Feature: Travelling back in time to see history of Australian capital

Source: Xinhua| 2020-03-07 15:38:56|Editor: xuxin
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Photo taken on March 6, 2020 shows curator Virginia Rigney introducing a historical map of Canberra at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) in Canberra, Australia. An exhibition, namely Seeing Canberra, was launched on Saturday at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) as one of the largest of its kind. With about 110 objects on display, it will last till Sept. 12 this year. (Photo by Chu Chen/Xinhua)

CANBERRA, March 7 (Xinhua) -- Bringing together the survey instruments used before Canberra was built, the desk of its first chief minister as well as a dishwasher destroyed in bushfire, a new exhibition would take people back through a century to tell the history of Australian capital.

The exhibition, namely Seeing Canberra, was launched on Saturday at the Canberra Museum and Gallery (CMAG) as one of the largest of its kind. With about 110 objects on display, it will last till Sept. 12 this year.

"Seeing Canberra tells us a story about how Canberra has changed so quickly as a young national capital of Australia from the very earliest founding in 1909, and the way that they laid out the forms of the city for the development to happen," said senior curator Virginia Rigney in an interview with Xinhua.

Canberra, about 280 km southwest of Sydney and 660 km northeast of Melbourne, is an entirely planned city as the seat of federal government. The decision followed a long dispute over whether Sydney or Melbourne should be the national capital.

Seeing Canberra highlighted four pivotal moments in the city's development. Alongside the works of art, viewers could encounter an object that represented a prism that shaped the way of seeing at that time.

The first chapter, Claiming the Site, was between 1909 and 1915. Visitors could find two large paintings in 1913 showing a valley of golden fields ringed by distant hills. According to Rigney, they were from a competition, and the painting once toured around the country to show Australians their new capital.

Opposite to the paintings was surveyors' equipment. "It tells the story of the surveyors who came here and brought their compasses and laid out the land," Rigney said.

The second chapter was between 1927 and 1951, the Fledgling National Capital.

It started with the opening of the provisional Parliament House, which gave way to years of inertia as the view of the city barely changed. "The government lost interest in Canberra and we had a depression and world to world war. So money ran out," said the curator.

Paintings of the scenery, landscape with sparsely dotted plantings and red roofs, sat above the desk of Charles Studdy Daley, the long serving first Secretary of the Federal Capital Commission, who played a quiet but critical role in shaping the Canberra we see today.

Above the desk, there was a long green glass artwork in the shape of an indigenous musical instrument.

"It represents the river," Rigney said. "What I wanted to do in putting that there is to remind people that these paintings here showed Canberra before the lake was filled."

Lake Burley Griffin, an artificial lake at the heart of Canberra, was completed in 1963. That year fell into the third period, between 1958 and 1968, Canberra Accelerates.

"In 1958, the government said we are going to grow Canberra," said the curator. "So the national capital development commission commissioned photographers, architects, designers and wanted to create things that would encourage people to come here. So you'll see in the exhibition beautiful paintings that show what the future of the city might look like."

The period was represented by the head of sculpture Ethos. Tom Bass's statue of Ethos for Civic Square has become a symbol of the new community.

"It was meant to be the spirit of the new community, encouraging people from all over the world to come and make their life here. And they did. So we have Latvian, German, Chinese people who could actually make a new start in this new city," Rigney said.

At the exhibition, the head of the sculpture juxtaposed with some photos showing "not everything was so glamorous and beautiful", she added. In the photos, people without cars at that time used bikes to carrying things packed in bags to the university, and workers lived in huts.

The last chapter, New Narratives of Place and Belonging started in 1978.

"There was the moment in 2003 when bushfires hit Canberra," said the curator. In that disaster four people were killed and almost 500 buildings were destroyed.

"This was the moment that has changed Canberra," Rigney said. "Up until that point Canberra hadn't really experienced any kind of threat. So this was a moment that people realized, actually, our landscape and our city are very precious."

At the exhibition, one could find a dishwasher taken from a burned-out house. "It's a very sad object," the curator said. Although the dishwasher was deformed in the fire, dishes and bowls inside almost remained intact.

"Artwork around it shows that artists have resilience and the community has resilience," she said.

"A recurring issue for Canberra is, as we know, the perpetuation of the mythology of a city without soul, a city that is too young to have developed a distinctive culture," she said.

"What I would like people to appreciate is that there is indeed very thoughtful and insightful responses to Canberra."

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