Coins, Trees and Bonsai – First Day In Canberra

Fri 1 June 2018

When I woke up on Friday, my eyes shot open. You know what my first thought was? Heck! First day in Canberra, so many things we could see and do! But you know the ironic thing? I couldn’t be bothered getting out of bed. Oh well, don’t mind me and my strange thought processes. 🙂

Anyway, that aside, I eventually got out of bed, and the first thing that Dad asks me when I walk through the lounge room door, “So, what are we going to do in Canberra?” I groaned and asked him if I could wake up first.

When I came to, I got out the computer and began researching all sorts of things to do in Canberra. Before we came to Canberra, I’d asked several people I know, have they been to Canberra, and if so, where do they recommend going?

Now, the interesting thing is that many people said either the National War Memorial or Old Parliament House.

Look, I don’t know about you, but I’m not interested in the nuances of our politicians over the years. But the War Memorial sounded interesting, though. Be a good bit of history, if you ask me.

But I did some more research, and we decided on going to the Royal Australian Mint, where they make the Nation’s coins.

In case you’re wondering why on earth a money making place would be named after a herb, well, I have an explanation. “Mint” comes from the Latin word moneta, which means money. Over time, to “mint” meant to make money!

To be honest, we were thinking of going to Questacon, the science museum that’s aimed at kids, but as it was already 10 o’clock by the time we decided, Dad said we should go on Tuesday, as we’d have a whole day there.

So, thus it was done. But, Kid had also been researching, but in a specific type of attraction. Can you guess? Yeah, that’s right. Parks! And she came up with this awesome sounding one, called the Pod Playground. She showed me the photos, and the child in me screamed, “Heck Yeah!”. (Well, don’t judge, I may be a teenager, but I love playgrounds.)

So, with that slight change of plan, we decided we would go there, have lunch, and then go to the Royal Australian Mint at 3pm. And finally! We were off to an excellent start to the day.

Have you ever been on a family holiday? It’s a whole lot of fun, most of the time. You get to see all sorts of exciting things, spend time with your family, and eat treat food if you’re that kind of family.

But…. as you probably know, sometimes there can be a few ridiculous moments, where people get bothered over nothing. In this case… It was navigating to the Pod Playground. I was in charge of google maps, and Dad was driving. Yet Mum kept acting as the front seat driver, as though she had the map in front of her.

I mean, I did miss a few turn-offs, but hey, it didn’t add hours to the driving time! Mum got a bit hot and bothered with me, but oh well. We were all laughing at how ridiculous it was after a while. 🙂

As we came up to a big hill, we spotted a big silvery and brown dome on the top, looking like some kind of futuristic rebel base, (Star Wars reference anyone). I had a look at Google Maps, and it said it was the National Arboretum.

Now, if you’re like me, you’d think, what is an Arboretum? Turns out, it’s kind of like the tree version of a seed bank if you know what I mean. It’s a 250-hectare complex where they grow all kinds of trees for future conservation. Most of it’s still the development stage, but in 5-10 years, the place’ll look amazing! Anyway, moving on….

We found the Pod Playground (as it turned out, it’s in the grounds of the National Arboretum), and gee is it amazing! It has a series of pods, some that look like Banksias, others that look like acorns. They are all connected by a series of roped tunnels, and in one of them is a slide down to the ground.

They look cool. There were a few swings too, one of which was one of the hammock swings, I love those ones. There was a series of things that looked like a cross between Banksia and a toadstool house. They were designed for little kids, as I could barely fit through the entrance!

It was fun there, but we decided to look at the “Rebel Base” I told you about earlier. Turns out the place is called the Village Centre, and it was the visitors’ centre for the National Arboretum. We had a look around, it’s quite modern and on the inside. I had a look in one corner, and I saw a sign, that interested me. It read National Bonsai and Penjing Collection.

In case you’re wondering, Bonsai is the art of making miniature trees, and basically making a living sculpture out of them. Penjing is where Bonsai originated from, and you guessed it, it’s Chinese. However, Penjing is where you make a miniature landscape, as well as a tiny tree.

I’ve always thought Bonsai looks cool, so we all went in to have a look. Turns out it was quite a substantial collection, maybe around 30 different trees? There were all sorts, even an Australian Banksia tree!

The funny thing is that while the tree was small, the flowers were still huge, so it looked a bit strange. But, as I later found out, (thanks to one of the volunteers that works there) there is no way in Bonsai to shrink the flowers or fruits of a tree, so when they do flowering or fruiting trees, they tend to cut them off or avoid those trees altogether.

It was interesting seeing all those mini trees, but it was time for lunch. Then, next stop, the Royal Australian Mint.

We had planned our visit to the Mint so it would coincide with one of the free guided tours, at 2pm. We arrived there with 15 mins to spare. Soon enough, we headed up the stairs, which were unique in their own right, as the brochure said inside the stairs, are 15,000 5c coins!

I wonder who counted them all? Anyway, we reached the second storey, and the tour guide was waiting, his name was Brendan. Soon enough, the tour started, and we started with the history of coins in Australia.

It was quite interesting, at the start, they used whatever coins they had brought with them, even foreign currencies! Must have made exchanging them quite hard! Then, they moved onto rum, which spelt a disaster, as when the Governor of NSW tried to reform the policy, there was a full-scale rebellion against him, and he got kicked out.

No prizes for guessing the name of the uprising. Then, later, Governor Macquarie decided to take Indian Rupees, and he got a coinsmith to punch a hole in them, creating two coins. The new coins were known as the Holey Dollar, and the one that had been punched out, the dump.

But the funny thing? The “coinsmith” was actually was a convict, sent to Australia. His crime? Forgery!

We were about to go to view the factory when you’ll never guess what happened! We were told to evacuate! It was quite disappointing, but we did as we were told.

Me, being me, began speculating why we were being evacuated, wondered if a robber had broken in. But why would you bother? Coins weigh a tonne, and in broad daylight? Really?

After everyone had exited the building, we went into the car park and were about to go home, as we probably weren’t meant to go back in, we saw a group of people re-entering the building.

A woman walked past, and we asked her were we allowed to go back in. To my surprise, it was a yes! We went back inside, and the tour group was reforming, and we were told it was a drill. Well, that was alright then.

We continued the tour, and I learnt a tonne of interesting things, too many to list here. But here are a few anyway.

There are several robots in there, but most of the work is done by humans. Titan is one such robot, and he is in charge of lifting drums of coin blanks, the first process of making the coins ready for general use.

He can lift the same weight as a fully grown rhino, (1000kg) They make a lot of collectable coins, too, the most expensive of which is the $3000 1kg solid gold coin. The Mint can produce up to two million coins each day!

There’s another robot called Robbie, and she is in charge of packing the ready-made coins for the banks. She can do up to 100 things at once, the tour guide said. That’s a serious multitasker!

We finished the tour, it was fascinating, I’m glad we went.

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