Australia’s capital city is a little different to those of other countries; it is confined to a territory and is surrounded by the bush, with a mountain range in the backdrop.
It really began as a rather vast paddock with a view of the Brindabella mountain range to the west, the high country snow fields to the south and the Pacific Ocean way over to the east. And that precious piece of Australian territory became the seat of parliament – the Australian Capital Territory, the ACT.
The place was decreed in 1913 and as early as 1908, tenders were put out internationally to design this new city. And Walter Burley Griffin won the toss and the rest is history.
I talked to a local sheep farmer a few years back (beautiful grazing land here) and he said he imagined that Canberra was designed on a template in the sky and plonked down on a bare paddock. Having not thought about this comment for ages, I recalled it recently when I saw a picture taken of the newly built Hotel Kurrajong Canberra from the early 1920s. It sits alone with an odd gum tree observing in bewilderment at the long, two-storey habitat floating in a sea of dirt and space.
And as the elegant building still sits in the same place now with a sophisticated city built up around it and the rooms filled with memories and perhaps the odd ghost – the gum tree has lived its life and has been replaced by thousands more in this ultimately green city.
The hotel was designed by Commonwealth Chief Architect, John Smith Murdoch, also renowned for designing Old Parliament House and built during the Australian Capital Territory’s alcohol prohibition years. There was a strong Temperance Movement in Australia (hard to fathom!) but never full-on prohibition – except for the ACT from 1910-1928 – when new liquor licenses were banned. The writing was on the wall for the pollies!
Hotel Kurrajong accommodated officials transferred from Melbourne to set up Australia’s new capital, Canberra. The hotel hosted officials and press for the opening of Parliament House in 1927 and continued as a home to Members of Parliament, their families and public servants for years to come.
It was basically one of three ‘hostels’ built in the fledgling capital. It catered to single people or couples (married, natch) with no kids. For almost half a century it provided residential accommodation for Members of Parliament. Basically an upmarket boarding house in a country town.
Today’s hotel is more than a shadow of its former self. There’s a calm elegance to the hotel that starts to creep up on you as soon as you arrive.
The garden in front of the entrance when I arrived at the beginning of summer was awash with a crowd of English Tea Roses – pink, fluffy fragrant blooms displayed in the garden.
The lobby, reflecting the Art Deco ambience is cool and collected – a fire flickers in the original fireplace (modern gas) alight even in summer to add to the old school ambience of the lobby with quirky chairs surrounding the fireplace. Chairs are of different designs, to give colour and variety to the welcoming space. Look down – Oscar winning designer Catherine Martin designed the 4m x 5m rug in the lobby.
Rooms (there are 147 of them, with 26 in the heritage wing) are large and have the calming edge with blues, charcoals, a dash of silver, dove grey and a pop of colour in the framed wall prints. The room 205 (the numbering has now changed with the renovation) is remembered as the room in which Ben Chifley (Australian politician who served as Prime Minister from 1945-1949) lived. He suffered a fatal massive heart attack in 1951. There have been various ghost sightings claimed over the years – apparently a grey-suited man manifests pointing towards Old Parliament House.
Big is beautiful as the bed spreads to eternity with the finest linen and some pretty damn fine pillows. Breakfast is in Chifley’s Bar and Grill, plus dinner served here as well – it’s mostly about the great steaks. The outdoor garden beckons on a fine day but best to stay indoors in the middle of winter and summer here.
Getting the goods on Canberra
Jay Hore, Hotel General Manager – Hotel Kurrajong Canberra, knows his way around the city and advises:
Why visit Canberra? “Not only is Canberra the national capital city and the administrative centre of the Australian government, it is the home of the Australian story! Canberra is a place that is a diverse, innovative and modern city that houses the stories of Australia. Whether it’s the world class national attractions or the bustling events calendar, Canberra has plenty to offer visitors of all ages. Couple this with a thriving food and wine scene and plenty of opportunities to enjoy the great outdoors (we’re called the bush capital for a reason), you’ll see that Canberra is a city full of surprises!
Don”t miss the Botticelli exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia, opening 5 March 2021.
Botticelli to Van Gogh: Masterpieces from the National Gallery, London https://nga.gov.au/masterpieces
- Museum of Australian Democracy – Old Parliament House
Walking distance from Hotel Kurrajong
- Australian War Memorial
Last post ceremony every day at 5pm
- National Portrait Gallery Love Stories
Walking distance from Hotel Kurrajong
- Questacon – the National Science and Technology Centre – with more than 200 interactive exhibits to explore. www.questacon.edu.au
- Australian National Botanic Gardens
Opening hours 8.30am to 5pm Daily
Lonsdale Street Braddon Great cafes and restaurants. Check out https://lazy-su.com.au/
Extra special places not to miss:
Canberra Glassworks: a gallery and glass art studio. www.canberraglassworks.com
The Gallery of Small Things (a tiny gallery in a suburban backyard) www.galleryofsmalthings.com
Dirty Janes Canberra (a fab emporium of vintage and bespoke items too fab to not buy, plus a cafe): www.dirtyjanes.com
Rizla – a bar serving only Riesling: htpp://www.drinkrizla.com.au
AKIBA ( in the city for Asian fusion) http://www.akiba.com.au
Maybe Canberra should be proud of the nickname ‘Bush Capital’, as the hospitality here has a warmth and the service offers friendly authenticity as a country town – that has been gently plonked down in the middle of a big paddock.