When I left the Legislative Assembly, I vowed not to become one of those grumpy old retirees who constantly address their relevance deprivation by writing letters to the Canberra Times and Chronicle, bagging out our great city.
With two exceptions, I have kept faith with that vow. The first is a letter I wrote to the Crimes about refugees and their appalling treatment on Manus Island and in PNG. I just couldn’t help myself. But, in my defence, it was only the once and it was not bagging Canberra.
The second is my postings on RiotACT. I was invited to contribute to RiotACT on leaving politics because maybe I had a view on issues which could start conversations. This is how I have approached my posts. Sometimes I am upset about a few things but mainly I try to start a chatfest off, and to a large degree (but not in all cases) it has succeeded. So, thanks to those of you who have engaged, even those who have bagged me out without mercy.
Departing slightly from the subject, I have noticed in my world travels, by reading the local rags, that this syndrome is not unique to Canberra. It is alive elsewhere in Oz and indeed, in all the countries I have visited in the past five years. But we should be better than that.
I see those perennial letter-writers fit into two groups; Those who live here and those who don’t. It really irritates me – and I hope all Canberrans – when I see criticism of our politics (both sides), our infrastructure (light rail, urban amenity, planning laws to name a few), our “affluence” and our socially progressive tendencies, from people who live in New South Wales. If I see another bagging from a burgher from Bungendore, Braidwood or a jock from Jerrabomberra or some whinge-artist from Queanbeyan, I’m gonna throw up. It is significant that Canberrans don’t bag those places, don’t publicly criticise NSW politics, don’t cast judgment on the quality of life and amenity in those places, so what gives them the right to bag us? Was is not Canberra that used to be called “Struggle Town”?.
The poor reputation Canberra has is from those itinerant gypsies who come into town, create hot air and irrelevant noise from the Big Campsite on the Hill and then bugger off home, bagging “Canberra“ when they get there! The same guys and gals who only know Kingston, Manuka and a bit of Civic, usually eateries or watering holes. The same types who have never been to Spence, Lyneham, Wright, Curtin, Mawson or Wanniassa. It is the guys from the other states and territories who give us a bad name. Our own citizens don’t need to help them!
Having got that off my chest, I’d like to take aim at those home-grown wrinklies who give our city a bad name.
You will all know the names of those “contributors” to the malaise of self-criticism because it is always the same old names. But where once we could put up with their rantings – their pet subjects – the landscape has changed a bit.
We really have only one newspaper in this town. I don’t count the Canberra Weekly or the City News, because they really are freebies with some commentary or social pages wrapped in advertising.
The Fairfax people own the Canberra Times, the Chronicle (in all its forms) and the Queanbeyan Age. Shame that we don’t have competition but hey, it is what it is. But here’s the rub; all these papers go across the country electronically. They are in the digital age, so our whingeing goes viral. That’s why you will see contributions from further afield than the Capital Region, and this is why any damage we do to ourselves will go Oz-wide.
The old grumpies (and old they are, let me assure you), usually calling on a long left profession for validity, will spout forth on all manner of subjects. They complain about the light rail even though they are not affected by it, won’t ever use it, don’t use the busses, have a two-person, three-car family (with usually a 4-wheel drive which has never been off-road), have been out of the paid workforce for over a decade, complain about the lack of green space but don’t go to them (a glance at the myriad of green spaces in town during the day as I drive past shows a distinct lack of folks gambolling), complain about the rampant graffiti and testify that they have been to graffiti-free cities overseas (clearly they have been chauffeur driven and not gone by train).
They complain about rate “hikes” over the past 10 years, the lack of bus routes – even giving the route numbers, complain about the lack of soul in the city (never having been to Braddon or Kingston at night for a meal and a chat), complain about building height, setbacks and architectural form, and yearn for the halcyon days of yesteryear.
Well, how about celebrating in writing our successes as a city?
It is still the most beautiful city in Oz. I have been to Geneva, London, Paris, New York, Buenos Aires, Rome, Beijing, Wellington, and Washington. I’ve been to Nairobi, Colombo, Honiara, Suva, Bangkok, Vientiane, Phnom Penn, Hanoi, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Port Vila, and Noumea. Of all these capital cities, Canberra is the most beautiful of them all. It has the cleanest air, the gorgeous sights and smells of flowers and trees in Spring, the breath-taking views of the Brindabellas, the easiest way to go from one part of the city to another (it takes me no more than 30 minutes in bad traffic to get from Wanniassa to Evatt!) and this is unheard of in the larger cities. It has soul and vibrancy.
We have friendly people who are generous, helpful, articulate and educated. We have a lot to be thankful for. I thank successive governments, Federal and Territorial for taking us from a sheep station to a city which can hold its own anywhere in the world.
So enough already with the whingeing. Get a life, folks! Get out a bit more and enjoy our city and stop wallowing in the art of miserablism.
I just hope that some of those retired old grumpies read this post, have themselves referred to it or have some right-minded citizen visit them and disconnect their internet, remove all writing materials, and save the rest of us from their unreasonable bleatings. Freedom of speech be buggered! Our city deserves better!