Australia has many tourist destinations with a distinctly international flavour. Let’s look at four of them in four different parts of the country.
OH, TO BE ENGLAND
Many parts of Australia have English overtones, but the connection is especially strong at the Magna Carta Monument in Canberra. Latin for “Great Charter”, the Magna Carta was a major legal document forced on King John in 1215. It specified the rights and obligations of the king and nobility, and was an important step towards our modern democratic and legal systems.
The Magna Carta was signed at Runnymede, besides the River Thames about 30km west of central London. That location is now marked with a domed memorial. The Magna Carta Monument in Canberra was a gift from Britain to celebrate Australia’s centenary of federation. It’s next to Old Parliament House and was unveiled in 2000.
The elegant structure has a cast bronze dome supported on recycled ironbark pillars, partly surrounded by polished bluestone and granite with etched pictures and historical information. There is a quote from Rudyard Kipling advising us to “Forget not, after all these years/the Charter signed at Runnymede”.
If this has made you want to see the Magna Carta itself, there is a genuine copy from 1297 on display inside Parliament House, one of only four in the world. If you want to stay in English mode a little longer, wander around the nearby National Rose Garden to admire the flower that is more associated with England than any other. Then head back towards Old Parliament House to see the King Edward V Memorial with its Alice through the Looking Glass-style knights on horses.
PRETZELS AND BEER
From England we move on to continental Europe. The SA town of Hahndorf is a little slice of Germany, established in 1839 by German immigrants fleeing religious persecution.
Germany raises mental pictures of black-and-white, half-timbered buildings, stern Lutheran churches, beer halls, pretzels, sausage, cuckoo clocks, beer steins, cake shops and menus with dishes like sauerkraut. The quaint town of Hahndorf has all these things and more.
The picturesque main street is lined with shady, century-old elm and plane trees. There are many old buildings, some built of stone and others in half-timbered style. Souvenir shops sell all the standard German items like steins, cuckoo clocks and walking sticks. The hotels have beer maids, plenty of imported and local beer and menus offering a variety of wurst (sausage) dishes.
For some lighter fare, you can try one of the German bakeries or cafes. The German Cake Shop and Café creates a convincing illusion of being a coffee house in a village in Germany. For lunch you can try German specialties like kartoffeln puffer (potato pancake), which goes ideally with a glass of beer. Or for morning or afternoon tea, you can have cherry strudel with German-style filter coffee.
On the edge of town you can also visit the Beerenberg (“Berry Mountain”) Strawberry Farm where you can pick your own strawberries during the season, or buy jams and other edible souvenirs all year round.
The town of New Norcia is just a two-hour drive north of Perth, but a trip there feels like a journey back to Spain in a bygone era. That’s because New Norcia, Australia’s only monastic town, was built by Benedictine monks from Spain in the 19th century. The town is listed on the National Estate and 27 of its buildings have been classified by the National Trust.
The town’s Spanish heritage is evident in both the architecture and the food. If it wasn’t for the gum trees, you might think you really were in Spain. The Abbey Church is baroque style, the walled monastery is still home for the monks, and the previous St Joseph’s school and orphanage is now the Museum and Art Gallery.
A guided tour takes visitors to see several chapels, including the ornately decorated Old Spanish Chapel. The frescoed walls of the Abbey Church depict familiar religious scenes with Australian motifs. The Nativity scene includes a kangaroo, grass trees and an Aborigine, and the star that the Wise Men followed seems to have been one of the Pointers from the Southern Cross.
When the monks established New Norcia, they planted wheat, vegetables, fruit trees, olive trees and grape vines. In the 1850s they built a small flour mill that is still standing today, and then a larger one in 1879. In 1886 they installed a wood-fired oven to bake their daily bread. That oven is still in use today, and you can buy bread that has been baked in it.
If you want a picnic, you can buy bread in the at the art gallery, along with local wine, olive oil and spreads. Alternatively, you can have lunch including local bread and dips in the grand New Norcia Hotel. The hotel belongs to the Benedictine community, since Saint Benedict generously ruled that monks could drink up to half a litre of wine per day.
CHERRY BLOSSOM SPECIAL
Japan conjures up mental pictures of geishas in colourful kimonos, cherry blossom, gardens with Japanese lanterns and arched bridges, temples with large bells, and the Bullet Train. Except for the Bullet Train, you can find all these things in the NSW town of Cowra.
To understand how this came about, you have to go back to the days of WWII when Cowra had a large prisoner-of-war camp for captured soldiers and internees. In August 1944 there was a mass breakout in which 231 Japanese prisoners and four Australian guards died. Out of this painful past, Cowra has gradually built a special friendship with Japan.
The tourist information centre has a holographic presentation about the breakout, and you can visit the site of the POW camp on the edge of town and the war cemetery with its solemn rows of graves.
Just off the main street is a large World Peace Bell, the only one in Australia, which is basically the same as ones that you would see in temples in Japan. Tiles in the wall around the bell give messages of peace, with “Give Peace a Chance” being a popular motif.
The Cowra Japanese Garden and Cultural Centre speaks of inter-cultural harmony and respect. With its Japanese-style layout, lake, bridge, buildings and displays of Japanese arts and crafts, this garden is well worth a visit. But to see it at its most Japanese, go along for the Cherry Blossom Festival in September for masses of cherry blossom, genuine Japanese geisha, performances of traditional Japanese music, and displays of tea ceremony, martial arts, calligraphy and origami.