In defence of Canberra – Australia’s favourite punching bag

Tim Gavel 4 August 2020 8
Lego Parliament

No, ‘Canberra’ isn’t responsible for raising taxes. Photo: AUSPIC (from Lego Parliament House).

Do we still become outraged when people outside the city criticise Canberra?

Thirty years ago, Canberra was seen as a laid back, big country city. This is a far cry from the current burgeoning metropolis. Yet the vast majority of people who live here remain committed to this city in exactly the same way and respond similarly to criticism of our city by those who have not experienced its attributes.

The main lightning rod for public angst was, and remains to this day, the perception that Canberra as a city is responsible for every move made by the Federal Government.

You know the scenario, the news reports emanating from Sydney lead with headlines: Canberra to raise taxes. Of course, it’s not the city, nor its people, but the Federal Government raising taxes.

Anecdotally, people say they have been abused because of their ACT number plates with the abusers seemingly believing that Canberrans were responsible for all that was wrong with their daily existence.

Working in newsrooms in Canberra for the past 30 years, I can tell you the aforementioned news headline was enough for residents of the city to bombard newsrooms and letters to the editor.

It has become an outrage industry in itself.

The problem was and remains that it is an echo chamber; Canberrans are voicing their displeasure to Canberrans.

The result is, perhaps, a subconscious chip on the shoulder where any criticism from outsiders is met with over-the-top outrage: how dare they criticise us!

Yet if a resident of the city expresses the same opinion there is little in the way of a response, almost an acceptance. An example is the increase in traffic congestion. It’s accepted among Canberrans to mutter something about the traffic but if somebody from Sydney complains about it, the pushback is significant.

“Canberra’s too cold and boring” is an oft-heard cry from those who have limited experience of the place (and no it’s not). We happen to like four definite seasons and there’s plenty to do. See, I’m doing it as well, being defensive about the place that I love.

And I’m not alone in my defensiveness when faced with criticism from those outside the city.

It is almost akin to a citizenship test.

And it is reflected in the defence of our sporting teams in recent times.

When referee Ben Cummings, ironically a former Canberra resident, waved his arm in the air to give the Raiders six again in the 2019 NRL grand final only to overturn the decision seconds later, it sparked community outrage.

Even Canberrans with less than a passing interest in the Raiders became outraged in the belief that again the city had been unfairly targeted. Among the diehards, conspiracy theories flourished.

It was an NRL plot in cahoots with the Roosters to rob the Raiders of a premiership.

The fact that Roosters fans are driving around with number plates saying ‘Six Again’ does little to eradicate those thoughts.

Many Raiders fans remain angered by the ruling in the decider. Their angst was amplified in the lead up to Saturday night’s game against the Cowboys. The fact that Cummings was refereeing a Raiders game for the first time since the grand final in October last year became a story in itself.

The outrage, simmering below the surface, emerged on social media among supporters.

Thankfully, nothing untoward happened and the heart rates of Raiders fans went back to a resting level.

That level of outrage also emerges every time there’s a story emanating out of Sydney or Brisbane suggesting the Brumbies are in danger of being kicked out of Super Rugby, or just as ignominious, talk of the Brumbies merging with the Rebels.

Once again, even people not interested in the Brumbies come out of the woodwork to vent their spleen, reciting the Brumbies’ record as the most successful Australian Super Rugby team. Some can be so persuasive that all and sundry are convinced it’s their main topic of conversation 24/7. Generally, though, the topic is resurrected only in times of vigorous defence against assertions made by those from beyond our boundary, such as Sydney.

There was a similar apoplexy among Brumbies fans every time Andre Watson was appointed to control Brumbies games after the 2000 Super 12 final.

With no outrage to report from weekend sport, we can return to being outraged by people walking with dogs off their leashes, cyclists no obeying the road rules or people getting too close in the supermarket.

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8 Responses to In defence of Canberra – Australia’s favourite punching bag
Mark Katalinic Mark Katalinic 10:38 am 07 Aug 20

Asked a person who moved away because "Canberra is boring" what they usually did on a weekend and the answer was "watch tv"

John Moulis John Moulis 4:47 pm 06 Aug 20

I was at The Bay on Australia Day and nobody said anything. Probably because almost all the other cars had ACT plates as well.

Mark Boast Mark Boast 1:09 pm 06 Aug 20

ACT plates whilst “abroad” with the camper trailer often elicits comments. But most of them are friendly and usually of the “when I was on a school trip in 19.....”.

Robert Di Toro Robert Di Toro 11:17 am 06 Aug 20


Jonathan Ballard Jonathan Ballard 12:58 am 06 Aug 20

But why would you ever want to go up to Queensland?🤣

Christine Tancred Christine Tancred 8:32 pm 05 Aug 20

I hate it when reporters refer to politicians or parliament as Canberra. We don't own them, we didn't all vote for them, and they don't live here. Call parliament, parliament, not Canberra.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 7:12 pm 05 Aug 20

The stuff about the weather, the blink and you’ll miss it “CBD”, the baffling roads and roundabouts etc. has been around for a long time.

Far more serious, and potentially dangerous, is the perception that just about everyone in Canberra is a well-paid “fat cat”. It’s partially borne out by ABS figures for average income by state and territory, but like many (mean) averages, those figures mask diversity.

Regardless of the reality faced by many Canberrans, the perception of marked affluence in Canberra is around, and there will be a much sharper focus on that in the days ahead, as the nation’s virus-devastated economy leaves many in the private sector feeling much less affluent than they once did.

Timmy Holness Timmy Holness 1:08 pm 05 Aug 20

Yes and now they include us with the numbers of covid in nsw so we can’t go to QLD

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