As many of us make the mass migration to the coast for the holiday period, this year, I decided to stay at home in Canberra. However, I did make a fleeting three-day visit to my family in the Victorian Highlands. A part of my heart remains there on the rocky roads, in the cold nights, and where the wind whispers contours into the long grass and tall trees. I returned to an almost similar Canberra: quite, long and leafy streets; closed shops; and a silence in which to ponder and recuperate.
Canberra’s silence is almost like the beginning of the play Under Milk Wood where it is summer yet ‘spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black’. Although there is the slight bustle of the city shopping rush, and of course there will be Summernats – whatever tickles your fancy. Neither tickle mine – except if you’re talking about a 60’s Valiant with the graceful grunt and torque of the slant-6 engine, its beautiful bench seats of red leather, and its 3 speed column shift! Sorry, I got a bit excited for a moment.
I wonder in this silence: do we love Canberra or do we love Canberra enough? Or do so many of us see it as a sterile and unreal city of perfect form yet characterless, and something from which to escape whenever it’s possible. Canberra is certainly too mature and intelligent a place for the parochialism of patriotism, but patriotism is different to love and pride. We hold love and pride for people; we have patriotism for things. And so I wonder, do we see Canberra as a thing; a machine for working the wheels of the nation, or do we see it more as a person with life, love, and feelings?
I have some wounds to lick after such a big year, and this is probably the most pensive piece I’ve ever written for the Riotact. I apologise in advance. But when we lick our wounds, we think of the future.
When I think of the future of Canberra, I wonder if it will be marked by the flaccidity of Floriade, the failure of the Centenary of Canberra celebrations – which left us with nothing, or the Multicultural Festival which is nothing more than a two-day frenzy of over-priced finger-food, and as about as cultural as an Hawaiian T-shirt on an obnoxious American tourist. The Multicultural Festival is nothing compared to what it used to be.
Or, will Canberra be more like a person… a person of culture and creativity; fun, fair, free, and with a glint in her eyes that pulls you in like an irresistible tide electric with her the charm, intelligence, and imagination? Will she have a talent for life and a song in her heart that unwraps you, and will people be brave enough to sing it with her?
Will she be beautiful, or will she be boring?
I love the coast, the games of monopoly gone wrong, and drinks with friends. I must admit that I’ve spent more summers by the beach than in Canberra. Yet something in me this summer asks: instead of leaving it; why not change it?