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Why are there no famous Canberrans?

By Kim Huynh - 25 November 2016 20

Mark Webber

Kim Huynh considers why so few of us are prominent across the nation and around the world.

People in regional NSW often talk with great pride about noteworthy figures from their hometown.

Queanbeyan has racing car driver Mark Webber and shares James Bond actor George Lazenby with Goulburn. Bowral has the Don. Crookwell is the birthplace of writer and utopian Mary Gilmore who’s on the $10 note. Poet and environmentalist Judith Wright died in Canberra, but was born in Armidale and lived the last decades of her life in Braidwood.

Who then is the most famous Canberran? It’s a difficult question to answer, not because it’s hard to pick someone, but rather because it’s hard to find anyone.

I have a coffee table book from the Bicentenary that profiles the most famous Australians since 1788. None of them are from Canberra. In 2013 The Australian compiled a list of its top 50 Aussies. Again, no-one from the ACT.

This year ABC 666 investigated who is the most famous person to have been born in the nation’s capital. They came up with a list of admirable high achievers but neglected to mention Alex O’Loughlin who’s in the remake of the American TV series Hawaii Five-O. His Facebook page has over 344,000 likes.

Tennis bad boy Nick Kyrgios regularly makes worldwide headlines and is active on Facebook (238,000 likes) and Twitter (199,000 followers).

Of course, being famous is not solely about having a social media presence. One should also consider endurance, substance, achievement and infamy. And there’s the peculiar phenomenon associated with Reality TV and the internet of people becoming famous without being good at anything other than being famous.

Notwithstanding, the big question for me is, ‘Why are there so few famous Canberrans?’

Here’s four possible answers.

  1. ‘It’s planned, boring, cold and conformist’ is what one Canberra hater said to me.
  2. The city is only 103 years old, so there haven’t been all that many Canberrans to become famous.
  3. Many people migrate to Canberra to work in the universities or public sector. Even if they come to self-identity as Canberrans and make enormous contributions to Australia and the world, they tend to do so quietly. Following this line of argument, it’s worth comparing Canberra to other small capital cities (Wellington has three Oscar winners in Jane Campion, Anna Paquin and Russell Crowe).
  4. People who feel trapped in small towns often break out by standing out. Those who grow up in cities learn to strive and compete in order to rise above the throng. The Bush Capital occupies an in-between space in which there’s less need to push up and against everyone and therefore less drive to become famous.

With this last answer in mind, perhaps we should celebrate the fact that so few Canberrans are famous. Perhaps this is a consequence of the egalitarianism that comes from high levels of education, social cohesion and engagement in cultural and sporting events. And perhaps it’s better to live in a place that’s broadly successful rather than one that’s known for producing a handful of celebrities.

Who’s Canberra’s most famous person? Do you agree that Canberra doesn’t have many famous people? Is it better to be in a champion city than a city of champions?

Kim Huynh is a RiotACT columnist and teaches international relations at the ANU.

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20 Responses to
Why are there no famous Canberrans?
1
Holden Caulfield 11:38 am
25 Nov 16
#

C’mon Kim, one of the greatest Australian Rules players of all time is from Canberra.

He’s also responsible for one of the game’s greatest and most enduring images:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBeHVLs3kdU

2
Rollersk8r 12:06 pm
25 Nov 16
#

It’s an interesting topic, especially as fame seems to be greatly enhanced if you came from nowhere and grew up with nothing!

However I’d argue Canberra is doing just fine with its share of sporting and entertainment figures – in terms of mainstream/popular fame. We’ve got Patty Mills and Dante Exum in the NBA, Jack Steele and Logan Austin in the AFL, Tom Rogic is an international soccer star, not to mention a bevy of former and current cycling champions, Kim Brennan in rowing, Mia Wasikoska is an A-list movie star – and we’ve got musical groups like Peking Duck, Safia and Hands Like Houses.

3
RichPoetry 12:51 pm
25 Nov 16
#

Quite simply we Canberrans do not seek the limelight. We are content to do our job well in dedicated service to the Nation without the need for self-seeking recognition. We are made of sterner stuff. The deed is all the glory nothing. And of course we are always playing host to what the Nation has to offer and this is such an unfortunate distraction. And in that regard the quality has been a little lacking of late!

4
Kim Huynh 2:17 pm
25 Nov 16
#

Holden Caulfield said :

C’mon Kim, one of the greatest Australian Rules players of all time is from Canberra.

He’s also responsible for one of the game’s greatest and most enduring images:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gBeHVLs3kdU

There’s also James Hird who was born here and played for Ainslie (a few years ahead of me and with far far more success). Perhaps better not to mention James Hird though.

5
Kim Huynh 2:24 pm
25 Nov 16
#

Rollersk8r said :

It’s an interesting topic, especially as fame seems to be greatly enhanced if you came from nowhere and grew up with nothing!

However I’d argue Canberra is doing just fine with its share of sporting and entertainment figures – in terms of mainstream/popular fame. We’ve got Patty Mills and Dante Exum in the NBA, Jack Steele and Logan Austin in the AFL, Tom Rogic is an international soccer star, not to mention a bevy of former and current cycling champions, Kim Brennan in rowing, Mia Wasikoska is an A-list movie star – and we’ve got musical groups like Peking Duck, Safia and Hands Like Houses.

That’s a mighty impressive list R8r. I’m especially ashamed about neglecting our cycling stars. In terms of sports, I was in the same high school class as Josip Simunic who was an accomplished international soccer player. I’ll mention that he got 3 yellow cards in a World Cup match against Australia but leave other controversies associated with him for readers to look up and comment upon. K

6
bj_ACT 2:26 pm
25 Nov 16
#

Considering Michael Bevan’s popularity in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh he might be our most well know Canberran at a World Population level. India used to love him (as they are more into One Day Cricket than Test)

7
Acton 4:39 pm
25 Nov 16
#

How could you leave out George Gregan?
George’s try-saving tackle led to Australia winning the Bledisloe Cup in 1994 and is indisputably the greatest moment in Wallabies v All Blacks history.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B20jti2GK8I

Interestingly, both Alex Jesaulenko and George Gregan went to the same school in Canberra, St Edmunds.
George Gregan – respected throughout the rugby world for his tenacity, tactics, leadership and sportsmanship. Businessman. Father. Philanthropist. Famous Canberran.

[[On par with that other Canberran who won a Nobel Prize, became ANU Vice-Chancellor and runs a pretty good vineyard.]]

8
Maryann Mussared 8:52 pm
25 Nov 16
#

I have been puzzling all day. I can’t prove he was born in Canberra, but David Eastman was the son of a diplomat and certainly spent time at Canberra Boys Grammar and falls into both the famous and infamous categories of Canberrans.

9
John Moulis 10:20 am
26 Nov 16
#

Comedian Mick Molloy was born in the old Royal Canberra Hospital as was actress Sigrid Thornton. 1980s/’90s group The Church (The Unguarded Moment, Already Yesterday, Under the Milky Way) were a Canberra band.

10
sepi 11:06 am
26 Nov 16
#

Jackie chan, Doug anthony allstars, the Gadflys?

11
Walker 12:39 am
27 Nov 16
#

John Moulis said :

Comedian Mick Molloy was born in the old Royal Canberra Hospital as was actress Sigrid Thornton. 1980s/’90s group The Church (The Unguarded Moment, Already Yesterday, Under the Milky Way) were a Canberra band.

The Church thing comes up now and then, too often with some misconception.

It’s a Sydney band formed by Sydney residents, and Steve Kilbey was born in England, raised in Canberra.

However, we can claim Peter Koppes, multi-talented musician born and raised in Canberra, founding member of The Church. He’s still with them, about twenty albums and three decades later.

(Considering all the airplay, film clips on tv and online, pictures on album covers, interviews and reviews, photos in Rolling Stone magazine… maybe not directly famous by name, but he may turn out to be the most widely seen and heard Canberran).

Here’s a few more.

– Frank Gambale, grammy winning jass fusion guitarist. He once owned Pro Audio, then went to the USA and followed his guitar dreams, many albums and world tours. He also rates a mention in Rolling Stone. (Something about Jerry Garcia being a fan).

– Stevie Plunder, founding member of a band most Australians know, The Whitlams.

– The Falling Joys were formed in Canberra. I don’t know which members born where, but we can claim the band as Canberran.

12
Masquara 2:59 pm
27 Nov 16
#

How about Charmyne Palavi?

13
Masquara 3:01 pm
27 Nov 16
#

Actresses Mia Wasikowska and Imogen Bailey?

14
Masquara 8:28 pm
27 Nov 16
#

sepi said :

Jackie chan, Doug anthony allstars, the Gadflys?

The DAAS members weren’t born in Canberra …

15
JC 8:31 pm
27 Nov 16
#

Interesting read but so we define being a Canberran as being Canberra born or Canberra raised or just one time resident?

A few of the people above were not born in Canberra. Jackie chan for example and was a one time resident. Funny thing a Hong Kong born friend of mine refuses to beleive that he went to narrabundah college and worked here for a short time.

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