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Canberra-bashers have tainted the biggest birthday party of the year

By tjoyner - 2 July 2013 30

‘[Canberrans] are held responsible for the deeds and misdeeds of the politicians whom you elect!’

Crikey’s invocation of a 1992 article from the Age hits squarely the mark after what’s been so far a big year for Canberra-bashers everywhere. In the year of Canberra’s centenary, can’t we all just put on our party hat and enjoy a bit of cake together?

It’s a celebration perhaps more sentimental than most, and Canberra’s unique ability in uniting Australians is more pertinent than ever – sadly a unity not born of pride, but of a universal repugnance for its leafy streets and brooding monuments. A special place for this is reserved in the Australian collective psyche, one linked only with caricature and contempt.

Earlier this year, Madeleine Morris of the BBC joined the diatribe against the bush capital, describing it as ‘dull and devoid of soul’ – a common complaint – although this time it had with it a whiff of monarchical condescension. ‘Poor old Canberra’, she lamented scornfully, ‘few cities do well when they begin as a compromise’. But it was Melbourne Fairfax columnist Martin McKenzie-Murray’s criticism of the capital as ‘sterile’ that drew the biggest public backlash.

Like many federal capitals, Canberra is often lambasted as an unfortunate synecdoche of Australia’s diddling political life, and turned into a common enemy and punchbag for the nation’s parliamentary woes. In the public imagination, its inhabitants are accordingly insufferable, well-to-do, faceless bureaucrats and minions of Australia’s governing machine, like moles perennially stuck underground beneath the flag atop parliament house. Our flag. The recent induction of ‘Canberra-bashing’ into the Australian National Dictionary included two similar meanings, although some would argue that one has become tantamount to the other.

Canberra bashing (noun): 1. The act of criticising the Australian federal government and its bureaucracy. 2. The act of criticising the city of Canberra or its inhabitants.

Instead of defending the capital’s image in public discourse to tourists and skeptics, many Australians tend to abandon all association with it at the first sign of smoke. Actor Guy Pearce, appearing on the Late Late Show in April last year, clinked his proverbial glass with host Craig Ferguson (whose shtick, it is worth reminding ourselves, invariably revolves around his sniggering interactions with a puppet robot named Geoff) over their equally unqualified criticism of a city in which neither live nor have ever spent any great deal of time (in Ferguson’s case likely none at all).

ANU student Uma Patel earlier this year made infamous comments about her university and the capital in the Australian. ‘There is certainly no sense of history’, she concluded, ‘and no graffiti covered laneways to “discover”’. Most Canberrans though, and indeed most historians, would politely insist that Canberra is steeped in national history – one hundred years of it to be precise. As for ‘graffiti covered laneways to “discover”’, it’s surely a defunct sense of civic appreciation that chooses to highlight above all a city’s publically defaced back alleys.

It may not have a beach or a whole lot of trendy bars, and Canberra like other cities has it’s annoyances (namely its high property prices and rental shortages), but it still maintains the highest median income and level of education of any state or territory in the country, an array of well-funded public institutions, low crime rates, and a beautiful lake as its centrepiece and homage to the man and wife who designed it. On the point of design, it’s a strange variety of barometer used when Canberra’s appeal is somehow made inversely proportional to its roundabout quota. This, alongside other undoubtedly irrelevant remarks about a lack of nightlife and an inexplicable overall dullness, stacks up to a well-worn belligerence towards the national icon that is better forgotten.

Canberra-bashing is consistently the cheap blood-sport of those ironically most unfamiliar with the city in the first place. If it’s important to be proud of your country, then why shouldn’t we be equally proud of our capital city?

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by Tom Joyner

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30 Responses to
Canberra-bashers have tainted the biggest birthday party of the year
davo101 8:25 am 03 Jul 13

bikhet said :

Because it’s full of self-important wankers. Be they politicians, bogans, tradies, pubes, hipsters…

So, just like every other city on the planet then.

thebrownstreak69 8:23 am 03 Jul 13

Meh…

astrojax 8:22 am 03 Jul 13
astrojax 8:14 am 03 Jul 13

another no-win article railing against the unfair comments of the faceless denizens of this fair land. the only way to change this is to continue to ignore those who denigrate us; and only spruik the good. or simply remain quiet; letting those who choose to indulge in either definition of canberra bashing marinate in their own ignorance.

milkman 6:58 am 03 Jul 13

Canberra is, I think, a very successful place, due mostly to the mechanisms of government. It’s in the nature of Australia to tear down that which is successful (tall poppy syndrome).

The thing we need to do is grow a thicker skin and stop worrying about things like this. We do live in a privileged part of a wealthy country after all.

downindowner 4:51 am 03 Jul 13

Thanks Tom – I like this article a lot. bikhet: self important wankerism is a by-product of the 21st century and not confined to Canberra.
When I moved here in the 90’s I didn’t think I would be staying.
But I couldn’t leave because after 4 years I’d somehow lost the knack of living in Sydney.
So we don’t have beaches, but why can’t we have one major inland city in Australia? It’s spread out and much more park-like than other cities: well I like parks! And if you want to see Canberra’s soul, you need to know it’s people: try getting involved in arts, music, or the community sector, and see if you don’t meet the warmest, most supportive, most original and dedicated people you could imagine.
In conclusion, my message to all those people who reckon our beautiful city is no good is:
fk you, fk the lot of yous.

artuoui 9:31 pm 02 Jul 13

bikhet said :

“Canberra-bashing is consistently the cheap blood-sport of those ironically most unfamiliar with the city in the first place. If it’s important to be proud of your country, then why shouldn’t we be equally proud of our capital city?”

Because it’s full of self-important wankers. Be they politicians, bogans, tradies, pubes, hipsters or me.

Just like every other city and town in Australia….(except perhaps your references to “politicians” and “me”)

Minz 9:31 pm 02 Jul 13

Personally, I’m all for the Canberra-bashing, if it keeps people away. Canberra for Canberrans 😉

Personal favourite Canberra misconception: It’s an ugly city. Only makes sense if the way you define beauty in a place is by its beaches, which is a bit limited IMO. What a laugh!

Russ 9:22 pm 02 Jul 13

“Like many federal capitals, Canberra is often lambasted as an unfortunate synecdoche of Australia’s diddling political life”

I’d argue that Canberra is actually lambasted as a *metonym*, rather than a synecdoche, for Australia’s diddling political life.

farnarkler 7:57 pm 02 Jul 13

If the gov’t wasn’t here and the ACT was part of NSW, Canberra would be another Wagga or Albury-Wodonga. It really isn’t that interesting, however, that’s not to say Canberra is a bad place to live. Oh and apart from a decade in the UK, I’ve been here since 1976.

p1 7:01 pm 02 Jul 13

I think the OP may have both commented on, and ignored, the fact that this happened everywhere and can’t be helped much. People who live in Washington, Downing St and many other places suffer the same fate.

What we need is a term for the rest of the country, and encaptulates the same sense of casual distain. Like when Tasweigians refer to ‘mainlanders’. Suggestions?

Blen_Carmichael 6:46 pm 02 Jul 13

Why make an issue out of it? To quote Eleanor Roosevelt: “No-one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”

bikhet 6:40 pm 02 Jul 13

Meant to add lawyers, journos and lobbyists, but I forgot. Sorry.

Masquara 6:36 pm 02 Jul 13

But Canberrans don’t give a sh*t what anybody else thinks of Canberra! why should we? I don’t know any Canberrans who are the least bit engaged with this kind of comment …

bikhet 6:13 pm 02 Jul 13

“Canberra-bashing is consistently the cheap blood-sport of those ironically most unfamiliar with the city in the first place. If it’s important to be proud of your country, then why shouldn’t we be equally proud of our capital city?”

Because it’s full of self-important wankers. Be they politicians, bogans, tradies, pubes, hipsters or me.

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