‘[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?
by Tom Joyner