Facing each other across Anzac Parade stand Parliament House and the Australian War Memorial. Parliament is intended to be the symbolic heart of the nation, and the War Memorial its soul. We make jokes about Parliament being more like a diseased body or even just an appendage, but the War Memorial is genuinely moving. I wonder if other countries mourn their losses so publicly and largely. For a young country, we have lost many lives in over a hundred years of on-and-off conflict. The Roll of Honour celebrates the dead, in two long walls of names, effective more for the sheer numbers than anything else. Our tour guide singles out a few names and tells the stories behind them. Each Remembrance Day, the plaques are updated if required. There was a boy a couple of years ahead of me at school who was killed in Afghanistan last year. His name has been added, and when I see it the long-gathering tears spill over. The War Memorial is a locus for communal grief and national mourning, but the personal pervades. The Tomb of the Unknown Solider lies in the Hall of Memory. Underneath, medals and Victoria Crosses in the Hall of Valour. Hundreds of artefacts are on display in the museum, which is very well put together, but taken all at once it’s rather overwhelming. I cannot take the time to pause as I should, I cannot keep it together and read every story.
Questacon on a Sunday morning is a dangerous place to be, especially if you are neither a child nor accompanying children of your own. It is all that a good science museum should be, but it’s a bit difficult to navigate through the interactive exhibits without inadvertently stepping on a small child. I can’t help but wonder whether the kids actually learn anything, or whether they just like pushing buttons. The ‘interactivity’ buzzword is more of a marketing concept than a learning tool, I suspect. Nonetheless: we enjoy it, we do things, we learn. We line up for the Curve Ball exhibit, in which we sit opposite each other and are spun around and have to throw balls to each other. We fail miserably, and stumble off towards the Free Fall.
At the top, the teenaged girls ahead of us refuse to go first. My boyfriend goes and survives, as the operator helpfully reassures those of us who are waiting. I go next, trying carefully to follow instructions. I sit on the bench and hold onto the bar. I slide off the bench and dangle, holding onto the bar, waiting for the command to let g—oops, I let go without meaning to, and drop 6 metres without any clue about what’s happening. I’m fairly sure I squealed, loudly. I can barely remember where I am, and my legs are shaking. I need air. Perhaps I’m too old for this? What a difference ten or fifteen years makes.
We drive almost everywhere, but one night we catch a taxi to dinner and decide to walk home, sure that the bottle of sparkling wine shared between us will provide adequate insulation. My phone claims it is 1 degree Celsius. It’s 8pm and we can see our breath. The streets are deserted; this is not a walker’s city.
For our last night we have bought tickets to Skate in the City, an outdoor ice skating rink set up for the winter. I haven’t ice skated since high school and I’ve forgotten how, if I ever knew. My boyfriend coaches me patiently, and I learn more than I ever did about how to move and keep my balance. Once again, I am surrounded by children who are much better at this than I am. I only fall when I stop worrying that I will; I crash onto my knee at one end of the rink and pull muscles in my arm from holding onto my boyfriend, who manages not to fall with me. By the end of the session I am skating almost on my own, and then I stack it once more, this time on my bum. Rather than get back on the horse, I declare it’s time to go and eat, and drink a well-deserved glass of wine.
On Monday we go to Parliament House, although with less time to spare than we had hoped, so we cannot visit Old Parliament. We have booked in for Question Time in the lower house. The chamber is much smaller than it seems on TV. All the stars are there, politicians loved and loathed. We are seated a little early, and watch ordinary business in a fairly empty House. As 2pm approaches, politicians and aides stream in, and the noise never stops. It’s a big day in Question Time, with the carbon tax predictably the main topic. I have to laugh at the staged appearance of it all, and at the Speaker’s attempts to keep impartial order over a rowdy crowd. I had no idea that politicians behaved like this. The right side is the worst, constantly drowning out the Labor speakers with boos and groans. Maybe this is how it’s always been done, but it seems rather undignified. Surely everyone ought to behave better?
From Parliament House you can see the War Memorial, but I don’t think enough politicians take in this view. It ought to be law that before voting on a bill to enter a war or send more troops, everyone goes outside and looks across to the soul of the nation. They might think twice about sending more citizens towards death.