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Canberra is a soulless purgatory

“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.”
– Harshcritic

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.

Night life canberra

A night of fun and frivolity somewhere in the civilised world, but definitely not Canberra.

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.

27 Responses to Canberra is a soulless purgatory

  1. Malibu Stacey Reply

    March 2, 2013 at 11:49 pm

    How do I agree with thee? Let me count the ways.

    Oh, look, life’s too short for me to count all the ways. Let me just say that living in Canberra for 13 years sucked for the last 12 years. The novelty wore off pretty quickly.

    But I’m tired and cranky and pretty freaked out that I just found out that my stepmother died two months ago… so I’ll just point out a couple of things.

    In Canberra, it is statistically proven (by my shattered nerves) the more your car is fog-coloured, the less likely you are to use headlights in heavy fog. That makes intersections fun. In an adrenalin-flooding oh-christ-where-did-that-silver-BMW-come-from-YOU’RE-SUPPOSED-TO-GIVE-WAY-YOU-FUCKNUCKLE way.

    And yes, that would be the fog which doesn’t clear until lunchtime. How uncivilised is that?

    In Canberra, the friends of your children are chosen by the parents.

    “What does your husband do?”

    “We’re not married, but the father of my children, my partner, is a glazier”.

    Their gaze wanders to your rebuilt awesome HQ wagon… but it isn’t a 4WD, “sorry, Tarquin and Arrabella-Brianna, you can’t play with those children”.

    I’ve always said that Canberra would be a wonderful place to live if it was 1000 km north,and left the majority of the residents behind.

    And it was great fun being heavily pregnant, with a toddler in tow, catching buses. I loved the way the suited brigade buried their heads in their newspapers as I hauled my son-laden belly onto the bus and the only people who ever offered us a seat were schoolgirls or elderly ladies.

    Hang on… is this the part where i mention the father of my children, who lives within a stones throw of the ATO/Child Support Agency and has done for over a decade, and owes over $23,500 in child support payments? But the dedicated staff at the CSA can’t find him?

    (With apologies to the Qld tourism bureau.) Canberra. Sucks one day, and sucks even more the next.

    I will be back to elaborate in a more sober fashion tomorrow.

    • Simon Reply

      March 14, 2014 at 6:20 pm

      Beer o’clock

  2. Malibu Stacey Reply

    March 3, 2013 at 11:14 pm

    Well, I’m sober and I still stand by the above statement. So there.

  3. Scott Newman Reply

    March 6, 2013 at 9:45 pm

    Is that why you’re so good at writing Stephen? You grew up in Canberra and there was sweet-fuck-all-else to do?

  4. john martin Reply

    March 14, 2013 at 6:54 am

    Quick, better find a doctor. See if he can do something about your Shit on the liver, and perhaps brain.

  5. Craig Jamieson Reply

    December 6, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    When a man tires of Canberra, he catches up with the where the rest of Australia was about 100 goddamn years ago.

  6. jonnydude123 Reply

    December 18, 2013 at 6:34 pm

    haha alot of these comments and the original poster could not be any closer to the truth, i have been planning on moving out of here for such a long time, seeing as i find that Canberra would be the right, albeit for the right type of person. As a person who enjoys being creative, enjoys art, likes doing crazy things on the fly, and appreciates diversity in people, i find that this place lacks all of the above. The Job market is also another reason on why i really wanna get the hell out of this soulless dump. First up, i graduated this year with a degree in Architecture and a diploma in vide game art. I also learn Muay thai kickboxing and i enjoy playing alot of guitar. Because of canberra’s lack of broad job opportunities, i am only really getting two options: be a public servant and sell my soul, or work in retail and deal with people with no soul. It really sucks and its not a place for the creative types, and of course people who appreciate the difference and of course have a soul. I have now applied for game design jobs out of canberra cos there is nothing here, this palce is way to conservative and i find a good portion of public servants and people here to be quite arrogant, especially women. Even doing something slightly different in the mall will get people looking at you with the queer eye and it feels so alien being here. anyways enough of my rant, thanks OP for being correct and i hope you all find a better place in the world full of better people and a more lively city with a great nightlife and full of opportunities.

  7. Glenbo Reply

    February 1, 2014 at 11:23 am

    Awesome stacey. Ive been here for a year…worst mistake ive made. Canberra truely is fucking shit…including its residents. Want to see in..bred….go to Tuggeranong. Want to see junkie pieces of shit…go to belco. Even Queanbeyan shits on Canberra…thats saying something…take me fucking home PLEASE!

    • Simon Reply

      March 14, 2014 at 6:18 pm

      I can’t believe I came back to Canberra… Mountain biking is good here… But you’re dead on; the place has no soul.. And the people who defend Canberra saying it’s a great place… Seriously? I feel trapped here.. Quality of chicks sucks compared to sydney. Food is more expensive but shittier tasting. I’m sick of hearing crows and wind. Fuck if I wanted that I’d move to dubbo. I’m loosing life here. It won’t be permanent

  8. Leisha Young (@LJY2008) Reply

    May 15, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Different folks, different strokes.

  9. Vincent Reply

    June 14, 2014 at 3:23 am

    Sadly Canberra is not the demographic it was years ago, ie. a generally fun place with okay people. Same can be claimed about Darwin and other cities too.

    However where Canberra does excel now is the multitude of pimps and their lo life contacts within ‘the service’. A truly yuck state of affairs. Private sector does not generally pay as well, unless in the professional ranks or a thieving retail financial ‘planner’.

    After leaving Canberra a good long bath is in order and those who need to return after any excuse to escape suck hole central, good luck.

    Can anyone believe that ACT tool Headon? Perfect example of a Canberra crawler.

  10. george lee (@glamor11) Reply

    June 24, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    I moved down to “canbore” for a 12mth contract as a public servant but could only last 9 months. It was the most depressing, unsatisfying, soulless time I’ve had to date. All the locals have a big self centred brainwashed view they have a great place and bash other cities in Australia. Some places go as far as banning newspaper publications from Sydney like SMH to brainwash you with the local crap “Canberra times”. When I hear them whine about the times they go to a real city like Sydney they would get overwhelmed by the diversity, population, traffic they want to rush back to their shithole it makes me laugh and wonder if they feel the same about any other city in the world. Its actually scary to think how brainwashed they were all brought up with this narrow view kind of like something out of a Steven Spielberg horror movie about a spooky ghost town. The biggest pro they like to boast is there’s no traffic congestion like in Sydney. Mate give me traffic any day it says a lot about how many people there are having plenty of things to do and places to go which is why. Despite the highest salaries you get for putting up with living in this place it is nullified by the cost of living which is much higher as a result of less competition being so isolated from everywhere eg petrol is 20 cents higher because there’s a limited number of stations so they can markup prices dramatically.
    The place is absolutely freezing cold all year round and was told this is because it is inland and due to its altitude. If you pay attention to the weather news each night it will always show Canberra having the lowest minimum anywhere in Australia. So seriously wtf is wrong with the people who back 200 years ago decided to make that place the capital city?
    Oh and what is there to do after dark or on the weekends and I’m not talking on your typical friday/saturday night but during the weekends during the day etc. Absolute BUGGER ALL!
    I rented a place in Braddon smack bang in the so called city centre and I can tell you from experience the weekend is a ghost town there during the day. There is a bizarre mall they have called ‘Canberra Centre’ and on a typical Saturday it is less busy than a suburban street mall 10km from Sydneys CBD. Also the idiots in charge of planning here decided to make Friday night their ‘late night shopping’ night instead of Thursday like in Sydney. Needless to say it is nearly empty when I checked.
    So many other depressing things to say about this place from the night-life (nothing in terms of variety other than your typical bar/clubs filled with teenagers everywhere you look ) to the cultural/music events that gets hosted here (Grooving the Moo/Foreshore pfft tryhard attempt to replicate StereoSonic and hardly any respected act wants to travel here for a gig).
    After the first 3 months of persisting trying to give the place a chance and doing my best to explore all it can offer I couldn’t help but escape and make the 3 hour trip by car back to Sydney come Friday knock off time. I quickly realized how I wasn’t alone and their was always a big exodus of cars leaving as well snaking out on the Federal Highway. I’d be back the Sunday midnight so purely went their for the j o b and definitely not for any lifestyle. Jesus just writing all this makes me want to press a nuke button to wipe it off including everyone in it.

  11. JB Reply

    November 30, 2015 at 11:27 pm

    Every criticising word here is true. I was born here and left in my 20s. Came back “for the money” (so stupid) and got stuck here for family reasons. Spent the next 10 years or so finding a list of problems about Canberra growing longer and longer and longer. THe people here are completely sheltered and most are bank-debt slaves using the public service (our tax money) to live a fake-wealthy or fake-happy life. Never have I seen such a large group of petty and ignorant people all bunched together.
    The city itself as already said is the worst. Highest prices on food with the lowest quality. People making excuses for the crap food non-stop like they’ve never been to Melbourne and eaten there. From Tuggernanong to Belconnen to Gunghalin 95% of food outlets are so bad it makes Cooma look good. In the sickening rich area of Manuka/Kingston/Barton/Red Hill there is no longer a take away anywhere. One shop in the whole area sells hot chips and they’re $10 for 6 chips. The rental prices charged for shop owners is so high now they’ve had to lift their food prices not to mention other reasons why it’s such a rip off here.
    Rental prices are the same in the far south, far north and centre – very high. Property prices are also stupidly high and the real estate industry in Canberra is corrupt as they come. Each month the Real Estate Association meets to grant awards to those who push the prices up the highest. It’s sick stuff you can’t make up. Speaking of corruption, it is rife here. The public service has 66% of people who do nothing in it other than make it difficult for the other 33% who run it. Of those 33% most of them are less than EL1s. The so called “legendary” ANU is actually an archaic institution with a number of well kep t secrets so high it would shock anyone. From the sickening executive mismanagement to the academic-management nepotism and culture of “if you don’t have a degree like me you are stupid and deserve to be a garbo”, to the secret meetings with high level ANu executives and the Law Council where they illegally hand pick students for corrupt work within the law and govt.
    This is a poisoned place where even though most of the population know of the corruption, their debt-slave position keeps them quiet. Scared to death of losing their jobs if they speak up this place is a criminals/politicians heaven. The criminal deals that are done in the restaurants and filthy halls of the govt and parliament houses make the mafia look amateurish.
    Canberra truly is bad. As said above, many people wake up and move to another city. Unforutantely for the rest who get stuck here, it is hell. Unless you are corrupt or taking a wage from our tax money and keeping quiet in air con homes with SUVs and regular trips out of Canberra that the rest of Canberra’s workers can’t afford because of the low pay rates in every other job.
    Some of these issues also exist in other cities but this place is full of it and no beach to escape to…ever.

    • Leaving Canberra Reply

      February 13, 2016 at 6:21 pm

      I think the author said it the best.

      I feel quite ashamed to have Canberra as the nation’s capitol. There seems to be a public servant mentality here that is dull, backwards which has people sheltered from the rest of Australia. Very passive aggressive to outsiders, terrible drivers and departments have terrible work ethic. The problem is most Canberrans accept this fact and take great pride in it.

      Canberra is not the best city /town for raising kids, beaches, starting family i.e. otherwise there would be hoards of immigranta coming. If you did a national survey, Im confident no one would recommend it. People need to get over it.

  12. ttrek20 Reply

    March 20, 2016 at 7:44 pm

    Interesting… lived in Canberra my whole life, 32 years and counting, and whilst it does not have the attention-span of a gold-fish like larger cities, such as Melbourne and Sydney, it has a genuine charm that those cities can’t begin to have.

    I like that my city doesn’t feel the need for ugly sky-scrapers just shoved wherever they fit, without thought for planning.

    I like that Canberra is cold in the winter, cool in autumn, warm in spring and hot in the summer. Fuck your coastal temperatures that wouldn’t know real seasons if you felt them.

    I like the fact that we have the best war memorial in the country.

    I like that idiots who get bored usually confine themselves to their homes and never go out to see the beauty of the bush and mountains and rivers we have. Something that most of the tourists never bother to see.

    I like the fact that our winter sunsets and winter sunrises are some of the most beautiful you could ever hope to experience.

    I love that my city is spread out and is not just a boring urban sprawl with no view to the mountainsides or the snow.

    Above all… I love that those of us who call this city home… never have to share it’s hidden beauty with the morons who skip town back to Sydney or Melbourne because they think tall buildings and over-crowded Hotspots are the only kind of entertainment that matters.

    If you come to Canberra, do yourself a favour, see the sights and then get out of the cement buildings for a while and see the natural beauty of Canberra and you might understand why they decided to build the capital here.

    • Bob Reply

      March 25, 2016 at 2:25 am

      Totally agree…Canberra is a beautiful city…who needs the dirty, crowded, traffic jams of Sydney?

      • Simoncarter184022@gmail.com Reply

        March 31, 2016 at 1:55 am

        I’ve spent 5 years in Canberra, then moved to Sydney for 8 years, now back to Canberra and 3 years counting

        I’d have to agree with both sides of the fence here. I hated sydney when I first moved there; it took me a good year to love it; but then I didn’t want to leave.
        Same goes when I moved back to Canberra for the second time. I initially didn’t like it; but after 9 months or so I really like it.
        I’ve got a couple of dogs( something that’s pretty much unheard of if you live in a rented apt in the big cities), you find some great restaurants you can eat and the beauty and simplicity back to basics of Canberra is great.

        I know people who love sydney by spend 4 hours a day travelling for work. Or never go on holidays overseas because they can’t save any money because sydney is so expensive. It costs money to do anything in sydney. Fuck crossing a bridge or driving on a road costs you money there.

        Yes Canberra fuel is a bit more expensive; but find your spots; there is a servo in Fyshwick and the woolies Serco out near IKEA that are much cheaper for fuel; these are your best spots

        Yes Canberra food and coffee is not as good as sydney or Melbourne; but that’s the markets; there is more competition more supply and demand. That drives higher quality in order to win a consumers business.. If you don’t like, learn to cook something lazy fuckers! Nothing beats a home cooked meal.

        I lived lower north shore in sydney, at balmoral beach and miss the beach the most living in canberra. Hyams beach jervis bay shits all over most places in sydney; and its 2 hours away; which is just a bit far to do regular day trips.

        Stop hating on Canberra; it’s not that bad; you create your own world with how you perceive it to be. I’ve lived in sydney and Canberra, and my next move is to buy a beach house down the coast; I will have a far better work life balance in Canberra then I ever did in sydney. And for me, even though the dating in Canberra totally sucks( ie Canberra women have so much more choice here that a guy in sydney can land an 8 has to settle with a 4 in Canberra by the same stds- haven’t got used to that yet thinking I might have to get a wife from Russia )
        I still think I will be getting that beach house before moving back to sydney.

        I can always fly up to sydney when I need to and fly back. And who doesn’t sleep better when it’s colder at night? I know I do over hot and humid

  13. David Watson Reply

    July 6, 2016 at 6:39 pm

    I wonder how many people know that Canberra is subsidised by NSW and VIC to the tune of over 1 billion per year.

    Canberra is filled will dull civil servants, the slightly smarter civil servants become ex civil servants and contract back to the institutions they came from grabbing as much tax payers money they can get.

    The best view of Canberra is the picture of your rear view mirror as you leave that shithole that is Canberra

  14. canberra suzx Reply

    July 29, 2016 at 6:41 pm

    spot review of canberra, fukn stuck here.
    people here are so dumb and All drive 20kmh under the speed limit because they scared for miserable life.
    everyone in canberra lives in a soul less bubble

    • y Reply

      November 12, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      Ummm….the drivers I see here drive 20km OVER the speed limit whilst sitting 2 cm behind your rear bumper. Am yet to see ACT Police arrest anyone here for speeding, driving whilst on the mobile, driving whilst intoxicated. We must
      live in different driving circles… 😉.

  15. Jimmy Reply

    October 9, 2016 at 7:07 pm

    Canberra is cursed. Everyone is cursed there but they don’t realize it. It’s like the Bermuda triangle but you don’t disappear you just receive a tremendous amount of bad karma. Canberrans need to leave Cooma, Batemans Bay, Goulburn and Bega and Yass and Mittagong. Go too Broome Canberra. I hate you.

  16. Kev Reply

    November 9, 2016 at 11:25 am

    I grew up and have lived much of my life in small towns and provincial cities, seven in all before arriving in Canberra. Trust me, some of those places make Canberra look more than lively. You have yet to experience Ipswich in Queensland where a well promoted live show at a local theatre was attended by seven persons, one being a journalist from the Queensland Times- not so long ago either. In another provincial city, one woman told me that she and her husband would never attend live theatre events as they were “too snobby”.

    On a recent visit to Sydney, we walked up Elizabeth St about 8:30 am. With the silent park on our right, the uproar was so great that I could not hear what my companions were saying. You can keep that kind of life.

    The Monday after the bush fires of 2003, a double classroom at the local high school was filled knee deep with donations by the soul less denizens of Canberra.

    The best view of Sydney would be from the camera of a television guided 50 megaton thermonuclear weapon.

  17. y Reply

    November 12, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Oh endless bliss. Finally someone who understands my living hell on a daily basis….and written by a man no less. Not an hysterical, complaining woman who got dragged into the hellhole scratching and screaming by her husbands employment (the persona put upon me by, yes you’re correct, loyal Canberrans.) Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  18. JC Reply

    December 20, 2016 at 3:53 am

    It’s a dreadful place, it really is. The worst thing is the native Canborrans who thrive on being public servants and enjoying their entitlement of being paid a full salary for life to not work. They convince themselves they can provide policy advice to politicians while they work from home, go on stress leave, women in leadership leave, indigenous leave, LGBTI leave, disabled leave and multi-ethnic leave. And when they actually attend work in the office they feign overwork as they have ten thousand emails to read because they never go to work. God, it’s the only place where mediocrity is an acceptable long term goal, and equally acceptable is not giving a shit that you will never reach that goal. At least they built an airport now, that is good, makes leaving a bit easier.
    When you say one bad thing about Canberra the natives aggressively say they are offended. You ask if they have ever lived in a good place, or at least a normal place that may not be good but where people only get paid if they go to work, and if they actually do something while they are at work. And they have no idea what you are talking about. It attracts a certain type of person. It’s the only place on the planet where if they detonated a nuclear warhead above it there would be an overall net increase in productivity.

  19. Emma Reply

    January 12, 2017 at 10:19 am

    Thankyou to the wise soul who began this unveiling of what truly is the most awful, soulless, overpriced (payed parking EVERYWHERE!!), confusing (have you seen the roads!!) arrogant, vapid place I’ve ever had the misfortune of moving to.

    I’m ashamed to say I came here willingly, my husband was offered a different job and wanted to move closer to family. He’d been gone for nearly 8 years and it always confused me why he hadn’t returned. I so get it now. I myself visited Canberra 10 years ago and thought what IS this place?? Who digs a giant hole and fills it with water?! Anywhere you have to create your own “lake” should be a screaming warning sign that this place is not fit for human habitation.

    Every attempt at finding a decent job has been met with a list as long as my arm of things I have to obtain in order to work in this state. All accompanyed by $$$, confused staff who seem shocked when I contest the sheer stupidity of what they are saying. Either the worlds gone mad or it’s just Canberra?! I’m believing it’s just Canberra.

    I’m off out now to attempt another application for another peice of paper I need for another job that I’m over qualified for and will most defiantly be underplayed for. Wish me luck! And all in a country I thought I was born and raised in? Oh Canberra :(

  20. Jimbo Reply

    February 24, 2017 at 11:42 am

    I lived in Canberra until I was about 25 before escaping to Sydney for a few years, then Melbourne. After a few years of living in Melbourne I went back and yeah, it’s pretty awful. In Canberra, trying to chat to people bars is met with a “do I know you? why are you talking to me”, its hard to describe but people on the whole are fairly negative and a night out feels more like everyone is trying to drink away the misery of living there, not have a good night. Having lived there for 25 years, I never really thought of people being that negative, but after moving away I did notice a generally more positive vibe from people pretty much everywhere else. After a while it makes sense though, you will realize anyone interesting over the age of 25 already left, the bulk are public servant leeches in their 30s looking for 1.5 kids and a second bathroom, or it’s people under the age of 25 who really would rather be somewhere else and you tell. You can feel the vibe, it’s entirely negative, like some weird chicken and egg circle jerk of unhappy people living in an unhappy place. If you enjoy public service employment, order most everything online and spend most of your time indoors at home, it’s actually going to be fine for you. People I know who still live there hate it and they hate it more that they never made it out. Anyone who left already will tell passionately how much it sucks. The food is awful and expensive with zero variety, live music never tours there, there are no beaches and out late drinking violence is noticeably more frequent, though not more severe, than what you will find in either Melbourne or Sydney. You probably won’t find anyone with a knife or a gun in a confrontation, so there is that, but the amount of people itching for a punch up is overwhelming. If you extend your view to the density of drug traffickers, corrupt government officials and lazy police, Canberra fails even harder. I’t just not a nice place.

  21. denimboycom Reply

    April 12, 2017 at 12:02 am

    Go live in Syria for 23 years, you’ll love Canberra after that :)

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