2 November 2023

Is Canberra the best city to raise children?

| Zoya Patel
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moncrieff community recreation park

Open spaces, national institutions and incredible parks, what’s not to love about Canberra? Photo: Parks ACT.

It’s a common refrain that we tell ourselves in the Territory that if you want to have a family or you have kids to raise, then Canberra is the very best place to do it. And it’s definitely what I’ve always thought, having grown up here myself and about to become a parent for the first time. But I’m curious if the assumption is based on fact. Many residents in bigger cities would certainly disagree.

For me, there are obvious characteristics of Canberra that make it a city that is extremely amenable to raising kids. I’ve always boasted that the ACT public school system is one of the best in the country, based entirely on my own experience. Compared to the small schools I attended in country NSW before arriving here at the age of 10, and compared to the schools my friends went to in Sydney and Melbourne, I’ve always felt that our public schools don’t have the same level of geographical disparity as bigger cities, and still offer excellent amenities, extracurriculars and academic extension programs than smaller and less resourced schools.

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But if I look at recent NAPLAN results, the ACT actually performs completely average compared to other states and territories – neither substantially above or below the national average. Our schools aren’t necessarily better than other cities, so is my perception of ACT public schools being havens of both social, academic and physical education just biased because I went to them? Was I also influenced by the fact the schools I attended were in affluent suburbs?

I also rank Canberra as being a particularly good place to raise kids because of our wide open spaces, opportunities to engage with nature through the reserves we have in close proximity and the general sense of having room to grow and play. But on reflection, these are all very vague notions of what children actually need to be entertained, productive and to learn and grow in their home environments.

What about activities for weekends? Do we have the variety and accessibility for extracurriculars or one-off experiences that bigger cities have? We don’t have the range of smaller arts spaces or urban events and festivals as many larger cities. Still, I would argue we do have amazing national institutions that often run kids’ programs. We have a diverse and multicultural community that rivals any bigger city when it comes to connecting our kids to cultures and experiences outside of their own.

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I used to argue that one of the best things about Canberra was the lower density of our suburbs and the opportunity to raise kids in a detached home rather than an apartment or small townhouse. Now, of course, I know that dream may never come to fruition for many, including myself.

Trying to buy a house in Canberra that has a backyard and that isn’t either located in the outer suburbs or else run down and in need of renovation is a challenge and only really accessible to the wealthy. We will be raising our child in a townhouse with a concrete courtyard for the foreseeable future, but we’re super close to parks, nature reserves and open areas, so this doesn’t worry me too much.

I am conscious, though, that my main arguments for Canberra being a great place to raise kids are based on ‘vibes’ more than experience or facts, so I’m putting this question to our readers. Am I about to get a rude shock, or is this city truly as family-friendly as I think it is?

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Used to be… We can’t go to our local shops anymore. I understand why so many small businesses have recently shut or gone broke. I now refuse to let my teens work in hospitality, fast food or retail here so they won’t be at risk of assault, lifelong injury and trauma, or worse. The last straw came recently after parking at our local shops just after school pick up time when our vehicle windows were banged on by a druggie demanding money. We couldn’t even get out of the car and had to go home. Our poor special needs primary school age child was terrified – they thought it was a zombie!! The druggie’s missing teeth, grossly emaciated body and open festering sores absolutely looked like something from a nightmare.

This was not a joke, it happened well before Halloween. Also before the ACT government decision to allow possession of hard drugs. Now that police can’t lock up these drug affected criminals you too can look forward to having drug zombies frequent your local shops soon!

Sunila Srivastava4:03 am 04 Nov 23

No, I don’t think Canberra is the best place to raise kids. I think it is a mixed experience depending on where your kids live, how old your kids are, the parents resources etc. when my kids first came here they experienced instances of racism despite going to supposedly good public schools (North Ainslie and Lyneham Primary), as teenagers they still hear racist jokes at school (Burgmann). As teenagers they find Canberra boring. I agree with another commenter that it has got better with diversity and more things to do in the last 10 years (thanks, Andrew Barr), and it is quite a friendly down to Earth place. I also love that it is so convenient and relatively safe. However, the salt and pepper housing policy means that there are mixed up kids and significant bullying in most public schools. I like that it’s woke – something that all cities should aim for!

It is a great place to raise kids.Lots of open green spaces that are easily accessed.Good public schools, holiday programs at all the institutions and close enough to the coast and snow fields

davidmaywald3:59 pm 02 Nov 23

Canberra is a good place to raise kids if you have a sh!tload of money, and if you are also extremely “progressive”/far-left in your politics… The cost of living and cost of housing is out of control, limited housing choices are very constraining for families on lower incomes. Public schools underperform compared with similarly educated and wealthy parents, the system has been run-down and many parents have opted for private/independent/religious schools instead of ACT Govt service provision. Healthcare is both expensive and in limited supply, public healthcare is patchy/below average quality/poorly managed. Public transport is poor, most people are not well connected by bus or tram so a car is indispensable. There are lots of decent playgrounds within driving distance, good parks and walking/bike paths. For a city with no beach it’s appalling to have so few swimming options, particularly because many families take their kids to the coast for holidays (where water safety is paramount). Larger capital cities have many amenities that Canberra does not: sport and live entertainment in Melb; cultural hubs like Chinatown and beaches in Sydney; much better climate in Brisbane… Rich and elite families have it great in Canberra, and left-wing families with high incomes will boast about it being a great place to raise a family (hoping to pocket millions when they sell their detached houses to the next generation of aspirational parents). Middle class families, low income earners, and migrants have it tough here and they are very poorly served by the ACT Govt. The myth of an egalitarian and equal society here has died during the last two decades of Labor-Greens govt.

I’d argue it’s the opposite and favours those low social demographic families on welfare who don’t pay a cent in taxes. They are giving free housing, childcare whilst being allowed to remit the pension back to their home countries to raise an entire village overseas on the Australian taxpayers purse. Likewise people with disabilities, drug and alcohol addictions are treated to the equivalent of personal butlers under the NDIS.



Agree. There appears to be sadly too many naive or complicit public servants drinking the Green kool aid.

I’d argue that Canberra’s growth in the last 10-15 years actually makes it a better place to be a kid. There’s more going on! We moved back because of it. Housing is a national as much as local problem – the main benefits of ease of access to playgrounds and open spaces remains. I’d also argue that even if one does have to pay for parking, it’s still cheaper than Sydney and Melbourne.

To the serial complainers in the comments: the world will never stand still and nothing can be preserved forever.

Canberra is a fabulous place to bring up kids. we have plenty of open space, parks and play areas, generally good schools (although they should be better!), low levels of crime, lots of attractions to visit and enjoy, plenty of free events to go to and well-integrated multicultural society. The only downside is lack of a beach, but we’re only a couple of hours drive away (prob abut the same distance for someone in western Sydney…)

Comparing with my experience and observations with the Gold Coast, I would argue that Canberra is much better.

Since the Daniel Morcombe incident, there was a dramatic change in communities where children were no longer trusted to go out alone or in groups for school, leisure or recreation.
This never changed with time. You will rarely see a child out and about enjoying the great outdoors unless supervised by adults, on the Gold Coast.

In contrast to this, it was a culture shock to see children in Canberra going out with friends for a bicycle ride or fishing. I got the impression that people still feel relatively safe in Canberra.
Improving Walkability/Cycling safety will only make it better. Parents that can let teenagers be semi-independent are much happier.

Another point of contrast:
post-school employment opportunities. Most children will leave the Gold Coast – because there are very little entry-level opportunities (and fewer full time or permanent work) for recent graduates.
Contrast this to asking younger colleagues/recent graduates in Canberra, only a few of them considered interstate or international employment opportunities.

Sure, Gold Coast has beaches, but you can’t enjoy it if you can’t afford the rent/life costs or constantly fear of kidnapping.

John Schwazer11:43 am 02 Nov 23

As far as Canberra itself is concerned, it’s fine. But in terms of the woke people populating this place, Canberra is a veritable nightmare.

What many people don’t realise is that woke ideology is based largely on the French loser philosopher Rousseau, who believed people’s problems were simply due to rules (and not being allowed ‘to be natural’ – whatever TF that means).

Amongst the number of means available for turning this loser’s work on its head, one can simply point to the problems growing everyday since people have been allowed to live ‘more naturally.’

What person in their right mind – which excludes many in Canberra, unfortunately – could fail to see the increase in problems in proportion to the removal of societal standards?

If anyone, like Rousseau, believes that humans are born perfect and only need to be free, that person is likely to believe anything. For when the evidence – ample, by now – speaks of a himan dark side that needs to be reigned in, practically no excuses exist now for not noticing.

And for those who naively believe in the myth of the noble savage – perhaps imagining they walked around with little birdies in their hair – never forget the human sacrifice, etc., they were into, which was NOT invented by their enemies, as is widely taught.

And yet because none of this will even remotely clear the thick fog of the average woke Canberran’s mind – despite how perfectly reasonable and evidence based it is – the answer to the question of whether Canberra is a good city is no, it’s a godforsaken godawful one.

Its too easy to say, but I’ll say it anyway. As all those non-woke people you seem to like keep saying – if you don’t like it feel free to leave……..

Bro is posting dribble about a philosopher under an article on whether it’s good to live somewhere, and somehow everyone else is the problem… Very funny stuff.


Dear me… probably time for a lie down.

With the newly introduced hard drugs possession free for all – that would be a no

so wrong. there is no hard drugs free for all.

Sorry, but when you get a bigger fine for not using your indicator than using these hard drugs, there is something wrong, and that makes it unsafe for children with crims peddling this stuff, knowing that all they’ll cop is $100 or a talking to:
“Small quantities of drugs found on a person may attract either diversion to a health education and information session, or the option of paying a $100 fine” What a joke.

I’m only interested in what will work. putting people into the criminal justice system for possessing a small amount of drugs for their own use is a hugely expensive failure. Drugs are a health issue. getting people off drugs should be the top priority.

Why is that a failure dolphin. What is the point of jails? Should murderers and thieves be treated the same way and put on rehabilitation programs as well with the aim to reintegrate back to society?

Its a failure because it mostly doesnt do what you seem to think it does. Bringing people with drug issues into the criminal justice sytem for simple possession doesnt stop people using drugs in the first place, doesn’t help those who already use drugs to stop, is hugely expensive, and wastes large amounts of police and court time. There approach has not worked in the past and doesnt work anywhere in the world.

Drug usage is a health issue and users need help.

Please dont mistake this as being soft, it isn’t. If you commit crimes on drugs you should still be dealt with in the normal way.

Oh and by the way people in prison for stealing should undertake rehabilitation programmes. I measure the success of prison by the rate of recidivism. It needs to be as low as possible. If they end up back inside, then the criminal justice system isnt working as well as it should be.

William Newby9:57 pm 03 Nov 23

Judges have long had (and used) diversion for minor possession offences, decriminalising will not really change this. I agree it is a health issue but our health system is not adequately set up to help those in need today. What has changed? Those with “small” amounts that are actual dealers laugh in the face of police and keep walking.

William Newby10:03 pm 03 Nov 23

Great for kids, good schools (non public ones as others have pointed out), lots of options for sports, and for the most part Canberra is just a large country town where everything is less than a 20 min drive so it’s possible for kids to play five different sports or hobbies each week. Zero chance of doing that in Sydney.
If you can stomach the local politics and waste it is a great place to live.

So you want the Singapore approach because that has the lowest recidivism?

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