Dear Canberra (a love letter, of sorts)

17 Jan

Dear Canberra

Five years ago today
at 11.50am
I boarded a plane to be with you indefinitely
even though
I’d never met you.

I remember the horror I felt when I realised
from my seat (11B)
that with each second
the plane was taking me further
and further
from everything I knew.

Our first meeting was on the back
of your inhabitants’ generosity
and smiles.
I don’t remember 11A’s name
or face
but somehow
she had the kindness –
the guts –
to point out landmarks to me
on your thirsty land
after I’d disrupted the entire flight
with too-soon homesick tears.

Next, a familiar face spotted me
insisted she and her partner
properly introduce me to you
with a tour.
They knew you well
were at ease with you
and from inside the car
(where you couldn’t hear us)
gave me a brief education on your quirks.

The next day it seemed natural
to get to know your democratic heart
so I stood in the House of Reps
saw a copy of the Magna Carta
(legend has it that it’s
stained with hot cocoa)
and heard why Parliament House’s roof
was the only green grass
you were able
to wear.

You put a lot of effort into our introduction –
insisting I meet
your pubs and restaurants and festivals
(on our first Australia Day together
we saw some fellow named Gotye
perform on Parliament House’s
but I wasn’t sure how much I liked you
and wasn’t sure whether
I could actually live with you
long term.

You sure took a bit of getting used to
with your ‘lane one forms’
your 9pm summer sunsets
your 4.30pm winter sunsets
your omnipresent pay parking
your drivers who rush to fill
your highways between suburbs
your CBD called ‘Civic’
and yes, your many roundabouts.

Sometimes you just assumed
that I would simply know
the important things about you:
that I’d have my winter coat ready
to fight off
your icy moods;
that I’d anticipate your frosty punishment
if I left my car outside
in winter;
that I’d be able to speak Acronym
with you;
that your winter begins
on April 25
and doesn’t end in August
or even September
but in mid-October.

To be honest,
at times
I just wasn’t sure I could stand you.

But, I put in the effort
to make our relationship
you began to share with me
your surprises
events which would change your life
and your secrets.

And now
Five wonderful years have passed.

You’ve surprised me with:
the amount of people
who brave the winter Raiders games;
how a road accident causes serious traffic delays –
not because of the prang
but because everyone
seagulls in Civic (what the?);
how to pronounce Wamboin
and Bonython;
Deakin Pharmacy which cures me
of any ailment;
taxi drivers who remember me
six months later;
the breathtaking afternoon view of the Brindabellas
from the crest of Erindale Drive;
American chocolate (peanut butter cups!!!) in your IGAs.

I remember celebrating with you
when your drought broke;
when the sign on Belconnen Way
urging water restraint
was finally taken away.
I remember when Black Mountain Tower
started changing colour
at night
and when it seemed like the GDE
would never be finished.
I remember staying up late with you
on 23 June 2010
glued to ABC News
and how you carried on
the next day

With your encouragement, I’ve
climbed walked up Mt Kosciuszko (twice);
frozen my feet in Blue Waterholes
on a 40 degree day;
kayaked on Lake Burley Griffin;
listened to the whispering trees
in the Pinnacle;
had my attempts to hike
Mt Gingera
thwarted by you
(three times!)
(one day I’ll get there);
met kangaroos
in the strangest of places;
celebrated with picnics
at Shepherd’s Lookout;
floated with marshmallow clouds
atop Booroomba Rocks
in winter;
canoed down Kangaroo River;
bought armfuls of lilies
from the Saturday Farmers Markets;
stood in a snowstorm on Mt Ginini;
attend music festivals
between two Government buildings;
breathed in the peppermint trees
of the Boboyan Valley;
spotted an echidna ambling
on the shores of Lake Ginninderra, and
marvelled at the lake’s steam-like July morning fog;
cursed the chilly South Coast waves
and their remarkable skill
in bikini stealing;
shivered in the coolness
of Yarrangobilly Caves;
had fish nibble on my feet
in the Snowy River.

I’ve jostled for a seat at Wig and Pen;
joined in the excitement about the opening of Me and Mrs Jones;
heard the stories about
South Pac;
counted down to the Multicultural Festival;
trekked to Goodberry’s
for their headache-ending solutions;
confirmed Mee’s Sushi is THE BEST;
salivated when discussing Griffith Vietnamese;
mourned when Portia left Portia’s Place;
cooked my own steak at the Kingston Hotel;
fantasised about 2 Yummy’s
salt and pepper bean curd;
argued that Civic Asian Noodle House
beats Dickson’s (it does!);
eaten a truckload of macarons
from the Flute Bakery;
and raved about Sage
to anyone who’ll listen.

Every day I fall more in love
with your packed breakfast cafes
and the sun on your lakes.
During the day
I look forward to
embracing you after work;
your golden-mauve twilight;
the bright stars in your sky;
and late nights in Civic with friends.
Even your wintry moods are worth it
because they’ve taught me
what it means
to truly appreciate
your spring.

After five years
some people would say
I should know everything about you
but instead
I remain overwhelmed
with all there still is
to learn about
and celebrate.
But Canberra, what I do know
is just how lucky I am
to be with you.
(Thanks for letting me be
a part of your life.)


It’s only January and Canberrans are beginning to write love letters to celebrate our Centenary this year. Look for #canberraloveletters on Twitter, or for a taste, try

Look forward to adding to this list!

For those wondering: yes, I still do have that plane ticket.

For those wondering: yes, I still do have that plane ticket.



29 Responses to “Dear Canberra (a love letter, of sorts)”

  1. Gary Lum January 17, 2013 at 7:44 am #

    A beautiful post Tara 🙂

    • inthetaratory January 17, 2013 at 7:54 am #

      Thanks Gary – a bit raw, but I suppose all great love letters are, right? 🙂

      • Gary Lum January 17, 2013 at 7:56 am #

        Exactly. I like so much about Canberra, some things not so much. #TrueLove 🙂

      • inthetaratory January 17, 2013 at 7:58 am #

        Yes – sometimes Canberra takes a great deal of effort, but the rewards are worth it 🙂

  2. Amanda Caldwell January 17, 2013 at 9:48 am #

    This is lovely,and reminds me of so many of the similar things we did in our early years in Canberra. (Kosciusko, Blue Water Holes, Yarrangobilly and Booroomba. Time to revisit, 25 years on. Thanks.

    • inthetaratory January 17, 2013 at 1:39 pm #

      Thank you so much for your lovely comment. The time spent in those places are some of my favourite memories so far. Would love for you to come back and let me know how they were on your revisit 🙂

  3. Victoria Taylor January 17, 2013 at 11:34 am #

    After moving to Canberra around 20 years ago “lane one form” still does my head in….

    • inthetaratory January 17, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

      Sometimes I have wondered if it is only me who still reads it that way, every single time!

      • Andrew January 18, 2013 at 5:30 pm #

        Nope I read it that way every time too and I was born here…

      • inthetaratory January 18, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

        Haha love it! Glad some brains work similarly 😀

  4. Anna Gordon January 17, 2013 at 7:54 pm #

    I read this whilst enjoying Chardonnay and Brodburger on a picnic blanket next to Lake B. G. At 8pm on a summer evening, waiting for the gorgeous sunset I know is coming – perfection

    • inthetaratory January 17, 2013 at 8:34 pm #

      😀 And the sunset arrived, and it was AMAZING. And I was at The Pinnacle and my camera ran out of battery! The best part is that I know Canberra will put on another spectacular show again 🙂

  5. Tracey January 18, 2013 at 10:46 pm #

    Wow! you brought back some of my own memories…truly inspirational and very well written.

    Thank you for sharing, I’m a fan!

    • inthetaratory January 18, 2013 at 11:22 pm #

      Thank you so much! So happy to hear it is helping other people relive memories too. Feel free to share 🙂

  6. Kylie January 20, 2013 at 2:46 pm #

    Loved this. Read it within days of the eight year anniversary of our moving here and I am happy to say that Canberra feels like home to me. No one else who doesn’t live here can understand it, but Canberra and I love each other. Even when she is being a cold-hearted witch with her frosty stare and chilly demeanour, she is my home.

    • inthetaratory January 20, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

      Thank you! Lovely sentiment – yes, she is home.

  7. lquisp January 22, 2013 at 3:27 am #

    Sort of reminds me of how things would go if you had an “arranged marriage.” The fear, the awkward beginnings, the slow familiarity, the times together, the appreciation of the other… then the beginnings of love 😉

  8. Greg Hutchison January 22, 2013 at 2:28 pm #

    Yes very nice girls. You missed a few like seeing Black Mountain Tower hit by lightning at night, the sky blotted out by dark swirling smoke on 18Jan03 (topical lately). I guess you had enough already. Stuff it! It was great!

    • inthetaratory January 22, 2013 at 2:42 pm #

      I could only write from things I had experienced myself, and arrived 5 years after the bushfires. Still very much a part of Canberra identity. And trust me, there was so much I had to cull from the list!

      • Brian Arnell January 23, 2013 at 11:58 am #

        A beautiful piece Tara. It took me six and a half years and a month long holiday back to Brisbane in July last year to realise despite the winter chill that when I landed, I was truly home.

      • inthetaratory January 23, 2013 at 2:37 pm #

        Thanks very much Brian 🙂

  9. Matt March 8, 2013 at 8:17 am #

    Thanks for that. The part about cresting Erindale Drive and seeing the Brindaballas almost brought me to tears. Every time I come back from who knows where and prepare to drop back into the Valley I reach that exact point, take a long, loving look down towards Mt Tennant with it’s gorgeous panorama and ask myself, “Why would I want to live anywhere else?” I don’t and I won’t!


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