coastal town near Rockhampton, but for most of my life we grew up in non-coastal CQ (mining towns).

      • whisperinggums March 16, 2014 at 11:42 pm #

        You will – have to I mean!

        Ah, interesting, Tara. I left Qld when I was 14 and spent my teen and uni years in Sydney, but I have very fond memories of my Qld childhood, including the last three years before Sydney in Mt Isa.

      • inthetaratory March 25, 2014 at 12:02 am #

        Very interesting, Sue… my family has (strong) Mt Isa connections – over a long period of time, but especially in the 70s and early 80s.

  3. Vanessa Monaghan (@vanessamonaghan) March 17, 2014 at 1:25 pm #

    Interesting to hear that your Mum and Dad didn’t like the Elvis exhibition. I’m not a fan of him, but I really got caught up in the stories behind the photos. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the exhibition and have been pushing my parents to go!

  4. Rosemarie March 17, 2014 at 11:49 pm #

    I just love the idea of your parents writing a post!!! My favourite bit was about how Cooper has 3 different beds! I can’t wait to meet him! Ever since we moved around from different countries I had to leave Cookie my Jack Russell cross with my folks… She seems happier as my dad spoils her rotten! She has one bed but gets 3 meals sometimes specially cooked meals by my dad with chicken and spinach.

  5. Liz Posmyk of Bizzy Lizzy's Good Things March 18, 2014 at 1:46 pm #

    Interesting that your parents didn’t like the Elvis at 21 exhibit. I thought it was excellent, as did a couple of (female) family members who came with me… one in her 20s, the other in her 60s. We didn’t have noise issues… so glad to know your mum and dad enjoyed their visit in our beautiful city!


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