this (Can­berra)

life

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jessica Spic­cia

THIS place has a way of seep­ing into your soul. When I first ar­rived I was taken aback by the friend­li­ness: a ca­sual hello; a chatty stranger; lo­cals talk­ing up a storm on the bus. With ac­com­mo­da­tion in limbo and no in­ter­net at home, the bank man­ager took me through the se­cu­rity door and al­lowed me ac­cess to her com­puter to do some in­ter­net bank­ing. When we went to the lo­cal IGA su­per­mar­ket the owner seemed to know ev­ery­one’s name.

Can­berra is a city of work and gov­ern­ment, lur­ing pro­fes­sion­als from in­ter­state with the prom­ise of good jobs and small-town live­abil­ity. Our 15-minute com­mute into the CBD is lit­tered with na­tional in­sti­tu­tions: the War Me­mo­rial; Par­lia­ment House; Re­serve Bank. Here work­ing life is a badge of iden­tity and, to the unini­ti­ated, a bizarre lan­guage of acronyms in­volv­ing gov­ern­ment de­part­ments. Swap­ping sto­ries about the pub­lic ser­vice is so­cially ex­pected. On week­ends the city turns in on it­self as Can­ber­rans flock out of town: to Syd­ney and Bate­man’s Bay or to the snow­fields of Thredbo and the Snowy Moun­tains.

Out­siders will of­ten joke about the bor­ing rep­u­ta­tion of this neat and well-planned city, with its grey of­fice build­ings, graf­fiti-free walls and myr­iad round­abouts (let me tell you, they beat traf­fic lights ev­ery time).

But the Can­berra I know is not this place. What I love most about Can­berra is its dis­tinct sea­sons. In sum­mer I in­hale the warm spicy per­fume of eu­ca­lyp­tus and bush min­gled with the woody notes of earth and grass. Lay­ers of red dust fil­ter through cracks in houses and cars and three kinds of ants swarm the hot foot­path among the de­bris of bark and grass. Flocks of mag­pies, grey and pink galahs, white cock­atiels, rosel­las and green par­rots raid the trees for acorns. If noth­ing else Can­berra’s in­land dry heat and low hu­mid­ity make for fre­quent good hair days.

On a win­ter morn­ing a light fog still hov­ers in the dis­tance as I pull the front door closed be­hind me af­ter a run. The smell of wood smoke lingers in my nostrils. The air out­side is a brisk 2C. In the quiet­ness of our street, nes­tled in the shadow of Mt Ainslie, we of­ten spot kan­ga­roo pel­lets in the drive­way and once or twice a large grey has been spot­ted stand­ing ter­ri­to­ri­ally be­side the cars. My favourite time of year is au­tumn with its fierce blaze of fo­liage from de­cid­u­ous elms, Ja­panese maples and Manchurian pears.

But af­ter five years here my life has come to a cross­roads.

New op­por­tu­ni­ties await and lit­tle by lit­tle I’ve been un­tan­gling my­self from this quaint and sleepy town. Tasks and lists of things to do are churn­ing away in my head.

For the mo­ment, though, I am stand­ing still, sip­ping tea and watch­ing the last of the red maple leaves som­er­sault from the tree in our court­yard.

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