Monday marked the first official day of the EAPSI Fellowship. All 20 Fellows were flown down to the capital city of Australia, Canberra. We all had been warned about how cold Canberra is, but I found the weather to be very pleasant. Highs in the 50s, brisk and sunny. It seemed like an upgrade over all the rain in Sydney. Ours first day had a fairly light schedule of checking into the swanky Diamant Hotel (thanks for that AAS) and going to the Ion Potter House of AAS to sign a few forms. A few of us had a chance to take a walk around the large manmade lake that surrounds the Australia Natural Museum. I’ll be posting some pics shortly. We also found this great little pub called the Wig and Pen that brews all of its own beer. Had this awesome European decor and feel to it but blaring some jazz music over the house speakers. Unfortunately, it closed at 10 pm and we never got back there.
Day 2 was more of an introduction to Australian culture. We spent the morning at the National Gallery which has an extensive collection of Aboriginal art from all over Australia, both traditional and contemporary. The exhibits were fairly powerful, telling emotional stories of how the Australian Government and People had once abused Aboriginal people. It’s says a lot how openly it’s displayed and discussed, now. There were way too many reminders of all the horrible things that the USA did to Native American people. I also has a chance to briskly walk through the other exhibits, and I really enjoyed some of the modern art in the gallery along with the Romantic landscape collection.
The highlight of the day was going to Australian Parliament. The building itself is rather beautiful, and after passing through security, twice, we were able to sit in the gallery for the Question Session of Parliament. This is when the ministers ask each other questions in an attempt sling polite political barbs. The two parties sit across from each other and often end up shouting back and forth. It gets pretty theatrical and was rather entertaining. They have no shame at throwing backhanded insults at each other. The Speaker is more like a school principal, constantly restoring order and warning representatives. We didn’t get a chance to see anyone thrown out.
The real surprise was that we all got to sit directly across from the Dalai Lama in the Gallery. He is visiting Australia and was trying to meet with the Prime Minister. However, the Prime Minister refused as to not upset their critical trade partner, China. The Dalai Lama made a brief appearance in Parliament to see her and bow and wave to the government. The Speaker did make sure to introduce their special guest and have the chamber honor him with applause. We were all shocked and excited to be part of such an interesting political/historical movement. Sadly, none of us had any cameras or cell phones. We had all of our electronic devices removed before entering the gallery. The irony.
The day concluded with a nice dinner at the Kamberra Winery with the foreign affairs division of the Australian Academy of Science and with several local AAS Fellows. Many thanks to AAS for a great day of Australian introduction. I think we all thought that we were being treated way too well and got an excellent glimpse of Australian culture.