Where Would We Live?

Some people may have bridled at Paul Keating’s recent suggestion that Canberra be abandoned as the national capital, not least John Howard at whom the remarks were no doubt directed, but there are reasons for taking the idea seriously, running out of water being one.

After a while toying with the idea, I was struck by a realisation at once terrible and wonderful: if Canberra became a ghost town (as it surely would if government moved away), where else could I possibly live?

The great majority of Canberra residents would probably rejoice. Let’s face it, most people only come here under sufferance for work or study, enduring Canberra’s many perceived faults sullenly while wistfully scanning the job ads in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Wangaratta…

Those who find themselves here after five or more years generally fall into one of six camps:

1. The Public Service Grey, distinguished by their grey palour, lives in an absurdly big house in a suburb like Weetangara, is a mid-level manager on the verge of a nervous breakdown, has a spouse, an ex-spouse, three children, two step-children, a massive mortgage and a massive sense that life has somehow left them behind in an empty suburban nightmare.

2. The Week-Day Canberran thinks of their former home-town as ‘home’ and only grudgingly credits Canberra for its proximity to other things. They enjoy skiing, clubbing, paragliding, caving, surf-skiing and/or other idiotic pursuits, and will be part of the Friday afternoon exodus down one highway or the other each week until their demise in a freak accident.

3. The Buttered Bean is homely, uncomplicated, some would say simple, and would be content to shuffle between a home, their job, the mall and the occasional fireworks display probably anywhere in the world except Baghdad.

4. The Country Towner arrived in Canberra thinking it was the big smoke and is still convinced. They live in outer suburbs and consider a trip to the Canberra Centre a highlight of their week

5. The Frustrated Artist complains about Canberra’s infertile artistic soil, has probably tried making it elsewhere and found it all a bit scary, and has returned to the comfort, annual arts grants, sustainable poverty and obscurity of ‘home’. They often become a version of…

6. The Secret Canberraphile joins in amusedly with the main topic of conversation amongst the other types – complaining about Canberra’s many lacks – but is in denial, secretly loving the many unique features of the city in the bush and unable to imagine living anywhere else.

And then one day, with a shock, the Secret Canberraphile realises that not only do they love Canberra, there is nowhere else in Australia they could possibly live. Consider the alternatives:

Sydney? Too expensive, polluted, hard to get around, too many cockroaches, too much conspicuous over-consumption, poker machines in pubs, rugby league.

Melbourne? Too many sports fans. Too little gazing beyond the belly. Too self-consciously cool. Trigger-finger cops. Four seasons in one day and none of them pleasant.

Brisbane? A more humid version of Sydney.

Darwin? Just like Canberra only unbearably hot and humid, with water you can’t swim in due to numerous lethal agents (unlike our relatively benign toxic algae).

Adelaide? Have you drunk the water? City of Churches… Yippee!

Tasmania? Is that still part of Australia?

It’s possible you just get used to wherever you are after long enough and eventually start to love it. It’s possible that Canberra is an over-funded city of cats fat on bread and circuses, an ‘ideal’ urban environment artificially sustained by the rest of Australia. It’s possible that geography has little to do with happiness which is more a factor of being ensconsed in a community of like-minded souls. I’m not sure on any of the above but, nevertheless, I’m coming out.

I love Canberra and don’t want to move anywhere, so pull your head in Keating. Now let’s see how the Krudd feels about the place.

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