“When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.”
– Samuel Johnson
“When a man is tired of Canberra, he has finally fucking woken up to himself.”
It seems like bunkum and balderdash to suggest that a city can have a soul. It is, after all, merely a place of residence, a dense collection of humanity living out their individual lives in sometimes maddening proximity. But then you visit Canberra and realise that it is possible for a city to have no soul at all, and that perhaps its absence in this blighted, boring facsimicity is proof that other places do have one.
I should point out immediately that I am not your typical Canberra hater, someone who has visited once or, more unusually and inexplicably, twice and been sickened by its complete lack of night life, a proper city centre or any kind of pulse. It can, to outsiders, appear to be a city that has already died, only no one told the residents.
Indeed, I was one of those lost souls, for a staggering 23 years of my life, and thus I feel well qualified to pour shit on it from a great height.
For I, too, used to defend it with the kind of wafer thin slices of dog excrement that Canberrans love to dole out. “It’s so close to everything, two hours to Sydney, two hours to the snow and 90 minutes to the coast, it’s fabulous.”
You know what else is close to Sydney? Sydney, and it’s got a coastline too.
What’s striking about this defence is that it says not one good thing about Canberra itself, and that’s because there isn’t anything to say.
Canberrans will point out that it has four distinct seasons. Yep, it does, and it can keep its shitty winter with its minus eight mornings, frost and frozen pipes. Frankly, that kind of weather is un-Australian. Even Melbourne is better. I moved from Canberra to London, and found it warmer in winter.
“It’s a great place to bring up kids,” is another tired old trope. Yep, it is, because it has lots of grass and open spaces, but if that’s what you pine for, move to the country and have sex with farm animals.
And truly, you may as well move to the country, because Canberra is not a city, boasting none of the amenity, or humanity, that you expect. When I grew up there it had one pub — I moved around the corner as soon as I hit 18 — and I’m told it now has several, but you’d be lucky to find them.
People often report visiting Canberra only to find that it was closed, and this is due to a strange bit of planning that has resulted in there being no recognisable city centre, just an endless stream of suburbs filled with identically large and awful shopping malls, rammed with the kind of people who think track suits are suitable attire for a night out.
So why do people stay in Canberra? The answer is that, largely, they don’t. Most people eventually wake up and get the hell out of Dodge. It’s a transient population and thus doesn’t grow. In the time Sydney took to grow from two million to four million people Canberra went from 300,000 to 330,000. *
And those who do stay are scared A Current Affair watchers who believe that if they move to any of Australia’s real cities they’ll be shot and their children eaten.
It turns out the meek shall not inherit the Earth. They’ll just get Canberra.