Same. But Different.

For my last post of 2014, I fulfilled @CulturalCBR’s request. Big thanks to Richard Tuffin of  for these great eagle photos!

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American Eagle that looks at the (+) Australian Eagle sculpture at the @NatArboretum + a Pineapple

Benjamin stared out the window and sighed.

‘Are we there yet?’

‘No, just a little bit further, Benji,’ said Mum.

‘Can’t we just go back home?’

Dad smiled.

‘No, sorry Benji. We’re going to stay with Aunty Violet and Uncle Phil in Canberra.’

‘Why?’ Benjamin asked.

‘For our summer holiday, and to see some new and different things.’

Benjamin stuck out his lower lip.

‘I don’t want new and different. I like home. Canberra sounds boring. Why couldn’t we just stay home for our holiday and then we wouldn’t have had to go on this loooong car trip?’

‘Do you want to play I Spy?’ Mum asked.

‘No. That’s boring.’

‘Shall we sing some Christmas songs?’

‘No.’

‘Sorry mate,’ Dad said. ‘Maybe try closing your eyes. The trip will go quicker if you sleep.’

Benjamin rested his head against the window, feeling the vibration through his forehead. He closed his eyes for a moment. It did indeed make the trip go faster. A moment later Dad was calling to him from the front seat.

‘We’ve arrived! Let’s get out and stretch our legs.’

Benjamin opened his door and looked around. They were in a large car park on the side of a hill. Off in the distance he could see a series of small brown buildings with ladders leading up to them. There were lush green hills around them, some with grass and others with tiny trees.

‘Where are we?’ he asked.

‘The National Arboretum.’

‘A National what?’

‘Arboretum,’ Mum continued. ‘It’s a huge collection of living trees.’

‘And there’s a cool playground. Can you see those brown boxes over there?’ said Dad.

Benjamin sighed.

‘Boring.’

He shuffled along after his parents as they exited the car park and began walking towards some double doors. He realised the brown boxes he had seen from the car were a lots of large round acorn treehouses, surrounded by swings and slides.

‘Did you want to play in the playground?’ asked Dad.

‘Nah,’ Benjamin replied. ‘It doesn’t look like the playgrounds at home.’

‘Well, maybe you’ll change your mind later. Why don’t you come inside with us and have a look around?’

Benjamin continued to follow his parents inside, but walked at a slower pace so by the time they entered the visitors’ centre, he was well behind. They continued walking through the building and exited through some doors at the end to another path.

‘Come on Benji, try to keep up mate,’ his dad called.

‘Walking is boring.’

His mother smiled.

‘Well, we’re going on a big one.’

‘Perhaps we should look for a bear?’ his Dad said smiling.

And they did go on a big walk. They just kept walking and walking. Up and down hills along a dusty path. Benjamin always shuffling along behind them a few metres away.

After they climbed one particularly large hill, Benjamin found his parents kneeling down looking at a welded-steel sculpture of a bird and nest.

‘Cool, huh?’ Dad said.

Benjamin shrugged his shoulders.

‘Doesn’t look like the birds at home.’

Mum and Dad smiled at one another and kept walking. Benjamin continued slowly behind. He glanced at the sculpture as he shuffled past.

‘Boring,’ he said, and cast his eyes downwards again.

‘I am not,’ came a voice from behind him.

He stopped and turned. There was no one there.

‘Who said that?’ he asked.

‘I did,’ came the voice again. And it took him a moment to realise the sound was coming from the bird.

‘Is this like some recorded voice thing?’ Benjamin asked, partly to his parents further up the hill and partly to himself.

‘Come on Ben!’ his mum called from in front.

‘Be there in a second,’ he called back.

He walked back towards the bird sculpture. To his surprise, the brown metal bird stretched out its wings and hopped off the metal nest upon which it had been perched.

‘Ahh, that’s better. Sitting still all day is hard work,’ the bird said, her beak moving as she spoke.

‘Are you a robot?’ Benjamin said, leaning in closer to examine the bird.

‘I certainly am not. My name is Wedgie and I am an Australian wedgetail eagle. I repeat – I am not boring.’

Benjamin considered this for a moment.

‘Well, a talking metal bird might not be boring, but you’re still not like the birds at home.’

Wedgie scoffed, and puffed out her chest, trotting over towards Benjamin. Despite its confidence, the bird barely reached the top of his knee.

‘What’s boring, dear Benjamin, is to never experience new things. Staying home all the time guarantees you’ll miss seeing the many wonders of the world.’

Benjamin shrugged.

‘I don’t need the world. I like my bed and my toys and my friends. My city is the best in the world. I don’t need to see anything else. I wish we’d never come to this stupid place.’

‘Is that right?’ Wedgie asked, cocking her eyes to one side. ‘Sounds like you’re the type that won’t listen. You need to experience it for yourself.’

With that, she walked over to her nest and tapped on it three times. It began to grow until it was the size of a large basket.

‘I think you need to see my big brother, he’s not from around here, but has come to love the place. He’ll tell you. Even better, he’ll probably show you. I know he’s at home, because I can see him from here. Hop in, Benjamin.’

Benjamin considered his proposal.

‘What about my parents?’

The bird smiled and turned its head as it spoke.

‘They’ll be fine. They’ll be walking for hours. You’re welcome to join them again. But I thought walking was boring, mate?’

Benjamin realised for the first time what a thick Australian accent Wedgie had.

Benjamin looked back up the path towards his parents, and then back at the huge basket. It did certainly look more interesting than an afternoon of walking.

‘Okay,’ he replied, as he climbed into the metal nest. He expected the nest to scratch and cut him, but it nestled comfortably around him and he was surprised at how soft the metal had become. Almost like a real nest made of grass. He looked up at the bird suspiciously.

‘How do you know my name?’

Wedgie smiled.

‘We’ve been waiting for you.’

With that, she took the nest in her talons and took flight, lifting Benjamin and the nest high into the air. As she flapped her wings more quickly, they gained speed and the ground below began rushing past. Benjamin could briefly make out a sign which read ‘wide brown land’ atop a nearby hill before they rushed towards a lake in the distance.

Benjamin had to admit, being carried by a metal bird high in the air was definitely not boring. He could barely hear Wedgie over the wind blowing through his ears, which was also whipping his hair around his face. Every now and then he had to duck down into the basket for a reprieve, before again poking his head out to look around.

‘Is that Canberra down there?’ he asked.

‘Yep,’ replied Wedgie, glancing down at him. ‘To our left, that’s Black Mountain Tower, which is a big antennae for television and radio signals. It also offers a good view of the city from its viewing platform… but probably not as good as the view you have now,’ she said, winking.

‘Below us is Lake Burley Griffin, and beyond that you can see Capital Hill and Parliament House. The rest of the city is built around that, and you can see some of the iconic buildings around it like the High Court, National Library and Old Parliament House. Your parents should take you to Questacon for a visit too.’

‘But you probably know that already. My brother will tell you about some things you might not know about Canberra.’

As the city blew past beneath them, he became aware they were slowing down. Wedgie flew over a large flag pole that Benjamin recognised as the top of Parliament House, and then slowly started to descend. As the ground rushed up towards them, Wedgie gently placed the basket down, which made a slightly metallic hum as it landed. Benjamin, who sometimes got car sick, was amazed to find that apart from a messy head of hair, he had no ill effects from his flight. Wedgie landed nearby.

‘Meet my brother.’

Benjamin scanned the area around him. Closest to him were a number of car parks, and beyond there were a series of grey, box-like buildings. There was also a large stone column next to where Wedgie had dropped his nest.

However, he could see no birds.

Sensing his confusion, Wedgie smiled and pointed up.

Benjamin’s eyes moved up the large stone column next to them. He craned his neck to try and see the top. Just as he did, Benjamin realised a large object was falling down towards him.

He jumped out of the way as a larger bird shot down like a bullet from the top of the poll. He was sure it would crash into the ground, but the bird corrected its trajectory and fluttered down next to him.

‘Hi buddy, I assume you’re Benjamin.’

Benjamin nodded, still dumbfounded by the bird’s sudden arrival. It looked like some type of large eagle.

‘People call me ‘Chicken on a Stick’, or ‘Buggs Bunny,’ but I prefer Sammy,’ it said, holding out a wing to take Benjamin’s hand.

He was much taller than Wedgie and spoke with a thick Southern-American accent. His entire body was shiny and metallic, which Benjamin guessed was bronze. His proud beak and slick head-top feathers gave him a regal air. Benjamin could tell immediately the two were siblings. Wedgie had a significant dash of little sister sass. Sammy, on the other hand, had the cockiness and confident air of an elder brother.

Benjamin took Sammy’s wing and shook it.

Sammy looked over at wedgie.

‘I like the kid.’

‘What are you?’ Benjamin asked, trying to regain some composure.

‘I am an American bald-headed eagle,’ he replied. ‘I am a symbol of Australians’ gratitude to those that help them, including those who are different or come from other places.’

Sammy winked at Wedgie as he said this.

‘I was paid for and built by the Australian people, as a sign of thanks for the help that my folk gave to Australians during the Second World War. That’s what’s unique about me.’

Sammy puffed out his chest as he spoke.

‘What’s unique about you Benny boy?’

Ben shrugged.

‘Nothing. I’m just like everyone else. Just try to blend in and be the same’

‘Ben, no one is just like every other person… that’s what’s great about people, or in my case birds,’ Wedgie said.

‘Exactly,’ Sammy chimed in. ‘Wedgie and I don’t see eye to eye on everything… well, actually, now you mention it, we sorta do. We spend all day staring at one another!’

He slapped Benjamin on the back as he said this and grinned at him. Benjamin gave him a wry smile in return.

‘Ah, sorry, just a little statue humour. Anyways, why do you think we can do that all day, every day?’

Ben shrugged again.

‘I dunno, because you’re the same – you’re both eagles?’

Sammy glanced over at Wedgie.

‘He is going to be a tough one, isn’t he?’

Wedgie nodded.

‘Needs to experience it for himself.’

Sammy nodded.

‘That he does. Alright Benny, until you can answer my question, there is no going home… or at least back to that car of yours.’

Ben scowled at the eagle.

‘What, you’re going to hold me hostage?’

‘Hostage is a strong word… more like, make you stay back in class. At least until you can figure that question out Benny. I’ll give you some help along the way.’

Benjamin considered what to do. There was something slightly scary about this large bird with its sharp beak and talons. He didn’t want to upset it.

Still, he wanted to know exactly what was going on here.

‘I could just run away.’

Sammy smiled again at Wedgie, who was sitting back a distance, watching on with amusement.

‘You could,’ Sammy said, holding up one of his sharp talons. ‘But I would catch you. That’s what eagles do. Catch our prey.’

Wedgie tapped her nest and it returned to its usual size.

‘Don’t scare the kid too much, Sammy.’

‘Leave it to me little sis. You should probably be heading back?’

Wedgie nodded.

‘Yep, I better. Sammy will look after you Benjamin. Enjoy your time in Canberra.’

‘Yeah, thanks for the ride,’ Benjamin said pouting.

‘No worries,’ Wedgie replied, apparently oblivious to Benjamin’s sarcasm. ‘I’m sure we’ll see each other again soon.’

And with that, Wedgie took flight.

‘Look here Benny, let’s start with my column. What’s unique about it?’

Benjamin sighed and walked around the base of the column.

‘There are two paintings on it. Big deal.’

‘Good, yes, two unique paintings.’

‘We have big posts where I come from too you know,’ Benjamin said. ‘We put lights on the top and call them lamp posts.’

Sammy leaned over to meet Benjamin’s gaze. Benjamin could feel the great bird’s breath on his face

‘I don’t mind a bit of humour, kid, but don’t ever compare my 73 metre high column to a lamp post.’

Benjamin gulped and nodded.

Sammy held his gaze for a moment before straightening up.

‘There are two murals, one about the way my folks fought in the pacific and a map of the great U.S of A in copper.’

‘You’ll see around the base of my column is a water-filled moat. And here is a bronze wreath, where floral wreaths are often laid on official commemorations. I usually sit atop a bronze sphere, up there on the top of my column. There is nothing quite like it anywhere in the world. It was custom, purpose-built to be what it is. It’s unique.

‘And if there is one thing I’ve learnt from my time in Australia, it is the value of difference. Now climb aboard and I’ll show you what I mean.’

‘We have to fly again?’ Benjamin asked hopefully.

‘I’m an eagle, of course. But none of this nest business… climb aboard and you can fly on my back.’

Despite his earlier fear, and the fact he was apparently being held prisoner, Benjamin found himself becoming fond of this brash eagle. As Sammy knelt down, he gently climbed aboard his back, and was surprised to find his bronze feathers were soft to touch.

As soon as Benjamin was settled, the giant bird took flight. The flight with Wedgie earlier was gentle in comparison, and did little to prepare Benjamin for the incredible speed at which Sammy took to the sky. He leant in closer to the bird’s neck, partly to hear what he was saying better, but mainly so he could hold on tighter.

‘Of course, us Americans have had a long association with this place,’ Sammy said, as they rose higher and higher into the sky.

‘But before any of us white folks came, Aboriginal people lived on this land. At least for the last 25,000 years. And they still do. We can’t forget the importance of their culture. Down below are over 3,500 significant sites including Acton Peninsula just there. Further towards those hills are the Birrigai Rock Shelter and Hanging Rock at Tidbinbilla.

‘Below you can also see many of the buildings and monuments that have been built by, and for, the recent arrivals.’

‘The city was designed by friends of mine, an American couple called Walter and Marion. Imagine what a boring place Canberra would be if they had decided to stay home in Chicago instead of travelling around the world to design a new city! Any idea what’s special about that thin white building down there?’ Sammy asked.

Benjamin shrugged.

‘Looks like all the other buildings round here, like it’s made out of white concrete.’

‘Well, we better find out what is different about this one.’

Sammy dived down to the ground, and gently bucked Benajmin from his back as he touched the ground. Benjamin fell from his back and did a few rolls on the grass before coming to a stop and sitting up indignantly.

‘Ow!’ he yelled.

‘The grass is soft, you’ll survive. Now go find out what is special about this building.’

Benjamin sat on the grass with this arms folded.

‘What if I don’t want to? What if I want to go home?’

Sammy sighed.

‘Like I said kid, the quicker you figure out how Wedgie and I can stare at each other all day, the quicker I’ll return you to your poor parents.’

‘What’s this building to do with that?’

Sammy walked over and nudged Benjamin with his wing

‘Go and find out!’

Benjamin stood up and started walking towards the building.

‘We have boring concrete buildings at home too… and they’re more interesting than this one,’ he muttered.’

Sammy pretended not to hear him and waited, tapping his foot, while Benjamin walked round the building. After a few minutes, he called back.

‘It’s a big bell, called a carillon,’ he said in a monotone voice.

‘Well, any idiot can see that,’ Sammy replied. ‘What’s special about this one?’

‘It was a gift from the British people to Canberra for its fiftieth birthday.’

‘Great, good one. Time for another stop.’

Sammy scooped Benjamin up before he could protest further and took off.

‘What’s that big glass building over there?’ Benjamin asked, gesturing to a shiny new building on the lake foreshore, as they rose into the sky.’

‘That is boring. It’s where the spies work.’

‘I thought spies were supposed to be secretive,’ Benjamin replied.

‘Me too, Benny, me too,’ Sammy replied.

Sammy flew away from the glass building to the opposite side of the lake before swooping down to a triangle-shaped park near the National Library.

He again bucked Benjamin off his back as he landed, although this time Benjamin was expecting it and he managed to land on his feet.

Sammy gestured to a black granite square.

‘Go and check that out,’ he said.

Benjamin now realised there was no arguing with the bird and he might as well get on with answering his questions so he could go home. After reading a nearby information panel, he again returned to the bird. ‘That’s the Peace Monument. It has the word ‘Peace’ etched into its panels in the six official languages of the UN, whoever they are, and the local Aboriginal language.’

‘Excellent, now you’re getting the hang of this. It’s a celebration of different people getting along Benny! Next stop we can walk to, come on, follow me.

‘Why are all the flags there?’ Benjamin asked, pointing to a series of flag poles adjacent to the lake as they walked.

‘That’s our next stop. Go on then, go and have a look.’

Benjamin began reluctantly walking towards the flags.

‘Are we actually going to go somewhere fun, like a beach? We have great beaches at home.’

‘We have beaches here too… and they’re unique as well. But I wouldn’t inflict those on you. Instead, I’ll show you some of the really amazing things that are here – that you don’t have at home. And the sooner you answer my question, the sooner you’ll return to all the familiar things you love.’

Benjamin walked more quickly and circled around the base of the flag poles, before returning to Sammy.

‘It’s an International Flag Display. It’s got around 80 flags,’ he droned.

‘And what’s special about these particular 80 flags.’

Benjamin furrowed his brow as he struggled to remember what he had read.

‘Oh, because these are the countries that have embassies and stuff in Canberra.’

‘Excellent!’ said Sammy, slapping him on the back. ‘Hop aboard and we’ll continue.’

As he rose into the air, Sammy hesitated for a moment.

‘Now, where to next…’ he said, apparently to himself.

Then he turned with such sudden speed that Benjamin felt his stomach lurch. He hoped he wasn’t going to be sick.

‘Can we slow down a bit, Sammy?’ he asked.

Sammy turned his head and winked.

‘What’s that? I can’t really hear you over the wind. You want me to speed up?’

And before Benjamin could answer, the Eagle dived towards the lake and straightened up just before they would have plunged head first into it. Benjamin felt the water splash up on to his legs as the eagle flew like a skimming rock over the water. Just when Benjamin started to enjoy it, Sammy slowed down landed near a single flagpole.

‘I nearly forgot about this one, although I really have no excuse. Go and have a look.

Benjamin examined the flag pole before returning.

‘This is your Canadian cousin’s flagpole, given as a gift from their Deputy Prime Minister after a visit to Australia.’

‘Good. It’s made from a single spar of Douglas Fir logged from a forest in the Canadian province of British Columbia,’ replied Sammy. ‘Got an answer for me yet? Why can Wedgie and I stare at each other all day long?’

Benjamin paused to consider.

‘Because you are grateful to one another. You like to give each other gifts, like these governments have done for Canberra.’

‘Sort of, but not really. And these are gifts for all Australians, not just Canberra. They are here because it’s the national capital. Seems like we’ve got more things to see,’ Sammy said.

Over the next few hours Sammy took Benjamin on a whirlwind tour of Canberra. They visited mosques, churches, memorials and monuments…. so many buildings, statues and symbols from different places around the world that Benjamin lost count. On each stop, Benjamin would have to investigate something unique or special about each thing.

One of his favourites was the twin green spaces of Canberra-Nara Peace Park and the neighbouring Chinese Gardens. He asked to stay at that one a little longer; to sit quietly in one of the pagodas in the Nara Park and think for a moment about how he space, and all the other things he had seen, were different from home.

‘They have all been wonderful, Sammy,’ he said quietly at last.

Sammy smiled and nodded.

They visited dozens of embassies and consulates; from the spectacular Chinese Embassy to the sedate New Zealand embassy, complete with grazing cow statues out the front.

‘And they’re just the tip of the iceberg, Benny,’ Sammy said, as they once again soared into the sky. ‘It’s a shame one of the embassies aren’t having an open day today, which usually includes traditional food, song and culture of their country. An opportunity for people to visit another place without leaving Canberra!’

‘That doesn’t sound boring,’ Benjamin said, smiling.

‘Excellent, my boy, I think you might now know the answer to my question. But there is one more thing I want you to see.’

They soared towards the city centre of Canberra, and Sammy hovered over a merry-go-round surrounded by a circular street.

‘What’s down there?’ Benjamin asked.

‘Nothing today, Benny. But every February there is a festival there. What do you think it might be about?’

Benjamin smiled.

‘Difference. Maybe a festival of different cultures?’

‘Very good, that’s exactly what it is. This year, my folks, are holding a big ‘Aloha Canberra’ Party; surfboards, Hawaiian shirts and a massive Pineapple. I can’t wait! Shame you might not be here to see it.’

‘Speaking of your visit, it’s probably time we got you back to your car. You got an answer for me?’

Benjamin paused for a moment. He wasn’t sure he wanted his adventure with this slightly-scary bird to end.

Sensing this, Sammy turned and smiled.

‘Don’t worry, we’ll be seeing each other shortly. So tell me why is it that Wedgie and I can stare at each other all day long?’

‘Because you’re different. You’re both unique. If you were the same, staring at each other would be boring. But it is interesting to look at one another because you’re different.’

Sammy smiled and nodded.

‘Good. Now, this can get a bit rocky. I suggest you close your eyes.’

Benjamin had learnt to trust this strange, bronze bird, and he immediately shut his eyes tight. He did indeed feel his body begin to shake. He kept his eyes shut as long as he could, but at last had to open them.

He was surprised to find his father’s face in front of him, a smile on his face.

‘Time to wake up Benjamin, we’ve arrived.’

Benjamin blinked and looked around.

‘Arrived?’

He looked beyond his father to see his mother sitting in the front seat of their car, also smiling. He looked around and realised he was sitting in the back.

‘Canberra of course,’ she said.

‘Are we… at the Arboretum.’

‘Not yet,’ Dad said. ‘We might go there tomorrow. We drove past this monument and thought you might like to see it. Unless it’s too boring?’

Benjamin looked out the window and saw the now familiar site of the car parks, boxy grey buildings and large column.

‘The Eagle! That’s not boring.’

And he leapt out of the car.

‘You’ve changed your tune,’ said mum.

‘Did you know that it sits 73 metres up in the air?’ Benjamin exclaimed.

‘Wow,’ said Dad. ‘Now you are excited to be in Canberra. I thought different places were boring?’

‘No way Dad, I want to stay for ages. In fact, when are we going home?’

‘We thought we would stay for a week… if you didn’t get too bored.’

‘Oh, I want to stay longer than that,’ said Benjamin.

‘How long?’ asked Mum.

‘Maybe until February, that’s when the Multicultural Festival is on. That’s a big celebration of difference!’

As he uttered those words, he glanced up at the top of the massive column to the gleaming bird above. And it might have been his imagination, but he could have sworn, that it winked.

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