Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Canberra: Australia's National Capital--guest post by poet Michael Fitzgerald Clark

Historically, even in the 1800s when Australia was a set of British colonies, before Australia as a country came into being in 1901, the peoples of Melbourne and Sydney were fierce rivals. (That rivalry continues to this day; I’m not sure what the US equivalent is, New York and LA perhaps? But all that is another story.)

So, in the late 1800s, when it came to deciding whether Melbourne or Sydney would be the capital of the new Federation, of course they couldn’t agree. The colonial politicians ummed, and arred, and it got quite vitriolic.

And so, after much to-ing and fro-ing, in 1908 (yes, it took the politicians that long to get their act into gear) Canberra was established as the compromise choice.

No-one was happy, really. And to this day, no-one outside Canberra really is. Canberra tries to market itself as the “bush capital”, and is home to the Federal Parliament and many national institutions such as the National Library, but to the vast majority of Aussies living elsewhere, it is known only for its politically generated hot air, and sneered at accordingly.

I’m sure that sneerability factor extends to visiting political delegations from overseas, as Canberra is the only national capital in the world, other than an obscure African country that is so obscure that no-one knows which one it is, that doesn’t have an international airport.

And yes, may Our Good Lord strike me down if this is not true, kangaroos can often be seen hopping about the streets of the inner suburbs early in the morning.

Canberra has an incredible amount to offer as a place to visit. As someone who has lived there for most of my adult life, I wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone reading this from outside Australia, and to those many Aussies who ill-advisedly malign it on the basis of stereotypical nonsense.

But this post is not about me being an apologist for Australian Capital Tourism, the local government tourist body. Let me instead give advice on the best pick-up spot in the city.

Apparently, I have this on good authority – I’d never do this myself, of course – the best pick-up spot in town was (I left Canberra in July 2009, so this info is not quite current) not a nightclub, it was a supermarket. Specifically, the Coles Supermarket in the ritzy suburb of Manuka.

If you are on the trawl, apparently you go to this Supermarket, and linger in the fresh produce section. You then suggestively fondle the avocados and cucumbers, or peaches and plums, depending on your gender. Don’t you just feel your arousal level rising, even in cyberspace?!

I can’t end this post without some reference to politics, it is so intrinsic to what happens in the city. Up to 1989, the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – the US equivalent is the District of Columbia, I think – was governed by the Federal Government, but some Canberrans agitated for self governance, and in 1989 the first ACT Legislative Assembly election was held.

Dry as dust, you’re thinking. Well, hang on just one sec. As you would expect, many political parties contested the election. And among them were the “Party! Party! Party!” party, the “Surprise Party” party, the “Sun-Ripened Warm Tomato” party, the “Sleepers Wake” party, the “Home Rule OK” party, and, of course, the “No Self Government Party” party.

I kid you not. The election campaign was a hoot. Aspiring politicians in pyjamas and tomato costumes. It could only happen in Canberra...


Kerry Ashwin said...

A pick up in a Supermarket? So that is why people don't bring their own bag, aka wife.

Nevyn said...

Ah...as another Canberran, let me just reassure overseas readers that Michael's information on the best pick-up place seems to still be on the money as it was mentioned to me only earlier this year! Of course, it could now be in the realms of urban myth. On the odd occasions I've been to Coles at Manuka, I can't say I've noticed much action going on.

And yes, I have seen a kangaroo hopping down the main street of my suburb (admittedly, it is an outer suburb, with bushland close by). But the best one I've ever seen was a big eastern gray kangaroo happily grazing on the well-kept grass in front of a govt building, proudly ignoring all the gawking public servants passing by only a couple of metres (er...yards) away on their way home from their daily toil. It was during a drought and I guess the lush, green, well-watered grass was just too tempting!

Michael, I think you are doing us Canberrans (and Aussies) proud with your blog! :)