16 April 2024

4 places that prove Canberra isn't boring

| John Coleman
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Smith's Alternative Canberra

The piano sounds like a carnival and the microphone smells like kombucha at Smith’s Alternative. Photo: Region.

The states have always been rude to each other, but they’ve always been much crueller to the territories – to the extent they twice tried to stop us having senators like them. So when the shiny-faced Queensland Premier called Canberra “awful” not long ago, no one was surprised. And no one was offended.

Except the Member for Canberra Alicia Payne who – bless her loyalty – mounted a response that sort of proved Steven Miles’ implication that we are all boring. Her rebuke concluded with: “Let’s have a constructive conversation”.

Well, if we do want to have one, perhaps a good start is to list four places that prove Canberra has a ‘rizz’ all of its own. Contrary to Yvette Berry’s suggestion, the Belconnen Owl will not be included because while phallic landmarks are nice to have around, there’s no nightclub at its base. It therefore doesn’t make the place fun for longer than a “hey look, [sub-editor removed]”.

1) We have colour: Smith’s Alternative

You know you’re nearing Canberra’s bohemian bar when you hear the sound of a dead piano being flogged.

A live music, improv and poetry platform with a bar/cafe as an afterthought, Smith’s Alternative is always open when you need it to be. Furthermore, you will never be the weirdest thing in there, and collapsing into the garish red sofas is like a hug from an abundantly-bosomed aunt. It’s a great place to end the night, and an even better place to grab a cup of chai and a rum and Coke before the Murrays bus out of here.

If that’s your last memory of Canberra, you’ll be back.

2) We have vibe: The New Acton precinct

New Acton succeeds where so many precincts fail: it has soul, thanks to Molonglo Group being the Sir Christopher Wrens of Canberra. There are leafy gardens and rusty sculptures to discover, lovely promenade cafes in a style that fits the heritage of Canberra, and in the imaginative Nishi building itself you’ll find a boutique cinema and one of Canberra’s more unique cocktail bars. That’s everything from lunch to 11 pm sorted.

If Canberra was defined by the New Acton precinct and Melbourne was defined by Federation Square, we would win.

3) We have serious institutions: Australian War Memorial

War memorial

Currently undergoing a massive extension, the Australian War Memorial is a world-leading museum and memorial. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Unlike other world capitals, Canberra didn’t have the chance to have all the national institutions in one place – our National Gallery is good, but you know your art journey in Australia isn’t complete until you’ve been to the National Gallery in Melbourne.

The Australian War Memorial is not divisible, however. It is a definitive institution and, like the British Museum, you can only recommend it to visiting friends with the note: “Don’t try and do it all in one day”.

4) We have imagination: Lake Burley Griffin, these days

Credit must go to GoBoat’s Nick Tyrrell and Love Boats‘ Charles Chatain for making a charcuterie board and a game of cards on Lake Burley Griffin a Sunday afternoon reality. We haven’t quite got to wakeboarding, seaplanes or floating saunas yet, but the idea of boating on Canberra’s body of water as comfortably and accessibly as possible was a visionary one.

READ ALSO Wanted: Your memories of one of our most historic landmarks – Cuppacumbalong

Add to that a litany of lakeside venues, including The Jetty, Margot, The Marion, and a revamped Snapper & Co, and suddenly no one’s talking about blue-green algae and shopping trolleys anymore.

5) Telstra Tower

Just kidding. Read our story here on where that’s up to.

What do you think? What places in Canberra do you think show we’re not boring?

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HiddenDragon7:42 pm 16 Apr 24

This recent nostalgia-fest, which obviously struck a chord with many Rioters, was a reminder that Canberra’s rapid growth over recent decades hasn’t necessarily been matched by a commensurate growth in good things to do and places to be –


People who want the sorts of formulaic offerings you will find just about anywhere in the more affluent bits of the world will be happy enough in Canberra, and probably more so than in earlier times, but anyone looking for something genuinely beyond that and/or what is offered by the national institutions located here, will likely still come to the conclusion that something is missing.

Anyone that thinks Canberra is boring doesn’t under stand Canberra. it’s got its own vibe and character it doesn’t need outside approval from anyone and if you don’t like it goodbye and thanks for visiting

Canberra is not boring. Seemingly every day the national media breathlessly reports on nocturnal antics within Parliament House. This den of debauchery excites the imagination of all Australians. What else goes on there? Barnaby is always fun and you never know where you’ll find him. Canberra has diplomatic incidents, political scandals, Senate Estimates and Expenditure Review Committes to fascinate us. We don’t have a Big Pineapple but we do have the Longest Protest. Australia would be a boring place without Canberra.

Truth it’s a hive of activity and debate

“Belconnen Owl will not be included because while phallic landmarks are nice …”

How revealing. Don’t assume we all see what you see.

John Coleman9:51 pm 15 Apr 24

you can’t Freud me there – the comparison is widely reported in the community

London, New York, Melbourne, all have great events. I’m sick of toddling up to Sydney to see a show or to sit in a grand stadium to watch an international act or show. When was the last ‘big’ act to tour Canberra?

Peter Graves3:43 pm 15 Apr 24

Omitted entirely is the very reason why Canberra was designed and built. To be the place of the National Government. Unfortunately, the word ” politics” seems a disincentive to some. But it is the heart of Canberra’s existence and Parliament House enables those sceptics to see “politics” and “government” in action.

Much less Old Parliament House – properly titled “The Museum of Australian Democracy”. Democracy and our abilities to influence the Australian version are to be cherished. As Sophie Drew has already commented “how unique it is from other cities”.

John Coleman5:32 pm 15 Apr 24

In the same way you can see Melbourne’s gold-fuelled financial history about the place. But people do live here and it’s not unfair to expect it to develop a personality beyond its purpose.

But perhaps our personality should be more unashamedly political.

It is already a bit – The Kingston Hotel boasts about its ‘36 faceless men’ notoriety, Capital Bar & Grill has politics all over the wall, Hotel Kurrajong certainly doesn’t hide the fact Chifley died there. In fact I think you can stay in his bedroom almost as he left it.

Thus MoAD is a good mention. That’s a museum only Canberra can do (especially given we can house it in the actual old Parliament House). It’s an excellent museum at that.

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