18 January 2023

Canberra-bashing - it's hard not to take it personally

| Zoya Patel
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sunrise

With views like this, Zoya Patel is happy to call Canberra home. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Like most Canberrans, I’ve tried to make my peace with the rest of Australia’s apparent disdain for our city.

I try and meet most offhand remarks about how “boring” Canberra is with a shrug and a comment about how any city is boring if you don’t make an effort to find things.

I understand that plenty of people are too lazy to draw a clear distinction between Parliament House and Canberra as a city, and that by living here we’re somewhat consigned to dispelling myths about our home being too bureaucratic, dull, weird, lifeless etc.

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But lately I’ve been finding it harder not to take it personally when friends of mine express how shocked they are that I’m “still here”, or choosing to make a life in Canberra when I could have left (like they did) years ago.

It’s as if by staying in the city I know and love, I’ve given up or settled. There’s almost pity in their eyes, when they say: “I guess you must really like it…”, as though Canberra is a fringe delicacy that most people wouldn’t choose to partake in.

Old Parliament House, LBG, AWM

What’s not to love about this beautiful city of ours? Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

These feelings reared up again recently when two friends were visiting Canberra after living in the United Kingdom for a long stretch. They’re thinking of moving back to Australia, which is exciting, and were touring a bunch of different cities to find where they want to settle. The one thing that was abundantly clear was that – despite Canberra being the hometown of one half of the couple, and the place where they met – there is no chance of them resettling here.

Why? Because they want to find a city that matches with the life they want to live, which includes things like socialising, engaging with arts and culture, being with nature, building a community, and Canberra can’t provide that.

Except … Canberra provides all of those things and more. I was perplexed. Each to their own, but the immediate writing off of Canberra felt a little hurtful.

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I know this has nothing to do with me and people can live wherever they want, but the underlying tone of this kind of rhetoric is that people who do live here are somehow happy to endure the grey, lifeless reality that is this place. Which couldn’t be further from the truth.

What I find particularly interesting about the tone of Canberra-bashing is the way people feel entirely justified in making their low opinion of where we live known, as though it’s an objective fact.

When I express not particularly vibing with any other city, it’s couched in personal preference, like “I’m just not great with lots of crowds”, when talking about Sydney or “I struggle with the climate up north”, about Brisbane. Compare that to the regular things I hear about Canberra – “There’s just nothing to do there”. “It’s always completely empty in the city.” “It’s so hard to find anything fun.” People make unequivocal statements as if they’re just fact, without any self-reflection.

Hot air balloons over Australian Parliament House

There’s more to the capital than politics. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Meanwhile, like pretty much everyone I know, I struggle to fit everything in on a weekly basis. Between sports, book events, gallery openings, local gigs, time in the nature reserves, walking the dog, meeting up with friends and family and eating at a different lovely restaurant each week, I can barely find the time to go interstate anyway!

But I can never quite bring myself to say this in response to anti-Canberra sentiments, because it feels a little desperate.

I’m curious how other people deal with Canberra-bashing, or if they even encounter it as often as I seem to. Do you have to justify your love of our city, or is it as easy as “haters gonna hate”?

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SigmaOctantis7:31 am 25 Jan 23

I’ve lived here for 22 years and have found in recent years it is becoming too socialist, and there are crackheads beggars everywhere in civic now harassing people. Try going there in the evening. The liveability is being eroded unfortunately.

HiddenDragon7:54 pm 24 Jan 23

“But lately I’ve been finding it harder not to take it personally when friends of mine express how shocked they are that I’m “still here”, or choosing to make a life in Canberra when I could have left (like they did) years ago.”

It’s worth bearing in mind that people who grow up in Canberra, and can’t wait to move somewhere they’d rather be, will be replacing people from those places who couldn’t wait to be somewhere else, and in some cases, that place will be Canberra because (at the risk of stating the obvious), people don’t just come here for employment – escape/refuge and the opportunity for self-reinvention can happen here just as well as in many other places.

I lived in Canberra on and off for about 30 years, the ‘off’ years being about half of the 30 spent abroad on postings. I found that every time I came back to Canberra it was a little different: a bit more lively, a bit more cosmopolitan, more like a ‘real’ city where people were born, brought up and stayed out of choice. That said, in all those 30 years of coming and going it never grew on my soul, never became home. So, I’ve moved back to the city of my heart, which was always home. But I would never bag Canberra. It’s a good place to live, with lots to do and see and great people – a place where some of of my dear friends still live and where several of my beloved cats are buried, so it’s a bit sacred, too. Enjoy the city you live in; ignore baggers – who cares what they think? If you choose to live in Canberra and you love it, there ain’t no more to say.

Brought to Canberra in 1963 and attended Lyneham High and Belconnen High and ANU. Lived away for several years in Adelaide, Alice Springs, Brisbane and overseas and came back here (2006) to where I have retired. My twenty something daughter (who is not into ‘clubbing’ ) has a great lifestyle here and will only move when her work changes. The naysayers must have missed something. Let them move on or stay away. When interstate friends question living in Canberra I just smile and let it go. Despite the growing pains ( I preferred Canberra when it was smaller) I will stay here for the moment.

My wife and I have thought about moving from Canberra but we can’t find a better place to live than right here in the ACT.

Andrew McLaughlin10:35 am 20 Jan 23

I grew up in Canberra (1966-91) and will always regard it fondly. I suspect the majority of people who bash Canberra haven’t spent a lot of time here.

Not even one regular international flight, no foreign tour buses anywhere. Certainly a locals only vibe.

Capital Retro10:22 am 20 Jan 23

And most of them can’t afford to come and stay here.

Canberra bashing performs a useful function by discouraging migration here.
Canberra is a beautiful and livable city but is being changed in ways that diminish its beauty and livability. For example, apartments, over development, loss of community facilities, destruction of the tree canopy, congestion… If you want to live in Sydney or Melbourne with crowds, queues, crime and shuffling masses then go and live there, but keep those features away from here. If outsiders denegrate Canberra I always agree with them.

Jenny Graves4:26 pm 19 Jan 23

I hate it when people bash our beautiful city! I’ve travelled the world and there is no other city that I’ve lived in or visited that I’d rather call home. And that’s what I tell people who start bagging Canberra in front of me. Most of them have never even been here.

They talk about Canberra’s awful cold weather and I have to remind them that there are times in summer when we’re warmer than anywhere else in Australia.

As for nothing to do, we have all the major institutions here: the National Gallery, Questacon, the Portrait Gallery, the National Film and Sound Archives, and the list goes on. Aside from that, there are heaps of things to do here and it doesn’t take forever to get to them either. People talk about the lack of beaches, but if you live in Sydney it can take 2 hours to reach a beach, the same time it takes to reach the South Coast from here.

And we certainly aren’t just a Public Service town. The majority of people here don’t work in the Public Service any more and haven’t for some time. As for the pollies, most of them don’t live in Canberra either. They commute here when they need to attend Parliament.

As for those who’ve left and don’t want to come back, I say good riddance to them! We don’t need them.

Capital Retro7:45 am 20 Jan 23

Re the cold weather, it was 7.6 degrees early this morning in Canberra, one of the coldest ever.

I am looking forward to some of that global warming we are being continually promised.

Look at the Canberra of the past, broad empty fields of nothing but souless impersonal government buildings and it’s no surprise Canberra has that rap, particularly if you go onto The Canberra page or The Canberra Noticeboard and it’s an endless whingefest of nimbys complaining that a city has been built in the city. The developments of Canberra in the past 2 decades have been fantastic, a boost to the liveablity of the place, but sadly that’s come at the cost of cheap parking in the city and for the Living is existing crowd, that’s too high a price.

“I understand that plenty of people are too lazy to draw a clear distinction between Parliament House and Canberra as a city”

That is the fault of lazy media people saying ” Canberra” when they mean “Federal Parliament”. If they want to be lazy they could just say Capital Hill.

Then there was that 60 minutes “Fat cats of Canberra” report by that idiot Richard Carlton in which we wre all portrayed as overpaid public servants.

Capital Retro10:23 am 19 Jan 23

“Meanwhile, like pretty much everyone I know, I struggle to fit everything in on a weekly basis. Between sports, book events, gallery openings, local gigs, time in the nature reserves, walking the dog, meeting up with friends and family and eating at a different lovely restaurant each week, I can barely find the time to go interstate anyway!”

Yeah, I know Zoya. Tough life you have but someone has to do it.

Hot take again. Maybe your next one could put a Canberra spin on the potato cakes/potato scallops debate “why doesn’t canberra have it’s own regional dialect – does this lessen us as a city” or something equally paint by numbers.

Victor Bilow5:51 pm 19 Jan 23

Heavs This old bloke can tell you they are scallops in Canberra and never had potato or cake in the name. I battered thousands of them on weekends during my school days.

Megan van der Velde7:59 am 19 Jan 23

I totally understand your feelings! I am at a loss with people sometimes. I had a relative say ‘it’s a bloody ghostown!’ in Summer! This from someone who lives in a very overcrowded city where he complains of no room on beaches, trains and roads! So you would think a quiet month would be heaven. It is to me 🙂 I love everything about our city – the city and country feel all at once. Comfort yourself with this – if everyone DID want to live here, WE probably wouldn’t! Let’s keep us a secret!!!

I was born and raised in Canberra, and also raised my own family here. Most of my friends left Canberra as soon as they could, and none have moved back here, and most said they would never return here. They are happier elsewhere and most do not have good memories of Canberra. Canberra is not a nice place. It is mostly the people who live here (or move here) who are are awful (most seem to have aspirations of being in politics and that always attracts not very nice people), the weather is horrible and it is just a ‘try hard’ town (tries to be everything and is nothing). I would not recommend Canberra to anyone.

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