Canberra does have a soul, Mr Katter

Charlotte 17 August 2016 10
Canberra generic landscape

Earlier this week maverick Federal politician Bob Katter gave Canberra a serve, describing it as “unfriendly” and “soulless”, just as a couple of dozen brand new MPs were about to arrive for the first time in the city they’ll now call home for a third of the year.

Mr Katter told a Fairfax journalist that he finds the city “unfriendly, [people] don’t smile and laugh at each other and if you crack a joke people look at you like you’re a Martian”, adding that it seems to him “a very soulless place, everything is franchised and corporatised”.

Well, that will be encouraging for the new kids at Parliament.

My first instinct was to feel sad for Mr Katter. He has been coming here for much of the year for a quarter of a century, and has yet to discover the reasons so many of us choose to live here when we could take take our pick of the world’s cities.

Then I read on and became, I confess, a little bit annoyed. You see, Mr Katter doesn’t even stay in Canberra when he’s here in Parliamentary sitting weeks. He gets in his Commonwealth car and heads out to the Comfort Inn International Airport hotel in Queanbeyan every night. No wonder he’s getting a “franchised and corporatised” vibe about the place!

There is a serious disconnect between everyone who is based in the Parliament House bubble and the rest of Canberra, in part because of the long hours they work alongside each other (I can think of a few other reasons, but that’s another story).

The fly-in, fly-out politicians, staffers and journalists are the least connected of all, given they rarely spend daylight hours here outside Parliament, and almost never stay for a weekend.

But at least some of them try to make connections with the rest of Canberra, to “live” here, by choosing to rent a room in a residential home in the capital itself rather than booking a hotel room.

Mr Katter’s former National Party colleague Barnaby Joyce is an example. He recently told another Fairfax journalist that he lodges with a former Latin teacher in a leafy Canberra suburb and has done for years. Mrs Primrose leaves a light on for him when he’s going to be arriving home late, which, let’s face it, in a sitting week is probably most nights. Unfriendly and soulless? Hardly. Kind and caring, and so very Canberra? You bet.

All of this got me thinking that we should provide Mr Katter and anyone else who is yet to be convinced that our city has a heart with a list of suggestions for ways they can better engage with the rest of us. So, I’m calling for suggestions. What is it about Canberra that makes you love living here? What gives it heart and soul? If we could talk Mr Katter and the new MPs into staying here for a weekend after Parliament resumes, what should they see and do?

Here are my suggestions for starters:

1. Stay for a weekend, at least a few times a year. Make sure one of the weekends coincides with Enlighten, and another with Floriade (not for the flower display itself so much as the blossoms on show all over the inner suburbs).
2. Forget hotels, motels and serviced apartments. Rent a room in a real house with a real garden with real Canberrans.
3. Take in a cricket match or and AFL game at Manuka Oval, or join the crowds for a Brumbies or Raiders game at Canberra Stadium.
4. Cycle around Lake Burley Griffin on a Sunday morning.
5. Join Parkrun at Weston Park on a Saturday morning.
6. Have brunch at a suburban shopping centre (A bite to eat in Chifley, Stand by me at Lyons, Cafe Breizh at Ainslie)
7. Have a drink at a bar in a suburban shopping centre (Tilley’s at Lyneham, Little Oink at Cook, other suggestions?)
8. Head to Snapper on the Lake for a fish and chips picnic dinner.
9. Go for a picnic lunch at one of Canberra’s riverside picnic spots (Pine Island, Casuarina Sands, Uriarra Crossing)
10. Pretend you’re a tourist and spend two whole days exploring our stunning cultural institutions: the Portrait Gallery, the National Gallery, the National Library, the National Museum, the Museum of Australian Democracy and the Australian War Memorial.
11. Pop into the Hamlet on Lonsdale Street for some cheesy chips from the BrodDogs van and a beer or vino from The Hutch.
12. Book tickets for a show at the Canberra Theatre or the Street Theatre, or to see the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.
13. Catch a movie at Palace Electric after dining at Monster or A Baker in New Acton. Order a cocktail at Black Market afterwards.
14. Go for a swim at historic Manuka Pool.
15. Take in the view from the top of Mt Ainslie or Red Hill, preferably both.
16. Take some children you care about to Boundless, the pod playground at the Arboretum or Questacon.


What have I missed, Canberra? Please add your ideas in the comments below, and I will forward them all on to Mr Katter’s office (and publish his reply if we receive one!).

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10 Responses to Canberra does have a soul, Mr Katter
greenbamboo greenbamboo 9:45 am 01 Sep 16

I can kinda see why he said that because as a retail worker I always get the rudest, most heartless customers. However, every time im outside walking around I am always greeted by warm smiles and hellos. Especially in cafes, everyones always so kind and nice.

Bolbi Bolbi 10:30 pm 18 Aug 16

Walking half an hour to and from work it is hard to get a smile out of anybody. People staring down at the ground with an expressionless face or staring at their phone. I love Canberra, but it really is sad.

Acton Acton 5:52 pm 18 Aug 16

I offer an additional 10 suggestions with some reluctance, because it is the duty of everyone from Canberra to promote the concept that this city is a boring, unattractive place to live. That keeps it as a nice comfortable size to live, work and enjoy. The cool fresh air, mountains, green recreational reserves, fast roads, autumn leaves, bright sunny winter days – I am not sure if I should be agreeing or disagreeing with Mr Katter.

17. Take your dog for a walk along the many trails in and around Canberra and say hello to other dog walkers.
18. Listen to a busker at the shopping centre.
19. Do some volunteer work with a local community group planting native trees in one of our many reserves – before they are ‘developed’ with apartments by the Barr ACT government.
20. Walk around the lake breathing in fresh, crisp Canberra air, admiring the view with a coffee at a lakeside cafe
21. Mix with the crowd at the Summernats and watch some spectacular burn-outs.
22. Go to the Lifeline Book Fair and discover an obscure book: “Pay him for my sake that obedience you owe him as the successor of his father, and place him on the throne of his ancestors; for, as I less regard my own conveniency, than I do equity and justice, I desire his friendship more than his kingdom, and your satisfaction, rather than your subjection.”
23. Allow time in the War Memorial to read the stories of those who died for Australia.
24. When feeling nostalgic for the beguiling odours of the farm, visit the Royal Canberra Show or the Murrumbateman Field Day.
25. Rock on at a local club holding a Beatles tribute concert, (but refrain from throwing eggs).
26. Look down upon this beautiful city and lake, but from the heights of Booroomba Rocks.

madelini madelini 2:29 pm 18 Aug 16

Masquara said :

He’s right about the lack of friendliness. I spent a year in Queensland, where everyone says hullo to everyone, a decade ago. On my return, having been acclimatised to Queensland friendliness, I was looked at askance by Canberra locals for saying hullo in the street.

I have never noticed that about Canberra – I have lived here my whole life and find that on the whole, people are friendly. Going for a walk, most people say hello or at least give a smile; it’s rare that I get the side-eye for being friendly.

That said, amongst strangers it’s quite a superficial friendliness. It can be quite difficult to make new friends here as an adult, but I’m not sure that is a Canberra-specific problem.

switch switch 1:45 pm 18 Aug 16

Canberra has no soul?

Politicians have no brains.

Mike_Drop Mike_Drop 1:07 pm 18 Aug 16

Canberra has no heart? Sure – we can play the Tin Man given he’s doing such a great job of being the Scarecrow.

Rollersk8r Rollersk8r 1:42 pm 17 Aug 16

It’s the adult equivalent of kids saying “Canberra’s sooooo boring, there’s nothing to do here!”.

bj_ACT bj_ACT 1:38 pm 17 Aug 16

Why doesn’t Katter head down to the Spring Garden Chinese at Kambah Village. He might meet a mate of mine’s Mum who has personally cleaned Bob Katter’s toilet for the last 20 years. He could pop into the Kambah Inn next door and talk to the bloke who mows the lawn at Parliament House or the guy who does the plumbing for the Reps wing.

While he’s in Kambah, he can also ask these every day people….
What is it like to live in the most Mortgaged Stressed suburb in Australia?
Why has the Unemployment Rate in Kambah doubled since 2008?
Where did you send your kids to school after the Government closed 3 of your 4 local schools?

About time Bob Katter got out of the Parliamentary triangle and realised there are small parts of Canberra that are doing it equally as tough as the good people he represents in far North Queensland. I see from ABS Quickstats that Kambah with it’s high proportion of Aboriginal people (well high proportion considering it’s Canberra) has 342 Aboriginal or Torres straight individuals in the suburb, which is only 200 less than Bob’s home town of Cloncurry. I bet the Katter has never been to Charnwood, Banks, Holt, Kambah etc to see how the bottom 10% of Canberran’s live.

No_Nose No_Nose 1:31 pm 17 Aug 16

I have to say I don’t entirely disagree with Mr Katter. ‘A place lacking heart and soul ‘ is a phrase I commonly use when people ask me what it has been like living in Canberra for almost two decades.

Masquara said :

He’s right about the lack of friendliness. I spent a year in Queensland, where everyone says hullo to everyone, a decade ago. On my return, having been acclimatised to Queensland friendliness, I was looked at askance by Canberra locals for saying hullo in the street.

That was one of the first things I noticed when I moved here, and it hasn’t changed much. Try smiling at someone as you walk around the lake and you get a quizzical and confused look back (or an angry scowl). Very different to the friendly greetings you get passing people on the Esplanade in Cairns, strolling along St Kilda Boulavard, walking around Darling Harbour or cycling along the South Bank of the Thames.

Masquara Masquara 12:47 pm 17 Aug 16

He’s right about the lack of friendliness. I spent a year in Queensland, where everyone says hullo to everyone, a decade ago. On my return, having been acclimatised to Queensland friendliness, I was looked at askance by Canberra locals for saying hullo in the street.

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