Is stress-free, carefree Canberra living on borrowed time?

Zoya Patel 5 May 2021 89
Weston Creek

The population paradox: will what makes Canberra attractive be lost as more people are attracted to Canberra? Photo: Region Media.

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of this city. Canberra has been my home for the better part of 20 years, and despite the brief sojourns I’ve made interstate and overseas, I imagine I’ll be living here until I die (ideally peacefully, in my sleep, sometime before the climate apocalypse really takes hold).

The same reasons why some people disdain Canberra as a soulless city that lacks the grit and energy of our bigger neighbours are the reasons why most Canberrans love it here.

There are fewer people, which means less traffic, less urban sprawl and more meaningful access to the entertainment on offer here. We have great schools, a sufficient job market, and while the property market is entirely dysfunctional, the same is true of every capital city in Australia right now.

Of course, these benefits are only available to those of us with the income and resources to engage in them, and we do still have significant inequity in Canberra. But for people like me, with stable incomes, a house to call their own, and a dog to wander the mountains with, things here are truly excellent.


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My brother recently moved back to Canberra after almost a decade of living in Melbourne. Since being back, he seems like a different person.

Instead of waking up at 6:00 am every day to start the two-hour routine of dropping the kids at before-school care, driving to the train station and catching the train to work so that he can start by 8:00 am so he can leave at 4:00 pm to do the whole thing in reverse before it’s too late, he now strolls five minutes down the road to catch a bus for his 10-minute journey to his job in the city, while the kids walk the short distance to their school.

After years of just not being able to reasonably squeeze in the time after work, he’s started playing sport again and is even coaching his kid’s soccer team. He’s also looking into volunteering to mentor young people in need.

I watch this transformation of my brother from a harassed and exhausted father of two, constantly stuck in the rat race of home-traffic-work-traffic-home, with every potential outing or experience requiring more time to get there, and navigating crowds, and then getting home through more traffic, into someone with time, energy and convenience at their fingertips. I can’t help but feel validated in my love for Canberra.


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For years, as I watched my friends do the classic migration from Canberra to the flashier cities of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, I felt a little ashamed of staying put in my home town. I would question whether my desire to stay was a sign of a lack of adventure in my spirit, or a sort of lethargy that made me boring, or lazy for wanting to keep my life as pleasant and easy as it is here.

But with the wisdom of age, I can now see that the stressed, harassed, constantly busy demeanours of my friends isn’t a sign that they’re living life to the fullest, but a sign that they are so stretched just managing their full-time work and life admin on a week-to-week basis that they can’t relax and actually enjoy life.

In contrast, I spend 20 minutes getting to and from work. I can easily avoid major shopping centres by heading to my local shops when I need groceries, and there are schools, supermarkets, doctors and a post office within five minutes of my house. Even when we lived further out than we do currently, there was never more than 25 minutes of nasty peak ‘hour’ traffic, and we still had amenities right near us that made our day-to-day lives much easier.

I assume people in big cities do have relaxed and happy lives, but I would wager that the people who have the best experiences are also the ones with the most money and freedom of time. The same is true of Canberra, of course, but the actual level of resourcing needed to have a relaxed and happy life here is much lower than that in bigger cities with higher rents, more competition for work, and population sizes that create a constant sense of scarcity.

But as glad as I am to live here, I’m equally scared that our enjoyment of a smaller population and the benefits that it offers is doomed to end.

As apartments go up on every available block of land, and more people journey to join us here in Canberra, it’s clear that our comfortable existence in the middle ground between town and city is due to change, probably in favour of the latter.

Does this mean the ease of access and convenience that we all love about Canberra is on borrowed time? How do we safeguard the best things about living here when it’s those same attributes that act as drawcards to people looking to move to the ACT? Is Canberra only this good because there are fewer of us here to enjoy it?


What's Your Opinion?


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89 Responses to Is stress-free, carefree Canberra living on borrowed time?
Kirrily Belle Kirrily Belle 11:59 am 06 May 21

Stress free....... What, I must be doing it wrong.

    Pamela Johnstone Pamela Johnstone 3:45 pm 06 May 21

    Kirrily Belle sooner you get out of that crazy place the better your life will be.

Adrian Sandrey Adrian Sandrey 11:28 am 06 May 21

Stress free 🤣 try Limestone Ave in the rain in the morning for 1/2 hour that will make you think about moving up north !!😀

Suzanne Milne Suzanne Milne 10:24 am 06 May 21

Love Canberra. Aren't we all living on borrowed time, Russia & china plan to take over the world, if climate change doesn't get us first

Bernhard Nizynski Bernhard Nizynski 10:01 am 06 May 21

A wonderful city to grow up in!

Deirdre Russack Deirdre Russack 9:24 am 06 May 21

I like Canberra more since I have moved back to a regional town. The traffic has certainly increased (longer, denser peak hour) but the amenities are great. Great place to raise children and now, for me, a great place to visit.

    Andrew Russack Andrew Russack 9:40 am 06 May 21

    Deirdre Russack I don’t miss Canberra (especially winter), but I do like to visit. Hopefully we will be able to at Christmas 🤞

    Kim Sattler Kim Sattler 5:46 pm 06 May 21

    Deirdre Russack i feel the same

Lucas Hayden Lucas Hayden 9:19 am 06 May 21

Glad i got out.

The place is too cold, too cliquey and too overpriced. It is a glorified country town, with an ego issue.

    Lucas Hayden Lucas Hayden 9:54 am 06 May 21

    Adrian Haynes hahahah. Tell me it isn't though. The cold, mate I could move the equator and still wouldn't be warm enough for me though.

    Adrian Haynes Adrian Haynes 11:26 am 06 May 21

    Lucas Hayden yesterday was literally the worst day weather wise this year. Friggin horrendous.

    Lucas Hayden Lucas Hayden 3:20 pm 06 May 21

    Eveline Cornish and my point exactly. It seems like you have justified my comments with the mentality of the place.

Sue Ellen Sue Ellen 9:01 am 06 May 21

I've been living here since the 70s. There was a point in time when you could feel a real shift in the vibe of Canberra - about 20 years ago. We matured and started to feel like a big city. I was young enough to rejoice the change (our city less boring) but still love the country feel we retain in most parts of Canberra. Modern planning though... another thing - reeking of greed, with little consideration to quality of life. If anything, it will be our failing.

Carole Ford Carole Ford 8:58 am 06 May 21

I wouldn't say we're stress free! But we do have a lot of advantages living in Canberra. Sadly I think the secret is out!! 🤷

Anne O'Brien Anne O'Brien 8:33 am 06 May 21

Much as I like big backyards, higher density near transit hubs is smart planning and reduces traffic per person. If you want to point to development that contributes to traffic headaches, don't single out apartments. Focus on suburban sprawl.

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 1:33 pm 06 May 21

    Anne O'Brien suburban sprawl isn’t an issue if say the local Gov had decentralized it’s offices. Meaning less people having to travel distance.

    Anne O'Brien Anne O'Brien 1:53 pm 06 May 21

    Marc Edwards but then people tend to commute across the city to go to work...not many NSW govt employees moved to Parramatta when offices were relocated there....

    Marc Edwards Marc Edwards 1:56 pm 06 May 21

    Anne O'Brien Gungahlin would be a perfect example of the government doing nothing to entice businesses to the area, they prefer to put the eggs into the city or Dickson

    Anne O'Brien Anne O'Brien 2:00 pm 06 May 21

    Marc Edwards that said i think it was the right decision to move the departments there

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 11:57 pm 06 May 21

    Marc Edwards That can made it worse for public transport. It's okay for those living nearby, but for people in other parts of Canberra it would become a longer commute. People don't tend to sell their house and move every time they change jobs. If jobs are central, it makes it easier to catch public transport.

    Then if a department is moved, say out to Tuggeranong, think about those who bought a house or (more likely) an apartment near their work. Now they have a long commute, and if they had bought their apartment near Civic, they might not have a car to commute all the way to Tuggeranong. Even worse for those who were commuting to Civic from Gungahlin. Now they have twice the distance.

    George Watling George Watling 12:38 am 12 May 21

    Marc Edwards Spot on Marc. The best way to deal with congestion is decentralize workplaces. If everyone is travelling to a central location the roads get clogged. That was the beauty of Canberra's multi centered design. Building more and more office space in Civic has been about driving up land values for the government not about efficiencies for workers.

Carol Marshall Carol Marshall 8:31 am 06 May 21

I LOVE Canberra, always have. Then I got to move here as a bride in the early 70s. Why live anywhere else? I say to keep it a secret so we can have it like this always.

Judith White Judith White 8:31 am 06 May 21

I agree with Zoya Patel in her concern for a changing city because of too much population growth. I guess it is inevitable because I have seen the change since the late 60's and Canberra now is pretty fabulous with easier work/life arrangements when compared with Sydney and Melbourne. What is comforting to me is our tight boundary.... there is only so much development that can be 'fitted inside our border lines. It concerns me that Canberra could in the future end up like a 'lower in height' version of Manhattan - crammed and squashed together with slums, 'with the expensive areas, and the poor areas, if our city planners are not careful. Of course, I won't be around to see this - being in my 70's, but that end result is a far cry from the 'big country town' and egalitarian aim and lifestyle for everyone that we enjoyed in earlier days.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 3:21 pm 06 May 21

    Judith White Canberra is spread out enough, without spreading more. It makes it more expensive for services and harder for public transport. The poor areas are more likely to be on the fringes. However, "poor" areas allow people without high incomes the chance to buy a first home. I notice that whenever someone doesn't like a type of building, 'slum' can be brought into the conversation. That demonstrates more an opinion than reality. Sure you mightn't (and I mightn't at present...maybe when I am older) want to live in an apartment, but we are not everyone. Slum does not equal, you don't like it.

    Ian McLeod Ian McLeod 7:37 pm 07 May 21

    We absolutely should not build across the river right up to the Brindabellas either as certain politicians have been pushing for. Keep it pristine.

    Jeff Smith Jeff Smith 11:08 pm 07 May 21

    I used to hold the same views, but then I realised that Not building across the river is just an artificial barrier. CMAG has a Canberra plan from over 50 years ago with Tuggeranong spreading both sides of the river (I think that's why the Hyperdome sits where it is). Whole suburbs of Belco now cut straight across the old River that makes Lake Ginninderra and the new Molonglo region is almost up against the river at some points. Let alone the inner north and south built on the former Molonglo river. I now think it's better and more environmental to build within Canberra's original planned footprint, than have all this other unplanned property development springing up across Googong, Molonglo gorge, Jerrabomberra and soon Michelago etc etc. If we wanted to keep the Brindabella's pristine we should never have built the Capital here in the first place.

    Jeff Smith Jeff Smith 9:55 am 08 May 21

    I think we are both concerned about the same bigger problems and to some degree on the same page. I certainly never want to see them build into the Brindabella's. But there is plenty of originally planned development land on the other side of the Murrumbidgee river that is no different to what they'll soon build west of Duffy or in North West Molonglo. I'd rather see planned and controlled development within the original Canberra plan, than simply giving Geocon the keys to Michelago or private developers filling up the next Googong style development. The outrageous home price growth due to a lack of adequate land release over the last decade will definitely be a concern for homebuyers mental health (I'm with you on that one). Many Canberran's got lucky in the 70s, 80s and 90s when new suburbs were springing up every 2 months. I don't want a return to those days, but the current urban plan is clearly failing us all.

Valerie Foster Valerie Foster 8:11 am 06 May 21

Being slowly destroyed. Much better back in the eighties. Trying to be a mini sydney. Sad.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 3:31 pm 06 May 21

    Valerie Foster I came here in the early 70s. It was definitely not better back in the 80s. I'm saying that as someone who moved from a town of just over a thousand people, where I had lived both in the town and on a farm, so not comparing it to Sydney or the like.

    However, population growth in Australia needs to stop.

Lisa Ries Lisa Ries 8:11 am 06 May 21

Glad we left

Vander Leal Vander Leal 8:00 am 06 May 21

a lot of people call it progress... :(

Tracy Robinson Tracy Robinson 7:52 am 06 May 21

Love Canberra. People who visit here are always impressed. It has changed quite a bit since the mid 1980’s. Yes it gets cold, but it’s not cold all year.

Canberra’s still Canberra despite the naysayers. Let them eat cake! 😁

    Helen Topor Helen Topor 8:43 am 06 May 21

    As though Canberra has the monopoly on cold. Really? I've been colder in Goulburn, Oberon, Bathurst, Sydney.

    Tracy Robinson Tracy Robinson 8:44 am 06 May 21

    Helen Topor

    I know! Apparently Canberra’s the Alaska of Australia 🤣😂🤣😂

    Helen Topor Helen Topor 8:52 am 06 May 21

    It's a facile, unthinking criticism that has become a bit of a myth.

    Robin Joyce Robin Joyce 8:56 am 06 May 21

    Tracy Robinson but it's rarely cold enough to wear the gorgeous boots I bought for snow in London.

    Tracy Robinson Tracy Robinson 9:04 am 06 May 21

    Robin Joyce

    Oh yes! I’ve been in the UK in Winter... 🥶

    Stuart Roesler Stuart Roesler 10:03 am 06 May 21

    It's cold. But so was the Barossa growing up...stiff towels hanging on the wash line on a frosty morning yikes

    Robin Joyce Robin Joyce 10:42 am 06 May 21

    Tracy Robinson I loved it. Those coats that really are coats, and as I mentioned, boots, boots, boots.

    Clare Abrahams Clare Abrahams 1:38 pm 06 May 21

    I always say 'Is there an interesting City in the World that doesn't get cold and have lots of snow'? We are lucky to have the change of Seasons, no better example than right now! 🌞🍁

    John Kerry Tozer John Kerry Tozer 2:47 pm 06 May 21

    Helen Topor - Lithgow...

Lucy El Lucy El 7:38 am 06 May 21

Ha ha ha this is how I feel about moving to a country town. Would never go back to Canberra.

    John Taylor John Taylor 8:14 am 06 May 21

    Lucy El excellent

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 3:45 pm 06 May 21

    Lucy El Have you ever lived in a country town to make that comparison? I have, several country towns from a population of 500* up, and Canberra is not a country town.

    * Although that one now has a street of cafes.

    Lucy El Lucy El 3:47 pm 06 May 21

    Julie Macklin I mean I have moved to a country town, and the way the author feels about Sydney/Mel/Brisbane is the same way I feel about Canberra now.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 3:58 pm 06 May 21

    Lucy El Sorry, misunderstanding, I thought you were saying you though Canberra a country town and therefore would never go back.

Fortress Epiphany Fortress Epiphany 7:38 am 06 May 21

It was better when I first came to the ACT in 1989. Population was only about 260k then and almost no “coffee culture”

Now it’s just like everywhere else but cold. I retired to the country. Canberra is still a great place to bring up kids though.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 3:28 pm 06 May 21

    Fortress Epiphany Even many big towns have a coffee culture now. It's no longer a city thing.

Astrid Smith Astrid Smith 7:31 am 06 May 21

Starting to get overcrowded

Adele Craven Adele Craven 7:28 am 06 May 21

Rates are not actually as bad as I thought. A relative in Qld pays more living in a house with significantly lower valuation in spite of multiple discounts

Melissa Hobbs Melissa Hobbs 7:24 am 06 May 21

Stress-free and carefree with a poor health system and ridiculously high land tax and rates

    Meg Joy Meg Joy 7:51 am 06 May 21

    Melissa Hobbs Yes, the local government's perpetually inadequate/inept yet extortionate administration is like watching someone squander a wonderful inheritance

    Stephen Page-Murray Stephen Page-Murray 8:14 am 06 May 21

    Melissa Hobbs

    Having been in hospital here 6 times over the last 33 months I disagree that it’s a poor health system. Exemplary except for the food.

    Kevin Gill Kevin Gill 8:21 am 06 May 21

    so myopic, while there is always room for improvement, try living elsewhere in AUS (& OS ) and you will quickly run back to Canberra when you need good health support

    Mick Hano Mick Hano 8:30 am 06 May 21

    Kevin Gill the "Canberra bubble" 🤦‍♂️

    Robin Joyce Robin Joyce 8:53 am 06 May 21

    Kevin Gill yes indeed. We are so fortunate to live here.

    Peter Bojkowski Peter Bojkowski 9:04 am 06 May 21

    Melissa Hobbs Move. Melbourne or Sydney will gladly take you, lol

    Monique Neejchee Jenkins Monique Neejchee Jenkins 3:13 pm 06 May 21

    I have had no issue with our health system. I agree about the land tax and rates though. Vehicle reg too.

    Nick Savino Nick Savino 10:39 am 07 May 21

    Stephen Page-Murray correct the food is rubbish I complained so many times that the food manager and his 2 mates came to my room unannounced so I explained the issue and nothing changed 🙂

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