Want to enjoy all the benefits of living close to the city while enjoying a peaceful lifestyle? If so, Downer could be the suburb for you. Nestled between Dickson and Watson, the inner-north suburb offers quiet residential living – with one notable exception. Summernats rolls into town every year, usually on the first weekend in January, for the biggest horsepower party in the Southern Hemisphere. Last year, more than 119,000 people descended on neighbouring Exhibition Park for the four-day automotive lifestyle festival. It can get rather busy, and noisy, in Downer at that time of year.
Downer is popular with retirees, couples and students, and is currently made up of mostly low-density, single-storey family dwellings. It is known for its scenic streetscapes and mature gardens. It has a flat terrain but many areas have views of Mount Majura and Mount Ainslie. Several streets are renowned for their particular trees, including Blacket Street for its Pin Oaks, Padbury Street’s Turkey Oaks, Berry Street’s Apple Box and Atherton Street’s Claret Ash trees.
While Downer may not have extensive offerings when it comes to local shops, schools and other amenities, it is right on the doorstep of the inner city hubs of Lyneham and Dickson and an easy commute to the city.
Thinking about visiting or moving to Downer? Here’s what you need to know.
Established in the 1960s, Downer is one of Canberra’s older suburbs. It is named after one of Australia’s first senators, Sir John Downer. The street names do not follow a particular theme.
While Downer is predominantly a residential suburb today, it was once used as an agricultural research facility for CSIRO in the 1930s and 1940s. The area now comprising the suburb was used as a plantation for the growth of opium poppies to provide a source of medications while imported supplies were unavailable.
Shops and eateries
While the Downer shopping centre disappeared off the map many years ago, the good news is that the buildings are being revamped and redeveloped. While you won’t find a supermarket these days, you will find Gang Gang Cafe and boutique bottle shop Peter’s Wine Shop. There is also a wellbeing studio and a vet.
Residents are lucky to have the bustling Dickson shopping precinct and restaurant strip just on the other side of Antill Street. Dickson Shops has all that you’d expect from a large local shopping precinct – a Woolworths, petrol station, chemist, newsagent, post office, variety stores and an expansive array of eateries including local favourites Dickson Asian Noodle House, Trevs @ Dickson and Ona Coffee’s Highroad. For something a little different, try an Indian spiced lentil or tempeh burger from My Rainbow Dreams, a vegetarian eatery owned and operated by students of Sri Chinmoy.
Places of interest and things to do
There are few amenities in Downer itself, but there are plenty of attractions close by.
- Cool off at Dickson Pool. Dickson Aquatic Centre is a delightful spot to cool off in the summer months. It’s spacious and has plenty of shade.
- Savour the tastes of Woolley Street. Woolley Street is renowned for featuring some of Canberra’s best Asian cuisine. Whether you’re craving Chinese, Thai, Malaysian, Japanese or Korean, you’ll find something to keep your tastebuds happy along the bustling strip.
- Keep an eye out for local events run by Downer Community Association, where residents can socialise and enjoy getting to know one another at gatherings like Spring Fairs and Parties at the Shops.
Parks and playgrounds
People power is thriving in Downer, and could soon see a micro-forest built in a park in the suburb. A campaign to raise at least $20,000 for the project received almost half its target in just three days. It’s a pilot project set up by landscape architect and founder of The Climate Factory Edwina Robinson and the Downer Community Parkcare Group in response to increasing temperatures in urban areas.
Downer has a local oval between Frencham, Melba, Bonython and Bradfield Streets.
Melba Street Park is a lovely spot for a picnic and has facilities for rock climbing, a train engine, plenty of space, a water bubbler and bathrooms. It’s right next to the oval.
There are several other green spaces, dubbed pocket parks, scattered around the suburb.
Downer residents have lots of choice when it comes to getting around. Northbourne Avenue and Antill Street are major transport corridors that form two of the suburb’s borders, so it’s easy for drivers to access main roads. It’s a 10-15 drive into the city depending on traffic.
The light rail runs along one of Downer’s borders and travels between the city and Gungahlin, and if bike riding is your thing, there’s an extensive network of cycle paths accessible from nearby Dickson.
There are no schools in Downer but a range of schools is close by. Nearby schools include:
- Rosary Primary School – a Catholic primary school for kindergarten to Year 6 students located in Watson.
- Majura Primary School – a public school for preschool to Year 6 students located in Watson.
- Lyneham High School – a public secondary school for Year 7 to Year 10 students.
- Dickson College – a public secondary college for Year 11 and Year 12 students located in Dickson.
Why the locals love it
“I have fond memories of growing up in Downer, and was thrilled to be able to eventually buy my own home on a big block in the suburb. It’s lovely to see the next generation of kids making the most of the green spaces by climbing trees, making cubbies, playing games on the oval and riding bikes with their friends. Many of the residents are here for the long haul, so there’s a wonderful sense of community, and the neighbours keep an eye out for each other. Nothing is far away and the public transport is efficient.” – Melanie, secondary school teacher.
- Median age: 35 years
- Median weekly household income: $1,868
- Median weekly rent: $380
- Houses vs. apartments: 75.5% houses; 13.8% townhouses, 10.5% apartments
- Suburb sales record (excludes land sales): $1.55 million in 2018
Source: 2016 Census.
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Do you live, or have you previously lived, in Downer? What are your favourite things about the suburb? What advice would you give to people considering moving there? Share your thoughts in the comments below.