Well the first of four weeks in Australia is over, and whilst I had amazing intentions of writing a blog every other day or so those have fallen by the wayside due to jet-lag and the distraction of it being a) nice weather for a walk, and b) a nice place for a walk, and c) a nice place for a walk to good eating (more on these below).
So, first things first, Canberra is a planned city. This is no bad thing. It’s nothing like Milton Keynes (not even those cool plans of it we read about in reading group), and nothing like Cumbernauld either. I suppose you could see it a little bit as an Australian Welwyn Garden City, but with different intentions.
The Parliament is a strange half grass covered building which (I’m reliable informed) has the largest aluminium structure in the Southern Hemisphere on it (though to be honest I’m not sure there’s much in the way of intentional competition); and the archives are based just round the corner in the Parliamentary Zone. If the Parliamentary Zone were in Britain (foregoing obvious reductions in scale) it would have a completely different feeling involving queues and checkpoints where you have to prove your water bottle has water in; here the whole place is open to the public, and whilst buses can’t stop outside Parliament House, there’s no really noticeable security anywhere.
The same thing goes for the Archive Reading Rooms. The whole thing is about the size of the seminar room, kitchen and photocopier room. No joke. There are no seat numbers, no security guards in the room, and you get given as many files as the document suppliers can carry – or if you’re lucky a precious trolley! Then you just get left to look at them, take them back and request more, and more and more.
People active on twitter at ridiculous hours of the night/morning, may have noticed some of the photos I’ve been posting of interesting documents, but today was an exceptionally good day for them, so thought I’d put some of them up here.
The first comes from a file about the European Launcher Development Organisation and its imminent demise. Someone in the Department of External Affairs (Australian version of the FCO) wondered whether this, and the UKs entry into the EEC might mean Australia had to take a more independent approach to relations with European nations. The hand written response is something I’ve never seen before (although have often assumed civil servants are too restrained), but today would probably amount to “WTF?”.
The second comes from an early file about ELDO, and is something which will definitely make its way into my thesis, for obvious reasons!
This final one comes from a general file entitled “Australian foreign relations with the UK”. I wish every nation’s diplomatic office had files like this. This one even contained an “Australian UK policy guide” sent to all departments letting them know the general approach to take and whether to promote or curtail collaborations (sensible, no?). Anyway, this document is from an awkward period where, to meet EEC regulations before entering the Community, Britain had to curtail the rights of Commonwealth citizens to hold a British passport without residency, or to enter Britain (and therefore the European Community) without any kind of visa. The action starts from Paragraph 3: Hurd is Douglas Hurd (later foreign secretary under Maggie and John Major), the “PMs” mentioned is a Commonwealth Prime Ministers meeting, and Trudeau the then Prime Minister of Canada.
Now for the important bit.
Coffee and food in Australia
I had my first proper culture clash today when I asked some in the café for an Americano, and had to explain how to make one before being told that I was in Australia now and should ask for a “long black” so people understood. They then seemingly took pity on me and told me that I should try a “lamington”. There is nothing in the name to suggest what on earth that might be, but I was brave.
Imagine angel cake, then cover it with a chocolatey butter cream-ish icing, then cover THAT with desiccated coconut. They are amazing (and also large – knife included for scale).
Another thing which is amazing is the quality of food in the student area (and the quantity). The dinner below cost about £6 (including the drink) and was much larger than I expected when I ordered it.
Finally, a very important note for other PhDs. Hummus in Australia seems to come in two kinds – pretty darn amazing, and awful. There is no such thing as “OK” hummus (like the majority of UK hummus), so when buying here be careful!