Something we’ve come to appreciate about Canberra is that, unlike other cities of a similar size, which may boast one or two minor tourist attractions to bring in out-of-towners and entertain locals, Canberra’s status as Australia’s capital means it is disproportionately bursting with things to do from its outer suburbs to the city centre.
It’s taking us a while to get through them all – partly because our initial burst of new arrivals’ excitement has been replaced by getting on with real life, but also because we’ve been keeping a few things up our sleeves for when the kids deserved a treat or just needed to get out of the house.
One such ‘saved excursion’ was Cockington Green Gardens and model village, which is walking distance from our house. The kids have been keen to visit ever since we arrived but it was only recently – prompted by a discount voucher offer – that we finally made the short trip.
The first thing to say is that Cockington Green isn’t really a full day out – we were there for a couple of hours at most and, even if you added lunch or a snack stop into the bargain, it’s a half-day excursion at most.
The second thing to say is that if you have any connection with rural England, Cockington Green will simultaneously connect with both the nostalgic and the pedantic within you.
You enter via a mock Tudor country house – incongruous enough on its own in Canberra – before entering an enclosed garden that is split into two zones showcasing Great Britain and the rest of the world.
The gardens are set out as series of dioramas. The Great Britain zone depicts idyllic scenes of rural British life in miniature, with each scene bordered by perfectly manicured lawns and hedges. There’s a cricket match, a football stadium, a railway station, and minor injections of humour – such as a football match streaker – that had the kids on the lookout for more.
Some of the scenes are specific, giving details of the villages on which they were modelled. Others are vague and seem more like caricatures of the type of scene you might expect to see in the UK should you ever visit there.
An arched bridge gives access to the International section, a kind of miniature Epcot display with tiny versions of classic landmarks from all over the world. There’s Machu Picchu from Peru, Petra from Jordan, a beautiful Norwegian stave church, and many more. Before the children, Mrs CBRbound and I were lucky enough to visit many of these places and we giggled and reminisced as we took updated photos of ourselves alongside famous landmarks, albeit in tiny replica form this time.
Tour over, we popped into the café where Devonshire cream teas were in great demand, and then hopped aboard the miniature (but not that miniature) railway for a final circuit of the gardens.
Cockington offers simple pleasures but is no less enjoyable because of it. One of my favourite early childhood memories is of a visit to a model village in the ‘real’ Devon – at Babbacombe in Torquay. I can still remember my Dad telling me that, each year, the kits of the teams in the football match were repainted to match those of the teams in that year’s cup final.
It would be wonderful to think that, in years to come, mini- and maxi-CBRbound might take their own kids to a similar attraction and tell them of the time Mum and Dad talked about their worldwide travels, in a place that was English but also wasn’t.