Recently, while speaking to a colleague who moved to Canberra a few years ago, I once again heard a phrase I’ve come across in relation to my hometown many times. When asked how she was finding living in the nation’s capital, my colleague shrugged and said, “Oh, you know, Canberra can be quite cliquey – it’s hard to meet people. It took me a long time.”
I nodded, but internally I was perplexed. I’ve heard this said of Canberra by newcomers to our city before, but I’m not sure I entirely believe that Canberra is any more or less cliquey than other cities.
I have had the privilege of growing up in Canberra, so I accept that my experiences are very different from people who move here as adults, without the comfort and familiarity of family nearby, and friends and connections that have been made over a lifetime.
But do other cities do a better job of laying out the welcome mat than we Canberrans do? Or is it more a case of a smaller city being seen to be less welcoming by virtue of the fact that there are just fewer people and activities in comparison to our bigger counterparts?
I understand that people moving to Canberra in the last year would have had a real slog of it, thanks to COVID-19 and its impacts. But I’ve heard this accusation of cliquey-ness for many years, long before the pandemic, and I’ve always questioned its validity.
I’ve lived in two other cities as an adult – Melbourne and Edinburgh in Scotland. My year in Melbourne was decidedly lonely. I had friends who I had moved down with, but in terms of meeting new people or forging a community, it was hard going.
Just because there were more places to go and more community events spread out across the city didn’t mean it was easier to actually meet people. Finding a community still involved putting myself out there – seeking out local events, asking acquaintances if they’d like to catch up, volunteering for organisations I thought aligned with my interests.
Similarly, in Edinburgh, I had to throw myself into the business of finding friends to make any connections. Again, I volunteered, actively invited people I met to a coffee to see if we could be friends, etc. Over time, a community evolved in each city, but it required a lot of effort, and there were definitely periods of loneliness.
I can’t see how Canberra makes it any more difficult to do the same things described above than anywhere else. There are loads of local events being held in lovely venues across the city (granted, COVID-19 has made this harder, but it does still happen), and there are specialist groups for almost every hobby imaginable. With a small amount of investigation, people can easily find and reach out to groups that share their interests.
Yes, there are plenty of established social circles and communities, but this is true of anywhere. The only thing I can think of that sets Canberra apart is the geographical spread of the city, which means that there isn’t one obvious hub of activity, but many different spots of vibrancy spread out across town centres.
It can be harder to access these without a car, but arguably being able to link to community sports, activities, and local town centres closer to where you live is better for finding friends than being shoehorned into one CBD?
Is Canberra cliquey, or does it suffer from the perceptions people have of smaller cities as being less active when it comes to social opportunities? Are we too insular to include new people in Canberra, or are we all responsible for our own social connections and how fruitful they are, regardless of the city we’re in?