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Moving to Canberra? Don’t do it alone

By Alexandra Craig - 12 May 2015 17

Canberra-ACT

It’s hard to know what to expect when you move to a new city. I certainly had no idea what I was doing or what I was in for when I moved to Canberra about four-and-a-half years ago.

I was 19 and I’d moved here from the Central Coast in NSW for work. I’d been told I had the job and had two weeks to move which involved buying furniture and appliances, as well as finding a house to live in.

At the time, the rental market here was not great. I struggled to find apartments that were up for rent and the only thing that saved me was having a conversation with a real estate agent and explaining my situation to her. She came back to me a day later with an apartment and it was all mine.

I moved into a new place in Gungahlin because a 20 minute drive to work seemed completely reasonable. What I didn’t prepare myself for was the roadwork on Gungahlin Drive Extension which meant that some days it took me 45-50 minutes to get to work. Even if I went via Flemington Road or the Barton Highway it still took forever because of congestion. It would have taken a fair bit of research but I wished I’d looked into that properly because I probably would have moved to another suburb to begin with.

I didn’t know one single person in Canberra when I arrived and didn’t really have any friends for another six months. I was much younger than everyone in my workplace and we didn’t have a lot of common interests. I eventually struck up conversation with a guy that occasionally came into my workplace, got into his social circle and then things picked up from there.

Lots of people told me Canberra was ‘cliquey’. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree. There are some aspects of Canberra that I found incredibly cliquey to begin with, public sector vs private sector (then if you were in the public sector the cliques were either what Department you were from, or what APS level you were), or UC vs ANU (UC were the ‘dumb’ ones and if you weren’t studying law at ANU you were pretty much brain dead). Not everyone would experience these cliques, it really depends on the industry you work in and your age, I think. I hardly notice the cliques anymore, or maybe I just don’t care. I know that a lot of people do have trouble making friends though.

When I announced to people that I was moving to Canberra, I was met with pretty much the same responses each time:

  • OMG, can you bring some fireworks home next time you visit?!
  • You will die in winter, it’s so cold!
  • The rent is so cheap because no one wants to live in Canberra.
  • There’s nothing to do, Canberra is boring.

Sadly, if you’re excited to move to Canberra because of the fireworks you’ll be disappointed. Fireworks aren’t a thing anymore.

Yup, our winter is cold. But you won’t die. I never had a big coat and couldn’t find one I liked so I just used to get around in a cardigan. Sometimes I still do. Winter is manageable, however if you park outside expect to have ice on your windscreen in the morning. Keep a spare card (an old credit card works well) on hand to scrape it off. A bucket of water goes well too, but whatever you do, don’t throw hot water on your windscreen. It will crack.

The rent is NOT cheap in Canberra. Well, if you compare it to Sydney it is. But comparing it to what people pay on the Central Coast or in other regional areas, it is much higher. Be prepared for that.

For the first year and a half I lived here, I thought Canberra was the most boring place on earth. I thought it was horrible. I know this sounds silly but once I got into a relationship I started to enjoy Canberra a whole lot more. A relationship gave me motivation to go and explore Canberra. It’s hard to find that motivation if you don’t know anybody.

My advice for people moving to Canberra without a support network here is to find a housemate rather than moving into an apartment alone. I wish I’d taken that step rather than doing things the hard way.

In saying that, stick it out. If you’re having as terrible a time as I did, it will get better. A few years in and now I think Canberra is the bees’ knees and I never want to leave!

What’s Your opinion?


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17 Responses to
Moving to Canberra? Don’t do it alone
rubaiyat 11:41 pm 13 May 15

qbninthecity said :

Ignore the don’t throw hot water on your windscreen advice, I did it all the time (daily) while living down the snowy mtns and never once had a issue with windscreen cracks, ever, and I lived there for 5 years

That in fact was the single most fun I had in Canberra for the first two years.

I actually hated summer and couldn’t wait for the cold weather just so I could give my car its morning bath before hastily getting the wipers going before it all froze up again.

rubaiyat 11:36 pm 13 May 15

Form your own Non-Clique clique! πŸ˜€

Pretty much the same experience I had coming here many years ago. It was even more white bread and P.S. then.

I didn’t last long in the hostel. The room, mattress, curtains and bed linen all stank of stale cigarette smoke. I had trouble sleeping and there was very little else to do. Trying to talk to some of the other inmates was like drinking schooners of novocaine whilst boring a new hole in your head with a Black and Decker.

It did get better. Slowly.

The one thing that did strike me as really odd was despite many people being from elsewhere, just how little they seemed to know of the outside world. Or care. Most of them seemed to have sworn to a vow of secrecy, the secret being there was nothing to know.

farnarkler 6:49 pm 13 May 15

Grab a ticket to the Brave games at Phillip ice rink and come and join the fun. There are always fans ready to explain the rules or you can join the hecklers in having a chat to the opposition goalies.

vintage123 5:36 pm 13 May 15

Holden Caulfield said :

Maybe we need to have a RiotACT socials night?!

That’s a great idea, I would be in on that.

qbninthecity 4:36 pm 13 May 15

Ignore the don’t throw hot water on your windscreen advice, I did it all the time (daily) while living down the snowy mtns and never once had a issue with windscreen cracks, ever, and I lived there for 5 years

Evilomlap 3:37 pm 13 May 15

The biggest problem with Canberra is illustrated perfectly in that Google maps image in your article – there’s only *one* ATM in Canberra!!

dungfungus 3:05 pm 13 May 15

Holden Caulfield said :

Maybe we need to have a RiotACT socials night?!

I’ve been waiting for an excuse to have a shower and shave.
All we need now is a venue. Chisolm tavern is good and there’s a Chinese takeaway next door.
It doesn’t get much better than that.

Holden Caulfield 2:28 pm 13 May 15

Maybe we need to have a RiotACT socials night?!

Rollersk8r 9:55 am 13 May 15

No offence but I think this is all pretty standard stuff that applies anywhere. I’ve never understood why Canberra gets the label of being a hard place to meet people, as opposed to anywhere else.

I moved from Canberra to Sydney for a year – and I didn’t really meet people either. I hung out with work people sometimes on weekends – and joined a couple of sporting comps – but didn’t form any lasting friendships. But I don’t blame Sydney for being a lonely place etc.

Lisa Martin 9:34 am 13 May 15

Good article Alexandra. I can relate to most of the points in your article (although I can’t get around Canberra in winter without a coat and gloves!). I also moved here not knowing anyone but it took me a bit over 12 months to really find my feet and to find some good friends. I would say Canberra is very cliquey and I still feel it now after two and a half years. Good to hear you’r really enjoying it now!

Kavitha 7:53 pm 12 May 15

Hi Alexandra,

I am going through exactly what you went through. It’s been only 6 months since I’ve moved to Canberra and it does get lonely at times. On top of that, I moved internationally and am alone.
I try to occupy my weekends by attending social interest groups. Hopefully it gets better, *fingers crossed*. πŸ™‚

Dondon 5:59 pm 12 May 15

I came sort of alone, I moved here 6 months before the wife joined me. Wasn’t too bad, I found new friends via sports that I was involved in. I must admit I did also have a cousin living here.

The rent blew me away though. I spent the first 6 months in a serviced apartment, so I accepted the huge cost for that. However when the wife arrived we got a house and the rent was double what we paid on our mortgage in Hobart. Youch.

Maya123 5:58 pm 12 May 15

Another sad effect of the old hostels closing. When I moved to Canberra in the 1970s I moved into a hostel. Convenient rent for an eighteen year old moving here alone, and I had soon made friends with fellow hostellers and was going out to discos, movies, day trips to the snow, etc. And the hostels weren’t in far flung place such as Gungahlin (that was then paddocks way beyond the edge of Canberra), but they were central to everything.

Alexandra Craig 2:53 pm 12 May 15

Dame Canberra said :

I’ve lived in Canberra my whole life, but many of my friends have moved to the city over the years and they’ve said very similar things – Canberra’s a tough place to learn to love when you’re on your own.

Those who joined sports teams with a big social focus, like AFL, seemed to find their feet a little faster. Even if you’re not a really sporty person, twice-weekly training sessions, game day and post-game lunch/drinks go a long way towards filling up your social calendar and helping to meet new people.

Yes, definitely. A few people suggested I pick up netball again here on weeknights but because of my work hours it wasn’t possible. Others suggested a hobby or volunteer work but I just didn’t know what to do or even what I cared about. It’s a shame because a few years on I’m totally passionate about cat rescue, but now have limited time to help – whereas beforehand I had free weekends because I had no damn friends! Haha.

Dame Canberra 2:48 pm 12 May 15

I’ve lived in Canberra my whole life, but many of my friends have moved to the city over the years and they’ve said very similar things – Canberra’s a tough place to learn to love when you’re on your own.

Those who joined sports teams with a big social focus, like AFL, seemed to find their feet a little faster. Even if you’re not a really sporty person, twice-weekly training sessions, game day and post-game lunch/drinks go a long way towards filling up your social calendar and helping to meet new people.

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