Canberra: your guide to our nation’s treasures

By Alasdair McGregor 19 December 2012
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Within Canberra’s national institutions is the stuff of history – the artefacts, documents and images of Australia’s past.

WHILE MANY AUSTRALIANS visit their capital each year and enjoy the attractions of the nation’s only planned major city, I wonder how many among them truly appreciate the staggering breadth and depth of the great national collections found in a place that – at least at a superficial glance – appears overwhelmed by its political agenda.

Yet Canberra, which is celebrating its centenary in 2013 with a year of celebrations, holds so much that can give us insight into who we are and where we’ve come from, and it also provokes us to reflect on where we’re headed.

From the humble, ephemeral, bizarre, precious and rare, to the iconic, the well-known and the obscure – these are items that tug at the heartstrings or dazzle with their beauty. From reminders of monumental sacrifice in times of war, our robust democracy and the achievements of Australians famous or otherwise forgotten, to our spectacular natural diversity and the struggles of indigenous Australians since 1788 – so many collected memories are held in our national capital.

Read the full story on Canberra’s national treasures in issue 112 (Jan/Feb) of the Australian Geographic journal.

Key institutions in the heart of Canberra

National Museum of Australia
Opened in 2001, the National Museum showcases Australia’s social history, covering themes such as indigenous history, early European settlement and our interaction with the environment.
A: Lawson Cres, Acton P: 02 6208 5000  W:

Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies
Holding a vast array of films, photos, recordings and materials, this is the world’s leading institute for retaining information about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and lifestyles.
A: Lawson Cres, Acton P: 02 6246 1111 W:

National Film and Sound Archive
Boasting more than 1.9 million audio-visual works, this collection includes photos, documents, posters, scripts, costumes, props and vintage recording equipment related to our radio, TV and film achievements.
A: McCoy Cct, Acton P:  1800 067 274  W:

Australian National Botanic Gardens
Holding one-third of Australia’s plant species, the garden cultivates threatened plants in order to protect them from extinction. The gardens were opened in October 1970 by then prime minister John Gorton.
A: Clunies Ross St, Acton P: 02 6250 9540 W:

CSIRO National Soil Archive and Australian National Herbarium
Not accessible to the public, the soil archive holds 71,000 samples,  documenting environmental changes. Important dried plant specimens and seeds are kept in the herbarium.
A: Clunies Ross St, Acton P: 02 6246 5824 W:

CSIRO Discovery Centre
Offering an interactive look at science history, the centre encourages getting involved in experiments, and its 3D theatre showcases the discoveries of our national research body.
A: Clunies Ross St, Acton P: 02 6246 4646  W:

Canberra Museum and Gallery
Opened in 1998, the museum and gallery houses a permanent exhibit, ‘Reflecting Canberra’, as well as hosting a rotation of local and international exhibitions.
A: Cnr London Cct and Civic Sq, Canberra P: 02 6207 3968 W:

Australian War Memorial
Opened on Remembrance Day, 11 November 1941, the Australian War Memorial is the national memorial to all Australians who have died in war. It has a publicly accessible research area and an extensive archive.
A: Treloar Cres, Campbell  P: 02 6243 4211 W:

National Capital Exhibition
Through interactive displays, the exhibition highlights the people, events, history and design that contributed to Canberra’s development.
A: Barrine Dr, Commonwealth Park P: 02 6272 2902 W:

Museum of Australian Democracy
Housed within Old Parliament House, the Museum of Australian Democracy opened in 1992 to educate the public on the workings of government, and the past, present and likely future of our democracy. 
A: Old Parliament House, Parkes P: 02 6270 8222 W: 

National Archives of Australia
Delve into our nation’s history by looking through documents in the reading rooms, browsing exhibitions or hearing the stories of those past and present at lectures. You can search the collection online.
A: Queen Victoria Tce, Parkes P: 02 6212 3600 W:

Parliament House
As well as gaining an insight into Australia’s democratic system, visitors to Parliament House, opened in 1988, can see some of the 6000 works in the priceless art collection, and a 1297 copy of the Magna Carta.
A: Capital Hill, Parkes P: 02 6277 5399 W: