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Canberra, it's Geomantic realities


by Steven Guth

(this article originally appeared in external link New Dawn no.94 Jan/Feb 2006)

Looking towards the War Memorial - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

Photo from the middle of the axis line. The war memorial was opened in 1941. It acts as a link between the Australian deceased who fought for 'god, king and country' and the ongoing political processes of the Nation.

If you stand on top of Mt Ainslie and look west, your eye will pass over the top of the War memorial and run along the brown strip down the middle of Anzac Parade towards the lake. In the middle distance you will see the 'Wedding Cake' (old Parliament House) and behind it the 'Crouching Spider" (new Parliament House) In the background are the Brinderbella Ranges, the hills from which raw nature unleashed wild fire into Canberra in 2003.

The roads and buildings below Mt Ainslie are arranged in circles and lines - flag poles topped with the Australian flag line up reinforcing each other. Straight lines bring strength and harmony into landscape. Geomanciers say that leys (lines linking points) are message ways for ideas and feelings to run along - linked points are interactive and so become similar over time.

Look down again and you will see, between the buildings and trees, cars and people. There is a maze of interactions taking place, people going to meetings, going shopping, racing home. Within all this far more is taking place than the eye can see, the whole makes up the geomancy of Canberra.

Chinese geomancy, generally called Feng Shu, is a collection of systems which have evolved to help people to understand and adjust the spirits of place - whether these are resident above or below or linked to the past or the future.

Nan Tien Temple pagoda - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

The Nan Tien Temple's pagoda with Mt Kemblato the background. In the pagoda are the ashes of dead relatives and their associated ancestor name plaques. The ashes and the names forge a link between the world of the living and the underworld in which the souls of the dead reside. All this is controlled by the Buddha who watches over the underworld, he is called Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. His statue stands in the central point of the shrine and is surrounded by the name plaques. The ashes are in niches in the higher stories - making them closer to heaven and further from the underworld.

Nan Tien temple, on the edge of Highway 1 which runs down the east coast of Oz has become a well known landmark. Located just south of Wollongong it cost $60 million to build ten years ago. It is a home of sorts to 15 nuns (there are no male monks) from the Tawainese Fo Guang Shan Nan Buddhist group. It is a world wide organisation with about a million members. The site contains Geomantic elements and houses ritual activities that find their parallel in Canberra.

The Temple was Built on waste land donated free by the Wollongong council - land on which Canberra is built was free too. The block of 55 acres takes in the apex of a hill that must have been a lookout spot for the local people in aboriginal times. The Fo Guang Shan Nan group is 'Pure Land Buddhist' and like all Chinese 'Pure Land' groups contains strong elements of Confucian ancestor worship elements.

Interaction with the past, with dead ancestors, is at the core of 'Pure Land' ritual. Living relatives give money for the nuns to chant Sutra which benefit the relatives who are in the world of the dead or perhaps even locked in the 'relms of hell'. The dead, in turn, reciprocate from the underworld by helping with business deals, examination results, pregnancies and all manner of everyday problems.

The Nan Tien Temple's pagoda is right next to the local crematorium and relates to the world of the dead. In it are placed the ashes of dead relatives and their associated ancestor name plaques. The ashes and the names forge a link between the world of the living and the underworld in which the souls of the dead reside. All this is controlled by the Buddha who watches over the underworld, he is called Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. His statue stands in the central point of the shrine and is surrounded by the name plaques. The ashes are upstairs, in niches that reach towards heaven.


Inside the Nan Tien Temple pagoda - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

The Buddha who watches over the underworld, he is called Ksitigarbha Bodhisattva. His statue stands in the central point of the shrine and is surrounded by name plaques.

Look at the photos taken from the front entrance. Inside is Ksitingarbha, the link to the netherworlds, outside is a descending flight of steps leading to another Buddha statue. In line behind all this is Mt Kembla. Soon to be built on this axis line is the planned Nan Tien Buddhist University which will be linked to the main temple by a freeway crossing overpass of 100 metres, it will cater for 3,000 students, 360 staff members and accommodation for 1000 students.

When the sun rises over the Pacific it first reaches the hill tops which 'awakens the Dragons' (ie activities the ley lines) that link the east coast to the inland Australia. Dawn chanting at the Nan Tein temple runs along the Mt Kembla dragon line (it could also be called the Mt Kembla rainbow serpent) to link the Temple with its chanting to the Australian heartland. Aboriginal people used the coastal hilltops in a similar way to carry messages inland and to add human consciousness to the networks of dreaming song lines that kept the ecology of Australia in balance.

Name plaques in the War Memorial - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

There are two rows of name plaques like this on the walls of the War memorial. Like the Ancestor tablets in a 'Pure land' Buddhist pagoda they serve as a link between the living and the dead.

Now look at the War Memorial. There are name plaques for every soldier who died as a personal contribution to development of the Australian Nation. The rising 'Dome of Rembrance' contains the body of an 'unknown soldier' who acts as a link between the location and the hellish battlefields of Europe in 1917. And it all points down the Anzac Parade, along the main Canberra axis line which finds its end in Bimberri peak. Built on either side of the axis line are memorials to the dead. It is here that Australia celebrates Anzac day its most ritual of Nationhood.

Statue in the war memorial - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

Like a Buddha statue this airman stands guard over the name plaques in the war memorial and so helps protect the Australian nation

In Geomantic terms our rituals of Nationhood are a plea to the essences of the dead to help fulfil the aims of the Australian Nation. A request to the souls of the dead who died for "God, King and Country" to help their descendants live peacefully under the symbol of the Australian flag with its Union Jack and Southern Cross.

Geomancy - some more examples.

We can see most of the things in a room and think about their effect in a rational way. But there are also subliminal things happening that that effect our body that we may not even recognise of believe.

Earth energies, powerful currents associated with underground water streams are well known. Dowsers will tell you that for every ten novices to whom they teach dowsing two will be able to dowse without any training, and one of them will say, "I don't believe it, it's impossible; the rod is moving itself and I can't stop it!"

And the subtle currents, the Chi (energy) that moves like a water stream in the air (Feng Shu = water / wind) effects us too. How, no one knows for sure, perhaps because the quality of the currents are profoundly important to ghosts or other spiritual beings which in turn effect the way we feel and think. The quality of the flowing Chi determines the type of beings that can collect in it ... consider the difference between cat fish which can live in mud and trout which need clear, flowing sparkling water.

And homeopathy. This is a medical system that has been around for a couple of hundred years. It treats patients successfully with medicines that chemically don't even exist. It works from the energies in the medicines and it is effective for dogs, horses and even for people who don't believe its effectiveness.

Why the Canberra site ?

I first asked myself this question when I wrote my first Canberra piece, a school text published by Jacaranda Wiley in 1977. The history of the site bears repeating because it is the thoughts that went into its inception, which were carried through in its design, that have made Canberra the place it has become.

Australia was occupied by separate British colonies (todays states) that all referred back to England and not each other. The Germans were in New Guinea and there was the possibility of a German invasion. So a combined and effective military force was considered a smart move. There were other reasons to - a better postal service, a more effective taxation system, the problem of the vast number of male Chinese immigrants left over from the gold rush and even the virtual slavery of Islanders in Queensland. It took years for the separate colonies to compromise and sort out these issues, but they finally did and by 1901 the Australian Nation was born.

An unresolved National issue was the location of the seat of Government. Where would the Federal Parliament House be built? From where would the public service work? Neither Sydney or Melbourne wanted the other other city to become the Australian capital so a compromise was reached. The capital would stay in Melbourne until the new Federal Parliament House was built. And the new capital had to be at least 100 miles from Sydney.

A dozen country towns were considered, from Armidale to Eden from June to Bombala and no decision was made. Finally the 'Limestone Plains' location was chosen. Why? It was so inaccessible that Melbourne politicians felt that it would take many years for the move to be made from Melbourne - they were right. The site also had some good things going for it... A bracing climate (creating memories of Simla, the virtual summer capital of the British raj in India) but no winter snowfalls. Potential for a good clean water supply. An easy route for a railway link to Goulburn and a further possible route to the Jervis Bay Naval base - intended to be developed as Canberra's harbour. And because of its inland location the site was safe from the most fearsome and dangerous weapon known to the world in 1910 - bombardment from battleship guns!

The site was called Limestone Plains because it enclosed by hills to the south, east, and west and had limestone caves under the surface. There are many caves, caverns and sink holes under central Canberra. Some have strange stories attached to them... aboriginal art, witchcraft covens and unfathomable sink holes that swallow up foundation piers.

Canberra's geology is broken and varied with intense underground activity. There are huge amounts of water underneath - probably more than enough for a city of half a million people but only 47 bores have been sunk and no more bore licences have been granted (the water supply system with its dams, tanks and pipes is a profitable government monopoly).

The openness, the lack of undergrowth and the treelessness of the site puzzled the first settlers and remained a mystery until the 2003 fire. The blaze started by lightening strikes in the Brindabella ranges to the west swept into Canberra destroying 600 houses in an afternoon. It was carried by whirly whirlies resulting from updrafts generated by the westerly winds skimming over the ranges. It seems these waves of fire can be expected every 30 years as regrowth provides new fuel.

With water underneath, fire storms in 30 year cycles, major fault lines and a fractured defuse geology Canberra has a potential for energy development that exceeds most locations. This and the hills on three sides contribute to making Canberra seem a place apart, an island in the middle of nowhere. A nowhere from which something new could start. The Griffins certainly saw it that way.

The Griffin design for Canberra.

A competition was held for the best design. The competition rules displeased British and Australian architects and they refused to compete. Even so 137 entries were received by the Jan 1912 closing date. The final judge was King O'Malley the then Minister for home affairs. By one of those quirks of fate King, to use his Christian name, was an American real estate developer who gave his birthplace as Canada so that as a British subject he could sit for a seat in Australian Parliament. As an aside Griffin and O'Malley became friends of sorts but their wives continued to dislike each other throughout their many years of association.

Who were the Griffins, what was their relationship and why did they compete? To answer the second question first. By the late 1800's many intellectuals realised that the industrial revolution had created more social and economic problems than it had solved. Karl Mark's political solutions, which lead to communism are well know. But by now largely forgotten are Henry George's ideas. He suggested that the world's economic and social problems could be solved if profits made from the ownership of land were removed. This, he suggested could be done by the state owning all land and leasing it for specific uses. He may or may not have had a point, but what ever the true value of his Philosophy, the Griffins believed in Henry George's doctrines. So when the Griffins heard about the competition for the new captital - in which all land was to be owned by the Nation and made avaliable on lease - they just had to get involved. They felt that by contributing their skills they could help build a new Nation far away from all the mistakes of the past. A dreamers viewpoint? Maybe, but the whoever said the Griffin's weren't dreamers?

Griffin's plan for Canberra  - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

Notice all the circles. In the days before CAD the tools of an architect were ruler and compass. many of the Griffin's circles found their way into the layout of Canberra's streets, so the tourist can follow the same street to its never ending beginning!

How did they get started on the design? Well, Walter thought about the possible city and did nothing. On weekends the couple often took "Allana" their Indian canoe into the maze streams near Chicago. One day they paddled 45 miles and in stinking hot weather ... (from The Magic of America, Marion Griffin's writings compiled by her in the later years of her life. She was 91 when she died in Chicago)

"The sand was as hot as the top of a stove, we ate our meals in the water. Perhaps it was the torture of those sunburnt legs, perhaps it was just that well-known mean disposition of mine, or it may have been those spiritual advisers, of whom I was unconscious at the time, who said to me -" We can't do anything with him without some human help. Won't you do something to make him start on the important matter he has in mind?" - or perhaps it was the suggestion of the Devil himself as Walt was later inclined to think.

Anyway the storm of wrath broke over his head on some such lines as follows: "For the love of Mike when are you going to get started on those Capital plans? How much time do you think there is left anyway? Do you realise that it takes a solid month to get them there after they have stared on their way? That leaves exactly nine weeks now to turn them in. Perhaps you can design a city in two days but the drawings take time and that falls on me. Nine weeks! It isn't possible to do them in nine weeks. I may be the swiftest draftswoman in town but I can't do the impossible. What's the use of thinking about a thing like this for ten years if when the time comes you don't get it done in time? Mark my words and I'm not joking, either you get busy on this very day, this very minute (with rising tones) or I'll not touch a pencil to the darn things. Serve you jolly well right if I refuse to take it on now. (No, not jolly. Such language only came later)"

And Walt said nothing (He was such an amiable man) but started sawing wood. And so a new adventure was started.

..Extract from Ron Evans collated and edited version titled Marion's Magic 1991 page 26.

Marion's artistic skills were great. She created perspectives in purple and gold that reached from the top of Mt Ainslie across the Limestone Plan to show a dreamscape of a city to be realised in the morning ... it took much longer than that.

Marions perspective of Canberra - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

A dream city to be completed at dawn!
Compare this drawing created by Marion Griffin to what really happened in the photograph. Pretty amazing how well she forsaw the future. Her original artwork was in dark gold and purple in a style similar to the Japanese art that was reaching america at the time.

I think I need to set out here that in those days the Griffins had no interest in any esoteric philosophy other than Henry Georgeism. Their involvement with Theosophy was to come later in Australia and it was not until their Castlecraig "new age" community developed that Steiner's Anthroposophy reached their lives. The Griffin's didn't knowingly put esoteric ideas into their design, Walter just followed ideas that he had seen that worked. An important conceptual starting point was the 1893 Chicago World's Fair which linked avenues, locations and water. Griffin used a compass and ruler to draft his design, using the hills marked on the maps as the starting points for his ideas. That's why Canberra continues to trap the casual tourist - who can expect roads to curve back on themselves?

When the Griffins arrived in Australia in 1913 to oversee the development of the Capital they were virtually in trouble before they started. Walter tended to express himself in complex, even grandiose terms. This added to the dislike that the local architects had for his disparaging statements about local designs and the British Empire dependency that the Australians seemed to have locked itself into. Also Governments changed and with it their intentions about the building of the new Capital. A Capital which few - if any politicians - wanted to move to in the first place. The first world war swallowed all avaliable funds and in the midst of war the new nation was struggling to find itself in the wake of the Anzac debuncle.

There was a long and complex Royal Commission into Griffin's handling of the Canberra's development. Records of the proceedings show that the results were inconclusive ... yes, bureaucracy certainly set out to make his life as difficult as possible. But Griffin was not a good communicator and clearly one thing led to another. Canberra's development and the Griffins parted company in 1920. The couple went on to have a reasonably successful private practice in Sydney and Melbourne. For those really curious about the personality and relationships between the Griffins there is considerable material in the National Library including oral history tapes of interviews with all the people who knew them in the 1930's in their Castlecraig years.

Canberra's development progressed painfully slowly. Early photos show roads being built by people with horses, carts and shovels. Avenues of trees were planted to establish the main axis lines. A power plant was set up (it still stands) coal was brought in by the railway line built in 1914. The Cotter dam, pumps, tanks and pipelines were set up (these are still used in emergencies). Cluster housing was put up for workers and their families.

Federal Parliament House was finally opened for business in 1927, by a member of the British Royal family. This meant that politicians and needed to come to Canberra to 'sit' when legislation was being passed through the House. Two hotels were build to accommodate them. Both are still operating, the Labour party's "Kurrajong" remains plain and simple. The Liberal Party's very upmarket "Canberra" has been radically modernised and is now operated by the Hyatt group.

Old Parliament House is open to the public, a visit is a good lesson in how the energies of place interact with our moods and thoughts. Combine it with a visit to the new Parliament House (more about that later). Wonder down the corridors and go into the Prime Ministers office. Sit down on a visitor's chair, meditate lightly and you may get the same feeling of complexity that I get when I do this exercise. Being PM in this office was a difficult job, how does one control situations rather than be controlled by the whirl of events, there is so much coming in? The old reading rooms give one the feeling of a gentleman's club, relaxed boredom - Canberra certainly wasn't on the artistic, social or cultural map for decades. Sports, tennis and golf, must have been important - and drinking too. One evening I was at a wedding reception in the lightly remodelled members bar and restaurant in the back of the building when suddenly at 10 o'clock the mood changed. The atmosphere filled with what Buddhists call "hungry ghosts" energy forms (desire elementals) who searched out the heavy wine and spirit drinkers in the room, making them recharge their glasses. Australia's early Parliamentary processes must have taken place in a haze of hang overs and alcohol.

The Canberra Landscape Temple

Lets return to Mt Ainslie and look across to the hill on the right, watching over the downtown area. It's toped with one of those revolving restaurant 'space needle' telecommunications towers that all respectable cites seemed to need last century. The hill is known as Black Mountain. Ahead, just to the left of the axis line and near to the 'crawling spider' is Red Hill. Below it is Canberra's diplomatic cluster.

That's three hills each with a different geology and each giving its own mood to people associated with it. I've travelled from one to another taking visitors on tour. Our discussions reflect mood changes. On Mt Ainslie we look down at the city, think about the future and discuss possibilities. On Black Mountain with its hard, dark rocks and telecommunications hum we seem to discuss cars, machines and economics. Red Hill often results in a push of personalities between myself and visitors, " You've taken me around, and now you want me to believe your perceptions, I don't see why I should!" making me feel that I've just stepped into a diplomatic meeting or question time in Parliament.

Yes, each of the three hills has its own "personality", its own resident consciousness that effects the people that stand inside its energy field. These natural "Dreaming" locations are as real as the spaces we make inside our buildings - consider my impressions inside The PM's old office. The strength and size of these radiating fields varies - nothing in Geomancy is truly stable. Times of day, astrological conditions, and rituals performed by people all have their effect. Sometimes Mt Ainslie is strong, extending across the Limestone Plain to effect the mood of people below; at other times and on other days, Black or Red are larger and more powerful.

Old Parliament House - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

The marble lined cutting links commonwealth place to reconciliation place. Behind Old Parliament house rises above the grassed over mound that reminds the author of a burial site and suggests that this is the way that the commonwealth of Australia 'reconciled' their aboriginal obligations.

The energy of these three Mountains is reflected in the three apexes of the Parliamentary Triangle that Griffin put in place. City hill, in downtown Canberra, watches over money and construction. Parliament House hill is about personal power and arrogance - reflecting the proximity of Red Hill. And the apex near the War Memorial is about the love for the dead Australian soldiers who gave their lives to the Nation. There is a little hill at the apex of this corner of the triangle, between houses and the defence department offices, that is called (by those interested in the Geomancy of Canberra) as Peace Harmony Hill. Griffin's original plans placed Australian's National Cathedral on this location.

So there are two triangles in Canberra, which interlock and interrelate. Inside these the business of the Nation is carried out. When Parliament sat inside the Wedding Cake the interflows between love, money and pride worked reasonably well. The Australian Nation's Dreaming was more or less working. New Parliament House is located on the apex on which Griffin conceived a garden with a central gazebo style monument to celebrate the Australian Nation. It is the strongest site in Canberra being connected to both the main axis and to the parliamentary triangle. Griffin saw it as a people's park, a place belonging to everyone in the Nation.

Alas, the Capital Hill site has been swallowed up by the new Parliament house. This has created an unfortunate situation that has made pride and personal power far too important in the minds of those who control the Nation. It is not just the proximity of Red Hill that is an issue there is also the architectural oddity of a building that replaces a hill. Capital Hill was removed, a billion dollar building put its place and grass planted on top. To make matters even more geomaitically undesirable the whole structure is cut into the large and unstable Lake George fault line. In the symbolic language of geomancy one could say the building is a gateway to the underworld... and lacks a Buddha and chanting nuns to kept the necessary balances between the spiritual worlds, earth and the underworlds.

And people know this, even if the politicians don't realise their situation. Soon after the building was constructed I had two Christian Fundamentalists searching me out to tell me that the structure was the place that from which the anti-Christ would issue forth. A few months a ago I gave a talk in Canberra on the Geomancy locked into mandalas; about how they can be used as gateways to other worlds. I put up a slide of Parliament house and had to field five questions about what could be done to improve the situation.

Down the main axis linking the past to the future

Let's journey down the main Anzac Parade axis line, it is lined with monuments to people who fought and died in wars - making links between the past, present and future of the Nation. There are many vacant spaces for more monuments - reserved for the future when there will be more heros, and certainly more deaths to keep the Australian Nation alive.

Crossing the lake one comes to the Commonwealth place, a lakefront forecourt in which bands occasionally play. It is linked by an almost subterranean passageway to a grassy hill named 'Reconcilation Place'. The location is a weird bit of Geomancy, an attempt to show how British Commonwealth Australians and Aboriginal people have reconciled their differences. By what one would hope is an error of judgement - rather than as a result of conscious intent - reconciliation place resembles a burial mound, or perhaps a mass grave. I've been told that like so many places in Canberra it links the city to the underworld; in this case to Aboriginal ancestors who emerge to participate in events when they feel the need, only to disappear when their mission is complete.

Next we come to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy on the lawns in front of Old Parliament House - just outside what used to be the Prime Minister's office window. It is a collection of tents and odd makeshift structures. These are now considered part of the National Estate by the Australian National Heritage Commission. The Embassy has an interesting history and may well have been one of the key factors that put the Whitlam Labour party into power.

In the early 1970's the Conservative Liberal Government was unable to understand the changes that were taking place in the Australia, and in the world, in relation to minority groups. Their handling of the Aboriginal "Land Rights" issue was startlingly inept. The 1967 referendum had given Aboriginal people the ability to use the Australian political system to seek solutions to their problems - and so, naturally, they came to Canberra. Having no where to stay some put up tents ... there were even tents under the flagpole on Capital Hill. The tents moved around and finally came to rest on the Parliament House lawns - from which they were forceably and (many said) illegally removed and many arrests were made. Some people returned to the site and then someone (whom history has forgotten) hung the word "Embassy" up on a tent ... with this came the world wide recognition that Aborigines were effectively being treated as foreign nationals within the Australian legal and Political systems - in spite of being given full citizenship rights five years before.

Aborigines and their friends voted for the Whitlam Labour Government. The new Government quickly put into place systems for righting wrongs and channelling huge amounts of money into a situation which was developing the potential to place Australia next to the South Africa as one the world's few remaining ex-colonial nations that practiced apartheid. That was years ago but the Embassy has remained and continues to fulfil its Geomantic functions of linking Aboriginal Australia to the flow of events moving towards the future.

Aboriginal sacred fire - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

The sacred fire at the aboriginal tent embassy has been burning since 1998. People sometimes sit around the fire on the logs and tell of their lives. Anger, frustration and aggression are absorbed and transformed by the flames

There are two significant locations on the site. One is the 'sacred fire' which was lit in 1998 and matches the 'perpetual' flame in the War Memorial - both dead centre on the axis line. The fire seems to act as a cleansing fire, removing the agonies of the past. I've been with groups who have sat around the fire and spoken about themselves. In these groups the Aboriginal members often let go their anger at being the victims of Australian society. This negative energy moves towards the fire and is transformed - hopefully for to help make a better future.

The Eternal Flame in the War Memorial - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

The eternal flame is sitting in the main pond and underneath are coins thrown by people. Geomantically coins are supposed to wake up the fairies that live in the area and inspire them to grant one's wish. Of course there is a similarly with the idea of burning candles in churches or Buddhist temples.

The other significant location is a small artwork on the axis line, painted on the forecourt pavement. It symbolises four people sitting around a camp fire. Meditaters can use the hole to visit the Aboriginal Centre - it's a 'travel hole', a gateway to central Australia with its open vistas, sparse vegetation and ochre colours. I suspect that it was constructed by a group of women as way for peace and harmony to flow into the Canberra from a remote power site in Central Australia.

Nearby, close to the British High Commission on Commonwealth Ave, is a strange monument erected by the British - Australia Society to celebrate the citizenship rights granted people who live in lands controlled by British legislation. When I show Indians or Sri Lankans around Canberra they invariably say, "Magna Carta Place? You mean you are still so close to the British, I thought better of Australians but you are not like that!" I tend to respond with, "True, I'm one of the many Australians - perhaps more than half of us - who do not feel that we are from British families."

There are many other sites to tell about in Canberra. But to keep the story online and to show how the Geomantic past creates frameworks for future decisions I need to tell the National Museum story, it is one that involved me because of my Geomantic interests.

Alas for Australia, the Museum's story tells of a Geomantic opportunity lost. The site is touched on three sides by Canberra's central lake, it was the site of the Canberra's original hospital. The hospital reached its use by date and was demolished leaving the site open for redevelopment. Many groups claimed the site and much community discussion followed.

Finally, the National Museum of Australia won the site - they were moved from a site just up the lake. Guidelines for a competition to create the prize winning design were drawn up. The guidelines were fabulous, they called for a multicultural museum - a complex of separate buildings spread over the peninsular. Each cultural group was to have its own building, the Aboriginal building was to be large, so were the Greek and Italian buildings. Smaller groups were to have use of buildings for periods of time. The whole was conceived of as a place of continual festival, a celebration of the unfolding strengths that multiculturalism could give to Australia.

But it was not to be. Instead of structures that used the potential inherent in the site - with its water and vistas - a building was chosen that could be placed in an industrial site in Berlin...inward looking with the vistas hidden behind dense shadecloth. The building opened in 2001 and cost $152 million to complete. In the building are displays that radiate out the time of "Coronation Australia" the period in the 1950's when the colonial British perspective still made sense.

Why did this happen? Why wasn't the site made a location for ongoing celebration of a multi cultural Australia? I think because the Whitlam years with the Al Grassby openness gave the Australian power brokers an awareness that a new Australia was possible, one in which power could shift away from the ruling concepts and frameworks locked into the ideas of "God, King and Country" that have been so well enshrined in the War Memorial and Anzac Parade.

I think it is a shame that the Australian self perception as a multicultural nation brimming with new life and activity was not allowed to develop. Instead we are struggling in an underworld linked to the past, to souls that "gave of themselves so that we could live."

Whitlam cops it! - click for larger image - opens new window in browser

A piece of politics in the National Museum

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content by Steven Guth 2006
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