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.
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.
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.
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.
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”?