Manuka 101: why this green and stylish hub is a magnet for its community

Michelle Rowe 12 May 2020 58

Susan Taylor says “Manuka is one of those lovely and unique areas that is a bit older, has a great environment and a lot of traders who have been here a long time”. Photo: Region Media.

Bustling Manuka in Canberra’s inner south is something of a contradiction – a mix of urban chic and historic buildings, with a healthy dose of parks and recreation thrown in for good measure.

But the beating heart of this small precinct just 6 km from the CBD is its community, according to those who know it best.

“Manuka is like one big family,” says Stella Ding, manager of Typica cafe on Manuka Lawns which, like most hospitality businesses, has been selling only takeaways since social distancing rules came in.

“People in the area have tried to support us as much as they can during COVID-19, and it’s not just about financial support … it’s spiritual and mental support, too,” Stella says.

“We have so many regulars – people who live nearby and people who work around here. We see ourselves as their extended family and they see us like that as well.”

Susan Taylor, who has owned fashion boutique Department of the Exterior in Manuka Arcade for 16 years, says the community spirit is writ large among Manuka’s business owners, too.

“Manuka Arcade has become quite a little hub. There’s a real community vibe among those of us who’ve stayed open. And we still have a nice, steady flow of people coming in,” she says.

Susan believes the area’s great appeal is its character and diversity.

“Manuka is one of those lovely and unique areas that is a bit older, has a great environment and a lot of traders who have been here a long time,” she says.

“It’s a beautiful little shopping centre with a lot of outdoor space. It’s not a place you have to be inside all the time. There aren’t a lot of shopping strips like that in Canberra, in the way there are in Melbourne.”

Susan says Manuka’s hidden gems lie beyond its main thoroughfares.

“I really encourage people to explore the laneways and alleyways,” she says. “That’s where you see the interesting coffee shops and stores … that’s the real beauty of the place.”

Views of Manuka Oval from Renaissance

Views of Manuka Oval from Renaissance. Photo: Supplied.

Barry Morris’s development company Morris Property Group completed an extensive upgrade of Manuka’s shopping and entertainment precinct in 2000, which also included a $2 million upgrade to Palmerston Lane. Morris has just received planning approval to redevelop the area’s old Stuart Flats public housing site into a new urban precinct called Renaissance. He regards Manuka as one of Canberra’s most appealing lifestyle areas.

“People want to live here, it’s as simple as that,” he says. “It’s on the doorstep of Lake Burley Griffin, Parliament House and some of the country’s most famous museums and galleries. But it also has a great neighbourhood feel.

“Coming back 20 years after we did the work on the shopping area to build Renaissance makes perfect sense from a business perspective. We know there’s strong demand to live in Manuka and, until now, there just hasn’t been enough available property in a location that meets our exacting requirements.”

Five great things to do in Manuka

Meet and eat: Manuka Lawns is a hive of activity at weekends – kids frolicking on the grass, bloggers snapping pictures at Patissez café while their FreakShakes melt, brunchers and lunchers tucking into buttermilk pancakes at Urban Pantry or queueing for locally roasted Ona coffee from Typica Cafe.

Style counsel

Tucked at the back of Manuka Court, independent fashion boutique Department of the Exterior‘s owner Susan Taylor has a keen eye for talented Australian and New Zealand designers. Her handpicked garments, often in limited editions, are singularly stylish and, better still, you don’t have to be a size 8 to pull off the look. Genius.

In the swim

Manuka Pool is an art deco gem, now back to its original Brunswick green and salmon self after a multi-million-dollar refurb. A worldwide search to match its original 1931 square tiles saw replacements shipped in from the Czech Republic. A 30 metre, six-lane outdoor pool, toddlers’ splashing area, playground and café make it a must for summer.

Pitch perfect

Manuka Oval has staged the iconic PM’s XI cricket match since the 1950s. The 13,550-seat venue is the home of cricket and AFL in the nation’s capital and rugby gets a guernsey as well. Settle in for a glass of red at Manuka’s buzzing Public nearby, a beer at the Kingston Hotel or cocktails at Joe’s Bar in the East Hotel.

The write stuff

There’s a lot to be said for this digital era, but breathing in the scent of paper and ink and losing yourself somewhere between true crime and travel in an old-style bookstore can’t be replicated. Paperchain Bookstore has row after row of wooden shelves packed with books of all kinds. Pretty stationery, quirky gifts and staff who clearly love the magic of books seal the deal.

What's Your Opinion?

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58 Responses to Manuka 101: why this green and stylish hub is a magnet for its community
David Lukacs David Lukacs 9:13 pm 15 May 20

Love Manuka

Jenna Gray Jenna Gray 7:48 pm 15 May 20

I love Manuka - named after the NZ tea tree - although some don’t like it as much. A little too up market, I’ve heard. My mother-in-Law’s father was Chief Forester in Canberra and planted those trees standing on the lawns. Marcelle has a photo of herself aged five standing in front of the tree that was lost. She is 91 now. So cross with myself I didn’t get a photo last year when she was here. We were devastated when we saw it dying in the heat and drought. What would it have taken for the ACT govt to have protected some of these city trees and plantings and watered them?

John Edwards John Edwards 7:40 pm 15 May 20

Sadly the tree in this pic has gone, as has the big one in the cinema precinct - felled but now just laying there as a bitter reminder. Busy area but don't try to find a 'loading zone' if you have legitimate business to conduct ie, LOADING OR UNLOADING. Why else were these zones created in the first place but now, a loading zone permit can be purchased and used on a non-goods vehicle !!!! Figure that out !!!!

Dale Harding Dale Harding 6:49 pm 15 May 20

And on Christmas Eve was there not a happening involving Santa Claus?

Peter Scott Peter Scott 1:17 pm 15 May 20

Any public toilets close by yet?

Julie Morris Julie Morris 11:59 am 15 May 20

Pam Cogar Janice Loughrey Brenda Elliott you will recognise some of these names.

    Janice Loughrey Janice Loughrey 1:01 pm 15 May 20

    Julie Morris thanks Julie.. Manuka is a favourite of mine.

Peter Kunz Peter Kunz 10:54 am 15 May 20

Well let us hope the new hotel and development does not ruin Manuka.

Elizabeth Chen Elizabeth Chen 8:42 am 15 May 20

Somewhere to sit ....on the walls with a coffee

Phil Freeman Phil Freeman 1:42 am 15 May 20

Haircuts at O'Brien's were a feature across from my parents shop Freemans Radio and Electrical that Dad started in 1929. Came back to my original family home 20 years ago in walking distance. My wife used to work at Millers, now at Perri Cutten.

    Graham Paxton Graham Paxton 1:59 am 15 May 20

    Phil Freeman

    That’s real history, that barber had the best selection of fishing tackle and he was a great guy

Frances Carleton Frances Carleton 12:33 am 15 May 20

My regular Saturday was lunch, movie, bookshop/shops.

Movies gone now. That makes sad.

Greg Flanagan Greg Flanagan 7:21 pm 14 May 20

Paper Chase. Enough said.

Coral Sechtig Coral Sechtig 7:19 pm 14 May 20

Really sad Manuka is losing their cinema.

    Elizabeth Ann Thurbon Elizabeth Ann Thurbon 7:43 pm 14 May 20

    Coral Sechtig even sadder that they lost their first heritage theatre. What replaced it was a tasteless monstrosity.

    Margie Dorman Margie Dorman 11:12 pm 14 May 20

    Elizabeth Ann Thurbon And how will a hotel go there now. 😫

    Jp Romano Jp Romano 8:07 am 15 May 20

    Coral Sechtig it is being replaced 🙂

    Raelene Davies Raelene Davies 3:45 pm 15 May 20

    Veronika Sain a hotel with a cinema.

David Vickers David Vickers 6:53 pm 14 May 20

Park in Murray Crescent and walk???

Marilyn Hutchinson Marilyn Hutchinson 5:15 pm 14 May 20

‘cos it has some greenery!

Greg Beadman Greg Beadman 4:58 pm 14 May 20

It was called the lawns of manuka my uncles shop with the barber out the back with my cousin bill and ray cutting hair redpaths store across the way and joannes florist next to my uncle enjoy

    Alex Rea Alex Rea 6:57 pm 14 May 20

    Greg Beadman O'Brien's?

    Elizabeth Ann Thurbon Elizabeth Ann Thurbon 7:42 pm 14 May 20

    Greg Beadman I remember that!

    Sue Sutton Sue Sutton 8:49 pm 14 May 20

    Greg Beadman young Mick come to my parents place to cut my Dad’s hair for years. It was really appreciated👍🏼

    Lesley Fisk Lesley Fisk 10:19 pm 14 May 20

    Greg Beadman I was told that everyone of her generation was in love with your Aunt Mattie ( Micks wife) at school including my dad !

    Irene B Middleton Irene B Middleton 11:20 am 16 May 20

    Lesley Fisk Way back when the little shop on the corner sold the frozen chooks from Hillside - the very beginning of frozen food sales - and it was a very hard sell in those days

    Greg Beadman Greg Beadman 5:25 pm 18 May 20

    Irene B Middleton Southern Frozen Foods run by Lloyd Constance

Yvonne Tacon Yvonne Tacon 4:18 pm 14 May 20

Does anybody remember Miller's of Manuka - it was the place to go for lovely ladies fashion..

    Margaret Richardson Margaret Richardson 4:22 pm 14 May 20

    Yvonne Tacon I do Yvonne. And I remember what beautiful clothes you bought from Millers of Manuka. Lovely colourful clothes!

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:38 am 15 May 20

    I remember the prices.

    Yvonne Tacon Yvonne Tacon 11:05 am 15 May 20

    Julie Macklin an arm and leg but who could resist!!!

    Irene B Middleton Irene B Middleton 11:17 am 16 May 20

    I bought my first 'grown up' clothes there just out of high school in around 1960 (I'm 75 now). Back then it was just a little long narrow shop - long before the elegant place it became. My Mum who passed at 94 didn't shop anywhere else back in the days when Mrs Miller was on the floor and Dorothy was just a we young thing..... memories!

Brian Ashcroft Brian Ashcroft 1:41 pm 14 May 20

haircuts at the back of Mick O'Briens sports store

Robyn Mundy Robyn Mundy 8:23 am 14 May 20

Hey Greg Beadman brings back memories 💋

Moira Sampson Moira Sampson 9:06 pm 13 May 20

Jessica must nearly be time to meet again

    Jessica Parr Jessica Parr 10:00 pm 13 May 20

    Moira Sampson oh yes please! Once my exams are done in a couple of weeks let’s do it x

    Moira Sampson Moira Sampson 6:49 am 14 May 20

    Jessica Parr that’s a perfect plan x

Robyn Baer Robyn Baer 7:29 pm 13 May 20

Parking is atrocious, we go elsewhere.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 9:24 pm 13 May 20

    There are buses. Fortunately it's only a few kms walk for me to Manuka.

    Victor Lee Victor Lee 7:00 am 14 May 20

    Well the cinema is now closed so parking should be better.

    Jp Romano Jp Romano 10:00 am 14 May 20

    Robyn Baer also 1hr free parking under Coles.

    Robyn Baer Robyn Baer 12:02 pm 14 May 20

    Jp Romano yes, very cramped though and small car spots. Been there a few times, seen too many bumps happen. Dont get me wrong, I like Manuka but its just too much hassle compared to other places.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 12:35 pm 14 May 20

    I think it's a matter of where possible supporting businesses close to where you live, rather than needing a car to get there. I prefer to go to local cafes for instance, where I cycle or walk to. That's why I can go to Manuka, as it's only a few kms away, but I also support businesses in my smaller local shopping centre. If I lived in another part of town I would rarely go to Manuka, as that wouldn't be my local shopping centre. And I know there are good cafes elsewhere. If you are having problems with parking, that must mean you don't live locally. Instead, why not support businesses closer to where you live.

    John Griffin John Griffin 12:40 pm 14 May 20

    Robyn Baer really spoilt!

    Elroy Jones Elroy Jones 4:30 pm 14 May 20

    Robyn Baer mind blowing that people let parking rule their lives.

    Jayne Denise Jayne Denise 5:01 pm 14 May 20

    Victor Lee well the cinema is now closed so no reason to drive to Manuka

    Louise Stirling Louise Stirling 6:55 pm 14 May 20

    Elroy Jones parking problems make or break it for some people and it doesnt have to be their fault. We avoid Manuka because its just too hard when you have elderly passengers to assist.

    Elroy Jones Elroy Jones 8:17 pm 14 May 20

    Louise Stirling get an Uber

    Robyn Baer Robyn Baer 8:34 pm 14 May 20

    Elroy Jones not possible unfortunately, elderly persons have toilet issues and arent confident to travel unless it is family.

    Louise Stirling Louise Stirling 8:37 pm 14 May 20

    Elroy Jones we would if it were just ourselves.

    Louise Stirling Louise Stirling 8:39 pm 14 May 20

    Robyn Baer yes that would be a problem.

    Sue Sutton Sue Sutton 8:46 pm 14 May 20

    Victor Lee I am not so sure - last time I went to the cinema at Manuka on a week day there only half a dozen people in the same place 🙂

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:54 pm 14 May 20

    Louise Stirling If these elderly passengers have mobility issues they should have a handicapped card you can use when they are passengers with you. I regularly take an elderly passenger in my car and they have a handicapped card.

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