Captivated by Canberra
From classic cinema to heirloom vegetables and nostalgic train trips, our national capital has the lot
1. CLASSIC movies intrigue young and old. Every Sunday (11am and 3pm), the heritage theatrette at the National Film and Sound Archive in suburban Acton is the scene of Archive Alive, a free live presentation by experts exploring the treasures of our film history, from Aeroplane Jelly j ingles and Happy Little Vegemite ads to the restored 1905 film Story of the Kelly Gang.
Vintage cine-sound newsreels also run through the day. The artdeco building is an architectural treasure; there are free interactive exhibitions in the main gallery, including film clips, film sound bites, television and radio programs, cartoons and commercials.
In a separate building in the complex, state-of-the-art Arc Cinema programs screenings ranging from Australian, French and American cinema to Japanese silent movies plus a pre-film lightand-sound show. In vintage mood, sip an ice-cream sundae at in-house Teatro Fellini Cafe or order a bite to eat with a glass of bubbles before or after a film (cinema ’n’ sup Reel Deals available). More: nfsa.gov.au. 2. A clutch of local artisans from the capital’s successful quarterly Handmade Markets has found a permanent home at a retail shop opened last year by Julie Nichols and Rachel Evagelou in City Walk Boulevard. Shop Handmade Canberra is a carnival of colour, packed with unique items, all handmade and labelled with the names of their designers and makers (from Canberra or interstate). Handmade has the air of a full-time ( very creative) playroom, but it’s not just for kids.
Cushions, candles, cupcakes, linen, lamps and unique jewellery nestle next to gorgeous soft toys (such as a fat little hand-stitched, sleepy-eyed owl), dolls and junior fashion. Handmade Markets, with 120 undercover stalls (clothing, furniture, textiles, toys, jewellery, books, artwork, paper goods, gourmet items), today at the National Convention Centre (11am-4pm) and on December 17. More: handmademarket.com.au. 3. Book a nostalgic day’s outing on a train drawn by a steam or diesel locomotive, or a 1930s-vintage rail motor, with Australian Railway Historical Society ACT. Added to the romance of travelling oldstyle is the leisurely path the train takes through the region’s fascinating landscape, crossing rivers, traversing tunnels, Molonglo Gorge and the Great Dividing Range.
Spot wildlife, watch the driver at work, and snack as you travel (morning or afternoon tea is provided in Deluxe Class, or try the on-board snacks kiosk). A yearlong program includes the Sunday Afternoon Bungendore Express, themed excursions (end-of-year Dinner Dance Party trains, Santa Steam Express), school holiday specials and Market Day Steam Experience, coinciding with the monthly Bungendore market in the village’s Memorial Hall.
Journeys start at Canberra Station, Kingston, and travel via Queanbeyan to quaint, historic Bungendore. Family tickets are available; infants (not requiring a seat) travel free. More: (02) 6284 2790; trains.org.au. 4. Book an expedition of a different kind by connecting the dots on the Canberra Booktrack, or else cherry-pick favourite subjects and track down the booksellers that fit. The range on offer is wide and the discovery of Canberra’s hidden corners is a plus, as you wander, browse and have something nice to curl up with at the end of the day.
Canberra Booktrack lists 20 reading rendezvous, spanning CBD and suburbs and covering the most arcane interests without neglecting the bestseller lists. In the words of one shop owner (at Beyond Q, in Curtin), subjects range from ‘‘Wicca to wowserism, art to anarchy, fiction to feminism’’, with — at Beyond Q at least — magazines, coffees, pastries and live music thrown in. Alexander Fax, in Mawson, beckons the nonfiction fancier, especially if military history or fishing fascinate. Military and Australiana enjoy shelf space in several shops, as do second-hand and antiquarian books. If the kids have read Harry Potter, bring on Enid Blyton or Lewis Carroll. Gaslight Books specialises in ‘ ‘ thrilling reads’’: crime, detective and science fiction, fantasy and the macabre. The range at Smiths Alternative Bookshop includes the ‘‘rare, dangerous and bizarre’’.
Busy Bee Books, as well as second-hand and exchange services, offers manga, funky reading glasses, tea and cakes. Botanical Bookshop at the Botanic Gardens adds indigenous information, children’s books and hiking guides to its flora and fauna. More: canberrabooktrack.com.au. 5. Ainslie is the launch pad for four self-drive heritage trails, Canberra Tracks, plotted by the ACT government. One, for the timepoor, takes less than three hours to the city’s hilltop lookouts. Another is an all-day tour of buildings and sites central to the region’s convict and pastoral history. My favourites peek into people’s histories: Pioneers’ Cemetery Track and the Ngunnawal Country trail, which explores Aboriginal stories. Starting at All Saints Church in Ainslie, the former visits churchyards, country graves and city cemeteries, uncovering family histories and antique headstones.
The Ngunnawal drive covers 20,000-year-old sites. Zoom north, south and west, to the Cotter River, an ancient trading and ceremonial site where there is a program of ranger-guided activities. It also includes Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, a native animal sanctuary where you might see a platypus; it’s full of signed walking trails and kids’ things and Aboriginal rock shelters amid a beautiful valley landscape.
Then there’s Namadgi National Park at Tharwa, with rare flora and fauna, and woodland walking trails; and Tuggeranong Homestead, where you can learn about corroborees and a legendary black stockman.
Setting out or returning, Ainslie shelters a gem of a restaurant, Pulp Kitchen (book early), whose chef, Christian Hauberg, worked with Dietmar Sawyere in Sydney and at Michelin-starred kitchens in Denmark and France. More: cmd.act.gov.au/heritage/canberra—tracks; pulp-kitchen.com.au. 6. Take a seat and be ahead of the crowds to discover future stars of the concert stage at Canberra School of Music’s student performances. Free Thursday Lunchbox Concerts feature ANU music students and staff (12.30pm, Rehearsal Room 3, ANU campus, Acton). The more formal Music at Lunchtime series is held monthly in the Great Hall, University House, and showcases staff and students, covering a range of musical styles and including a light lunch with a glass of wine in the ticket price ($20.50).
There is a program of String Soirees, held two Wednesday evenings each semester ($5 entry includes a glass of sparkling wine, Rehearsal Room 3), Soundproof Concerts ( which present new music written by composition students) and a just-introduced Wednesday Night Jazz Series (once a month in the Peter Karmel Building Band Room). Apart from these regular dates, the school’s dance card is packed with mini festivals, including an Antarctica conference and music festival on June 25-26 in celebration of the centenary of Douglas Mawson’s expedition to the icy south. There will be a dawn open-air concert and a late-night performance with Norwegian ice artist and percussionist Terje Isungset. More: music.anu.edu.au; email@example.com. 7. Canberra’s regional produce — chestnuts, heritage apples, black truffles — has a big reputation, as has the fabulous Ginger Room restaurant in Old Parliament House, with chef Janet Jeffs. Less well-known is the Cafe in the House and its offsider, the Kitchen Cabinet, both also inside Old Parliament House. Go to the back door of the house in Ginger Lane to reach Cafe and Cabinet, Ginger Room’s secret sisters.
A functioning shop and hive of activity, the Kitchen Cabinet is set out like a little produce store, with local olive oil, vinegars, preserves, artisanal chocolate, seasonal fruit and vegetables (autumn: apples, quinces, plaits of garlic), smoked trout, dairy products, biodynamic meats, and Wessex Saddleback hams and bacons. It has proved so successful over the past two years that there are plans to move to the front of the house.
There are also Kitchen Cabinet monthly events, with experts exploring, say, bread-baking and kitchen gardens. Sunday lunches celebrate the winter solstice, Pig Day Out, truffle harvest and Cherry Christmas. More: thekitchencabinet.com.au.
visitcanberra.com.au Over the next nine weeks, we will present seven secret discoveries in nine more capitals and holiday regions. Next week: Brisbane.
The National Film and Sound Archive houses the treasures of our film industry, including newsreels, television and radio programs, cartoons and commercials
The Kitchen Cabinet in Old Parliament House
Shop Handmade Canberra sells the work of local artisans