The Heart of Old Canberra
If Canberra has an Old Town, it is on the Parliament side of Lake Burley Griffin, centred around the shopping centres of Manuka and Kingston. Here the 1920’s Federal Capital Commission “guvvie” houses cluster in tree-lined streets where Australia’s capital was laid out as a garden city.
If the old town had a heart, it was surely here in the Kingston Hotel, an old-school Australian pub. Generations of Canberra politicians and public servants gathered here to eat, drink, and gossip. In 1963 the “Kingo” became front-page news with a series of photographs showing Australian Labor Party politicians Arthur Calwell and Gough Whitlam waiting at midnight in the street for their orders from the 36 “faceless men” of the ALP federal conference meeting upstairs.
The undertakers next door also had a bit of skullduggery going on, with rooms being hired by the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation to spy on the Russian Embassy just across the street. Doubtless the spooks could also be found keeping an ear on goings-on in the bar of the hotel.
The modern pub
Nowadays, the old hotel is just as popular. Hipsters and retired generals alike gather here for a beer and a steak. The interior maintains the classic look of old Australia, with Sidney Nolan bushranger art on the walls, period light fittings, and open fireplaces crackling away in winter.
Although traditional pub grub, hearty and heaping, may be ordered from the kitchen, a favourite meal involves selecting a steak from the refrigerated display case, cooking it yourself at the grill, and consuming it later, along with whatever salads, bread rolls, onions and condiments take your fancy.
The steaks sizzle and smoke, the tongs are wielded by amateur experts, the beers are quaffed, and the smell is fantastic. A backyard barbecue under cover.
Remember how I talked about the Australian Frequent Flyers discussion board? This evening was a periodic meetup for the local members of the group – and any blow-ins – to socialise, talk about travel, discuss the latest points-earning schemes, and just enjoy the atmosphere. As is usual for any internet group meeting in real life, at any one point at least two members around the table would have their heads in their phones. At one point, I gasped, “Wait, you two are setting up a Facetime video call across the table?”
And so they were, just to test out the technology. We even had one guest join the online community then and there via his phone!
My message remains the same. These online communities of frequent travellers are goldmines of information and advice. If a travel blogger does not have a presence in one of these groups, then they are missing out on ways to travel well cheaply, to make the most of their travel, and to find out current information on places around the world. In every similar gathering that I’ve attended, someone has within the past few days returned from some fabulous trip. They have the latest goss.
Having this dinner meeting at the heart of old Canberra, a genuine piece of the cultural heritage, was a bonus. And, oh yeah, the steak was tasty and tender!