27 September 2021

Marg's Canberra secrets scratch the surface of our hidden treasures

| Michael Weaver
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Marg Wade with the Simpson and his donkey statue

Marg Wade with the Simpson and his donkey sculpture at the Australian War Memorial. Photo: Supplied.

There’s a very good reason the famed donkey of the Simpson and his donkey sculpture at the Australian War Memorial has a very shiny nose. People rub it.

Sculptor Peter Corlett always hoped people would, but what is less well known is the story behind the two scratches on the donkey’s behind.

Marg Wade has been hosting tours of Canberra for many years and it was only when talking with Corlett that he exposed another lesser-known secret.

“Peter had made a maquette of the model as you do before the bronze casting. He had a cat in his studio that would keep him company while he worked,” says Marg.

“As Peter was standing back admiring his work, the typical cat took a flying leap across the room and landed on the rump of the donkey and left its mark on either side as it slid down.

“Peter went and had a look at the damage done and thought, ‘I like that, I’m going keep it in’. So on the rump of the donkey at the War Memorial are Cynthia the cat’s paw prints still on the donkey.”

Marg Wade during a Canberra Secrets tour

Marg Wade tells stories of the capital’s national icons and its hidden attractions. Photo: Supplied

Marg says she likes to get to the source of the information rather than rely on “our good friend Google”.

“That’s where you find the hidden gems,” she says.

Having published three editions of her book Canberra Secrets, Marg has not looked back on her former career as a teacher and instead takes people on bespoke or tailored tours of Canberra and the region that uncover those lesser-known gems.

READ ALSO If you like cars, Canberra’s just the place for you

It stems from hearing the same-old vitriol from the so-called Canberra bashers who had perhaps only visited the city once or not at all.

“I was sick of people bagging Canberra. During a reunion, somebody asked me where I was living and I said Canberra and they replied, ‘well you can’t help bad luck’. It was so insulting!” Marg says.

Marg resigned from her job as a teacher and began researching and then writing about the city. Soon, she started hosting regular tours to a few of her favourite things.

“That was before Google, so you just went and talked to people and you found out the real story and why so many people love being here.

“The whole point is highlighting Canberra to the locals as well as the tourists,” she says.

One of Marg’s favourite places is different every time she visits, and that is the skyspace chamber at the southern garden of the National Gallery of Australia where James Turrell’s dome creates an ever-changing perspective of Canberra.

The skyspace chamber at the southern garden of the National Gallery of Australia

James Turrell’s skyspace chamber, Within Without 2010, purchased with the support of visitors to the Masterpieces from Paris exhibition 2010. Photo: Supplied

“I know it’s not a huge secret but it’s always special,” says Marg. “It’s a bit tricky at the moment with COVID, but usually, there are lots of people just sitting there and looking up.”

You could say Marg isn’t great at keeping a secret, and she will now start sharing more of the cultural aspects that make the city tick, including its rich Indigenous history.

Through The Canberra Page, Marg will share the stories of Canberra once a month.

“Canberra was a meeting place for many different Indigenous groups. You only have to walk up Mt Ainslie to see our rich history,” she says.

“Canberra has really changed – just look at Braddon. It used to be service stations, car dealerships and mechanics, but driving down Lonsdale St on a Saturday night, it’s unbelievable how many people are out and about.”

READ ALSO Indigenous sounds to earth Canberra International Music Festival

Marg says the stories of Canberra are still evolving, and it’s these stories that make the city tick.

“I think it’s important that we have an understanding of where we fit as a city – to embrace our diversity and the cultures that exist here. People who love to bag Canberra have no idea of the amazing stories that exist and I’m really looking forward to sharing more of them.”

To uncover more of Canberra’s secrets, follow The Canberra Page.

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