Thursday, July 19, 2018

Canberra: the Royal Australian Mint, Parliament, and the Australian War Memorial

We spent the day exploring Canberra, the Australian Capital, in the Australian Capital Territory, which marks our second territory visit. Ed especially had a list of places he'd wanted to visit; our first visit of the day was our trip to the Royal Australian Mint, the the sole producer of all of Australia's circulating coins. We learned about Australian coin history (not surprisingly, convicts were involved in their production); the minting process (we were able to see the Circulating Coin room, the Proof Coin Room, and the Tool Room); and its shift to decimal currency (in 1910, a decade after federation, Australian coins were introduced; pounds, shillings, and pence were used until 1966, when it adopted the decimal system with the Australian dollar divided into 100 cents).

Ed at the Royal Australian Mint

Our next stop was the Parliament of Australia. Parliament wasn't in session, but we were able to poke around. The dome was under refurbishment, and we couldn't view the House of Representatives Chamber because of a sound check was taking place, but we were able to view the Senate Chamber from the gallery. It was a rather short visit, so we moved on to the Old Parliament House, where we were able to sit in both the House of Representatives Chamber and the Senate Chamber.

the Senate Chamber inside the Old Australian Parliament 

Known formerly as the Provisional Parliament House, the Old Parliament House was the seat of the Parliament of Australia from 1927 to 1988. The building began operation in May 1927 after Parliament's relocation from Melbourne to Canberra. (In 1901, when the six British colonies in Australia federated to form the Commonwealth of Australia, Melbourne and Sydney were the two largest cities in the country, but a long history of rivalry between them meant that neither could become the national capital.) Construction of Australia's permanent Parliament House was delayed while its location was debated. Parliament House contains 4,700 rooms. The main foyer contains a marble staircase and leads to the Great Hall, which has a large tapestry on display. The House of Representatives chamber is decorated green, while the Senate chamber has a red colour scheme. Between the two chambers is the Members' Hall, which has a water feature and is not open to the public.

Our last stop of the day was the Australian War Memorial, Australia's national memorial to the members of its armed forces and supporting organizations who have died or participated in wars involving the Commonwealth of Australia. The Memorial consists of three parts: the Commemorative Area (shrine), including the Hall of Memory with the Tomb of the Unknown Australian Soldier; the Memorial's galleries (a museum); and Research Center (records).

The Roll of Honour was remarkable. Long cloisters contain a series of bronze plaques naming the 102,185 Australian servicemen and women killed in conflict or on peacekeeping operations. The plaques include names dating back to the British Sudanese Expedition, the Second Boer War, and the Boxer Rebellion. The entire long wall of the west gallery is covered with the names of the 66,000 who died in World War I. The east gallery is covered with the names of those who died in World War II and conflicts since. As we were walking down the corridor, children listed individual names and ages of soldiers who had been killed. These Rolls of Honour led us to the tomb of the unknown solider.

The Roll of Honour, which contains the names of over 102,000 members of
the Australian armed forces who have died during or as a result of war service.
Those are poppies attached to the bronze plaque.

Plans to honor an unknown Australian soldier were first put forward in the 1920s, but it was not until 1993 that one was at last brought home. To mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the First World War, the body of an unknown Australian soldier was recovered from Adelaide Cemetery near Villers-Bretonneaux in France and transported to Australia. After lying in state in King’s Hall in Old Parliament House, the Unknown Australian Soldier was interred in the Hall of Memory on November 11, 1993. He was buried in a Tasmanian blackwood coffin, on which were placed a bayonet and a sprig of wattle. Soil from the Pozières battlefield in France was scattered in his tomb. The tomb lies directly beneath the dome, where the souls of the dead are shown ascending to heaven; it's covered with a slab of red marble inscribed with gilded lettering. The slab is set into a recess of black granite (meant to suggest the grave within the earth); a sloping marble border sets the tomb apart from the floor (meant to mark a physical division between the living and the resting place of sacred sacrifice). The inscription on the tomb reads, “An unknown Australian soldier killed in the war of 1914–1918.” At the head of the tomb is inscribed “Known unto God” and at the foot, “He is all of them and he is one of us.”

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