Hot air and culture

DSC_0353Last weekend I travelled to Canberra with my partner and a good friend to see the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition showing at the National Gallery of Australia. The exhibition was good – well put together and clearly ‘home grown’ rather than a blockbuster imported exhibition such as we’ve seen there before. While many of the major works were brought in from overseas galleries, there was a lot of material from the NGA’s collection and a number were borrowed from the NSW Art Gallery.

I don’t know much about art, but I do know what I like when I go to an exhibition. So often the curators put a video exhibition in the first room, right inside the entrance and I just want to scream! I get that it fits as an introduction to the exhibition but it’s poor crowd management people. It’s like putting the bar just inside the front door at a party – everyone mills and no-one else can get in. This was no exception, but at least they had a security guard warning us that this was the case and we were welcome to just walk around the obstacle and come back to it at a later point.

Following a restorative coffee and cake in the Gallery cafe we went to the National Portrait Gallery. It’s next door and none of us had ever been (good enough reasons to go anywhere I think!) but it also had a couple of exhibitions that had been recommended to us by my dad. The first was called First Ladies and is a collection of portraits of significant Australian women built around a timeline of events and firsts in the history of women in Australia. The second was Glorious and consists of a single painting – a diamond jubilee portrait of Queen Elizabeth II. I’m not a monarchist by any stretch of the imagination but this is a fabulous portrait and was well worth the trip to Canberra just to see it alone. The same painter did a wonderful portrait of Justice Michael Kirby that also hangs in the Gallery.

So now the culture part of the title is obvious – you may be surprised to learn that the hot air part is not about politics, but balloons. This year marks 100 years since the foundation of Canberra as Australia’s capital and we happened to go there on the Canberra Day weekend, where lots of different celebrations and events co-incided. The Enlighten Canberra festival lit up the public buildings on the lake’s foreshores at night for a week. We went to have a look – it was a lovely family atmosphere and a whole lot less crowded than Sydney’s Vivid festival!

Questacon during Enlighten Canberra 2013

The National Library lit up for Enlighten Canberra 2013

We also got up early on the Saturday morning to head back to the lake foreshores for the Balloon Festival. I love hot air balloons – I have many memories of living in Canberra and getting up on a Saturday or Sunday morning to find one drifting over my house, silent except for the sudden roar as the gas lights up and fires more hot air into the balloon. A few years ago I discovered that you could go in the pre-dawn to watch them set up, fire and take off. Since I have no desire to go up in one, this is as close as I’m ever going to get to the magic of them.

More than 25 balloons were gathered on the lawns in front of Old Parliament House last Saturday morning when we arrived in the dark that is just before dawn. They are rolled out, giant fans start whirring and filling them with air and you begin to see their shape. Then the gas is fired and they begin to lift off the ground. The moment the basket swings upright from it’s position lying on its side is a special one and suddenly the space is filled with balloons, jostling for space and preparing to take off. I only had my camera phone with me but still managed to take a few good pictures this time.

Balloons over Canberra March 2013

There were lots of lovely things about this weekend away – mostly I was happy to be well enough to go and enjoy the company of my family and friends.