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15 Dec 2014 – 29 Jan 2015.

Don, my sister Julie, and I are walking in Weston Park. It’s a sunny day, our first day in Canberra. Weston Park is on a peninsula in the lake, and is next to one of Canberra’s inner suburbs. It’s a large family-playground park with treed spaces, a small train, picnic and barbeque areas, a tree house to climb, and other children’s play areas. Bird life is abundant. Pelicans are often seen by the water, and parrots in the trees.

We have no plans beyond walking in the park and seeing what we can find. After photographing some pelicans at the shore of the lake we head into a treed area, and suddenly we stop. There they are. Right in front of us. A mob of about thirty kangaroos.


Julie says she’s never before seen so many in the park. We are very still, afraid they will take off. Bit by bit we slowly move closer and closer until we are no more than fifteen feet away. They sit there watching us, as we watch them.


The mob has roos of all ages from joeys still in the pouch to large adult males. They are watching us, somewhat alert, but mostly they continue grazing and grooming.

One of us steps a little too close and five or six of them bound away, but not very far or for very long.

Suddenly, a wild moment when a female takes off so quickly and with such power that the joey is flung from her pouch. It catches up with her quickly enough and seems unharmed.

Poor flying joey.


I’ve seen kangaroos many times but this is the closest I’ve ever been. We watch for about an hour, moving closer, then backing off a bit, then moving in again. A second time a few of them are spooked and hop away for about one hundred metres or more, then slowly make their way back. It is magical. We are entranced. Seeing so many of them together, an entire mob. Being so close to them for so long. Seeing them completely in their natural state. Magical.


Frequently people who don’t know much about Australia think there are kangaroos jumping down the city streets. In the big cities like Sydney and Melbourne it’s a joke, but Canberra, the country’s capital, is a small city and filled with parks and surrounded by ‘the bush’. Wildlife is never far away, and sometimes comes to town. One day I saw a large male kangaroo hopping across a major highway, through a car park and down another highway. Luckily it was a quiet Sunday and there was little traffic.

Very near the kangaroos in Weston Park we see this memorial


To quote the sign at the site:
The SIEV X Memorial
Remembers the 146 children, 142 mothers and 65 fathers who died on the refugee boat SIEV X, at the height of the Federal election campaign in October 2001.
The memorial is a shared effort by over 300 schools, churches and community groups across Australia.
Each pole remembers one person who died, the smaller poles for children and larger for adults.
Our message in making the memorial is that Australia is not a country defined by fear and greed.
Love is stronger than fear. Kindness is stronger than greed.

There is dissent among both politicians and the general populace about the many refugee boat-people who flee to Australia, frequently in boats that are not sea-worthy. Many Australians want to keep Australia to themselves. Many are like those who created the SIEV X memorial. Everybody argues. The refugees are detained for years in camps that violate basic human rights. The camps are on off-shore islands. Nobody has a solution. The current illustrious Prime Minister, who seems to lack both integrity and intelligence, and the Attorney General, feel the correct solution is that the head of the Australian Human Rights Commission should resign because they didn’t like her message.

Canberra is not like other Australian cities. It’s all planned and perfect. It’s very spread out. It’s very affluent. It’s very expensive. It’s full of tree-lined streets and public gardens and there’s a beautiful large lake in the centre. It has a thriving coffee culture and many fine very expensive restaurants and smart boutiques. Being the federal capital a significant proportion of its population are politicians or government employees or diplomats. It’s very political.

One day in a trendy Canberra café


Canberra was my hometown from the age of 11 until I graduated high school at 17 and went to Sydney ‘the big smoke’ for eighteen months. I then returned to Canberra until I was 23. At that point I began travelling the world. I was 18 when one of my three sisters married a Canadian and moved to Canada. At the age of 33 I too moved to Canada. Two sisters and their husbands and some of their children and some of their children’s children still live in Canberra. It’s still my Aussie hometown.

For the first time in many years all four sisters were together for a few weeks including Christmas and New Year, and many of my nieces and nephews and their children also returned to Canberra for a few days over the holidays. It was one continuous family party for weeks. We ate, we drank, we talked, we argued, we laughed, we shouted, we hugged, we loved, we put up Christmas decorations, we played card games and board games, we went out for morning coffee, or for dinner, or to movies, or to the art gallery, and we cooked many humungous meals. Christmas seemed to go on forever.

There was a ‘tunnel’ of Christmas lights downtown. It was a fundraiser and an attempt to break the Guinness World Record for the most Christmas lights in one setting. It was a very long tunnel and the lights kept changing colour.


The city was alive with party spirit and kids lined up for the merry-go-round at the end of the tunnel of lights.



One of my sisters has a bird feeder in her back garden. This is what we saw there:





Crested pigeon, which we call a punk bird because of its hair-do. ‘We’ being some members of my family, not all Australians.


Sulphur-crested cockatoos at the bird feeder,


and in nearby gum trees.



No boring old sparrows, just beautiful rainbow parrots and these aren’t even the most colourful. There are sparrows of course, and other more mundane looking birds, but Australia’s full of exotic birds, and there are great flocks of them in Canberra. And great flocks of magpies. Australian magpies have the most beautiful warbling song as moving as music, but they are plain black and white. The parrots have all the lovely colours but screech like banshees.

Aussies call eucalyptus trees gum trees. One of the first European explorers to ever reach Australia was the Englishman William Dampier who landed on the west coast in 1688. He noticed that the aborigines used the sap that oozed from the tree trunks as gum to stick barbs onto spears. It’s not actually gum, but the name stuck.

One day Don and I went to Commonwealth Park and got caught in a deluge. While we took shelter under an awning this swan, indifferent to the rain, continued grooming itself. Great weather for swans. We scrambled inside the display building and had a cup of tea.


Two beauties at the Senate Rose Garden



Three sisters and Don went on an outing to the zoo and aquarium.

Parading Emu, all beak and wild eyes. As children, for a Sunday outing, we would be taken to a wildlife sanctuary near Melbourne where you had to be very careful the emus didn’t steal your lunch. You really don’t want to mess with them.


His Royal Highness the peacock.


There were about six small penguins splashing and rollicking and rolling in the water. We watched them for about fifteen minutes. It was fascinating. We never get to see how penguins behave in the water, except in a zoo. They seemed so completely at home, and like they were having fun. It was wonderful to watch.


and the meerkats were as busy as only meerkats can be.


In the aquarium.


Spread throughout the suburbs of Canberra are many large Nature Parks that are principally natural bushland, aka ‘the bush’. Don and I love to go hiking in them. North of the lake is Black Mountain, though calling it a mountain is a stretch. We climbed it many times for the exercise and for the view through the gum trees.


Red Hill is south of the lake. We climbed that a few times too. We never saw kangaroos on Black Mountain though we’ve seen them frequently in the National Botanic Gardens at the foot of the mountain. Perhaps the grazing is better there. We almost always saw them on Red Hill. Don and I were climbing up one day along the track and then left the track and started bushwhacking. Suddenly we saw a kangaroo hopping behind a tree. A second one stayed still and stared at us. For a long time. Then the other one came out from behind the tree. If you wander around in just about any of Canberra’s Nature Parks you’re bound to run into kangaroos.


There are other sides to Canberra. The political scene. The bar and nightlife scene. The music scene. Coffee culture. Art galleries, festivals, theatre, and many beautiful buildings. But for me Canberra is always about family and the wildlife. So next post: more (different) colourful parrots, water dragons, echidnas, flowers, wood ducks, pelicans, kangaroo paw, gum trees, brolgas, lizards, and a couple of members of my family.

*The title of this post comes with apologies to Gerald Durrell

© Alison Louise Armstrong and Adventures in Wonderland – not just a travel blog, 2010-2015.