The stories behind the stories: the architecture of the National Museum


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Night view of the National Musuem of Australia

The National Museum of Australia strikes a bold pose at the edge of the lake in Canberra, its massive orange arm arching high behind the building and looping off into the distance. It demands your attention. Constructed over 11 hectares in a blaze of coloured shapes, the building itself has almost as many stories to tell as the exhibits it contains, and a guided tour as part of the Canberra Design Festival was the perfect way to discover some of its architectural secrets.

The design

Completed in 2001, the building is perhaps not beautiful, but it is certainly remarkable—modern, brightly coloured, full of light, texture and unexpected angles. It’s not a traditional museum building, but this is not a traditional museum. The design for the museum was chosen from among 74 entries in an international competition in 1997. Designed by Howard Raggatt of Ashton Raggatt McDougall and Robert Peck von Hartel Trethowan, telling a story was always part of its function.

The building consists of a number of pieces of a puzzle, of differing shapes and materials, which fit together in an unfinished circle around the central garden. The entire building is modelled on the notion of multiple strands of a rope, tied together in a giant knot. This represents the various stories of our history, tangled and interwoven with many strands and perspectives. When you step into the huge, light-filled air space of the foyer, you’re actually stepping into that knot, now removed, into its imagined cast model with the roof forming the edge of the cast. A bit like those plaster of Paris moulds you may have created in primary school, only bigger. Much, much bigger.

View of the open foyer of the National Museum of Australia depicting the inside of a knot

The various strands of the rope (and the stories) continue through the building, splaying into three levels of exhibition spaces, complementing and extending the museum’s story-telling theme. Bits of red ceilings above show you the continuing threads as you wander inside.


It’s a post-modern building, which means that cultural symbolism is important, and indeed rife. Look for a recurring ‘X’ motif, or pentagon shapes, and shards of the word ‘eternity’ as immortalised by Sydneysider Arthur Stace who wandered the streets of Sydney for 35 years writing that single word in copperplate text on pavements and buildings. The challenge is to discover the symbols and interpret what they mean. It’s a bit like returning to high school days, looking at words and imagery in a novel and working out what they mean within the larger text. Some inferences are clear; some not so much.

A garden of dreams

Outside, the Garden of Australian Dreams is both barren and complex, combining suburban and Indigenous landscapes. It’s essentially a map of central Australia, depicted in concrete, water and even a bit of lawn, marked out with fences and surveyor posts. Harsh but welcoming: the word ‘home’ appears in a hundred languages on the ground.

You won’t find any flowers but there’s more than you see at first glance. Look out for references to some iconic Australian artworks, including those by Jackson Pollock and Arthur Boyd, originals of which are both housed in other Canberra institutions. The strange angle at which the stand of Alders grow at the garden edge is no accident, and is that a dingo fence, or perhaps one that hails from any ordinary Aussie backyard?

Window view of the Garden of Australian Dreams

Contentious moments

Like many great buildings, this one hasn’t been free from controversy or sadness. Springing from the site of the endeared Canberra Hospital, the building process itself started tragically when the ill-fated demolition of the hospital, mistakenly touted as a family day out, went horribly wrong and the spraying debris took the life of a beautiful teenage girl.

A number of architectural features clearly reference other buildings. The nod to the sails of the Sydney Opera House is an obvious one, but there are many more. A notable mimicking is the shape of the exhibition spaces, almost an exact replica of the zigzag design of the Jewish Museum in Berlin, much to the ire of its architect, Daniel Libeskind. To rub salt into the wound, the Berlin museum officially opened four months after the Australian museum did, though completed years before. Raggatt maintains he wasn’t plagiarising, he was just ‘quoting’.

Even the exterior of the building, covered in the equivalent of 3,500,000 drinking cans of iodised aluminium cladding, houses a feature that created a bit of a hullabaloo. The raised circular discs on the outside walls are actually Braille, spelling out Australian idioms like ‘mate’ and ‘she’ll be right’. Secretly, they also included the word ‘sorry’, the word of apology the then Prime Minister wasn’t willing to give to the Indigenous people of Australia. Those Braille words of apology were obscured by the addition of extra dots. Perhaps the original wording should now be replaced, given we’ve grown up enough to say the words out loud.

And that orange looping arm that transforms into a thick red path? Turns out it’s actually looping off in the direction of Uluru/Ayers Rock, to the central heart of Australia.

The curved arm at the entrance to the National Museum of Australia

Want more?

And this is why I love tours—because you learn so much. It’s a reminder that the design and construction of a building can sometimes tell us almost as much as the contents. The tour went for one hour: I stayed for two, retracing my steps and taking photos. And then I started reading…

If you want to know more, discover the building yourself by wandering through (it’s free) or take a general tour (free too!). The book The Building of the National Museum, available for sale at the bookshop, reveals a myriad of hidden secrets.  You can also read more about the building on the museum’s website and listen to a fascinating podcast about the architecture.

Thanks Graeme for your insights on the tour!

Have you been to this building? What do you think of it?



A week of Queen: reliving the music all the ways


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Last week was a Queen-filled week. As in the rock group Queen, that is, not the grandmother of Wills and Harry. As a Queen tragic from way back yonder, that suited me very well, and I might have been heard singing along a bit. It started with a TV special, then things got serious.

Bohemian Rhapsody, the movie

Bohemian Rhapsody, the biopic telling the tale of British rock group Queen, hit the screens and I was there for the first night preview. Ten years in the making and suffering all sorts of setbacks, the film had already hit the media well before it reached cinemas, with stories of disagreements over and changes in the direction of the script, and changes in the lead actor and director. There has been much discussion in the media and among critics, including some praise – particularly of lead actor’s Rami Malek’s convincing performance as Freddie – and some criticism, which seems to be par for the course for anything Queen  with an inevitable bit of controversy.

To be clear, the film is not entirely accurate (a biopic is a film about well known people, not a documentary), so some licence has been taken with dates and sequencing and even characters for the purposes of narrative. There are a number of challenges of massaging the story of someone’s life (and even more so, four people’s lives – Freddie Mercury, Brian May, Roger Taylor and John Deacon) into the fairly formulaic structure of a biopic, so certain aspects have been massaged to fit into a narrative fit for screen-viewing.

No doubt Roger and Brian, the two remaining active members of Queen, had a strong say in the elements of the story they wanted emphasised. There has been criticism that the film glossed over some of the realities of band’s and Freddie’s lives – the drugs, the hedonistic lifestyle, particularly of Freddie, but it’s difficult to put much of an R-rated reality into a PG film, and innuendo played a role.

By concentrating on the early years of the band, we’re given an insight into its formation and how the four members worked together in the studio, creating and pushing musical boundaries, and clashing heads. In my opinion, it was these formative years which gave rise to some of their finest and most innovative music, the stuff that still colours my musical appreciation, years before the world had ever heard the oddity that was Bohemian Rhapsody and introduced them to the world.

Along the way, we discover more about the background and vulnerabilities of the deeply complex and creative Freddie, the focus of the film, even though the scrip can at times seem a little trite and some of the story  simplified.

Even if you’re familiar with the story it’s fascinating to see it recreated on screen, with the actors providing the most uncanny likenesses of the characters they depict, both in looks and movements. It’s particularly interesting to watch the process of recording, and re-recording, and the use of the existing technology to overlay vocals and instrumentals to create the sounds now so familiar to us, and so quintessentially Queen. Four artists dedicated to creating the very best they could, over and over again, and pushing the boundaries – and each other’s buttons in the process. And there’s a rather interesting fact revealed about those teeth – one of the few things I didn’t already know.

But park your inner critic at the door and just go along for the ride, enjoy the music and relive the magic that was Queen, maybe learn some new things, and you’ll leave the theatre with a smile on your face. It’s actually a lot of fun.

The film actually finishes in 1985, with the virtual re-enactment of the Wembley performance at Live Aid (aghhh, the one I missed because I left London the week before!), seen by many as the pinacle of their live shows. It doesn’t dwell on the years to follow and Freddie’s demise from an AIDS related illness, no doubt a disappointment to some, perhaps those who like to dwell on morbid things, but allows the movie to finish on a high.

Strangely, almost the entire cinema cleared out before the final credits, If you see it, don’t do that – stay till the end otherwise you’ll miss out on some great original footage right at the end.

We Will Rock You – the musical

Then just as my Queen fanaticism was piqued, I got a last minute call with free tickets to the We Will Rock You musical (WWRY), showing in town for the first time ever for a few nights only. Having seen it three times already and not being entirely sure of the chosen large venue, I hadn’t planned on going, but free tickets AND Queen – who could say no? Turns out, it’s still a lot of fun, no matter how many times you’ve seen it before and each production brings something new.

WWRY is a light-hearted musical, set in the future when music is programmed and rock unknown and Bohemians roam around trying to discover the past. Written by Ben Elton, it’s very funny in parts, and weaves together a gala of Queen hits into a highly entertaining tale and a great night out. When it comes down to it, it’s just a bloody good excuse to reel out a parade of Queen hits in a theatrical setting, and it’s a hoot.

This particular show was very good, the leads vocally strong and engaging. Queenie Van der Zandt, hailing originally from Canberra, played the role of Killer Queen (I’m not making up all these Queens) and did an excellent job. I recognised one of the performers as one my daughter used to perform with years ago. Ah, such a small town for a bit city. If it’s showing near you, get along – you’re guaranteed to leave feeling lighter than when you arrived.

It’s surprising to recall that WWRY was completely panned by the critics when it first hit the stage in London in 2002,dismissed as juvenile and manufactured. But audiences loved it from the start, the ones singing, clapping and stomping along, and the musical played non-stop in the West End for12 years and played in six continents, defying the opinions of those original critics.

In fact, there’s a bit of a common thread here. The musical panned by critics but embraced by audiences, a film sometimes derided by reviewers but lapped up by movie goers, a band out of favour with the media and in many ways the mainstream music industry but who managed to fire up audiences, survive decades and become a part of the music history. Despite their ‘unpopularity’ at times and their differences, their longevity and re-incarnation to a new generation is testament to their talents and musical ingenuity.

Go to see the movie yourself or the musical, if you haven’t already, and make your own judgement. It mightn’t be exactly what you were expecting, but Queen never was. That’s what made them special.

Have you been? What did you think?

Related posts:

10 tips for shopping success at op shops (thrift stores if you must)


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New Gabor shoes, necklace and shawl found at op shops

There is something just a little thrilling about finding gems at an op shop /thrift shop /Vinnie’s – call them what you will. If, like me, you love a spot of retail therapy, have a concern for the environment, and get irrationally excited when you score a bargain, op shopping may be for you.

While it’s a great big of sport, some people find it a bit daunting and say they rarely have success. So in the spirit of helpfulness, and encouraging recycling, here are a few tips to help maximise your success.

Get over your hang ups

Long gone are the days when it was a bit awkward to shop second hand. Now it’s quite the new fashion black and vintage is all the rage.  It’s a great assistance for those genuinely in need and short of cash, but it’s now also a mainstream way of buying well, and making our resources go a little further in this world. Winning all around.

Go in with an open mind

Be open to what’s in a store, rather than only looking for specific things. You might be lucky to spot those orange suede knee-high boots in size 9 you’ve been hankering after, but then again you might not. Expect the unexpected and take advantage of the surprises you find.

Take a friend or spotter

A second person to assist in the hunting can be invaluable. Different eyes see different things. My daughter and I often go the second-hand kids’ markets together (selling kids’ goods, not the actual kids) as we work better in a team, both for spotting and for a voice of reason. That’s usually needed for me when I pick up something that’s just too ridiculously fluffy. Generally speaking, we nail it.

I’ve got a fabulously trained husband who actually takes me to such places of his own volition and then scours the racks for items which he thinks I’ll like. True story. And he’s amazingly successful at this activity and spots wonderful finds in my style and size that I completely miss. He clearly subscribes to the happy wife, happy life theory. If your hubby or friends or others who may accompany you are not up for this task, leave them at home.

Seek out quality

Look for items that are well made and in good quality fabrics. Designer labels and racks often contain beautiful pieces in classic designs that will last the distance and maybe decades. Seek out things that stay around, or keep coming around. Black pants, white shirts, classic bags, quality crystal or china. You’ll pay a little more in store, but a tiny fraction of the new price. Like those brand new Gabor shoes above and the shawl with tags on – $5 each! Who can so no to that?

Be discerning

Sometimes you need to rein in your excitement. Just because it’s cheap doesn’t cut it. Only buy stuff you really love and that fits well. No, you probably won’t get around to making those adjustments, and besides, you can’t even sew. And if the shoes are too small, they’re too bloody small. It doesn’t matter how much they cost new, they will still hurt your toes and make your feet throb when you attempt to wear them. And stick to colours that suit you. I’ve been guilty of the latter – various tops and jackets in shades of beige and khaki that made me look a little like a cadaver. Not a good look. Don’t bring those things home.

Pick your shop

The ‘nicer’ the area is where the shop’s located, usually the better quality of the items. Not always the case, but usually. I’ve got a couple of favourite stores I visit on holidays in fancy-schmancy locations where I’m likely to find something marvellous.

Keep your eye for the kids

Toys can be outrageously expensive new, but there are some spectacular finds in the toys and book sections, like marvellous puzzles and games in excellent condition going for a song. And it keeps a lot of stuff out of landfill. I just purchased a Fisher and Price fairy castle in near perfect condition for $5 that retails for $280. Little Miss was in seventh heaven.

All that shopping fun, and we’re saving things from going to landfill. Happy happy!

Do you like shopping at thrift stores? What are your best opp shopping tips?


The Little Free Library Movement, and a farewell to Todd Bol


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Image of toddler opening door of little street library

There’s a tiny library down the road from me perched on top of someone’s letterbox. There’s another one just down the road from my daughters house, all brightly coloured and cheery and full of books. In fact, these little neighbourhood libraries are scattered in suburbs all over the world. The man who started the whole little library movement, Todd Bol from the United States, died last week on 18 October aged just 62, only weeks after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He left an amazing little free library legacy in his wake.

Todd is credited with starting up the first little free library outside his house in Wisconsin in 2009 when he was doing some renovating. He’d taken down a garage down and didn’t want to waste the lovely timber door so he made a little wooden library instead with a glass front, filled it with books, and put it outside his house. He said it was a tribute to his deceased mother, a school teacher who loved books and used to tutor kids in reading. He described it as a ‘spiritual thing’.

Todd Bol, founder of Free Little Library Image Star Tribune

At first nothing much happened, but after a while it sparked conversations and struck a chord in the neighbourhood, caused people to stop and chat and the notion gradually spread and spread, crossing states and then oceans, and now they’re scattered all over the world in 88 different countries, including the Sudan, the Philippines and here in Australia. There’s even Little Free Library on the Yamal Peninsula in Siberia, for reindeer herders and their families.

The idea is to borrow or swap a book, whatever takes your fancy, using an honesty system. That’s it. What a lovely concept! Free books to the world.

There’s quite a few in my hometown of Canberra – one in a fridge and one in the form of a Tardis, blue of course. In fact there’s all sorts of different designs and shapes, straying a little from the original 2 x 2 wooden squares with folklore elements. Bird houses, barns, log cabins, spaceships and robots, and apparently in California even an old V Dub van with a surfboard on top. Doesn’t matter – the spirit is the same.

In contrast to the seemingly sporadic nature of these little libraries springing up around the world, there’s actually a lot of structure to the whole movement in the US. Three years after Todd made his first library, he formed a non-profit organisation with his brother Tony to support it. It has a website and a Little Free Library Facebook page and a whole range of activities and thousands of ‘stewards’ who operate the little libraries.

There’s even a world map on the website where you can search for and add libraries to the map! I guess that’s how the organisation has calculated the number of little libraries to be around 75,000, but I’m guessing there’s way more than that as so many people wouldn’t even know about the original founding and they wouldn’t be officially registered.

I’ve discovered there’s now an Australian organisation, Street Library, which does a similar thing but it seems without official ties to the US body. It’s also a non-profit and provides information on how to get started, tips on building a little library, and also sells little wooden libraries so you can start your own, or give one to someone else. You can register your street library there and also use their map. It seems they’re sprouting up everywhere!

And in good news for Canberrans, I’ve just discovered there’s a Canberra Facebook page as well, to keep track of where these little libraries are popping up all over the place.

Here’s a quote from Todd which sums up what it’s all about:

“I really believe in a Little Free Library on every block and a book in every hand. I believe people can fix their neighborhoods, fix their communities, develop systems of sharing, learn from each other, and see that they have a better place on this planet to live.” – Todd H. Bol,

When he was diagnosed with cancer and knew his fate, Todd had time to consider and discuss his legacy. This quote from him is taken from an article in the Star Tribune:

“If I may be so bold, I’m the most successful person I know,” Bol said, with a sideways smile, “because I stimulate 54 million books to be read and neighbors to talk to each other. As far as I’m concerned, that’s the very definition of success. If people get along and work together and share books, I’ll take that over Billionaire Bob’s money.”

I’m going for a walk this afternoon and I’m going to tie a silver ribbon around our little neighbourhood the library in tribute to Todd, just as has been suggested on his website. I’ll leave a copy of this blog post inside so the owners will know why a ribbon has appeared. They may have never heard of Todd.  I haven’t met the people who live there, but I have used the little library, and if I see them outside one day I’ll stop and say hello.

RIP, Todd – you must have been so happy your ideas took off around the world sprinkling the seeds of book love. Your mum would have been proud.

You can read more about Todd here and here’s an article about the libraries popping up all over Sydney.

Do you have any little free libraries near you?

Film festival in Canberra


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Image of main character from the film Journey's End

One evening as I was flipping through a volunteering website, just for a little sport, a little post caught my attention. The Veterans Film Festival was looking for someone to help out with social media for their upcoming festival in Canberra.

Oooh, I thought. I live in Canberra, I can do social media, I like films, I’m old (not that old really) – this sounds like me. I quickly discovered that ‘veterans’ actually refers to those who have done military service, but no matter – I was soon on board.

And now it’s less than a week away!

The festival happens over three days, from 1-3 November and consists of the screening of films and a couple of special events. Held annually, the festival aims to bring people together to discover extraordinary stories about veterans, first responders, all who experience warfare and their families. This year the films have been chosen to mark the centenary of armistice, a hundred years since peace after WW1.

There’s quite a bit of variety in the films chosen this year:

  • Opening the festival is the drama Journey’s End, the story of a group of British officers, led by a young officer who’s falling apart mentally as they await their fate on the Western Front.
  • Closing is a Russian film, Anna’s War (yes, that means sub-titles) which follows a six year old Jewish girl as she hides in a disused fireplace where she watches the war and life passing by. It seeks out the beauty in the horror and has been described as an ode to the resilience and ingenuity of children.


  • TransMilitary is a documentary which chronicles the lives of four brave men and women who came out as transgender to top brass officials hoping to attain the equal right to serve. As President Trump is now trying to reinstate the transgender ban, which was lifted in 2016, their military futures are again looking uncertain.
  • For families there’s Sgt Stubby: an unlikely hero, an animated film that tells the true story of America’s most decorated dog who shows what dedication, loyalty and bravery are all about.


  • For plane enthusiasts, Spitfire, a feature document, will be screened about the people and the planes that helped win the Battle of Britain and ultimately the Second World War. There’s a book launch just before the screening as well so die-hards can get another dose of plane history to take home with them. The book is Ready to Strike: The Spitfires and Australians of 453 (RAAF) Squadron over Normandy by Adam Lunney. This is the story of the only Australian squadron to operate from airfields built immediately behind the front lines of the Normandy battlefield after the landings in France of June 1944.


  • As well, there’s a free (yes, free!) screening of Foxtel’s six-part drama, Fighting Season (well the first two episodes), followed by a Q&A session with some of the cast and crew. It’s billed as a mystery drama where the lines between killer and family man, hero and victim, truth and fantasy are constantly changing.

All the films will be screened at Capital Cinemas at Manuka. They may change the way you think about veterans and service and how it impacts on people and families. It will certainly provide new knowledge.

If you want to know more, visit the festival’s website:

Connecting in cyberspace


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instagram photo showing label of top 10 Canberra instagrammersShort and sweet today.

I’m all over the place on social media and I’d love you to join me in one or more of its various nooks and crannies, if you haven’t already. Share the love!

I’m on:




Just click on any of the highlighted links above to go straight to your spot of cyberspace of choice.

I’d love to link up!

See you there??

Are you game to take a ghost tour in Canberra’s most haunted building?


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Do you believe in ghosts?

I’ve been sitting firmly on the fence for decades, but after a fascinating late night ghost tour of one of the country’s most haunted buildings—right here in Canberra—I’ve teetered a little further to the believer side.

Behind the sandstone-clad walls and columns of the rather grand National Film and Sound Archive building, just beyond the city centre, lies a web of mystery and paranormal events.

Exterior of National Film and Sound Archive building at night

It’s not just one mysterious story that’s been reported, or even two or three. It’s dozens of them: different stories or various iterations of the same story. I can’t give too much away, but the stories are rather compelling. Reports of a pesky and persistent poltergeist who throws objects around an office, and a string quartet that plays in the night, for example. Things that go bump in the day as well as the night.

In fact, there’s a story for almost every room or space in the building, too many to be told in the two hour tour that takes you into the bowels of the building into places you can’t normally access.


Many stories come from staff members who have worked or still work in the building, or from visitors, like the group of school children in the front row of a presentation who laughed uproariously at the little girl they saw under the stage pulling faces at them through an air grate.

The building itself has rather a surprising history. Originally designed as the entrance into a planned zoo, it was repurposed after the depression hit and the funding government coffers ran dry. A reimagining saw it begin life in 1931 as the Institute of Anatomy instead. It housed a collection of rather unusual and sometimes macabre items—human skeletons, a mummified body, mutant animal bodies, foetuses in formaldehyde, and famously beloved race horse Phar Lap’s heart—most from the personal collection of Dr Colin MacKenzie, the institute’s first director.

The institute was used for the dissection and scientific study of bodies and body parts, including those of soldiers and others acquired by dubious means, and even housed a morgue, Canberra’s first. Until the 1960s and 70s, it was a major tourist attraction where people would come to gawk at its gory collection. The building’s morbid history can possibly explain a lot.

inst of anatomy

The ghost tour is led by Tim the Yowie Man, local researcher, guide and gifted story teller. He’s fascinated by the mysterious and has a penchant for interesting facts, and knows a lot of them. He’s been doing these ghost tours for about four years and is ably assisted by the enthusiastic and knowledgeable Jeremy from the Archives, who provides the historical research to add into the mix of facts and stories presented.

Tim tells us that about often during tours someone feels very unwell and many have had to leave. No one left on our tour, but as we stood in a corridor upstairs known as a hotspot for paranormal activity, two women in our group reported feeling a touch on their shoulders. In the dark, with torches glowing, of course. I must admit that as I stood in that corridor, my heart beat was a little more pronounced than it should have been. There was definitely a bit of tension in the space. And then there were two electromagnetic field meters that simultaneously went off as we were all gathered quietly in the morgue, listening to tales of its past.


Incidentally, that same morgue is the place you may well go to for a job interview if you ever apply to work at the National Film and Sound Archive, and work meetings if you get the job. It’s a heads-up that working there might be just a bit out of the ordinary. The people who work there seem to accept that and just get on with the job.

Even if you’re not into ghosts and all things paranormal, the tour is a fascinating insight into the history of this gem of a building and its art deco interior and unique architectural features, including Australian flora and fauna-inspired skylights and a specially-created writing font all of its own. You also get to see a couple of pieces of archival film footage that tie into the mysteries presented.

The whole thing may have got into my head. I woke up that night as I rolled over in bed, feeling a clear double tap on my left shoulder to help me on my way. I think it was a dream, but then again …

What about you? Have you got any ghost stories to tell? I’d love to hear.

Ghost Tour Details
National Film and Sound Archive, McCoy Circuit, Acton ACT
More information:

First published at HerCanberra

Mayfield Garden: a story straight from Instagram


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Some gardens are small, some are large, and some are simply staggering.

Mayfield Garden at Oberon in central west New South Wales fits into the last category. Last weekend I visited during the Spring Wine and Food Festival and it’s truly spectacular.

I’d planned to do a full write up, but then my daughter moved in with her young family of five (be assured this is temporary measure only!!) and all previous plans for the week went out the window.

So instead, here’s a repeat performance of my Insta story for a pictorial précis.







It’s a spectacular place, and certainly worth the drive. We were there most of the day and I’m sure we just scratched the surface.

Have you been?

A field of red poppies at the Australian War Memorial: a sea of love and thanks


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Sea of red knitted poppies planted at the Australian War Memorial

More than five years ago, two sisters-in-law – Lynn and Margaret – began knitting 120 poppies to honour their fathers who died during the Second World War. Those poppies grew into a community movement that’s collected hordes of volunteers, crossed oceans and spawned the creation of hundreds of thousands of poppies seen in gardens, ceremonies and displays across the world to honour our soldiers.

Last week in Canberra, a garden sea of these beautiful handmade red poppies was planted on the lawns of the Australian War Memorial, on their final stop in their world travels.


There are 62,000 poppies in the garden, knitted or crocheted by loving hands, each poppy representing an Australian soldier who died in the First World War. The display is part of the commemorations of approaching centenary of the armistice, which marked the official end of the First World War. That was ‘the war to end all wars’, a concept that clearly didn’t catch on as well as it should have.

62,000 poppies, each made with love, respect and thanks. Each one is individual and comes with its own story, just as each life represented was a unique one. I spotted two poppies that looked identical, planted side by side—I wondered if they represented brothers, or twins, doubling someone’s loss.

Some of the poppies are a little travel-weary, having already appeared elsewhere, including a massive display at the Chelsea Flower Show in London or at other memorial services around the world including Fromelles in France.

It’s a remarkable sight, beautiful but very sobering, on display until 11 November. So many poppies, so many lives. It’s part of the commemorative events planned by the Australian War Memorial for the centenary of the Armistice, including ceremonies, displays and late opening nights. At night, it’s lit up and even more poignant, especially with the beautiful musical accompaniment in the background, put together by artist-in-residence Chris Latham.


Well done to the two women who started it all, Lynn Berry and Margaret Knight, who kicked off the original 5000 Poppies movement, who must be very proud. And also to the landscaper, Phillip Johnson, the volunteers, the knitters, the staff, and of course, to the 62,000 soldiers represented, and the many thousands more that followed.

There’s a couple more installations of these poppies around Canberra at the moment, including two at the airport, one in the International Arrivals area and one in the domestic arrivals areas. There’s also a display at Floriade at Commonwealth Park. Poppies erupting everywhere.

And an update – just days before Armistice Day, 270,000 of these handmade poppies were ‘planted’ in front of Parliament House. What a remarkable display they make.

I’ll leave you with some words from Margaret and Lynn from the 5000 Poppies blog, about the impact this project has had on them and on others:

“and my thoughts go to the many, many thousands of poppies that have arrived in our post office box and on my doorstep over the last five years … imbued with love and honour and respect for those who have served … living and dead.  And I am reminded of the beautiful, sad woman who made poppies for Fed Square in honour of her son, an Afghanistan veteran, who had taken his own life just weeks before.  Her heart was so broken and we cried together when we met at Fed Square.  And then there was the beautiful elderly, stooped man in Fromelles who stood there with his wife sobbing with one of our beautiful poppies in his hand, because he could not understand how or why so many thousands of people would take the time create such a beautiful tribute to the fallen and he was remembering his comrades who had fallen in the Algerian War. “


Lest we forget.

Have you seen this display? Were you involved? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Related posts:

Anzac Day heroes, and lessons we don’t seem to learn

Heath Ledger – a life in pictures: exhibition at the National Film and Sound Archive


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I’ve always thought Heath Ledger was an extremely talented actor, who tragically died accidently when he was way too young.

So of course I had to go and see the Heath Ledger: a life in pictures exhibition at the National Film and Sound Archive in Canberra. Curated with the assistance of his family, it’s a real insight into this young man, and the way he thought and worked, and how dedicated he was to his craft as an actor, as well as a photographer and film maker.

There’s  film clips, a selection of his photography collection, personal items, diaries and research journals, film costumes and props, and more. So much to see and read that I have to go back for a second viewing to take some more in.

There’s a few other events associated with the exhibition as well, including a free floor every Friday at 1pm, and a season of special screenings of some of his films with talks for a cost of $10.

There’s also free daily screenings of the 90 minute documentary I am Heath Ledger which provides a really intimate look at this great Aussie actor and how devoted he was to his work.

There was no photography allowed so no pictures to share.

The exhibition is on for ages, until 10 February, so you’ve heaps of time to go and see it. And it’s free, so even better.

What a sad loss.