I’ll let you into a secret: I really liked Canberra. I mean, I REALLY, really liked it.
This is not a fashionable thing to say. When I told my Aussie students I was going to their fair country for work they regarded me with barely-disguised pity when I told them I would be based in their capital. They tried to comfort me with tales of its proximity to Melbourne and Sydney – their reassurances seemed to centre around the ease with which one could, and should, leave Canberra.
Canberra consistently ranks highly in the various “liveability” and “quality of life” surveys that appear periodically – the ones that remind me how polluted, expensive and generally unfriendly London is, despite the persistence of c9million of us to live there. Canberra is undeniably an odd place, purportedly created to stop Sydney and Melbourne bickering over which city deserved capital city status, a sort of teacherish response by Australia’s parliament: “if you can’t play nice then NEITHER of you can be the capital.”
What resulted was a planned city whose main flaw is that it’s just too spread out and ultimately designed for the car – we accidentally walked 11 kilometers in one day because everything turned out to be a heck of a lot further than it looked on the map. But the benefit of a planned city is that it’s generally lovely. It’s spacious, everything seems to work, it’s well-serviced with shops, bars and some of the best restaurants we visited in Australia. It’s centred around a huge, man-made lake (named after the bloke who designed it, who disappointingly turned out to be an American and not an Australian) and, being the capital, is home to some of the country’s best museums – the Australian War Memorial is sobering, interesting and beautiful, and the Museum of Australian Democracy is well worth a visit.
I blogged extensively about Canberra during my visit to ANU, a hugely impressive institution taking up an entire district, and where I have been trying and failing (Australia’s immigration system does not deem me useful enough to live there) to find a job ever since. Amongst other things we came across a microbrewery whose exposed pipes and apparent compulsory beard-wearing policy made it so achingly hip as to make Shoreditch look like Luton, the new parliament building that looked a bit like the house in Teletubbies, and a gem of a place to stay – University House in Acton, which is like a little piece of 1950s academia in the middle of a thoroughly modern city.
If you’re from the Canberra Tourist Board and fancy giving me a job, you know where I am.