Eulogy for a City

24 Mar

You Are Here Fest‘s Eulogy for a City is held on a calm (not including the traffic) Wednesday evening. It’s free (like all You Are Here events). A big crowd gathers outside Fletcher Jones to learn about what the city has loved, and lost. We begin with a song from Fred Smith outside what was known as the Gypsy Bar, between Turkish Kitchen and Dina’s Liquor on East Row. The Gypsy Bar began in the mid-90s, and Custard and the Whitlams played there in its hey day. It closed in the early 2000s. For all my walks down East Row, I’ve never noticed the doors which have remained closed for a decade.

The next highlight is in a concrete courtyard behind the Waldorf. It’s one of the oddest courtyards I’ve ever seen and looks like it could have been a knobbly skate park if it really wanted to. Julia Johnson of Julia and the Deep Sea Sirens shows, yet again, what a wonderful storyteller she is with her ode to Toast. While it was a popular nightclub, Toast closed in 2007 following a decision that it was breaching sound laws. As she tells this and her voice echoes across the courtyard, I swear I see a window in the Waldorf swing shut. It’s just as well, because she takes the opportunity to yell out, “Murderers!” to the Waldorf as part of her ode. It’s such a powerful memory that it makes me miss something I’ve never experienced, and didn’t even know existed.

It’s a short walk to our next destination: the Electric Shadows cinema. While CJ Bowerbird isn’t here to read it himself, our hosts have a copy of an incredible poem which is read beautifully about Electric Shadows (and mentions of Toast!). Ashamedly, this is the first time I’ve heard CJ Bowerbird’s work performed, but I’m on the lookout for his next performance. It’s a wonderful poem, and I truly wish I had a copy of it. (You can read his blog here.)

Chrissie outside Monaro Mall

Chrissie outside Monaro Mall

As we continue our walk, we find ourselves walking alongside the Canberra Centre building, and next to the fountain Chrissie Shaw begins the next talk. Monaro Mall opened here in 1963 – where traditionally shops faced outwards onto the street, the mall faced them inside, looking at each other – clever. It was Australia’s first shopping centre, and opened by a Prime Minister (Bob Menzies) – unheard of, now. It was very upmarket for the 60s, and had Australia’s first espresso machine. Behind the mall was also Canberra’s first ticketed pay parking (unsurprising). Again, what I know to be true but too often forget is to look up. If you stand near the outside entrance to David Jones and look up, you can still see the original mosaic from 1960s. It’s beautiful! Even though the mall became the Canberra Centre almost 25 years ago (David Jones an original shop still there), around the corner there’s a Monaro Mall logo on the side of the building, hidden behind a tree.

Monaro Mall logo still exists on what is now the Canberra Centre

Monaro Mall logo still exists on what is now the Canberra Centre

Our penultimate stop is outside what was Heaven Nightclub in Garema Place. Nigel Featherstone shares a very personal experience, and a secret… which I’m not sharing here. I was so intrigued by his story that I didn’t take any notes, and would prefer not to do it a disservice by potentially misquoting him!

Outside Heaven

Outside Heaven

Our final stop is near Gus’s, where we hear about Canberra’s café culture (with the added surprise of free watermelon juice!). Gus challenged the National Capital Development Commission about their bans on outdoor dining (the horror!) and held out against the push to sell Coca-Cola in his café, preferring to sell fruit juice. While a smoker himself, Gus affixed his own warnings to cigarette packets about the need to cut down smoking. A thinker ahead of his time!

I learned so much about our city that I had never known. The evening went by so quickly – 90 minutes was over in a flash – thanks to the genuinely interesting presenters. I imagine it was a real treat for those who were there when these places were open, to be able to reminisce. Having moved to Canberra in 2008, they were all closed by the time I arrived (except for Gus’s of course!). However, the fact that I found myself longing for places that I didn’t know existed is a real testament to the event’s producers and those who passionately shared what were personal and moving stories about what these places meant to them. It really was a eulogy. What’s more, a lot of the defence against ‘Canberra bashing’ recently has been about how Canberra’s culture is really emerging. This taught me that perhaps Canberra’s culture has always been here – you just need to know where to look.
Date: 6pm-7.30pm, Wednesday 20 March

Cost: Free (like almost all You Are Here events)

Worthwhile factor: Highly worthwhile

Want more? You Are Here ends today. If you want to read about what you might have missed out on, they’ve got a great blog covering some of the many things. I also attended Australia 2050 (co-hosted by CSIRO; if you pre-registered you received a $50 voucher to spend, including at places like the ANU Food Co-op and the Capital Region Farmers Market!) and the ACT Roast (check out #actroast on Twitter to see how hilarious it was. Very, very good. Shane Rattenbury the stand out for me. Who knew?). Genuinely can’t wait to see what You Are Here come up with next year.

Postscript: Sadly, my phone got sick and lost all my pics from this event (including the mosaic at David Jones, which really is beautiful!). I’m grateful to my friend who was able to send me some of his.

Postscript 2: If there’s anything in this post which is incorrect, it’s entirely my fault – not the producers or presenters. Feel free to correct me!

6 Responses to “Eulogy for a City”

  1. Gary Lum March 24, 2013 at 1:04 pm #

    Great post Tara. I love the way you write.

    • inthetaratory March 24, 2013 at 2:49 pm #

      Gary you’re always so kind! I’m not a very good writer but i hope that I at least communicate how things affect me 🙂

      • Paul0075 April 8, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

        As a long time visitor and someone who appreciates the history of our fine city, I really enjoyed this. I will have to slip down and grab a pic of the Monaro Mall sign myself! After many years of wanting to move here, I finally did, 2 weeks ago. Loving it so much.

      • inthetaratory April 8, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

        You have genuinely made my day. I’m so pleased to hear that, and I know the You Are Here Festival producers would feel the same. So many hidden gems – perhaps one day you too will tell us about all the things you’ve found, or loved and lost in this great city. You might be interested in this – if not experiencing it in the CBD, even reading the PDF seems a pleasure.


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