It’s Culture With A Capital C

Published in The Sun-Herald Travel section, January 24, 2010.

For world-class art, food and more, head to Australia’s political hub, writes Christine Salins.

Billed as the most important art exhibition to have reached our shores, Masterpieces from Paris: Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne and Beyond is putting a new spin on summer in the national capital. The creme de la creme of modern art from the Musee d’Orsay in Paris is on show at the National Gallery of Australia until April 5, with many Canberra hotels offering packages for visitors keen to see the 112 works in glorious original colour.

Many of the paintings will be instantly recognisable to those who might previously have only seen them in books or as prints: Vincent van Gogh’s Bedroom at Arles, Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian Women and paintings by more than 30 other artists, including Cezanne, Monet and Toulouse-Lautrec.

It is the first time the works have left France as one collection, and the president of the Musee d’Orsay, Guy Cogeval, has promised that even scholars of Post-Impressionism are in for some surprises.

If there are surprises in store at the National Gallery, there are many elsewhere in Canberra, too, and they’re not only to be found at the national institutions (which also have great exhibitions scheduled for the coming months).

The real surprise is in just how many quirky, creative, tug-at-your-heart-strings, gourmet and other attractions there are for visitors. Here, in no particular order, are some of Canberra’s own masterpieces.

Arc Cinema

Canberra’s best-kept secret, this beautiful art deco cinema at the National Film and Sound Archive has regular screenings from all genres, dating from the early days of film right through to the present. Equipped with state-of-the-art technology and deliciously comfy seats, it’s a film buff’s dream.

McCoy Circuit, Acton;

The Last Post

The Australian War Memorial is one of the country’s most visited attractions but not everyone knows to time their visit to the end of the day when a ceremony is held in the Memorial forecourt. Just before the Memorial closes at 5pm, a lone bugler or piper plays a stirring rendition of The Last Post.

Treloar Crescent, Campbell;

Zierholz Premium Brewery

You could almost believe you were in Germany if it weren’t for the drab industrial setting in which Christoph Zierholz has his boutique brewery. It might not look much on the outside but step inside and you’ll find chunky wooden tables where you can dine on European-style food of robust flavours that pair beautifully with the Zierholz craft beers.

Unit 7/19-25 Kembla St, Fyshwick; +61 (2) 6162 0710;


Here you’ll find some of the best food in Canberra and yet, as with a lot of things peculiar to the capital, you’d never just stumble upon it – you have to look for it. Jan Gundlach, a former executive chef at Raffles Hotel in Singapore, has transformed a huge space upstairs at the Fyshwick Fresh Food Markets into a complete food destination.

He runs cooking classes, holds food and wine events and creates superb degustation menus for his restaurant using the best ingredients bought from the market each day.

Corner Dalby and Mildura streets; +61 (2) 295 7722;

Poachers Way

Mosey out of town on the Poachers Way, a self-drive route featuring 25 indulgent experiences. See or pick up a brochure for the list of wineries, food producers, cafes, rural retreats, galleries and other attractions on the route.

Check out the wood-fired ceramics at Gundaroo’s Old Saint Luke’s Studio, beautifully crafted furniture and sculptures at the Bungendore Wood Works Gallery and artworks by internationally acclaimed glass artist Peter Crisp.

Dine at Grazing, where Tom Moore uses fresh produce from his huge garden, in the village of Gundaroo, or call in to see Tim Kirk at Clonakilla Wines, the producer of one of Australia’s most revered wines — a Shiraz Viognier.

Don’t miss the Smokehouse Cafe which doubles as a shop and cellar-door for Poachers Pantry smoked foods and Wily Trout wines, both available for tasting.


Brian Tunks is one of several world-famous artists who live, work and/or play in Canberra.

Tunks, whose handcrafted Bison ceramics are featured in glossy magazines and sold around the world, has a workshop and concept store in Pialligo, just a few minutes from Canberra airport.

Pialligo is definitely a surprise — a tranquil rural enclave on the city’s doorstep, it is home to nurseries, cafes and Pialligo Estate Winery, where you can stroll through the vineyard and olive grove, buy boutique wines, olive oil, jams and preserves made from locally-grown fruit, or even play petanque (boules).

18 Kallaroo Road, Pialligo; +61 (2) 6262 6692;

Old Bus Depot Markets

There’s no trash, just lots of treasure at this vibrant and colourful market held every Sunday from 10am to 4pm.

Everything is either handmade or unique in some way and the managers have gone to great lengths to keep the quality of products up. There’s a great selection of food and a diverse array of crafts and accessories that you won’t find anywhere else.

21 Wentworth Ave, Kingston;

Canberra Glassworks

After visiting the market, go next door to this world-class facility where you can see glass artists at work. In an old industrial building that has had a striking makeover, you can see the whole process unfold. Many of the artists who work here are world-renowned. There’s also a lovely gift shop selling exquisite glass jewellery and decorative pieces.

11 Wentworth Ave, Kingston.

Calthorpes’ House

Today, Mugga Way is one of Canberra’s grandest streets, but when Harry and Del Calthorpe moved into No. 24 in 1927, their house was typical of a senior public servant’s home of that time. Now a museum that comes to life, right down to the Christmas decorations and the jam cooking on the stove, it offers a unique insight into the city’s early history. Acquired by the ACT Government in the late 1980s, the house is perfectly preserved, right down to the clothes in the wardrobes, the household bills in the pantry, the children’s toys and the wartime air raid shelter.

24 Mugga Way, Red Hill;

Hot-air ballooning

Lots of places offer hot-air ballooning but there’s nothing quite like doing it over Canberra, where ribbons of bushland weave their way through the city. You’ll get a bird’s-eye view of many national icons and be able to appreciate the city’s seasonal beauty. Ballooning also provides a wonderful perspective of Walter Burley Griffin’s meticulous design for the capital. Griffin himself would no doubt have found some surprises in his creation.

Balloon Aloft Canberra +61 (2) 6285 1540;; Dawn Drifters +61 (2) 6285 4450;

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© Christine Salins

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