The National Carillon is a 50 metre tall tower, located on Aspen Island on Lake Burley Griffin. Inside the tower are 55 bells, which can be heard chiming around the lake every fifteen minutes. Each bell weighs between seven kilograms and six tonnes, each one creating their own unique sound that can be played by a professional Carillonist. Each Wednesday and Sunday between 12:30pm - 1:20pm (at the time of writing), a local or guest Carillonist comes to play the bells, much to the delight of picnickers all around the lake. See the weekly program here.
To play the bells, Carillonists play a keyboard of wooden batons and pedals, called a clavier. For those of us who know little about the musicality of a Carillon, it is interesting to learn that "Carillon Music Schools" are common in England and North America for musicians to learn how to play it. To view what the bells look like and the clavier that the Carillonists play, see here for a 360 degree tour of the National Carillon (courtesy of the National Capital Authority website). Click on the yellow circles to look inside the levels within the tower.
The National Carillon, an iconic sight on Lake Burley Griffin
The National Carillon was a gift from the British government to the people of Australia for the 50th anniversary of Canberra in 1970. Queen Elizabeth II came to open the building and the bells have been ringing ever since. Unfortunately visitors can't walk up to the top, except for special open days during the year when they provide short tours. As well as their Wednesday and Sunday concerts they also have other performances on days of celebration, such as Australia Day and Christmas Eve. Many Canberrans go down to the lake and lay out a picnic blanket in Kings Park and enjoy the concert, whilst trying to determine which song or carol they are playing. There is nothing more memorable than hearing ACDC's "It's a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock 'n' Roll)" on the bells, each Australia Day. See the program here for the next big event.
Performance times are also advertised near the base of the Carillon
If you wish to walk underneath the National Carillon, there is a small bridge that takes you over Lake Burley Griffin and onto Aspen Island. Whilst walking over the bridge, look down to see a large number of carp under the bridge, as well as ducks and several swans who like to visit the island and approach visitors looking for food - be warned! Visitors can walk directly underneath the Carillon and look up at the windows above, however on the ground level all you can see are the entrances to get up, via lift and staircase. There is also a short dirt path around the perimeter of the island as well as picnic tables, benches, views to the Captain Cook Memorial Jet and a grassy area near the bridge, which is often the location of weddings.
Standing on the island provides a unique perspective of this impressive structure, as well being able to appreciate the birdlife and beauty of Lake Burley Griffin. Stay and listen to the bells, or perhaps go to a lunchtime concert to get the full impact of the 55 bells being played. It is an experience like no other.