So, what does T2 reckon about Canberra in general?

26 Sep

* This post was by T2, a co-author of In The Taratory from 2011-2013. *

Canberra. The mere mention of this word usually results in a screwing-up-of-the-nose or rolling-of-the-eyes. I’m now used to this reaction when I tell interstate friends where I live. But, after three years of being based in our nation’s capital, I’ve come to realise that there’s much more to the city than meets the eye. While it certainly is public servant territory here, it really doesn’t have to be all work and no play.

To give you a quick idea of my background: I was born in good old Queanbeyan back in ’88 and lived in Canberra until I was two, moved to Queensland for the next seven years, and then moved up to tropical Darwin for my teenage years. So moving back to the ACT in 2009 was almost like coming full circle. As a typical government graduate girl, I experienced all the usual touristy attractions in my first year back here – the pubs, the museums, the monuments and libraries, Parliament House, the ANZAC day dawn ceremony in the freezing cold. And sure, these are the things that make Canberra famous – they’ve gotta be done. But once the generic Canberra ‘to-see’ list has been exhausted, what else is there?

I recently made this question my ongoing mission to find an answer to. Until earlier this year, I was spending every weekend up in Sydney with my boyfriend – so I never had the chance to appreciate Canberra for anything else apart from its career opportunities. When the relationship amicably ended, I suddenly had a lot of free time on my hands. I wasn’t a government graduate with a structured social program of events on anymore, and it was now completely up to me to seek my own fun. Little by little, I started to explore Canberra on my own – and have so far been pleasantly surprised with my findings.

The festivals… The multicultural festival is definitely one of my favourite events of year. The multicultural flavor of my hometown Darwin is evident to anyone who visits, but Canberra sometimes seems to be little more than a mecca of public servants. The multicultural festival proves otherwise. Every year in February, Garema Place transforms from a quiet open space to a bustling hub of food, music and dancing representing all sorts of ethnicities. My friends and I spent this year’s event sipping on Spanish sangria, snacking on Turkish Gözleme and Polish pastries, watching Pacific Islander dancing, and listening to some type of exotic Middle-Eastern music. We loved that beer and spirits could be bought and freely taken with you as you wandered (stein of Schöfferhofer Hefeweizen, anyone?). My mouth is watering just thinking about it…

And the multicultural festival is just the start of the festivals that Canberra has on offer. There’s the National Folk Festival over Easter (can’t say I’ve been, but it really got some of my colleagues excited!), the winter Fireside Festival (perfect for the wine and food lovers amongst us, i.e. me), the International Film Festival, the Street Machine Summernats, the spring Floriade festival… Personally, next on my list are the Thai Food Festival (which happens to be on today – yum!), the Nara Candle Festival and – the one I’m most excited about – the FORESHORE Summer Music Festival in November (the line-up is friggen’ amazing: Armin Van Buuren, Afrojack, LMFAO, Salt n Pepa, Gotye, to name a few. Not bad for little old Canberra, eh?!). There really seems to be a festival for every interest type. A quick squizz online tells me that upcoming festivals include the Pura Vida Latin Festival, the Canberra Medieval Tournament and Fair, the International Electric Vehicle Festival, the Canberra Highland Gathering, and the Country Music Festival… given that the ACT only has a population of around 350,000, I’d say that we’re pretty darn spoiled for choice.

The performing arts… I recently attended some great performances at The Street Theatre, a cosy auditorium on the ANU campus. After living here for three years, I can’t believe I only just discovered this venue two months ago. Of particular note was Improvention, a week-long event that showcased improvised theatre (see T1’s Improvention post for more info). I admired the spontaneity and creativity of the performances. The participants really challenged my view on what a typical ‘actor’ should look like – there were middle-aged mothers, handsome twenty-something guys, shy-looking younger girls, and professional men who’d seemed to have come straight from the office to the stage. I guess I was expecting the performing arts scene to be dominated by uni students, but this definitely wasn’t the case. I’m also looking forward to attending the Avenue Q show down the road at the ANU Arts Centre – an adult version of Sesame Street? With REALLY rude language and live puppet SEX? Sounds brilliant to me.

The food…. Canberra apparently has the highest number of restaurants per capita in Australia. So I guess we’re pretty spoiled for choice food-wise, too. My personal favourites are Tazé in Civic (I LOVE the décor, and the ‘Light Indulgence’ banquet is a must), Mecca Bah in Manuka, and the Wasabi Teppanyaki restaurant in Dickson (there’s nothing like this in Darwin, so it was a real novelty when I first went there. Even though I nearly copped an egg yolk in the eye!).

Brodburger is also bit of a Canberra favourite that I only recently came across (I do realise that I’m late to the party with this one). The concept is simple: delicious burgers served from a tiny red caravan by the Kingston foreshore. While the wait was a bit excessive (45 minutes is a bit much to ask when you’re starving like we were!), my friend and I enjoyed basking in the warmth of the sun and watching little ones feeding swans. I’m a real fan of the Brod VegStack burger: char-grilled mushies, eggplant, zucchini and capsicum, with a gourmet bun, fried haloumi cheese and vinaigrette dressing. Pretty fancy for a little caravan, if you ask me!

There are also some yummy dining options a short drive out of Canberra. A couple of weeks ago, I had a pleasant Sunday brunch at Flint in the Vines at the Shaw Vineyards in Murrumbateman. Their ‘Morning Salad’ was delish, and it was a lovely 30-minute drive to get there (it felt like the ‘real Australia’ – a long, open road, paddocks with grazing sheep and cows, blue skies…). I had no idea that Canberra’s winery region was so well established – and I’m a wine lover, so I was particularly stoked to find this out! The popular Poacher’s Pantry is next on my wishlist…

The markets… Then there is, of course, the Old Bus Depot Markets in Kingston. I really miss the Mindil Beach Sunset Markets back in Darwin, with their juicy mango smoothies and Asian-influenced food – but nothing beats some freshly roasted nuts and mulled wine or hot apple cider on a winter Sunday. I love being able to wander through the stalls, tasting tidbits of fudge, dips, cheeses, oils. And, on select Saturdays, the markets transform into Fash ‘n’ Treasure; ‘Canberra’s one and only fashion event,bringing together local wardrobes, fashion designers, fashion shops, milliners and stylist’. As a keen market-goer and fashion lover, the promise of two whole levels of clothing and accessories certainly appeals to me! (Read more about Fash ‘n’ Treasure here)

The snowfields… One of Canberra’s major draw cards is definitely its proximity to the ski fields. I’ve now checked out both Thredbo and Perisher Blue; two of Australia’s most popular resorts. The fact that I can drive a mere 2.5 hours and see snow is still such a novelty to me. I still may be a shit-house skier and very amateur snowboarder, but I don’t really care because it’s so much bloody fun (read more about my snow adventures here). A rather expensive hobby, yep, but also an awesome excuse to get outdoors when winter beckons (I’ve noticed that so many people seem to go into hibernation for those three months, why?!). Anyway, I’ll find the Torah Bright in me yet, I know it…


The nightlife
… Canberra has an interesting mix of small cocktail bars (think Muddle Bar or Knightsbridge), pubs (good old King O’Malleys springs to mind) and clubs (Academy – although I can’t say I’ve been there. The line of teenyboppers at the entrance has always turned my friends and I off). I used to work casually at Sub-Urban in Dickson for a while, so I might be a little biased, but I reckon it’s a great place for a Sunday sesh. Live music, pizzas and cheap cocktails – always a winner.

A good memory I have of a recent night out in Canberra was at Monkey Bar.  A group of mates and I had randomly decided to check it out after a few pre-drinks at Uni Pub, only to discover that it was salsa night. We hadn’t expected it and none of us knew how to dance salsa-style, but decided to spontaneously join in the fun anyway. We spent the next hour or two shimmying away – it was awesome. (I have since signed up for beginner salsa lessons, so I’ve got plans to go back to Monkey Bar again soon and really burn up that dance floor. Haha…)

The lifestyle… In a more general sense, I love the fact that Canberra has four distinct seasons, each enjoyable in their own way. Being a Darwin girl, I’m used to only two seasons: dry and wet. Canberra, in contast, has summer – warm but not unbearably humid (perfect for sinking some beers on Aussie Day). Autumn, where the leaves change colour and the air becomes crisp (this is best viewed from a early morning hot-air balloon ride, as I discovered in April). Winter, a season that draws many complaints, but is a great excuse to dress up in fancy coats and boots (I relish being able to wear something other than Darwin’s year-round dress code of thongs and singlets!). And spring, my absolute favourite time of year, a breath of fresh air as Floriade blooms and the coats are peeled off.

It’s also great that Canberrans are such an active bunch! I reckon it’s actually hard to lead a sedentary life here, when so many people around you are talking about running around Lake Burley Griffin, hiking in the Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, playing indoor soccer, or going to Zumba classes. My local gym here at the Canberra International Sports and Aquatic Centre is the best gym I’ve ever seen – it’s the size of an airport hanger! And now that spring is finally here, I’m definitely more motivated to get amongst it and chisel myself a six pack 😛

The work… Lastly, I do really enjoy my job here. I love being at the heart of pressing political issues, and contributing to something that is frequently reported on in the news. Our department’s Minister certainly keeps us on our toes – but the challenge is what keeps me interested.  I admit that I was pretty excited when I first saw Kevin Rudd in the flesh (and, as lame as it sounds, I want to try and get a picture with him for my Facebook profile next time!). For a small-town Darwin girl, this is all a pretty big step up for me. I’m excited to see where my career in Canberra will lead, cos there’s definitely some sweet opportunities on offer…

So, basically, I reckon that Canberra is what you make of it. Unlike New York or London (or even Sydney or Melbourne), the city isn’t overflowing with action. If you stick around to get a closer look, though, you’ll uncover a charismatic city with plenty of endearing qualities. You just gotta seek things out – too many people seem to whinge about Canberra’s shortcomings, seemingly without making a real effort to break out of their comfort zone. By accepting invitations to events that I would’ve normally dismissed in the past, I’ve come to appreciate our city a lot more. And while Canberra’s sunsets are definitely nowhere near as magical as Darwin’s, I’ll now admit that there is actually something kinda special about living here…

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One Response to “So, what does T2 reckon about Canberra in general?”

  1. Ryan January 2, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    Thank you for this.. i’ll be moving to canberra shortly and have found these blogs quite helpful in the build up. please keep them coming

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