Monday, 5 September 2011

Wimbledon Here We Come

Also on the first Saturday of spring, Canberra's throngs of aspiring tennis stars got busy at the local tennis club:
Unlike other capital cities around the world, if you stand in Canberra's suburban streets, you often get the impression that you are in a ghost city. During the Reagan years, when the idea of the neutron bomb was first taking off, I remember cycling home about 11. 30 p.m across the Commonwealth Bridge after seeing a film in 'Civic', and wondering if they'd let one of the things off. Then, down on the lawns near the National Library, I saw a huge crowd of galahs playing in the arc of a sprinkler. They took off as I passed by, a huge cloud of grey and pink rising into the air.

Canberra has got bigger and a bit busier since then, although it is still virtually impossible, if you go into 'Civic' on a Saturday night, to find anywhere to eat, apart from in the great noisy caverns in the big new shopping centre they've built there. In any case, most activity after ten o'clock is now focussed around the bus interchange, which the government in its wisdom has chosen to situate right in the middle of the few nice old buildings in the area. Sadly, what goes on usually involves drunkenness, violence and drugs.

During daylight hours, walking still seems to be considered an odd activity in Canberra, unless it is conducted along bush tracks. Cycling has become more fashionable than it was when I first arrived - but to be credible you need to invest in lycra.

(Here is a typical Canberran cyclist):

The only place you will ever see crowds is in the city's increasingly numerous shopping malls. I read somewhere that shopping malls are the new cathedrals. If that is so, the people who pack the so-called food courts within these new cathedrals are presumably taking some form of sacrament as they cheerily munch through whatever it is their polystyrene or cardboard containers hold. 

(On a positive note, I suppose I have to admit that it is usually pretty easy to find a parking space in Canberra.)


  1. It is the saddest thing about Canberra - that there is nowhere to stroll, to amble along and soak up the "heart" of the city. Nothing like the Graben in Vienna, or Covent Garden, or the Left Bank. Even Circular Quay, The Rocks or Darling Harbour ...

  2. Those arched areas where the bus interchange is, plus on the other side of Northbourne Avenue, (which is itself a planning mistake - the way it runs like a great gash through the centre and cuts off the university from the glories of Civic), could, if things had been organised better, have formed the heart of something like that, I reckon. Then there are the periodic attempts to get something pleasant going on the banks of one or other lake, which always seem to be defeated by one or other lobby group, although I never understand why. Did you ever notice that mad pub, up near the Deakin telephone interchange - whoever thought it a good idea to put a pub away from housing, in a place you had to drive to, rather than on a street corner you could stroll to and have a drink while you waited for the dinner to cook in the oven at home? It's like living in an architect's drawing, I sometimes think. I prefer the higgledy piggledy of a city that grows up bit by bit without some know-it-all second guessing what will work best for us mere inhabitants. And so many of the houses are so utterly dreary. Enough. I'm banging on.

  3. Canberra is uber-Ballardian, no? I like to imagine that behind the dustblown tennis courts and ticking lawn sprinklers there's all kinds of mind-bogglingly depraved debauchery going on

  4. I like to imagine that too, Worm.

  5. In the middle 1980s, it was possible to close up the second-last restaurant in Silver Spring, Maryland, half a mile outside the DC line, and be home in bed by 10 pm. I lived in Takoma Park, half an hour's walk away, but was in Silver Spring because Takoma Park was even deader--in those days it was a dry town, thanks to its Seventh Day Adventist heritage. And these were by no means the only dull suburbs.

    Such may a stage in cities like Washington and Canberra, which are political but not commercial capitals. Washington has perked up a good deal of the years, as neighborhoods turn over and gentrifiers move in. Without the huge engine of US Government spending, it may take Canberra a lot longer to perk up.

  6. I realised that's what you meant, George. I think there are superficial similarities between Washington and Canberra, but Washington will, for a variety of reasons, always be a bit more dynamic than Canberra. Although I don't mind the area where I live too much, Canberra is essentially a mistake, in my view.