Photo taken on Nov. 2, 2018 shows miniature buildings at Cockington Green Gardens in Canberra, Australia. The gardens which just celebrated the 39th birthday on Saturday feature miniature buildings and are an attraction in Australia's capital city. (Xinhua/Pan Xiangyue)
by Bai Xu, Pan Xiangyue, Zhou Zihan
CANBERRA, Nov. 4 (Xinhua) -- Fancy a tour across Britain within only a few hours? Try the Cockington Green Gardens in Canberra. But you will not be able to enter the cottage, walk in the maze or mount the castle unless you drink the magic shrinking potion.
In fact, the gardens which just celebrated the 39th birthday on Saturday feature miniature buildings and are an attraction in Australia's capital city.
In the British section, visitors can not only find the Stonehenge and the Braemar Castle, but also feel the English passion for football at a pitch where a match is going on, attend a wedding at a church as the bell rings, and see a boat pulled by horse in a canal which is hard to see nowadays.
"In the past 39 years, we had over 1 million visitors," said Mark Sarah, general manager of the gardens. "We brought joy to lots of people."
Cockington Green is the family garden of the 56-year-old man, whose mom's family moved to Australia from England after World War II.
Inspiration to build the garden stemmed from a visit to Devon in south England when Sarah was 10. So it was named after the village in Devon.
"I remember how old the buildings are and I love the castles," he said.
His father was a carpenter, who soon decided to make some miniature buildings in his spare time, with the help of his grandfather.
"In the 1970s, there was no internet," Sarah recalled. "My father built the models according to photos on the publication he could get."
Among the 40 buildings on display, 35 were hand-crafted by his father.
The work was not easy. "Even small cottages cost 400 hours," Sarah said.
As a teenager, he thought the work quite cool and used to work with his dad. He even learned how to drive a tractor then. His first work was the Stonehenge model, which he made at the age of 19.
The family also frequently traveled to England to visit the real buildings and compare them with the miniatures they made.
"The Duxford Mill was built based on a picture," Sarah said. "About 20 years ago, my father saw the real one and found it different from what we made. So we changed it."
As the collection continued to expand, Sarah family decided to include international buildings in the late 1990s, with the help of workers.
The first one built was the Borgund Stave Church. Now Cockington Green is home to models of architecture from more than 30 countries. Sarah knows stories behind each one.
"The Borobudur model was made from stone at the site of the real one in Indonesia," he said. "The St. Andrew Church of Ukraine is the most difficult building to construct, which cost as long as 3,000 hours. After it was completed, it was blessed by Catholic and Orthodoxical priests."
The church from Croatia is so delicate that it has 45,000 tiles, and the maker's father was from Zagreb. Model of the Triumphal Gateway in Syria was created before the real one was destroyed by the Islamic State. When the Chateau of Bojnice model was completed, the maker was so proud that he took a photo and placed it inside the model.
More visitors went there to look for the model from their own country, and diplomats asked to add one of theirs.
Sarah remembered that the Embassy of Argentina had considered building a skyscraper, but he wanted something more cultural. Finally they reached agreement of making a model of Caminito in Buenos Aires, where tango was invented. The colorful buildings and people dancing in the Alley of La Boca could easily lend visitors an illusion of joining in the festive activity.
The ambassador of India would like to have something other than the Taj Mahal. So they had Lahore Gate instead, which is the main entrance to the Red Fort in Delhi.
Throughout the years, Sarah has seen different visitors in Cockington Green.
"An Indian soap opera was shot here, and former President of Mauritius was once here to see 'his residence'," he said. "We have a lot of weddings here. There are also people who wanted to see the place in which they once lived before they pass away."
He was also impressed by some blind people. "We let them touch things so that they can have experience still," he said.
Chris Oxley from Melbourne visited Cockington Green for the second time with her partner. Last time she was here in 1999.
"I am interested in making miniature myself," she said. "And I like to see the humor they have with the models."
The humor was hidden in details. Taking a closer look, one would be able to discover a batman in front of the Chateau Le Reduit, and a dragon on the Braemar Castle. There are also figures from Doctor Who, Star Wars and other TV dramas and movies to be spotted.
Sarah has deep love for the models. "Especially those made by my grandfather," he said emotionally. "He is no longer with us."
Sarah's father, already 80, never stopped trying to improve the gardens. "He still contributes ideas for us," said the son. When the old man travelled to Britain, he would took a scale for the buildings he liked. "He put a coke can on the window and then took a photo," he added. "Knowing the size of the can, we could then measure the building for our model."
Sarah's two sons and a 14-year-old daughter all had the experience of working in Cockington Green. The legacy is passed on. "Cockington Green is always improving," he said.