People who live in Canberra know that 'TV Canberra', 'Politics Canberra' and 'Tourist Canberra' are not the Real Canberra.
This post is intended to provide
- a glimpse of the Canberra that Canberrans see
- some tips to newcomers on how to blend in, and
- some Real Canberra facts which, I hope, will dispel the idea that we live in a cushy town.
1. Our Home Town of Canberra is Scruffy. Probably scruffier than Your Home Town. These images are typical of the Canberra tourists don't see.
A public school oval (poorly maintained).
A poorly maintained bike path (this gem has been like this since a large hailstorm on New Years Eve in 2007).
A poorly maintained suburban street (are you getting it?).
2. Signage. Our local government thinks that it is being progressive by using weasel words on signs in Canberra. Most Canberrans beg to differ. Here is the local govt's sign for what we commonly call 'the tip' . . .
. . . and here, below, is another sign, this time for a Centre. What sort of Centre? you say. Is it a Health Centre? A Commercial Centre perhaps, or a Centre for Excellence? Actually, no: the 'Alexander Maconochie Centre' is a Correctional Centre, commonly known as 'the prison' or 'the gaol'. Not that you can tell, because they left out the word 'Correctional'. That, apparently, might breach the poor darlings' human rights.
3. Street-side advertising is not allowed in Canberra. Er, except, for some unknown reason, on buses, and at bus stops. And, of course, it is permitted during local elections, when all manner of annoying signs multiply, then disappear. Weird.
4. Public Housing. Sensibly, public housing in Canberra has not been built in povvie enclaves of underprivilege like in other cities. Rather, govie housing is scattered (salt and peppered) throughout suburbia. Given the local government's propensity for stuff-ups, this sensible approach began before we had self-government, so all they have had to do is continue it.
Your neighbour could be a 'govie' tenant, but you may never know, and you can't really tell public housing unless the tenant makes an antisocial nuisance of themselves. This is a Good Thing - Canberrans like a peaceful suburban life.
5. Deciduous trees grow well in Canberra. The early city planners and gardeners planted some lovely avenues of deciduous trees, as Canberra was to be a Garden City. These streets are much-coveted. The streets with widowmaker gums in the 70s and 80s suburbs, less so. Hopefully they will replace the gums soon.
6. The Blame Game. (I had to include this item, as the rest of Australia insists on blaming Canberra for stuff). Canberrans are pretty much on the same page as the rest of Australia in regard to the crap that goes on at The House. In fact, there is not a lot of regard for the House at all - mainly just resignation. And as the pollies in the House are almost exclusively non-Canberrans, the Stuff we get blamed for is Never Our Fault, it's the fault of the rest of Australia who voted them in. So, stop it.
7. Winter. Our winter is unique and tricky. We have the most sunny days than any other capital city in Australia. However, lots of those gorgeous sunny days are also freezing cold, thanks to the gale force wind off the Snowy Mountains. Lots of people have looked out the window and been tricked into wearing significantly inadequate clothing. Don't let this be You. You might (kind of) get the idea of how sunny it is in winter from this accidental photo from last year (it's the best I could do at short notice; obviously I can't take a winter photo in the middle of summer).
We Canberrans love our winter sunshine. Canberrans who move to miserable, grey old Melbourne get Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) because they physiologically miss our sunny, wintry days. I'm deadly serious. Don't say you weren't warned.
8. Four Seasons. Closely related to item 7. Real Canberrans appreciate the fact that Canberra has a genuine Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter over the course of a year (as opposed to the four seasons in one day Melbourne thing).
9. The Lake. Actually, there are three lakes, but THE Lake is always Lake Burley Griffin. It is a jewel. Lots of Canberrans 'recreate' around it during lunch times, as several large Commonwealth Government Departments are located nearby.
10. Clubs. There are few Real pubs in Canberra, but there are lots of Clubs. Clubs are very Canberran, so it must be included in this list. I don't like Clubs much, and I think it's very boring to be invited to a do at a Club. But truth be told, there probably isn't anywhere else suitable. And, what is with the hideous carpet? There is no pic for this item, as I really couldn't face going to a Club to take one.
11. The Coast. Canberra is closer to the beach than many parts of Sydney, being only about one and a half hours to Bateman's Bay. The South Coast is our Home Away from Home, much to the annoyance of the South Coast locals, who see it as an invasion.
12. Parks. This is what an inner suburban park looks like:
This is what an outer suburban park looks like:
Sad that outer suburbs are so much more neglected. The local government need to Get Real and fix this kind of disparity.
13. Real Canberrans like calling things by their Real names. Think this is a Westfield?
Wrong, it's Woden Plaza (or 'The Plaza').
OK, do you think THIS is a Westfield?
Wrong again, it's Belconnen Mall (or 'the Mall', or sometimes, just 'Belco').
14. Nicknames. Real Canberrans also like to call things by their proper Canberran nicknames.
Belconnen = Belco.
Tuggeranong = Tuggers.
City Centre = Civic (true Canberrans go into Civic, not into 'the City'. Only the local govt calls it 'City' or 'City Centre').
Cooleman Court (shops) = Coolie.
Our neighbouring city, Queanbeyan = Quangers.
The suburb of Charnwood = Charnie.
The suburb of Wanniassa = Wannie.
The suburb of Richardson = Richo.
Etc, ad infinitum.
15. Pronunciation. Real Canberrans pronounce the place names in the region correctly. Monaro is pronounced 'Mon - AIR - oh'. Tarago (small town near Goulburn) is pronounced TA(a as in cat)-ruh-go. If you pronounce these places like cars, you are wrong. Get over it.
(attribution for photo: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarago,_New_South_Wales)
16. Weird artworks. These have popped up over the last few years because a previous Chief Minister allocated lots of local rates money to Public Art. This would probably have been OK if they had not cost so much, to the detriment of needed services (see, eg, items 1 and 12 above). I didn't have the time or energy to get snaps of them all, especially as most are hideous, but here is what I consider to be the weirdest waste of local residents' hard-earned taxes:
It's supposed to be an owl. Allegedly.
17. Gus'. This is an iconic cafe in Garema Place, Civic. In the 1970s, the owner, Gus Petersilka, 'protested' against daft government regulations by putting seating on the pavement. Gus' won (eventually). The cafe is still there though no longer owned by Gus (as he is no longer with us). As such, the cafe is a part of Canberra history. Its hot chocolates and raisin toast have sustained many uni students. You have to go there at least once to be a true Canberran.
18. Fire engines. In Canberra, the fire engines are NOT red but a 'hiviz' yellow-green. (This understandably confuses toddlers, but there it is.)
There are, of course, many other unique things about Canberra. However, I do think this is enough to demonstrate what is the Real Canberra, as distinct from the BS we all see on the telly. I will continue to add items when I think of it.