Canberra Centenary year in review

21 Dec

The Canberra Centenary celebrations are over. With that, it’s time to review if the One Very Big Year was as big as it should have been, as it could have been, and as it claimed to be.

Major events

Like Canberra

Canberra 100 really began, for me, with “Like Canberra” – what seemed like a clever campaign to get a conversation happening about the great things in and of Canberra. We submitted nominations for things we ‘liked’ about Canberra, and the top ones of those were then available to be voted on so that we could produce a 100-strong shortlist to share with the world.

The nominations worked well enough (despite a few queries why we were simply only able to ‘like’ not ‘love’), but then it went … awry. When the website launched to allow us to vote, it didn’t work particularly well. The nominations didn’t really seem to be properly vetted or reviewed, with double-ups, or close similarities between some. Others were bizarre.  Some of us found we were voting for things just by idly clicking, innocently wondering what it was that was apparently popularly nominated. To their credit, the team re-launched the website following a few days of complaints. Still, the process meant that strange or silly ones on which were let through to the voting stage were then voted on. The 100 shortlist was a conversation starter, but not something we could proudly and confidently share and use to promote Canberra. Our top five was Nightfest, ‘fantastic views of the mountains’, Scotty and Nige, Skyfire and Summernats. It also includes ‘fresh air’, ‘best place in Australia’ and ‘it’s my home’. Enough said.



Taking the Like Canberra shirt on tour through the Snowy Mountains...

Taking the Like Canberra shirt on tour through the Snowy Mountains…

... and SE Asia!

… and SE Asia!

Fortunately, the social hashtag #likecanberra gained and maintained popularity throughout the year, and the Like Canberra shirts were a price that was accessible and had a simple, effective message. But, the Facebook page was rarely updated (and not very well), and once the list was distributed, it wasn’t really referred to again. (You know what? Googling the list just takes me to error pages. However, it can still be viewed on the Canberra 100 ‘wrap’ page here.)

Not getting the launch event right – the event which was supposed to build our pride – sadly undermined confidence in the preparation of the celebrations for the rest of the year.

Verdict? Borderline pass.

Canberra Day Celebrations

I wrote extensively about the Canberra Centenary Celebrations here. There was something for everyone, but it was a little difficult to find – the day was poorly mapped and described, and very spread out. The Bubbly Bars were excellent – for those who knew about them early enough to buy tickets. I loved what the day tried to do, but it tried to do too much. That said, the fact that it seemed like every Canberran in town was there rather than down the coast means it was successful.

Bubbly Bars

Bubbly Bars

Verdict: Pass


How about a kiss, eh, love?

How about a kiss, eh, love?

Where do I begin? I hated her, and then I accepted her. She goes all right.

But, did we really need a Skywhale? The thing about Canberra is that most of Australia already thinks we do things a bit differently; we already have things they don’t understand (eg roundabouts), things which people already talk about as a bit unusual.

Yeah, we got some attention, but it was for doing something a bit different, a bit controversial – like usual. Skywhale just affirmed what the rest of Australia already thinks: we do thinks differently here.

The money could probably have been better spent promoting what we already do very well. But, I like her.

Verdict? Pass.

Canberra Centenary Trail

For me, and others – like Tim the Yowie Man, and perhaps John Evans – this was probably the biggest event of the centenary year. It bound us as a city like never before, and gave us a connection between national institutions, suburbs and bushland. It’s designed in a way that it can be completed in a few days (see John’s experience) for example, or can be completed in patches (like me – I’ve only done about 12k total).


Again, it wasn’t pulled off particularly well – some of the tracks are a little odd, and the signage in places is poor or non-existent – but by the time it launched I suppose we were used to that. That said, because, like the National Arboretum, it’s intended to be around for a long time rather than a one-off event, we have opportunities to tweak it, and maintain it, and improve it. The concept itself is a winner – and, hey, it even covers off our second highest vote in the “Like Canberra” exercise!

Verdict? Pass.

Other events

Robyn Archer said: “When we devise and launch a program, it’s only ever a blueprint. Our success is measured by how people pick up that program, run with it, and make it their own.” This is all about the Centenary Martini (‘Centini’) event. Devised by Canberra man Philip Jones and supported by the Centenary team well after the year began, it was a great success with a ‘Northside’ and ‘Southside’ martini, an auction for special centenary martini glasses and canapes.

Centini in action

Centini in action

(In the same vein, I love that local chocolate maker Robyn Rowe made her own Canberra 100 chocolate – salted caramel, no less.)

Robyn Rowe Canberra 100 chocolates

Robyn Rowe Canberra 100 chocolates

Australia v the West Indies was a brilliant event which gave us a bit of an international standing and allowed us to really showcase Canberra at its best – in the summer, with daylight savings. The new lights looked brilliant.

World class.

World class.

Spin Saturday was… I don’t really know what it was. But it was different and I can now say I’ve seen cars being crushed.

Aaand we're done

Aaand we’re done

The National Arboretum opened to a great deal of fanfare and deservedly so – the views are sweeping and what it intends to do is grand, and lasting. But was it really a Centenary event, or a coincidence?

One of the views from the Arboretum

One of the views from the Arboretum

Other smaller events jumped on and under the Canberra 100 banner, including the celebrations of the Morris car company, which was also enjoying its 100th year.

Happy 100th, Morris cars and Canberra!

Happy 100th, Morris cars and Canberra!

But the best event for me is still Enlighten Canberra. Yeah, yeah, I know this wasn’t its first year, but some effort was made to ensure it captured distinctly centenary elements. It’s a huge drawcard for Canberrans and visitors, and taking advantage of the centenary year was – like the Arboretum – smart. The big surprise to me was that all the projections stopped just before our Canberra Day celebrations. I still don’t understand this. Canberra Day was held in the exact space – amongst our national institutions – where these projections were shown, and it was all over by the time it came to celebrate.

Projection by Canberra photo-celebrity Martin Ollman - capturing our centenary, no less

Projection by Canberra photo-celebrity Martin Ollman – capturing our centenary, no less

Verdict? Pass.


So, the Canberra events were by and large a success. Some of them were a little odd, or tried to do too much – particularly the bigger, statement ones – but I have some lovely memories of some really great events.

I have lovely memories of them because I knew about them. Because I trawled the website and pushed past any frustration I had with the calendar system they were using. Because my friends on social media were great at letting everyone know what they were up to. Others in Canberra weren’t so lucky.
Looking back through the Image Gallery on the Canberra 100 website, I’m surprised with just how much I never heard about. (It’s also clear that, like I presented above, some things had a real centenary vibe, others were regular/yearly events, and others were just unknowns – for a variety of reasons.)

The most common complaint was that people only really knew about events they might have liked to attend after the event. The Bubbly Bars were a case in point. This was an early lesson, but it appeared there was no learning from it – lack of knowledge remained a theme throughout the year.

Spin Saturday

Spin Saturday

Even those events that were promoted sometimes contained a paucity of information. I’ve already said it a few times, but I didn’t really know what Spin Saturday was, and I still don’t; I certainly don’t quite get what the Canberra connection was. Was the paucity of information a corollary of some events trying to do too much, so that it was too difficult to explain and promote concisely? Or was it because, for some events, the link to Canberra and the centenary was too tenuous?

Verdict? Fail.


The fact that I’m writing this short of 2013 concluding tells me that the timing wasn’t quite right. I am terribly bemused that the Canberra 100 celebrations wrapped up earlier this week, that the social media accounts closed, and that the website has gone into some weird archived ‘wrap’ thing where all the links from Google fail. I don’t understand the reasoning behind the celebrations finishing early. What about centenary NYE fireworks to celebrate a great year? What about an exhibition of Christmases in Canberra over the past 100 years? (Okay, this is why I wasn’t the creative director, but you see what I mean.)

2013-02-06 22.55.31

Thinking back on the rest of the year, I felt like it really had momentum for the first half of the year, but then winter swept in and it was tools down. The events in the second half of the year seemed fewer and further in between, and seemed to contain more of those events I’ve never even heard of. It’s been a theme of this post, but again I think it may have been a case of trying to do too much. To really work with the ‘4 beautiful seasons, 12 fantastic months’ theme, I think we could have had a major event each season, and then one medium-sized event each month, and then other little events – keep the momentum going, have us always looking forward to something.

Did we peak too early? Probably. Did it help that our anniversary was in March? Not really. But like with promotion, everything seemed to wind down a little too quickly. We seemed to burn out, rather than finish the year with a bang.

Verdict? Borderline pass.


Ever since 2013 began, I’ve always been curious about what the Canberra 100 legacy would be. What would be ephemeral, and what would make a lasting impression?

At the time of writing, it’s still a little confusing about what events from the Centenary year will become regulars, but we do know that Parties at the Shops will be part of 2014. I didn’t go in 2013, and I know this is one of the Chief Minister’s favourite events; I think it’s great to bring the Canberra pride to the suburbs. Others, like the One Day International and Bubbly Bars, look more dubious, which is a real shame.

But the real legacy is the pride we have in our capital. I (and I wasn’t the only one) was inspired to write a love letter to Canberra at the beginning of the year, marking five years in Canberra with a small nod to the Centenary. We vigorously defended Canberra against the ridiculous post by Martin McKenzie-Murray.

Canberra 100 gave us an opportunity to really look at ourselves, and what it means to live here. The events allowed us to unite as a city, as different parts of one large, diverse city, throughout the year; and we did. We showed ourselves that there is a lot more here than just Parliament House, and that we’re proud of what we’ve got here, what we’ve created and built. After 100 years I feel like Canberra has a real, shared identity.

And, yeah, it might be difficult to explain to outsiders. But it’s ours.

Verdict? Pass.


This is my last post for 2013. THANK YOU for all the support you have each shown In The Taratory this year in what has been its biggest and best year by far. I couldn’t do it without you.


4 Responses to “Canberra Centenary year in review”

  1. Liz December 23, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    Great summary. Thanks for keeping us all across all things Canberra 🙂

  2. Gary Lum December 23, 2013 at 8:19 pm #

    Tara I enjoyed reading this. I read it as if you were trying as hard as possible to portray a really positive impression. You’ve done a great job this year promoting Canberra and your blog has been a terrific vehicle. In fact I think your efforts far outweighed the efforts of the official team who was meant to promote Canberra. I thought the whole thing was a massive failure. Canberra is the national capital, a designed city, a selected city, a special city. The centenary celebrations didn’t do anything to make me proud of Canberra as our nation’s capital. It just gave me the impression that the officials wanted to tell another story, a story I didn’t really understand.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to visit Washington DC and London. Two great cities. I think Canberra with its national ‘things’ can be as great, albeit being the ‘bush capital’. The centenary campaign has set back the cause.

    The one thing I thought was good was the Human Brochure but I’m not sure the officials took the advantage the way it could have been captured and amplified.

    The skywhale was a waste of taxpayers money. My money. The only way I could bear to think of it was as a Giant Carbuncle, a multiloculated abscess with many heads pointing to release its purulent exudate in an ejaculatory eruption that brings amount enormous joy and happiness much like the climatic release felt when a very painful abscess is incised with surgical steel. As a lover of infections and pus, it was the only way I could appreciate it. The head looked like the beak from a squid which was also a positive. Otherwise it was just bizarre and I don’t know anyone outside of Canberra who thought it was a good thing for Canberra.

    Like you I can’t for the life of me understand why the campaign isn’t continuing to new years eve. It’s almost like the officials have given up, or run out of taxpayers money, or aren’t committed enough to see the job through or believe having a holiday is more important than work. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but in a city that boasts of being populated by hard working souls, it seems odd to stop short of completing the task.

    I trust In the Taratory will continue its work in promoting our nation’s capital city into 2014 and beyond.

    Yours always
    A committed reader and supporter


  1. Water’s Edge on a quiet Friday night in Canberra | Yummy Lummy - December 28, 2013

    […] Canberra Centenary year in review ( […]

  2. View: Centenary Loop Bus | In The Taratory - January 13, 2014

    […] on about Canberra’s Centenary. That was so 2013 (and I certainly spent quite a bit of time talking about it, then, too!). But, this deserves a mention, and its own […]

What do you reckon?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: