As the year winds up, I’m reflecting on 15 years in Canberra.
I often talk up Canberra, especially to my friends, connections and family in Sydney. And over the years, the sentiment has moved from being apologetic to persuasive. Local people often find they have to make up excuses, if not defend, why they live in the national capital. There’s a common story with people who live here……they moved here for a couple of years on a posting, it was a temporary location between ‘proper’ moves, they “never meant to stay”.
But Canberra has a lovely way of capturing your attention and much of this is because it’s unpretentious, uncluttered, accessible and full of opportunity. Two years becomes ten, or twenty.
Imposing national institutions stand with attitude and gravitas, giant sentinels watching over the lake. The architecture of these grand buildings – concrete, neo-classical and post-modern – impress and delight. It’s a built environment that’s both restrained and bold. And, they just happen to make an extraordinary natural canvas for the amazing annual event, Enlighten, which helps us see Canberra in a whole new light.
It’s true we have lots of round-a-bouts, but it’s equally true that Melbourne has trams or Sydney has traffic. It’s really a non-issue when you get to know the capital. The ease of commuting to work, the fact you can cross a city street at lunchtime without waiting for a car to pass or get to any after-school activity within 10 minutes is a huge plus. We don’t define major cities by just one aspect of the transit system, and locals have a perverse affection for the round-a-bouts that so perplex interstate drivers. And hey, Melbourne and Sydney – Canberra is getting a light rail, too!
Canberra has energy. In mid February at the National Multicultural Festival, when 250,000 people enjoy a kaleidoscope of culture over one weekend, the capital really buzzes with life and diversity. It’s a brilliant event that celebrates a rich and culturally-diverse community.
Our public schools – full of students from all over the world – take the message of inclusion and harmony from kindergarten to year 12. Canberra kids simply don’t see skin colour. They accept and embrace everyone as ‘just like me’. This may well be one of the most wonderful elements of the city. Children growing up here are exposed to myriad nationalities, and they love and welcome it. My kids’ friends are from Japan, Sri Lanka, Korea, Ghana, Vietnam, China, Burma, America and Italy. A huge bonus is that the public schools offer an exceptionally high standard of education; linear learning outcomes (tick), social awareness, inclusion and acceptance (tick).
Sure, Canberra is also home to federal politics and the significance of this is not lost on local residents. However, Parliament House is just part of the landscape and reminds us that Canberra is an international city. And the national capital is full of diplomatic missions. Where else could you hold an event like Windows to the World?
It’s also an excellent place for entrepreneurs, with a vibrant and active innovation ecosystem including CBRIN, Griffin Accelerator and Kiln Incubator. There are stand-out success stories, including Instaclustr and Seeing Machines, and amazing high-achieving women in business. It’s a creative capital, too – with plenty of design talent and its own fashion event, Fashfest.
One of my favourite things, though, is just walking on the local mountain with kangaroos grazing and boxing (yes! really!) at dusk. In summer, on a balmy evening, it’s a glorious reminder of ‘the bush capital’ and how lucky we are to live here. In winter, it’s a bit more bracing, with a beanie and ski jacket required to walk the back-track. Canberra has a season for everyone. It’s a show-off in autumn, when the trees are resplendent in their full colours. In spring, the blossoms and new growth help us emerge from our hibernation, dear little pink faces emerging from tightly-bound buds.
I stopped apologising for living here long ago. Much like an old Colgate toothpaste commercial, where Jan Marsh told her students, “it gets in, just like liquid into this chalk”…..Canberra’s soul gets in…..and how lovely that it does. You only have to search #visitcanberra on Instagram to see how we much like Canberra.