23 September 2019

Does Canberra have a siege mentality?

| Tim Gavel
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Canberra is much more than just the seat of government but misinformed outsiders are still making life tough for the people who live here and the sporting teams they support. Photo: Jack Mohr.

“Is it true you don’t have to pay tax in Canberra? I’ve heard that the government mows your lawns.”

These are just some of the nonsense questions I have been asked by people with little knowledge of Canberra. They are fuelled by years of mistruths and ignorance.

Another perception from some is that Canberra, as a community, is responsible for government decision making. It must be right; it’s on the television news. How often have you heard: “Canberra is looking to raise the tax on fuel” or “Canberra has opted against providing grants to drought-stricken farmers”? Apparently, it’s easier to say ‘Canberra did this’ and ‘Canberra did that’ rather than referring to the Federal, Australian or Commonwealth Government. I have worked in many newsrooms over 37 years and for some in the media, it is a hard habit to break.

To tell the truth, I probably did it before I came to Canberra 30 years ago. Since then, I have joined in the fortress-like defence of the city and the community.

The perception of the city by many ‘outsiders’, is of a cold, cliquey community, not in tune with the hardships and variables faced by the rest of Australia; so in essence, we are fair game.

That perception, I think, goes some way in understanding why our sporting teams seemingly get treated like the unwanted relative at the Christmas dinner. You are part of the family but, at times, you get the feeling they wouldn’t really care if you weren’t there.

The Raiders must be feeling like that unloved relative at the moment as they struggle to get leverage in decision making, which ultimately impacts on the Club. The refereeing blunders at Shark Park fall into this narrative, as does the overruling of the Jack Wighton punishment by the NRL.

Those with a memory talk about the Sydney-driven opposition faced by the Raiders to get into the NSW Rugby League in the first place in 1982. The Raiders’ bid-team at the time had to convince the decision makers that Canberra airport wasn’t constantly fogged in as some in Sydney club-land suggested. The argument presented by those opposing the Raiders’ admission was that visiting teams wouldn’t be able to get to Canberra because of the fog. Thankfully, common sense prevailed and the Raiders were admitted and, somewhat surprisingly, no game has ever been called off at Canberra Stadium or Seiffert Oval because of visiting teams being stranded at a fogged-bound Canberra Airport.

There have been campaigns over the years to halt the progress of the Brumbies. A couple come to mind, including kicking Canberra schools out of NSW competitions, or the treatment of the Canberra Kookaburras and the Canberra Vikings or the whispering campaign last year over the future of the Brumbies. It was one thing after another. The Brumbies were in line to be axed despite being the only Australian team to win two Super Rugby titles. A merger with the Melbourne Rebels was also on the cards.

Once again, there was a perception that it was aimed at destabilising the Brumbies.

The axing of the Canberra Comets’ cricket team in the one-day series still rankles with many in the sport. There was the decision by the FFA not to include Canberra in the A-League only to see the league put their own team into Western Sydney. Then there was the banning of Canberra racehorses in some of the big races in Sydney, because Canberra facilities are deemed to be ‘too good’.

Hard to promote Canberra sports when there are constant barriers placed in the way.

Which is why we should be grateful as a community that Ricky Stuart is on our side. When he suggested that Canberra gets treated differently, he was speaking on behalf of many in this city.

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Ricky is certainly right about the football team. I would have a bet that if the storm were in the position that Canberra were in the other night the result would have been different.

I don’t think the league is against Canberra as such but more there are higher profile teams that get away with things that would cost the lower profile teams umpteen penalties.

And getting into conspiracy theories here now but the league also needs a a Queensland team in the finals to keep interest and to have a finals game north of the border. But one are where Canberra does get the raw deal compared to other non Sydney teams is no guarantee of hosting a prelim final whereas Melbourne, Brisbane, Gold Coast and Cowboys are. Go figure.

At least rugby is different but NSW did try and get a Brumbies home grand final hosted in Syndey all those long years ago.

I agree with you, there is a link there between Canberra the place – and our sporting teams as outsiders. Although I think this is just human nature. My country relatives definitely believe we’re on easy street. They’re doing very well themselves, but there’s a perception they’ve worked for what they’ve got, whereas it’s all given to us in Canberra. Which is exactly the same criticism always levelled against the GWS Giants. Given everything, free ride to the premiership cup; and they have no right to exist in the first place.

However I would add plenty of this outrage comes from within Canberra too. There is extreme bitterness against certain occupations, the haves and have-nots in certain areas of Canberra, as well as government money spent on our sporting teams.

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