Is there a distinct cultural difference between Canberra’s north and south?

Zoya Patel 25 November 2020 34
The Phoenix

Venues like The Phoenix in Civic were epicentres for university life. Photo: Adam Thomas.

A few weeks ago, I drove my car across Commonwealth Avenue Bridge for the first time in months. Since the outset of COVID-19, I have had very little reason to go south of the bridge from my northside home and community.

Driving through the leafy streets of Deakin, heading into my office after months away, I pondered whether it’s possible for me to live my life entirely on the northside of Canberra without ever having to venture south.

Now, before people start stretching their fingers, ready to jump into the comments to defend their region of choice, I’m not suggesting that either the northside or southside of Canberra is superior to the other.

But I am curious about whether a city as small as Canberra can have genuinely distinct cultures in its different regions.

READ ALSO: The top sporting events that no longer take place in Canberra

I’ve definitely found that most Canberrans I know have a very clear preference when it comes to which side of the bridge they want to live on. And for many, the distinction is more important when we’re talking about the difference between the inner south and the inner north.

Once you’re talking about living in the outer stretches of the city on either end, the decision feels more practical, driven by considerations like commuting distance to work, and school choices for children etc.

Of course, when we talk about ‘choice’ in relation to where we live, it’s important to note that the degree to which we can choose our preferred suburb is constrained by our finances. As a renter, I was able to move much more freely between suburbs because a sharehouse room in the inner north versus one in Duffy isn’t too different in price (or at least it wasn’t in the mid-2000s).

But when we were looking to buy, our range of options did shrink considerably according to our budget.

READ ALSO: The ACT housing market is leaving too many behind

Putting that to one side, though, and if money was no object, I wonder if I would choose to move out of north Canberra? And would my friends who have exclusively rented southside ever choose to pick up sticks and make the trek across the bridge to the north?

When I think of what drew me to the inner north when I first moved out of my family home at age 21, it was the reputation the suburbs of Dickson, Lyneham and O’Connor had as the epicentre of university life for young people.

Almost all of my friends lived in sharehouses in one of those three suburbs and we converged at The Front in Lyneham for gigs and poetry nights, or enjoyed the easy walk into Civic to head to the Phoenix.

We were close to the ANU, and the overarching feel of the area was one of urban adventure. This makes sense, of course, because the geographic location of the university did influence the demographics that chose to live in the surrounding suburbs and impacted the types of events, activities and businesses that congregated there too.

READ MORE: If Garema Place is part of Canberra’s ‘soul’, we’re in purgatory

For my friends who chose to stay in the south, living in rentals in Griffith and Deakin, some choosing further out like Weston Creek or Duffy, they enjoyed the access to the restaurants and cafes of Kingston and Manuka, and going for walks on Red Hill, or by the southside of the lake.

From where I lounged on the veranda of my Dickson duplex sharehouse, I could see that the south did have a lot to offer – but it looked more genteel and refined than the student-dominated inner north.

After uni, we did the common drift from sharehouses in Dickson to apartments in Turner and Braddon, and then houses in Downer and Watson. Our moves were defined by more income, and opting out of sharehouse living to be with our partners or live alone as we matured.

The other day, walking the dog to Watson shops, we joined throngs of people in their 30s hanging outside The Knox waiting for coffees while our various canines flopped at our feet or lethargically sniffed each other.

The Knox

The Knox is pet friendly (and also welcomes hipsters). Photo: Daniella Jukic, We Are Found.

There was something particularly gratifying about seeing people out in the sunshine after a year of isolation. I looked around and recognised in the throngs the things that make me feel at home anywhere in the world – a love of coffee, dogs and lazy mornings.

I’m pretty sure that if we lived in Griffith and had walked the dog to the Manuka shops, we would have found good coffee and pastries too, but would the vibe have been different?

Would I have seen the same combinations of hipster beards and brightly printed shirts on the men, and nose rings and Gorman dresses on the women? Would people have ridden their fixed gear bikes to the shops, with Keep Cups hanging out of their back pockets?

Are the things that signify an inner north culture to me actually unique to the inner north or just to the stereotypically ‘hipster’ places I tend to hang out?

Are our suburban cultures distinct in the ACT, or do they just feel that way because many of us don’t venture from one side of town to the other except for work?

What's Your Opinion?

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34 Responses to Is there a distinct cultural difference between Canberra’s north and south?
Ctl_Alt_Del Ctl_Alt_Del 1:25 pm 21 Nov 20

Lake B-G should be widened by 3.2 metres. Exactly 3.2 metres.

Capital Retro Capital Retro 6:51 pm 20 Nov 20

“So Zoya crossed the Mawson-Dickson Line.”

James Taylor only performed on the northside at Bruce. It must have been very boring for him.

Linda Stapleton Linda Stapleton 5:07 pm 20 Nov 20

Attitudes towards life and lifestyle is certainly different once you cross the lake. It's as if vapours from the lake cuddle the grey matter in many if you head south, hence my always wondering why they built Parliament House on the Southside of the lake 😉...

Cam Neil Cam Neil 4:59 pm 20 Nov 20

I don't know why you posted this.. it's not like those uncultured northsiders can even read this to argue their case 😉

Tim Pollard Tim Pollard 4:09 pm 20 Nov 20

Sure is I was Southside true and though while living there for my first 35 years, I've always seen the north side as a miserable concrete jungle where no one knows how to drive 😜, South side is more open,fresh and plan younger looking 😁. Love the old North vs South rivalry

Antoinette Buchanan Antoinette Buchanan 3:41 pm 20 Nov 20

So Zoya crossed the Mawson-Dickson Line.

Wendeborg Wendeborg 8:18 am 20 Nov 20

We sold our inner north home after 25 years. Now living in Kingston – and loving it!

pdpd pdpd 11:01 pm 19 Nov 20

This article seems to suggest that there is something hipster about the inner north that is somewhat akin to the hipster inner suburbs of Sydney or Melbourne.

Nothing can be further from the truth IMO. Suburbs like O’Connor, Turner etc are a very posh form of suburbia. I park and walk through there every single day and I don’t sense for one moment any form of vibrancy or hippy grogginess that people go on about. As for Braddon it is like any suburban high street area in Sydney.

Other then that I move the place for what it actually is.

José Tsindez José Tsindez 9:02 pm 19 Nov 20

Did you know, if Canberra was a city in the U.S.A, it would be the 45th most populous city, sitting just behind Long Beach, California and Miami, Florida with a population of 457,000. There are 310 cities in the U.S.A considered at least “medium cities” with a population of 100,000 or more. There are 19 such “medium cities” in Australia. In my opinion, this makes Canberra a thriving metropolis often misconstrued as a “small city”.

Iaian Ross Iaian Ross 7:09 pm 19 Nov 20

Tuggeranong is completely different from Gungahlin. Woden and Weston Creek and Belconnen are completely different from anywhere else in Canberra.

Kathy Butler Kathy Butler 6:34 pm 19 Nov 20

Inner south for me in fact I tell people my visa doesn't entitled me to go north of the lake haha Break this rule everytime I go to Civic 😎😍😂

    Linda Stapleton Linda Stapleton 5:10 pm 20 Nov 20

    They'll catch you and deport you one day 😉

Clint Deaves Clint Deaves 5:33 pm 19 Nov 20

I’ve lived in both Gungahlin and Tuggeranong, I prefer Tuggeranong, we have these extra areas called backyards, they’re really great

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 6:10 pm 19 Nov 20

    Clint Deaves what is ironic about that statement is when Tuggeranong (south of Kambah at least)was being built people were complaining how small the blocks were compared to older suburbs.

Jordania Jordania 4:47 pm 19 Nov 20

Selling our inner north house. Just had some southsiders look at it. Pretty sure they won’t be buying it, the northside/southside divide is just too great.

Josh Ireland Josh Ireland 4:41 pm 19 Nov 20

Since moving to canberra 10 years ago I've always lived in the north. 8 years in Braddon with some short stints in O'Connor, Dickson and Palmerston. I'm currently looking at buying a house and am not limiting myself to north or south. Looking in Belconnen, Gungahlin and Weston Creek. I assume that once you leave the 'inner' and move to the suburbs its all the same. I'll definitely miss the inner north though and I do sometimes have fleeting moments of reservation about potentially becoming a southerner :D

Damien Burge Damien Burge 1:36 pm 19 Nov 20

Farcical - anything north of Antill/Mouat St isn’t “Inner North”. Ain’t nobody walking to Watson in their July booze coat happy about the short stroll to their inner north abode.

    Luke Malacchi Luke Malacchi 10:16 pm 19 Nov 20

    Damien Burge walking to Watson in their July booze coat!!!!!!!!!

    Absolute gold!!!!!!

    I assume you're talking walking from the bin????!!!!😁😁😁

Sean Lawson Sean Lawson 12:20 pm 19 Nov 20

Man I miss the old Phoenix

Mal Briggs Mal Briggs 11:43 am 19 Nov 20

I've heard there are dragons in the bad lands beyond the lake.

I'm not sure it's true, but I'm not gonna risk it just in case.

Robert Harrop Robert Harrop 10:12 am 19 Nov 20

South side is the dark side

Courtney Preo Courtney Preo 9:40 am 19 Nov 20

Who cares 🤷‍♀️🤦‍♀️

Rob Thomas Rob Thomas 8:46 am 19 Nov 20

I don't cross the bridge.

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