I’ve spruiked continuously that Canberra is full of these ‘hidden gems’ – often we only hear about these places because they’re where we live, or through word of mouth (often because other people live there!). I’m not sure I would ever have heard of Plumb on Tennant if it wasn’t for CBR Foodie‘s lunchtime post a few weeks ago. You see, this hidden gem is in Fyshwick!
Wow. Last week was a huge week for this little blog, namely due to this passionate little piece. My previous day’s best ever record was smashed right out of the park. And a certain news.com.au journo agreed (presumably jokingly – but I am 100 per cent all for it to happen) that he’d let me show him the Canberra he can’t yet see.
But what those otherwise meaningless achievements reflect is a real engagement with the article. Why did people engage with it, and want to engage with it? Well, it’s probably the subject of future blog posts. (And it was certainly interesting to note how many people interpreted my call to arms very differently, including on Reddit.) But the fact is, it seems what I wrote meant something. And not just to known staunch defenders of this city. That’s revealing in itself.
Before I talk more about another very important subject (dumplings!), I need to stress that pride in a city doesn’t mean you just love and defend everything about it. If that was the case, not much would ever get done. Often people want to see change or improvements because they care about and love their city. So you can damn well love Canberra and be proud of it while also having some ideas on what to change. On what you want to be different. Don’t underestimate the power of people power. Don’t underestimate the power of your suggestion or idea, or your challenge to an suggestion or idea. And we’re connected in so many ways we’ve never been before, physically and through technology, that there’s no reason not to participate – whether it’s to promote your city or find a way to improve it. The only thing you really need to do is do it.
And hey – while I’ve got you – thank you. The support, the Facebook shares, the retweets, the comments and conversations: it all meant a great deal to me. What I can say? I love Canberra!
Okay: dumplings time.
(I promised myself I wouldn’t do this.)
It started in the early hours of Tuesday morning, when the OECD report was released. You know the one.
I woke to this, tweeted to his 70,000 followers.
I could only think, Here we go again.
Thirty-six hours later, people are still making the same unique, witty remarks.
First, let’s get a few things straight. Do the report findings feel a bit familiar? You’re right. Yup, this was actually news in late June. Tuesday’s announcement was simply the release of the expanded report, but – kind of like people posting memes or videos to Facebook today which were popular on Reddit five days ago – this time it seemed to get a lot more mainstream attention.
So this post isn’t about the report. This is about the response to the report.
Apart from my immediate eye-roll at the first tweet I saw, my reactions were mixed. There’s the timeless Canberra smugness: The OECD is confirming what we already know (just like what we said back in June). And indeed, while I think Canberra’s done a damn fine job promoting itself from within – especially over the last 18 months – I did have to admit that it was kind of nice to have someone else praise us rather than our own lips (with apologies to Proverbs 27:2). And then there was the knowledge – not a feeling, not a hunch, not a guess – that Canberra was in for at least 24 hours of wholehearted bashing. Not just a few tweets to a few hundred thousand followers. Not just another laughable news.com.au article. An all-in, go-for-broke slamming from every quarter.
And yet I thought, Why give oxygen to the fire? Let them get it out of their systems, to have their fill.
Don’t bother defending. It just brings even more people out.
And so I stayed mostly, uncharacteristically, quiet – and braced myself.
Over the last 36 hours I’ve listened – remarkably calmly – as people have debated Canberra and laughed off the OECD report, as our Territory and countless federal politicians have commented on it, and I’ve read, amused and bemused, the responses, the articles, the analysis.
Even for someone who’s used to it, who’s forewarned and forearmed, the level of Canberra bashing is extreme. I couldn’t immediately understand why, especially in the face of so much community pride.
What I’ve experienced over the last 36 hours has been embarrassing. Pathetic. Many of the barbs are couched in simplistic humour, as if this somehow makes it okay. And quite a large portion of it is, disturbingly, subtle.
And I’ve had enough.
I hate that Canberra – everything about it – remains such an easy target to refute.
I hate it. Viscerally. And I know I’m not the only one.
Well, there are plenty of wellbeing or city/country happiness studies every year. There’ve been countless this year. Australia did well in heaps of them, with plenty of Australian cities (not Canberra) rating a mention. But when Melbourne tops the index – as it has done a few times – the only one who’s up in arms is Sydney. To everyone else, Melbourne being defined as highly liveable is well-deserved, justifiable.
But Canberra? Inconceivable.
When our federal leaders were questioned about it this week, our Prime Minister had to mention other cities in Australia as pretty all right, too. Why? And then there was this from the Opposition Leader:
Is it really too much to ask the Prime Minister and his alternative to freely promote – or at least defend – Australia’s capital city?
The Herald Sun whipped out the boring jibe (well, that’s new), the cost of rent (newsflash: it’s falling) and – of course – the weather barb (er, you know we do Spring really bloody well, right?). Novel.
Analysing the report over at SMH – which actually raised some pretty important points regarding what the OECD revealed regarding Australia’s regional inequality – they couldn’t help but compare us with Scandinavian countries with reference to our little flower festival.
I listened to a radio interview yesterday as yet another person had to debate how Canberra still had a long way to come; some of the examples given included the need for better footpaths, that our population (where she worked) was too white.And then there’s news.com.au’s article I mentioned, where our correspondent bears down on his experience in Canberra a decade ago. Behold, he says, our befuddling roundabouts, our penchant for Kathmandu sales, slow traffic lights, and a sculpture he doesn’t like of an otherwise widely celebrated phrase (illustrated with a beautiful image of it by a talented Canberra photographer, no less). Seriously.
Can you tell I’m getting exasperated? No one’s saying that Canberra is perfect. There’s a lot we can do to improve. Yes, the six roundabouts between the airport and Civic are surprising and can be annoying. But – and I get that it’s not obvious to some – a seemingly excessive amount of roundabouts over seven and a half kilometres does not a bad city make. Nor does dressing warmly when it’s freezing (hello, four seasons). Nor do slow traffic lights (who doesn’t need a moment to actually be in that moment?). And nor does a sculpture (come on).
On reflection, those ‘outsiders’ who critique Canberra are really grasping at straws in their arguments against it. Thankfully – apart from the Herald Sun’s attempt – I saw very little explicit mention of ‘boring’ (finally).
But closer to home, Jack Waterford’s piece is confronting. He remarks that we’ve inherited greatness, but we’ve done little to contribute to it. Instead of exasperating me, this really made me pause for thought.
I disagree that we don’t have bold or new ideas – I see them in Government, business and community action every day. I think it’s absurd that Canberra has been replaced with Lilliputians, or those of lesser pride, meanness or narrow vision. We’ve got more pride than I can remember, a revival of community spirit; a connection and expansion of vision. These things can’t be quantified, and aren’t usually widely acknowledged until others see the fruits of this spirit and vision that is held. But it’s there. But look. Look. Look at Braddon. Look at Civic. Look at the Belconnen Town Centre. Look at our local centres – some of which are almost literally rising from the ashes. And even where it seems things aren’t happening, there’s a deep spirit, a deep readiness for something – the turnouts at Parties at the Shops in 2013 underlined this, and the success in 2014 emphatically underlined it.
But I do agree with him because – as I said above – we’re not perfect. There’s always more to be done.
And, to truly experience the best of Canberra, you actually need to scratch the surface. Parliament House (and its occupants) ain’t Canberra. London Circuit on Sundays isn’t Canberra. We who live here know this.
So I’m choosing to interpret Waterford’s article as a call to arms.
The vociferous criticism – within and outside Canberra – truly appears to be out of jealousy, or misunderstanding. We can’t just be quietly smug. And as much as I like to hear others sing our praises, we can’t rely on it. It’s incumbent on us to prove the naysayers wrong. I want to believe that a time when it’s only Queanbeyan rolling their eyes at our liveability and success is within our reach. I want to believe we’re just a couple of years away from a time when the media doesn’t pit people against each other debating Canberra’s merits or otherwise, but just going, ‘Yep, can see why. That’s pretty fair.’
We’ve done so much so far to take the air out of the arguments. But we’re not done. It’s not over yet.
Got that bold, nervous idea? Launch it.
Want to start a community group? Host a street party, drinks in a park, or a start a small mother’s group in your neighbourhood. That community is ready to embrace it – and, really, what do you lose by trying?
Got pride in your city? Live it in every action, from shouting it in every forum, to picking up that litter floating by.
Participate. Challenge. Suggest.
(For the record: pride doesn’t mean you’re blinkered. Pride means you love both what we’ve got, and you recognise the potential we have to improve what we’ve got.)
Is your friend’s main criticism of Canberra that it has too many roundabouts? Challenge them on it. (How are roundabouts a criticism?)
(And if their main criticism is of a sculpture of a popular phrase by one of Australia’s most celebrated poets, feel free to laugh. Because that is actually ridiculous.)
Later this month, take ideas from the 101 humans as they get their family and friend knees-deep in the best Canberra has to offer.
What’s the Canberra gem you found when you scratched the surface? Share it. Show others how to experience it, and how to share it themselves.
After all, Canberra is home to so many people who were never born here – myself included. If we can grow to love it – and while I do realise for many that it’s a slow burn – it’s really not a stretch to see how we can use our vantage points to point naysayers in the right direction. Explicitly. And subtly.
This is your moment. My moment. Our moment.
Take advantage of it.
And hey. If all else fails? Link them to this. A man and his family are giving up their lives in the UK, and now Denmark, to make the permanent move to Canberra – and documenting it.
What better vision, pride and advertisement for Canberra could you get than someone who from 16,200 kilometres away is the embodiment of confident, bold and ready?
This is my third trip to Sage Dining Room’s clever concept Taste and Test, where in exchange for a slightly cheaper five-course meal – and you’ve no idea what’s coming – you write out a score for each dish and a short ‘review’ of them right onto your paper tablecloth. The test lasts for four weeks, with the menu changing each week. If a dish gets an average score below 6.5-7 or so, it’s not going to make it onto the more permanent seasonal menu.
Here’s a quick look at the menu from 30 September to 2 October and my thoughts – but a quick summary? It’s really good.
Canberra’s wineries do a darn good job at promoting themselves and making it easy for Canberrans and visitors alike to visit them – and to want to visit them. One such way they do this is the Murrumbateman Moving Feast held over Saturday and Sunday over the October long weekend, where wineries in the Murrumbateman region – a short drive north of Canberra – charge $20 for a home-baked main matched with a glass of wine, or $15 for a dessert (also matched, usually with a dessert wine). You don’t have to have your main and dessert at the same venue; indeed, you’re encouraged to sample different offerings at different wineries, and the tastings are – as usual – free.
It’s easy to wax lyrical about Johnny Boy’s Walkabout Blog, and the man behind it: John Evans. John’s one of the fittest (and nicest) men I’ve ever met, is out and about conquering mountains most days of the week, and documents it all in detail to encourage others to get outside and breathe in the fresh air. All that, and he’s a huge supporter of this humble blog.
As you might suspect, John’s a tad fitter than this reporter, but (fortunately!) he’s keen to show the bush to just about anyone. Together with prolific Canberra tweeter Alison (chifley_alison) who runs Females (Ambling) Around Regional Canberra Mountains (FARCM – try saying that one out loud!), we agree on a public holiday, a 9am start time and some local Canberra hills – Urambi Hills, in fact.