Over the past few years, we’ve all had to adjust our mental radiuses to our local areas, with interstate and international travel both on and off due to the pandemic. Now, as borders are open and overseas travel has become possible again, I find myself feeling the restless energy I used to feel all the time about living in Canberra, which died down a bit when I was forced to make peace with staying still in our city.
I love living in Canberra, but I have equally felt the pressure to leave at various points throughout my coming of age. When I graduated college, the overwhelming feeling in my peer group was that to live a ‘big life’, we needed to leave Canberra. I did, briefly, but I came back and spent a very happy four years at ANU.
Then, graduating university brought the same push – what would I achieve by staying put? Surely the only way to have excitement, pace, and vibrancy in life was to leave my hometown’s comfortable, quiet streets? So I moved to Melbourne … but found myself right back in Canberra a year later.
And finally, five or six years after coming home, I moved overseas to spend a year in Scotland. While there, despite loving every minute of living in Edinburgh, I knew that I wanted to come home again, that Canberra was where I belonged. But now, almost like clockwork, it’s another four years later, and I have the itch again. It’s almost as though Canberra starts feeling so comfortable, it makes me anxious that I’m suffocating instead of thriving, lulled into complacency and letting my life drift past without striving for the best possible experiences I can have.
But is this sensation one driven by the external narrative that bigger is always better, or by a genuine problem with Canberra offering less excitement and opportunity than another city?
As a society, we’ve always equated big cities with culture, pace, and excitement. When I speak to friends overseas, they can easily identify cities like Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane and even articulate a sense of their individual cultures. Similarly, my friends who have left Australia have all settled in major cities overseas, seeking the thriving, bustling energy of big places with lots of people.
And from my vantage point of a cozy inner north townhouse, a short drive from work and an even shorter drive to my family home, it does look like there’s a lot of life being lived in those other cities that I can’t see reflected in my daily existence.
But is that just a classic bout of FOMO (fear of missing out) or a genuine reflection on Canberra’s comparative offerings when it comes to a culture and lifestyle that’s unique to us?
If I really think about it, what exactly is our culture here in Canberra? I’ve always been a fierce lover of Canberra and defender of our identity as not being ‘boring’ (and I don’t think Canberra is boring; I think boring people might find Canberra or anywhere smaller than a major city boring as an extension of their own mindset). But if I think about the type of life I want to live, I don’t think the connection to Australia’s cultural zeitgeist as a writer, or finding a window into the global cultural sector, is available in Canberra. In fact, I can’t necessarily pinpoint what it is about Canberra, beyond its familiarity, that stands out as a selling point to be here.
If Melbourne is known for art and food, and Sydney is known for beaches and entertainment, what is Canberra known for besides Parliament? What’s our culture? I need a reminder so I can settle my wanderlust. If I were to list the reasons to live in Canberra, what would they be, aside from having no traffic jams and a decent job market?