One Night in Canberra

“These are the reason I haven’t worn a watch in about twenty years”, I told Sue, as we wandered around the ABC Studio at Old Parliament House, now the “Museum Of Australian Democracy”.

I was referring to something commonly known as a “bulk eraser”, though they probably had a more formal name. In the days before extensive digital storage, audio (and video) tape was commonly re-used. That’s part of the reason why many episodes of classic radio and television programs no longer exist.

“You must have it in the archives somewhere?” is a sentence I commonly here. “No”, I have to tell people, adding, “We never kept it”. We couldn’t afford to keep everything, and in a very practical way, there was never enough room to store it.

A big part of my early career involved recording things, putting them to air, and then recording over that item the very next day. To speed up the process you used a “bulk eraser” which, in effect, was a big magnet which erased the magnetic tape, allowing it to be freshly used.

One of the side effects of having a “big magnet” was that it played havoc with analogue watches. So, you either a) removed your watch while you used it; b) “did a dance” which involved keeping your watch hand as far away from the eraser as possible or c) stopped wearing a watch. I stopped wearing a watch, and in the years since, the mobile phone, of course, has replaced the watch anyway.

Bulk eraser at the ABC Studio at Old Parliament House

I think it was the first time I’ve been to the old ABC Studio at Old Parliament House in Canberra. The move to the new parliament house occured before I joined the ABC. And although I’ve visited Old Parliament House a few times, I don’t ever recall seeing that part of the museum before. It was fascinating to see the video showing at the museum of people like a very young Barrie Cassidy reporting from the studio there.

“It’s so much smaller than the new parliament house”, I said to Sue as we wandered around. There was an exhibition of political cartoons which we enjoyed very much, as well as an exhibition about press freedom which was also very good.

And of course, there were the chambers themselves.

House of Representatives at Old Parliament House, Canberra
Located outside Old Parliament House is the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, and the wonderful “Sovereignty” sign

Our visit to Canberra was a brief one : less than twenty-four hours. I was really keen to catch up with a colleague who was recently made redundant, and a school friend that both Sue and I had known from Lismore. Awesome catchups. It was also part of our return to Sydney.

As we had both extensive knowledge of Canberra (Sue had lived there for three or four years, and I have visited extensively over many years), we struggled to think of what else we might do.

We both love the National Portrait Gallery, and so we visited there.

National Portrait Gallery
National Portrait Gallery

“I’d like to visit the War Memorial”, Sue said, noting that despite having lived in Canberra, she’d never actually visited it before. The last time I visited was in 2014. https://jamesobrien.id.au/2014/08/roll-of-honour/

Photograph taken by Kerry Alchin Order reference: PAIU2014/152.28 Contact: esales@awm.gov.au
Photograph taken by Kerry Alchin Order reference: PAIU2014/152.28 Contact: esales@awm.gov.au

In 2013 and 2014 (and later), I managed a project for the ABC (in conjunction with the Australian War Memorial) which saw school children from all over the country come into ABC studios to record the names of those who appear on the Roll Of Honour. Honestly, it’s one of the most wonderful things I’ve ever done, as the children learned about the history of the names they were due to recite, how to pronounce them, and often travelled long distances to record them.

I was so touched the names were still being recited as we walked along the Roll Of Honour.

Roll Of Honour at the Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial is truly remarkable. In fact, it’s almost overwhelming. After about an hour of walking around, we realised we’d only touched the surface, had only just completed the area concentrating on World War I.

Australian War Memorial

Due to time restraints, we spent less time on the following conflicts which is a shame. “You could spend two or three days here,” I said to Sue.

One of the highlights for me of the Australian War Memorial was the current exhibition which looks at tattoos, and their significance for service men and women, particularly since the Gulf and Afghan Wars.

And with that, we went to the petrol station, filled up, grabbed some chocolates, and headed back home.

Lake George, near Canberra

It’s been a wonderful holiday.

Author: James O'Brien

Born / Currently : Lismore / Widjabul Wia-Bal - Bundjalung Live : Sydney / Gadigal - Eora Also : Brisbane, Bourke, Renmark, Wagga, Perth Pronouns : He/him/his.

4 thoughts

  1. I was very impressed with the War Memorial but as you say, a couple of days are needed or more for us who within a couple of hours begin to become overloaded with information.

  2. The War Memorial is wonderful. I agree that you do need days to do it justice, especially if like us if after a couple of hours you suffer information overload as we do.

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